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The jaw can really tell a French horn player what is going on in her body. If the jaw hurts constantly, this means that the performer is probably tensing the jaw constantly as she plays, which usually means the performer is tense in her whole body. The French horn player has a direct connection to the jaw, because it is what the French hornist does with the jaw and mouth musculature that determines what comes out of the instrument.

Many French horn players immobilize their jaws’ musculature to create the embouchure necessary to play their instruments. It is very easy to see how this can happen on a French horn. You use the musculature of this mouth for a very specific shape and support, and this can very easily affect the jaw muscles. Here is a very simple exercise to demonstrate this. Tense your lips without tensing the jaw. You may not be able to do this. Tensing the lips without tensing the jaw is conscious control, as the Alexander Technique describes it.

This form of control means you use the muscles necessary to get the job done, and consciously release the muscles not necessary to do the activity. Another way to say this is that if all of the musculature in the body does what is appropriate for the activity, this will mean some muscles will be incredibly active while other muscles provide quiet support and balance or are in release.

When a French horn player is holding tension in her jaw, then she is down in her body. It is nearly impossible to hold excess tension in the jaw and not hold excess tension in the neck, back, and shoulders. The jaw musculature is separate from the neck and shoulder musculature, but when the jaw is locked, the upper body seizes up, as if it is all one big muscle and takes the body into down. Hunkering down is a physicalizing of fear, of protection. Excess tension in the jaw is essentially a physicalizing of the intention to get what you’re playing right, not to make a mistake, not to mess up.

Bring the French horn to your mouth and blow. Place all of your awareness on what the jaw muscles are doing on the sides of the face. These muscles that move the jaw are attached to the head and are not part of the neck muscles. As you blow a note, see if you can tell what these muscles are doing. You are wanting to get a clear sense that they are separate from your lips, your embouchure.

Now play supporting the instrument to your mouth with your right hand on the side of your face, on the jaw muscle. This will give you clear feedback to what the jaw is doing, and it will help you to consciously release the muscles as you blow.