Welcome to the JoyKey Blog

The JoyKey is a logical outcome from a frame that I’ve used for decades to improve my playing skills as a french horn player.

The major premise behind this is that I am the instrument.

So constant change and evolution are the natural by products of striving for excellence.

 The anchoring thought or term here is: LEVERAGE.

 Time was always short BECAUSE:

– I am also the father of four boys, the oldest of whom is severely handicapped,

– my wife has also pursued her work with passion,

– in addition to my position on principle horn in the WDR Symphony Orchestra Cologne I was very active performing and recording as a soloist and chamber musician,

– I love teaching.

So the major question for me always was: “How can I get more value out of the time and energy that I invest into whatever I do?”   … or … “How can I best LEVERAGE my time and energy?”

 The answers have come from a wide range of diverse sources including other successful musicians, the martial arts, sports, business books.

You are very welcome to share your comments and questions with me.



What role does posture play?

Two separate experiences, years apart, alerted me to the importance of optimizing my posture during playing. Sound quality was the guiding element.

I was teaching a young player who had a small, tight, and thin sound. He stood with his legs wide apart and feet splayed. I noticed that the leather soles on the OUTSIDE edges of hi shoes were worn down.

So I asked him to imagine he was a kangaroo and had him jump up and down as high as he could several times in a row. His feet automatically came into a parallel position relative to one another.

To this day I’m not sure who was more surprised at the massive, positive change in his sound when he played in this position.

And still it took me thirty years before this foot position became my default position when standing and playing the horn.

The second experience was with Johannes Goritzki. When working together, he heard something hard in my sound when I played louder than mf that he didn’t like.

During the second (on a Friday afternoon) of two sessions a few days apart, he helped me reposition my left arm.  There is an excellent photo and description in Barry Tuckwell’s book “Playing the Horn” of the position which requires one to turn one’s head to the left a little.

The following Monday, during the first break of a Bruckner 2 recording session with Gunter Wand, three quarters of my colleagues asked me if I had a new horn!!!

That moment has remained with me to this day. 

In the mean time, I have shared these two ideas with hundreds of other people. And as recently as the 2019 Carnaval du Cor Horn Party, the resulting changes in the sound and ease of playing for the person involved continue to amaze and delight.


Horn playing basics

The sound of the horn …

The first cellist to influence my playing was Brian Meddeman in Perth. When I was sixteen, he showed me HOW he practiced long tones on the open strings of his cello. He was able to influence the harmonics such that the C string for instance would sound as the fifth above and show up on the tuning machine as a G.

This involved keeping his muscles as relaxed as possible and working together WITH gravity. Most importantly though, it required intensive LISTENING – inner listening in my mind for the sound that I wanted to produce and outer listening to compare and correct.

Over the next two years I often spent two or more hours a day holding out long tones until I could also get the fifth above the note I was playing to sound stronger than the actual note and also show up on  my tuning machine.

Decades later it became clear that this obsessive long tone practice lay the foundation for a very rewarding international career.

It also helped me develop a wide range of sound colors that benefited my solo playing.

Warm ups and practice routines

I am indebted to Hector McDonald for introducing me to the value of a daily warm up routine.

My routine has changed many times over the decades. I like to continually add new routines to keep me on my toes and keep a feeling of freshness in the practice room.

When I first began playing principal horn with the Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra as it was called then, the highest note that I could play reliably and securely was the top Bb. During the two auditions I did to get the position, I was lucky to nail the high C in the Siegfried Horn Call both times.

I also couldn’t do lip trills nor double or triple tongue.

During a Horn Symposium in Trossingen, Germany in 1980 I finally got to have a lesson with Hermann Baumann. It was a master class in a full hall. Mozart 4. When I only did a turn instead of trills in the first movement, Mr Baumann literally pulled the horn from my lips, and waving a finger at me, admonished: “NO,NO, NO!!! Mr Joy. Here we have to do zo trill. It doesn’t matter how. … with the finger, a shake … no matter … BUT Mr Joy … please … a trill!!!”

I went the color of beetroot. Embarrassed doesn’t begin to describe how I felt. However, I pulled out Barry Tuckwell’s book “Playing the Horn” the following summer break and after six weeks of applied daily forty minute practice sessions, lip trills were mine any time I needed them.

Because at first I had a very quick single tongue, I neglected to develop my double and triple tonguing.

The demands made on the soloist in the Britten Serenade finally forced me to address this deficit in my playing. Again, about six weeks of applied practice using the da ga, da ga, and da ga da, ga da ga, da ga da, ga da ga patterns solved the issue.

I would also recommend that young players learn solfege.



Keeping a practice journal

Keeping a practice journal has many benefits. Later you have a special record of the work you put in and how you made progress. I also use mine to record insights that come during my practice. 

Planning backwards from future important dates such as recordings, premiere performances etc. helped me to leverage my preparation time to achieve the best possible results.

Planning practice sessions and their content in advance has always helped me get more done than when I just winged it.

Jeff Smiley and The Balanced Embouchure

Jeff Smiley and BE

Before discovering Jeff Smiley and his book The Balanced Embouchure, a colleague introduced me to Jerome Callet.

Jerome studied other successful players and developed a system he calls the Tongue Controlled Embouchure.

You can find out more from his website:

Prof. John Erickson told me about Jeff Smiley during a phone call in 2008. After checking out Jeff’s website, , I ordered his book and took it with me on my summer holidays in Norway.

My first experiences with doing the BE exercises were in a rented house alongside a fjord in Norway. Within three days it was clear that I was onto something very big and exciting. We left the house after a week for another ten days traveling and I couldn’t wait to get home and get stuck into the exercises again.

I have a tendency to push limits – to see how far I can go or how far I can take or push things. With BE it was pushing my range up and down as far as I could go.

It took me four years, because at the time I was also dealing with focal dystonia, to build my range up to G3. Now that G3 belongs to me. It is there any time I want it. This makes playing the C3 very easy compared with pre-BE times.

The BE exercises work my facial muscles in a way that no other exercises do. The results that I have achieved from using this system have revolutionized my understanding of what it is the be a brass player.

Most notably, the exercises, the system have made me mouth piece independent. I can also easily switch between trumpet, trombone and horn and immediately make a good sound on all three instruments.

Doing the BE routine lets me get into playing shape in three days after a long break. It used to take me two to three weeks when I was younger and in my prime.

Doing the BE exercises has made my embouchure use far more efficient allowing me to extend my range in both directions and radically improve my flexibility and endurance.

I am convinced that this system will give young players the ability to play and make music on the horn in a similar way that cellists play their instruments.

The solo cello part of the second Shostakovitch Cello Concerto springs to mind.