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 his 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 then called, 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 ze trill. It doesn’t matter how. … with the finger, a shake … no matter … BUT Mr Joy … please … ze 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.

I had a very quick single tongue, so 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 called 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 very,very 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.

Working 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 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.


Hans Kuijt invented the lefreQue. After I began using the lefreQue on my instruments some six years ago, we met and became good friends.

We’ve spent many hours talking about the acoustics of instruments and trying out different lefreQue configurations on many different instruments.

The big question always is how to improve instruments so that the sound, response and intonation are as excellent and optimal as possible.

The lefreQues on my triple have become an indispensable part of my equipment because of the almost magical difference they make to the response, sound and intonation.

Getting back into shape after a break takes far less time.

I can highly recommend trying out different sizes and materials to connect your mouthpiece to the lead pipe.

Once you’ve found a good fit for you and your instrument play on it for two weeks.

Then record yourself three times: firstly with the lefreQue installed, then without and finally with the lefreQue again.

Listening to the recordings will make things immediately clear for you.

Go to
for more information.

MYELIN - or building cells of recognition

In his excellent book, The Talent Code, Daniel Coyle talks about a lot about myelin.

I was intrgued. Another course, Whole Brain Power by Michael J. Lavery,  is also based on building up myelinated circuits  in the brain to help deliver reliable physical results.

To test out the idea on myself away from the horn, I bought a hammer and some golf balls.

Whenever I demonstrate this exercise, there is always someone who wants to give it a try. It’s interesting to watch them give up very quickly.

It takes daily, regular practice to improve just as with playing an instrument.



Whispering practice

The cellist Johannes Gorizki, during one of the few but fabulous lessons he gave me, demonstrated how he practiced with almost no sound and minimal bow movement so as to be able to fully focus on his left hand.

With everything he showed me on the cello, he asked if I could translate it into “horn” language.

Because he was basically showimgme principles at work, I was able to apply those principles to my horn playing.

The principle is also applied to flying. When doing pilot training in a single engined aircraft, one exercise is to fly at aa air speed just above where the plane would lose its lift and plummet out of the sky.

To do this the pilot has to use full flats and raise the nose of the aircraft. A lightly held Joystick provides valuable feedback.

With horn playing there need to be adjustments made to the tongue position and the air compression in the lungs.

The way to do this is to listen to both your sound and your body. It is essential to remain relaxed and focus on the process.

Progress comes with making and correcting mistakes.

This kind of practice is slow, painstaking, tiring and immensely rewarding.


The Compound Effect

Developing my awareness of the Compound Effect and integrating the knowledge into my choices, habits and rituals has had a profound effect on the quality of my life in general and horn playing specifically, as well as the results I am able to achieve.

Darren Hardy’s book of the same name is high up on my book recommendation list.

Focus on developing your potential

How to eat an elephant?

One bite at a time. The elephant is, of course,  just a metaphor for any big project.

Playing the horn or any other instrument over one’s lifetime is a gigantic undertaking.

All the challenges, difficulties and setbacks can be broken down into small “bites”.

Constant, continual development and improvement can be tackled the same way.

Each small improvement in one area impacts the whole. Therefore, over time, you create exponential results.

Practice, 3D Printing, Calibration

Look for principles in other disciplines and finding out how to apply them to your playing can be very instructive, rewarding and productive.

I’m fascinated by 3D printing and all of the marvelous opportunities for developing creative ideas it provides.

After a visit to tropical Northern Australia with my family in 1996, an idea for a practice mute crystalized in my mind.

3D printing and CAD software have finally given me the tools for developing my idea.

Now I’m on a steep learning curve. Which also means I’m making huge numbers of mistakes and learning from them.

Mr Murphy continues to visit my 3D printing efforts, sometimes for weeks on end.

Remaining focused on the process and learning from my mistakes (and those of others in the online forums) keeps my frustration levels low.

Just as with my lessons with Johannes Goritzki, I’m also finding that there are similar principles associated with 3D printing that also aply to my horn playing.

Buy a cheap printer and you’ll need to upgrade the hardware and software at some stage to obtain superior results.

We need to continually upgrade our unique hardware (brain and body) and software (mind) to improve our results.

Heat C° = air speed/delivery. If the plastic or the printer bed don’t have the correct temperature, the prints fail.

If we don’t deliver the approriate air compression for delivering the necessary air speed to create the desired pitch, we mispitch.

Build plate = Feet

The build plate on a 3D printer HAS to be 100% level for achieving a good print. If the first layer doesn’t work, the whole print is doomed.

The way we stand on our feet (or sit on a chair) is very often overlooked or casually dismissed as being unimportant.

Nothing is further from the truth. This is an area that can deliver massive payoffs when one’s individual ideal position is found and used.

Four days after a lesson with Johannes Gortzki in the early eighties where we changed one aspect of my posture, during the first break of a recording of Bruckner 2 with Gunter Wand, three quarters of my colleagues asked if I had a new instrument!

Pullies = tension levels

The tension levels on the pullies of a 3D printer need to be “just right”. That means not too tight nor too slack.

Same with our bodies. The difference here though is that depending on what pitch area we are producing, high – middle – low, we need to be continually adusting our tensions levels.

Mostly we err on the side of too much tension.

Johannes Goritzki demonstrated this to me on the cello. When you have pushed a string down onto the finger board so the the desired pitch sounds, any more pushing (or excess tension in the finger(s)) will only detract from your flexibility. It’s also wasted energy.


Watching my 3D printer at work and studying how slicer programs can make the travel paths of the printing head more efficient has triggered lots of thoughts about co-ordination during my practice sessions.

When greater accuracy is required from the 3D printer, slower printing speeds are often necessary.

The co-ordination required for playing an instrument is highly complex and CANNOT be achieved with the frontal cortex.

Careful, slow, deliberate and patient practice is necessary to build up and myelinate the neural circuitry necessary to achieve the desired end results.




Actively and consciously choosing, installing and maintaining good habits and rituals saves time and energy. It also improves efficiency, quality, and productivity.

They become a part of who you are and how you live daily which helps to take consistent action.

Ivan Lendl was a master in this area. Worth studying how he went about things.

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhhig is a good place to start.


The elements that go into great brass playing are often simple but not easy. They have to be acquired through intelligent, diligent, persistent and deliberate hard work.

For instance, we have to develop unconscious control over moving air. This is both simple and complex. As with almost all other aspects of brass playing, different strategies and methods suit different people. You need to experiment and find what works best for you.

Over a long playing career, you might discover that you need to change how you do some things – that you need to find new solutions for old challenges.




IMHO lip trills is a misnomer. I think they are actually tongue trills.

Whistle a trill and observe your tongue. How is it moving? Up and down? Mine definitely does.

In June/July of 1981, after three years of sitting in the principal chair in the Cologne Radio Orchestra, I spent 40 minutes daily for six weeks doing the lip trill exercises in Barry Tuckwell’s book “Playing the Horn”.

Prior to that, I could not do them. This proved to be highly embarrassing during a master class with Hermann Baumann in September of 1980 at a horn symposium in Trossingen, Germany.

After those six weeks, lips trills have been an easy part of my technique requiring only very occasional brush ups every three or four years.


Playing a brass instrument requires developing control over and being  …

– in control of your thoughts

– in control of your physiology

– in control of your feelings

– in control of your emotions

– in control of the pitch

– in control of your intonation

– in control of the quality your sound

– in control of the length of notes

– in control of your articulation

– in control of rhythms

– in control of dynamics

– in control of syncing with colleagues

– in control of your stage presentation

– in control of your connection with the audience

One thing we brass players can’t control is water buildup – we can only manage it and try to contain it …

unless you drain the water automatically.

Then it becomes irrelevant, a non-issue.

Do you excel under pressure ...

or do you choke?

Being able to excel under pressure is a skill that opens up doors to special opportunities.

For we musicians, it’s key to landing a top position in a top ensemble.

For me, it also opened the door to performing and recording concertos with excellent orchestras for CD and radio.

Preparation is the name of the game. Scientific research has clearly shown that the time invested – the number of hours – and the quality of the practice done are key indicators of whether we are likely to excel under pressure or choke.

Quality practice requires excluding as many distractions as possible.

One major, time-consuming and costly distraction for brass musicians is having to constantly think about and manually deal with water.

I know because I had to deal with water this way for over forty years – to be exact, from 1961 until early 2009 when I invented the JoyKey.

I used to deliberately practice orchestral soli and concertos with water in my gurgling lead-pipe. This was to protect me from losing my focus during a critical performance.

I also had water keys installed on all of my instruments including my natural horn and baroque horn.

Now all of my instruments have JoyKeys installed – fourteen on both of my Dieter Otto triples – and I practice and perform water free.