The following guidelines will help you decide if the horn is a good choice for you.
- Lips are thin to medium. Thick lips tend to be better suited for the Trombone or Baritone.
- Front teeth are straight and even; closed teeth meet evenly; an overbite tends to cause some problems with tone production.
- Student is able to sing a common folk song.
- Sense of pitch is exceptional.
- Level of confidence is high.
- Work habits are strong and achievement is high.
- Parental support is strong.
Listen to Examples
- Hermann Baumann
- Dennis Brian
- Dale Clevenger
- Philip Farkas
- Barry Tuckwell
Assembly & Care
Avoid costly repairs!
If you can hear it clanking around as you put it together and pack it up, then you need to be more careful.
Assembling the French Horn
- Hold the horn in your left hand, and place the bell of the instrument on your right thigh. The bell should point backwards, slightly angled to the right.
- Use your right hand to gently twist the mouthpiece into the mouthpiece receiver.
Using Oil & Grease
Horn valves and slides need lubrication occasionally. Be sure to grease the slides regularly. Your director will recommend special slide grease and valve oil, and will help you apply them when necessary.
Packing Up Carefully
Before putting your instrument back in its case after playing, do the following:
- Press the water key and blow air through the mouthpiece to empty water from the instrument. If your horn does not have a water key, then remove the main tuning slide, rotate the instrument clockwise, and allow excess water to be removed.
- Remove the mouthpiece. Once a week, wash the mouthpiece with warm tap water. Dry thoroughly.
- Wipe off the instrument with a clean, soft cloth. Return the instrument to its case.
- You should have no other materials in your case, except for those it was designed to hold. Do not use force when closing your case or you could damage the instrument.
- Improper assembly may damage your instrument
- Damaged equipment will cause problems
To get the best sound or tone quality you should:
- Hold your instrument with good posture
- Play with good breath support, focused airstream, and strong embouchure formation
To control pitch you should:
- Develop good listening skills
- Practice different notes (positions and combinations)
Learn the Notes
One at a time...
Before you learn new songs, you need to learn the notes. Every horn player should understand how to read the fingering chart below. Practice holding the horn and placing your fingers in all the different combinations for the notes. You will be able to switch faster as your coordination and dexterity improves.
Articulation is the process of attacking and releasing a sequence of notes. Ending the sound is just as important as beginning the pitch. Use the "tip of your tongue at the top of your teeth."
Dexterity is a mental skill or quickness, as well as the readiness and grace in physical activity. In relation to playing an instrument, dexterity is the skill and ease of using your hands and fingers.
Don't get in the habit of curling fingers. Also, you may have trouble if you raise your fingers too far above the keys. Remember that evenness is better than speed. Playing fast, furious, and fumbling is simply not impressive.
How do you sound?
French Horn Embouchure
"Buzzing" through the mouthpiece produces your tone. The buzz is a fast vibration in the center of your lips. Your embouchure (ahm'-bah-shure) is your mouth's position on the mouthpiece of the instrument. A good embouchure takes time and effort, so carefully follow these steps for success:
- Moisten your lips.
- Bring your lips together as if saying the letter "m."
- Relax your jaw to separate your upper and lower teeth.
- Form a slightly puckered smile to firm the corners of your mouth.
- Think of the letter "p" and direct a full airstream through the center of your lips, creating a buzz. Buzz frequently with and without your mouthpiece.
Start with the Mouthpiece Only
If you are switching from trumpet to French horn, note that the horn mouthpiece placement is nearly the opposite of the trumpet/cornet mouthpiece placement.
- Form your "buzzing" embouchure.
- Place the mouthpiece approximately 2/3 on the upper lip and 1/3 on the lower lip. (Your teacher may suggest a slightly different mouthpiece placement.)
- Take a full breath through the corners of your mouth.
- Start your buzz with the syllable "tah." Buzz through the center of your lips keeping a steady, even buzz. Your lips provide a cushion for the mouthpiece.
Using only the mouthpiece, form your embouchure carefully. Take a deep breath without raising your shoulders. Begin buzzing your lips by whispering "tah" and gradually exhale your full airstream. Strive for an even tone.
Holding the French Horn
Always sit up straight and bring the instrument to your mouth.
- Place your left thumb inside the thumb ring.
- Your fingertips should rest on the valves.
- Place your little finger in the hook.
- Cup your right hand slightly. Keep your fingers together and put your thumb against your index finger. Place your right hand inside the bell. The back of your fingers should touch the far side of the bell.
Posture & Poise
Sit on the edge of your chair, and always keep your:
- Spine straight and tall
- Shoulders back and relaxed
- Feet flat on the floor
- Music stand height-adjusted to read the music and watch the conductor
Tuning & Pitch Control
Take control of your pitch.
Tuning is the process of matching pitch, which requires two sources: your instrument and another instrumentalist or electronic tuner. Experienced players tune to a "remembered" pitch.
How to Tune
- Warm up thoroughly before tuning.
- Tune to a reliable frequency using 2nd line G and push in the F tuning slide.
- Also tune to 3rd space C (with Bb thumb valve) and pull the main tuning slide.
- Play at a medium dynamic level without vibrato and tune the valve slides as well.
- "Pull out" to lower the pitch.
- "Push in" to raise the pitch.
How to Control Pitch
The instrument will not be tuned correctly unless the right hand is in the correct position during the tuning. The hand alters pitch by moving in (cupping more and closing the bell more as if to "catch" the sound) to lower the pitch and darken the timbre. The hand alters the pitch by moving out (straightening more and opening the bell as if to let the sound pass freely by the hand) to flatten the pitch and brighten the timbre (often described as a "brassy" sound).
Intonation & Technique
The French Horn's Natural Flaws
The causes of poor intonation may be inadequate breath support, a poorly formed embouchure, or poor listening habits. However, every instrument has inherent intonation flaws. They are listed below for the horn.
Inherent Intonation Flaws
Unlike the woodwind instruments, which have pitch tendencies for different "registers," the brass instruments have different pitch tendencies for each "harmonic level."
- In general, the 7th harmonic is never played because it is extrememly flat (too low)
- Specific notes vary in the other harmonics (2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, and 8th).
Intonation is the process of moving from one pitch to another pitch at a specific interval (vertically). Intonation is controlled by one person because it relies on a trained ear and acquired listening skills while playing.
Specific Pitch Tendencies
Memorize this information
Sharp tendencies (too high):
- Pitch centering for many notes on brass instruments call for the performer to make subtle adjustments in breath support, air stream, and embouchure firmness.
- The notes listed below that are generally sharp need greater attention.
- In most cases, using horn valves in combination will raise the pitch center.
- As valves are used, the tubing length shortens.
- Therefore, in general, the more valves used in the combination, the sharper the pitch will tend to be.
- Those playing double horn need to focus on intonation of both the F and Bb slides.
- When all are completely inserted, many horns have been tooled to play a bit sharp.
Pitch may be lowered through a variety of techniques including:
- Adjust tuning slide (pull out)
- Adjust (pull out) valve slides (proportionate to length of the slide)
- Moving the hand slightly into the bell
- Directing the airstream downward
- Change in air speed (slower)
- Slight relaxation of the embouchure
- Alternate fingerings
Control intonation with the main tuning slide and the valve slides. When one valve slide is moved, it is almost always necessary to adjust the others to it. The French horn player should tune several notes, especially when comparing the B-flat and F sides of a double horn.
Flat tendencies (too low):
- While flat tendencies for brass instruments are not as prevalent as sharp, some notes may border on flat.
- Generally this calls for the player to make natural adjustments in performance.
Pitch may be raised through a variety of techniques including:
- Adjust tuning slide (push in)
- Adjust (push in) valve slides (proportionate to length of the slide)
- Moving the hand slightly out of the bell
- Directing the airstream upward
- Change in air speed (faster) and better air support
- Slight increase in embouchure firmness
- Alternate fingerings
Heads up! The double horn can be played well in tune on almost all pitches throughout its range. This is not because it is more perfectly designed than the other brasses, but because it is actually two horns. Bad notes on one side can be avoided by playing them on the other side.
Today is tomorrow's yesterday.
Get more familiar with your instrument and learn who invented it, who composes music for it, and who has mastered the art of playing it.
The modern horn evolved from 16th century hunting horns. These instruments did not have valves, and changed notes by using various "crooks" or tuning slides. Most horn players had to perform with several crooks that allowed them to play the correct notes.
In 1660, the "trompe" was introduced in France. This instrument's tubing had 2-1/2 coils, and retained the nickname "French" horn. However, German instrument makers actually perfected today's horn. Stolzel and Bluhmel added valves to the horn in 1818, which eliminated the need for crooks. Rotary valves, introduced in 1853, are commonly found on today's horns. "Single" horns in F have three valves, while "double" horns in F/Bb have three valves and a thumb key.
Horns provide an important, full middle voice in the concert band. They blend well with all instruments, and play solos, melodies, and harmonies.
IV. Composers & Performers
Mozart, Beethoven, Mahler, Richard Strauss, and Wagner are all composers who have featured horns in their writing. Two famous horn performers are Barry Tuckwell and Philip Farkas.
Units of Study
Building skill. Developing technique.
Learn about intonation, pitch control, care & maintenance, etc.