An Introduction to French Horn

A Beginners Guide to French Horn

by William Krueger, Music Educator and Music & Arts Lesson Instructor

The Components

The basic parts of the French Horn are shown in their image below. They are:

  • The mouthpiece and mouthpiece receiver
  • The values
  • The value caps
  • The bell
French Horn

Tools for Success

Value Maintenance

Rotary valves need to be oiled in three locations: under the valve cap, the bottom bearing down near the bumpers, and (carefully) down the valve slide tubes. There is no damage that can be done by using too much valve oil; never let your valves get dry and clanky. In general you should oil the valves weekly. On older horns the bottom bearing will require a slightly heavier grade of oil for quiet performance. Here is a short YouTube video that will help.

Cleaning the French Horn
  • Remove each slide. Run warm water through the inside of the slide. Empty all the water before putting the slide back in to the horn.
  • Wipe off the outside of your horn with a cleaning or polishing cloth to remove dirt and oils from your hands.
  • Wash out your mouthpiece under water to keep it clean after each practice session.
  • Place value oil on your value at least twice a week. Remember the French horns values needs oil in 3 places.
Metronome Shop Now >

Metronomes provide a steady beat that helps musicians develop their sense of rhythm, and they also help players build up their speed by allowing them to begin working on a passage slowly and steadily increasing the tempo until their desired speed is achieved. Metronomes are one of the most important practice partners you’ll ever have, because rhythm is the one of the most fundamental aspects of music. Without a good sense of rhythm you won’t be able to play well with others or perform your own music accurately, so make your metronome your friend.

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Using a music stand is highly recommended because they help you read your music more accurately, play with proper technique and sit or stand with good posture.

Holding the Instrument

Left Hand Position- Your left hand grips the horn over the tubing in front of the 3 valves. Use your index, middle and ring fingers; index finger on the 1st value( the one closest to you) then the middle and ring fingers will fall into place. Place your pinky finger in the hook below the 3rd value.

Right Hand Position-The proper right hand position for the horn include cupping the hand slightly and placing it inside the bell so that the backs of the fingers to touch the inside of the bell, where the bell starts to narrow. If you picture the inside of the bell as the face of a clock, place your hand at 2 o'clock. Also allowing for an opening of approximately two inches between the heel of the hand and the opposite side of the bell. For more information on holding your French Horn, watch this YouTube video.

Making your First Sounds

To play any brass instrument, one must “buzz” the lips in order to produce a sound. Put your lips together as if you were saying the letter, “M”, then pretend to spit out a watermelon seed as you blow air through your lips. Allowing the lips to “buzz” freely, without playing into the mouthpiece, will ensure a good sound when playing your first notes on your French Horn. for more information on playing your first sounds, watch this YouTube video. (eHow- How to buzz your lips on ...)

Fingering the Notes

Here are notes that are played by the beginner and intermediate player. The top fingerings are for the F Horn, the bottom for the Bb horn.

Here are notes that are played by the beginner and intermediate player. The top fingerings are for the F Horn, the bottom for the Bb horn

Reading Music

In order to be a good musician, it is important to understand the language of music, this includes having an ability to read music for the French Horn. Below you will some of the components of written music that each students must become familiar with in order to play music for the French Horn.

  • Notation: French Horn music is written in the treble clef using standard notation. In standard notation, notes on the staff will tell you which notes to play on your French Horn. In beginning method books, the fingering is shown each time a new note is introduced.
  • Rhythm: To convey rhythm different shapes and symbols are used. The differences in shape and the beams and stems indicate how long each note should be held. Here is a basic chart explaining note values:
    French Horn
  • Time Signature: The top number in a time signature tells you how many beats are in each measure. And the bottom number tells you what type of note will receive the value of one beat. The most common time signature is 4/4 also called “Common Time”. When you play music in this time signature, the quarter notes receives one beat and there are four beats in each measure of music. All beginning lesson books for the French horn help explain this idea as one of the first few lessons.
  • Key Signature: The key signature tells you which notes are changed to flats or sharps throughout a piece of music. Sharps look like italicized number signs and flats look like lowercase b’s. To sharpen a note, you raise the pitch of that note one half step higher. To flatten a note you lower the pitch one half step lower.

Good Practice Habits

Play Smart

Good practice habits are essential to the mastery of your instrument. If possible use a music stand and an adjustable height armless chair when practicing. Always sit with good posture and hold your French Horn in the proper playing position.

As you begin your practice session, most musicians have a specific goal or goals in mind prior to beginning their practice session. I always starting your routine with warm-up exercises. These exercises get the blood flowing so that you can play your best and also provide you with an opportunity to focus solely on proper technique. After you’re all warmed up, you may want to start playing the studies and pieces recommended by your instructor/in your method book. While playing new material you are bound to encounter difficulties. I suggest working on these difficult areas slowly and not moving on until you have performed them correctly more than once. Before you end your practice session, you may want to end by doing something fun to play, like a favorite song you can play really well. It’s a good idea to end feeling good about your playing and how you have improved.

Play Often

Your French Horn should not be collecting dust all week until it is time for your lesson. For most beginning students, a reasonable amount of practice time is approximately 15 to 20 minutes per day. Consistent practice is very important, in fact it is better to practice your instrument for 15-20 minutes most days of the week, than once a week for two hours. Intermediate players often practice anywhere 30 minutes a day and advanced players may play for more than an hour a day.

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