Getting Started on the Horn
Welcome to the horn!
About instrument choices for beginners
It has been a longstanding tradition that young players start out on the single F horn. For those players reading this page who are playing on the single F horn at this time I tell you to stick with it but also to know that a single F is really only a starter instrument. At some point soon, certainly by high school, you will want to switch to the double horn. You will experience improved high range accuracy on the double horn, and it will be a much better instrument for the types of ensemble music you will see in more advanced groups in the coming years.
Some beginners start on another type of "single" instrument, the single B-flat horn, illustrated next. You will note that the instrument looks very similar to the single F but the valve slides are shorter. This is because the instrument overall is shorter. A single F horn is around twelve feet long from mouthpiece to bell while a single B-flat is around nine feet. This shorter length translates into an instrument that is not only lighter but also easier to play accurately.
One important note for directors: this instrument plays from the same music as used for F horn! Some of the fingerings are different but are exactly the same as the B-flat side of a double horn. See my fingering chart.
When I was first teaching I supported the use of the single F over the single B-flat for beginners. I am not totally against the use of the single F today but I am now also very open to the use of the single B-flat. My primary reason is there is more initial success for the new player on the single B-flat. It is easier to play; new hornists will be less likely to quit, something I hope they don't do! Also it could actually be used into high school if desired. For any pros that harbor doubts about the single B-flat, I would simply challenge them to try a back to back test of both instruments (single F/single B-flat) playing a basic solo such as the last movement of the third horn concerto of Mozart. There is no comparison, the single B-flat will be the clear winner between the two in terms of sound and articulations.
The best solution to the problem is to start on the double horn if it is possible to hold one comfortably and if not to switch to one as soon as you can. The double horn has a bigger sound and is the standard among advanced players today. This is often the first type of horn used by players who switch to the horn later in junior high or in high school. For players coming to the horn later from other instruments it is certainly the place to start. For me it was my first instrument, I switched to the horn from the trumpet in ninth grade. A double horn is illustrated to the right. Note that the longer F horn valve slides are on top and the shorter B-flat horn valve slides are visible underneath. This is the "double" in double horn, the single F and single B-flat horns are combined into one instrument. The thumb valve is used to switch between the two sides of the instrument. A 3/4 size double horn is manufactured which is a great option for the younger beginner.
A key to starting out well on the horn
A horn at home, a horn at school
Are you an orphan?
Beginning methods, starting out on the horn
My favorite beginning method is the Marvin C. Howe Method for the French Horn. This was originally published in 1950 but remains one of the best of its type in terms of how he presents range development and it is musically solid. It is a classic publication ("Howe to play the horn") and somewhat difficult to locate for purchase today but it is still in print and available from Faust Music. My list of suggested study materials is here.
Books for players starting on or switching to the horn later
Giving more hornists a good start is a goal of mine as a horn teacher. This goal led me to create my own publication for students starting on or switching to the horn,
Introducing the Horn: Essentials for New Hornists and Their Teachers.
Covers in one volume the range of performance-related topics that are the most essential in giving a new hornist a good start. The ideal resource book for beginners, those converting to the horn, and music educators. 22 pages.
Available from Horn Notes Edition
It is my hope that this publication will serve to give many new hornists a good start on the horn and help educators give hornists a good start. There are a lot of unique aspects to playing the horn, aspects that ultimately make the horn very rewarding to play but do require some specialized teaching to understand well.
A Top Ten Horn CD List
Fingering Chart for Single F, Double, and Single B-flat horns
More online tips for new hornists
A few frequently asked questions:
What mouthpiece would be best for a new horn player?
What horn is best for a beginner?
Why is the right hand in the bell?
The other part of this question is why the right hand instead of the left? Before the invention of the valve in 1814 horn players did not have valves (!) and as most people are right handed they put the right hand in the bell where it was used it to open and close the bell to produce notes a half step lower than the open harmonics. When valves were added to the horn this playing position was not modified and the valves were activated with the left hand, the opposite of any other brass instrument.
I have even more articles on horn history and horn playing in my Horn Articles Online, and check out The Kopprasch Zone.
The horn is a great instrument! Stick with it. I may be biased, but I think you have made a great choice to play the horn.
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|Contact Dr. Ericson at:
School of Music, Arizona State University
Tempe, AZ 85287-0405
Phone: (480) 965-4152
Dept. Fax: (480) 965-2659.