Ideas for Young Students and Their Parents

Many parents and new students are unfamiliar with the French horn. The horn’s size and acoustic properties often make it a bit ungainly for beginners. Never fear! The French horn is no more difficult to master than any other musical instrument.
But first, let’s think about the selection of a French horn. There are two basic French horns from which to choose:

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single French horn built in the key of F is a common choice for youngsters. It will allow for rich tone development, and will demand the students be good ‘marksmen’ (aiming for the correct note) from Day 1. When shopping for a single French horn, verify with the seller that it is pitched in F, not in B flat. (Single B flat horns have poorer tone quality and problems with intonation in some registers) Single French horns have three valves.

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double French horn built in the keys of F and B flat (together in one instrument) is a more advanced, 4-valve instrument. Some new students may start on the double horn, but frequently beginners start on single horns, later transferring to the double horn by high school years. Double French horns offer warm, resonant tone, decent intonation, and, with the additional thumb valve (for the B flat part of the horn), they allow for greater accuracy on high notes.

You may have a band director that is asking that the horn students begin on double French horns rather than single horns. If so, look closely at the
Nirschl D-500 3/4 double French horn page I have posted to the left. A standard French horn’s large dimensions often pose problems in getting set in a good playing position. However, the Nirschl D-500 was designed to resolve these challenges. And it plays in F and B flat just like its larger cousin. Take a look.

Lessons

I highly recommend starting horn players on the french horn, not the cornet or trumpet. The disparity in mouthpiece placement often sets up failure for students transferring from trumpet to horn. Poor range and tone quality are the results. Start on the French horn.

I begin new horn students with French horn mouthpiece buzzing for a week. The horn does not come out of the case! During this time, I have students focus on only 3 things: proper mouthpiece buzzing (2/3rds of the mouthpiece on the upper lip, 1/3rd on the lower lip), deep breathing, and mental singing of the melody. They buzz tunes they know by heart: Happy Birthday, the National Anthem, Pop tunes, cartoon melodies, etc. I have the students listen to recordings of french horn solos to internalize the natural sound of the instrument.

After this initial period, we immediately begin playing the French horn, again focusing on 3 things: Mouthpiece buzzing, deep breaths, and the mental singing. The technique of inserting the right hand into the bell of the horn is introduced. With time and guidance, tone quality will develop with continued listening to recordings and imitating my playing in lessons. We're off to the races!