How to play the French horn: 7 steps (with pictures)

How to play the French horn: 7 steps (with pictures)
How to play the French horn: 7 steps (with pictures)

In an orchestra, the French horn is one of the most difficult wind instruments to play. To play well, you have to work a lot and show a lot of perseverance. However, when you have reached a good level, the satisfaction of playing this instrument with multiple sounds is indescribable! Read this article to find out how to play it.


Play the French Horn Step 1

Step 1. In a theoretical book or with a teacher, familiarize yourself with the basics of music theory, the correct position of the body and that of the mouth at the mouth

Bad habits can quickly set in and it is difficult to get rid of them. It is therefore better to avoid them from the start. Volume 1 of the Pottag-Hovey Method is suitable for beginners.

Play the French Horn Step 2

Step 2. If you are determined, invest in private lessons

Often, professionals (usually orchestral musicians) or conductors offer it. A good teacher can greatly improve your playing, as well as your musical knowledge.

  • Knowing the harmonics of the horn will improve the way you play and will help you in particular to find different fingerings. The intervals of the harmonics of the horn are generally one octave higher than those of the trumpet (in relative terms). Therefore, whatever the fingering, the notes you play are very close to each other and good horn players need to know how to “hear” the correctness to know when they have missed a note, especially in a high range.
  • You need to observe the key signature (how many sharps and flats in the piece you are playing) and know the key and interval placement of the other instruments in your ensemble.
Play the French Horn Step 3

Step 3. Repeat as often as possible

Learn scales and studies, play pieces suited to your level, as well as unfamiliar pieces for sight decryption. Practice interval training, improve your stamina, and if only occasionally, learn to trill with your lips. Arpeggios are a great way to learn notes and improve your sound.

  • For beginners who have never made music before, it is excessive to practice 30 minutes a day. It is best to aim for a goal of 10 to 15 minutes per day. Don't exhaust your lips playing too high, too hard, and for too long. More experienced horn players will be able to practice for at least 30 to 40 minutes.
  • Be careful, remember that each day without playing is equivalent to about two days to catch up.
Play the French Horn Step 4

Step 4. Improve your technique

A good horn player should be able to practice playing music without an instrument, just by vibrating the sound with the mouthpiece. Support the air that you expel from your diaphragm, lower your jaw and inhale so that your lower chest expands.

Play the French Horn Step 5

Step 5. Buy your own horn (if you can afford it)

The price of a new French horn ranges between 450 and 7,500 euros (more for a professional level), a used one will cost you less, but remember to consult a connoisseur before paying for it. Buying your own instrument allows you to play when you want, to work on and refine your playing. If you are learning at a school or at the conservatory, ask them if you can hire them one to start, in order to get an idea of. instrument and see if you like it before making a big investment. Otherwise, most major music stores rent out horns.

Play the French Horn Step 6

Step 6. Play with emotion

You won't progress until you just repeat stupidly. On the other hand, you will quickly get a better technique and a better sound if you play with emotion and by working the sound that is yours.

Play the French Horn Step 7

Step 7. Don't give up

All the budding horn players will have their share of disappointments, setbacks and will sometimes have the feeling of not being able to make it. The best way to counter this is to show persistence, rehearse regularly, and be aware that you are playing one of the most difficult instruments of the brass family known to man!


  • Make sure that the pistons and slide are always well greased, with adequate grease, as some can damage the horn.
  • ESPECIALLY DO NOT use a swab to clean the rotary pistons. The pistons are very narrow and if a fiber of the swab broke inside, the piston would no longer be able to rotate.
  • Note that the French horn has a different technique from all other instruments. For example, the positioning of the lips on the mouth of the horn is not the same as on a trumpet. Therefore, if you are starting the French horn after trying another woodwind instrument, be sure to follow the advice of a teacher or someone who is already familiar with the French horn technique!
  • Frequently wipe saliva (often referred to as water) from your horn. If it accumulates, it may cause a loud crackle in a song, which can be very annoying during a concert!
  • Do not drain the “water” from the main branch by pushing it out through the mouthpiece, as the germs in your saliva will collect in the narrow tube that leads to the mouthpiece. Instead, remove the main plunger to empty it, or remove the mouthpiece and draw the water out through the end.
  • Even if single horns exist, we often prefer double horns (in F and B flat). The latter have the advantage of allowing more tones to be played, which makes their acoustics more pleasant. The simple horn is easier at first, but the B flat is more common. Everything else is for professionals.
  • The placement of the hand in the bell when playing is a peculiarity of the horn. There are several ways to play with the hand in the pavilion. Here are some positions and the effect they create:
  • on the lower side: the sound will be diffused mainly upwards. This is the easiest technique, but your arm will muffle some of the sound,
  • on the upper side: the sound will be diffused more freely,
  • pressed inside. Do not push it all the way into the horn, but play until you get a uniform sound. It is preferable to keep your hand firmly pressed inside the pavilion to play softer, more sung passages, such as the famous extract from the third movement of Beethoven's Symphony No.6,
  • barely inside: the sound spreads more widely, but the notes will tend to be higher and the tone more brassy. This is the ideal position for the opening of Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 4.
  • For more recommendations, go seek the advice of an orchestra player.
  • Clean the inside of your horn if possible at least once a year to prevent the pipes from rusting. For this, buy a snake that you will find in most music stores. Alternatively, you can also immerse your horn in cold or lukewarm water, but NEVER in hot water.
  • Some horns do not have a water key and their tuning slide does not come off entirely. If yours does, blow inside to circulate air, then remove the mouthpiece and tilt the entire horn as if you were turning a steering wheel. “Water” (saliva) should come out through the pavilion. Repeat this gesture several times.
  • For beginners, the C scale is ideal. Start with Do (no piston pressed), D (first piston pressed), Mi (no piston), Fa (first piston), Sol (no piston), La, (first and second piston), Si (second piston), High C (no piston). This is the basic range for all budding horn players!
  • Previous experience can help. Some horn players start their musical career as trumpeters or with an instrument from the woodwind family, sometimes even with the piano or vocals! Take advantage of what you've already learned, whether it's musical technique or just music theory.


  • Play anywhere and be proud to play the French horn!
  • The French horn is reputed to be one of the most difficult instruments. A quack (when you get the wrong note) is quick to happen! To play a note, be sure to memorize and adopt the correct position of the lips, otherwise you risk getting the wrong note!

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