123’s, just like ABC’s

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On just about every valved brass instrument, the combination fingerings of first and third valves or all three valves together are horrifically out-of-tune.

Trumpet players on 3 valves are keenly aware of this and they kick out slides in order to compensate. Low brass players can have a few extra options – an extra valve for alternate fingerings or just easier access to pulling and pushing slides on-the-go.

Except for a few low notes, French horn players can thankfully avoid these troublesome fingerings by using alternate fingerings.

Avoidance and denial

This is something I do all the time, as I imagine most horn players do. I really can’t remember the last time in a performance where I used the “123” combination for a low D-flat. Broadly speaking, these are fingerings that can be quite easily avoided.

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That being said, in a practice routine they can be incredibly useful. Looking at the characteristics of 1+3 and 1+2+3 fingerings, they are generally:

  • horribly sharp
  • stuffy
  • un-centered

Using the bad to make good

I am a huge fan of sequential practice routines.

Whether it be following a chromatic fingering pattern or the circle of fifths, using these awkward, horrible fingerings is a bit like the baseball batter who warms up using his bat and a weighted doughnut that fits around the top of the bat.

Baseball batters use these extra weights to stretch their muscles out while warming up. With lip slur patterns especially – such as in the eponymous Farkas routine – these extra patterns can have tremendous benefit.

Negotiating and perfecting stuffy, out-of-tune fingerings can make all the other notes feel that much better. Just like when the batter removes the weight from his bat, there is an element of freedom resulting from that constriction.

My tip for the day – don’t neglect your 123’s!

University of Horn Matters