Secrets to setting your French horn slides correctly

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An article from the original HTML Horn Notes Blog, dated 2/3/05, on a timeless topic.

One of the advantages of studying with a competent horn teacher is that they know how to put the slides right on a double horn. Myself, I have tried many models of horn and while I try to not hold preconceived notions, I can immediately tell by looking if a horn is somewhere close to it having the slides set up so that it can be played in tune with itself.

Many horn players that I come in contact with are playing horns set up in a manner such that they can’t possibly be playing in tune in ensembles. When the player is not my student I try to only mention this in the most gentle of ways, but if they do enter my studio I certainly make sure to address this issue. I always hope to in the process reach beyond that of me telling them how to tune their horn, looking instead toward an understanding on their part of why the slides need to be set up as they are.

Band directors, orchestra conductors, and other non horn players coaching horn sectionals can be forgiven. They may know that the horns are out of tune but don’t know how the slides function–they just know that the horns need to pull out something!

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Horn players should be inquisitive enough to figure out where the main slide is and what the other slides do. However, many players seem to on certain models of horn think that slides which control the F horn only are actually controlling notes on the B-flat horn. If you know that the B-flat horn is high and inadvertently pull a F horn tuning slide this will only make things worse, making the F and B-flat sides even more out of tune with each other! “If in doubt, pull it out” of the horn and blow air through the slide to double check when air is actually going through the slide to determine when it is functioning acoustically.

I used to have a long article on tuning the horn in the Horn Articles Online site, but that text is now found in my high horn book (Playing Descant and Triple Horns, available here), in a section titled “My High Register is Sharp”. I would, however, point to these Horn Matters articles for more practical information on the topic.

University of Horn Matters