How to tune a Horn
How to Tune

How to tune a Horn

The horn (French horn) is a very elegant and complex instrument. The term “French horn” is actually not entirely correct, because in its modern form the French horn came to us from Germany.  Musicians from all over the world continue to refer to the instrument as a horn, although the name “horn” would be more correct. This instrument comes in a variety of styles and models, opening up a wide range of styles for musicians. Beginners generally prefer the single horn, which is less bulky and easier to play. More experienced players are more likely to choose the double horn.

Method 1

Find an engine. A single horn usually has only one main slider, it is not attached to the valve and is called the F slider. To tune it, remove the horn tube from the mouthpiece.

  • If a horn has more than one engine, it’s probably a double horn. So, you need to set up the B-flat engine.

Before you start playing the instrument, you should do a warm-up. The warm-up should last about 3-5 minutes. At this point, you just need to blow. A cold instrument will not sound, so you need to warm it up, as well as practice at the same time. Therefore, in order to tune and prepare the instrument for playing, you need to play it a little in a warm room. You can play in different sized rooms to appreciate the sound quality. Remember that cold air distorts the sound, so try to play in a warm room. This way you will warm up the instrument and get used to it a bit.

Use the instrument settings and play the notes F (F) and C (C). In order to match the melody to the orchestra or ensemble you are playing in, all the horns must play in sync. You can use an electric tuner, a tuning fork, or even a well-tuned grand piano if you have a great ear for music!

Listen to the melody to see if you hit the notes. If the main slider is in the correct position, the sounds will sound more “sharp”, if not, the sounds will be more melodic. Listen to the melody and determine what sounds you hear.

Play to hit the notes. If you hear the note F or C on the piano, play the corresponding note (the valve must be free).

Hold your right hand near the “funnel” of the horn. If you’re playing in an orchestra or in a play, you need to be in tune with the other musicians. Keep your hand at the bell to make sure.
Adjust the instrument so that it hits the “F” note. When you play a duet with a piano or other instrument, you will hear the sound one note lower. Drag the sliders to adjust the sharpness of the tone. You may need practice to determine if you need to adjust the sharpness. At first, this difference seems small and completely invisible. If you do not adjust something, the air flow will be disturbed, which means that the sound will be different.
Tune the instrument in B flat. If you’re playing a double horn, it’s especially important to tune your sound and double-check. Press the valve with your finger to “switch” to B flat. Play the note “F”, it will correspond to the note “C” on the piano. Play between F and B flat. Move the main slider and tune the instrument to the note “B-flat” in the same way as you tuned the note “F”
Set up “closed” notes. Now you played sounds with the valve open, and now you need to tune the instrument with the valve closed. For this, an electric tuner, a piano (if you have a good ear for music), a tuning fork are best suited.
  • Play “to” the middle octave (standard).
  • Now play “C” a quarter above the tuned middle octave. For example, for the first valve, you need to play “F” above the “C” of the middle octave. It’s much easier to compare notes to the middle octave C, then you’ll hear intonation between sounds and be able to tell if one is, for example, an octave higher than the other.
  • Adjust the valve for each note to minimize any inaccuracies. To make the sound “sharper”, push the valve. To make the sound smoother, pull the valve out.
  • Adjust and test each valve. If you have a double horn, it will have six flaps (three each on the F side and the B side).

Make sure you can easily wrap your hand around the tool. If you’ve tuned the instrument but the sounds are still too ‘sharp’, you may need to provide more coverage on the right side near the horn bell. Likewise, if you’ve got everything set up and the sound is still too “smooth”, turn down the coverage

Mark your changes in the settings with a pencil. This should be done immediately after you have configured and corrected the engines. This will give you a good idea of ​​where each engine should be placed. Don’t forget to compare the sound of your horn with other instruments.

  • Engine markings are especially useful when you need to clean the horn in the middle of a performance. Cleaning the instrument of condensation and saliva can usually spoil the initial settings a little. To fix this, you need to accurately mark the level of the valve and the slider so that you can quickly fix the tool. In addition, you can quickly return the engine to the right place immediately after cleaning the tool

Be prepared to compromise. The difficulty with the horn is that you cannot achieve an absolute match in every note. You will need to adjust to the sounds, choosing the golden mean

Method 2 – Changing the pitch depending on the playing technique

Change the position of the horn. Depending on this position of the horn, movements occur in the mouth, due to which air enters the horn. Control the flow of air through the unit, you can lower it slightly down to the side to achieve the perfect sound. You can position your tongue and lips in certain ways to achieve different pitches.

Move your right hand to the bell. Remember that the sound also depends on the position of your hand. If you have small hands and a large bell, it may be difficult to find a hand position that covers the bell enough to achieve good tone. The combination of large hands and a small bell is also undesirable. Practice positioning your hand to adjust the pitch. The more you can adjust the position of your hand over the bell, the smoother the sound will be. 

  • You can also use a special sleeve that will serve as an additional insurance for you. This will ensure that the bell is covered consistently and evenly, and will help achieve good tone.

Change mouthpiece. There are different sizes and shapes of the mouthpiece, there are mouthpieces of greater or lesser thickness. Another mouthpiece will allow you to bring out new sounds or improve the quality of your playing. The size of the mouthpiece depends on the size of the mouth, and, accordingly, the position of the mouth affects the quality of the sound. You can also pull out the mouthpiece and adjust it to your liking.

Practice often to find the most comfortable position. Learn more about this instrument, listen to other musicians to develop your ear. Practice using the electronic tuner to see how accurately you can distinguish notes and sounds. Don’t look at the tuner at first, but take notes. Then check with the tuner for a self test. Then correct yourself if you made a mistake and listen to how the instrument will sound now

Play in an ensemble. You should hear not only yourself, but also other musicians. You can adjust the tone to suit the overall melody. When you play with others, it’s much easier to match the rhythm.

Method 3 – Take care of your instrument

Do not eat or drink while playing. This is a complex and expensive instrument, and even minor damage can affect the sound quality. Therefore, you can not eat or drink during the game. Before you start playing, it is best to brush your teeth to make sure that no food remains in the horn.

Keep an eye on the valves. Keep the tool in good condition, especially the moving parts. For oil valves, use special lubricating oil (available from music stores), you can use oil for bearings and valve springs. Also, once a month, wipe the valves with warm water, then be sure to dry them with a clean, soft cloth.

Clean your instrument regularly! Otherwise, the inside will be full of saliva and condensate. This can allow mold and other growths to build up quickly, which will of course affect the sound quality and longevity of the instrument itself. Clean the inside of the instrument by periodically rinsing it with warm water. The water should be soapy to get rid of saliva. Then dry the instrument thoroughly with a clean, dry cloth


  • With practice, you can change the tone of your playing. The ear can get used to certain sounds, but to develop this skill, practice playing silently with only your fingers.
  • If you play for a long time, the sound will deteriorate. Therefore, if you play for a long time, you need to constantly adjust the position of the instrument and try new playing techniques.
  • Vocal lessons are another way to improve your ear for music. You can train your ear to distinguish different sounds and identify notes.
How to Properly Tune a French Horn

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