hand horn

List of horn techniques

Some of these horn techniques are not unique to the horn, but are applicable to most or all wind instruments.''

Double/triple tonguing

Normal tonguing consists of interrupting the air stream by tapping the back of the front teeth with the tongue as said in the syllables 'da', 'ta', 'doo', or 'too'. Double tonguing consists of alternating between the 'ta' and the 'ka' sounds or between the 'da' and 'ga' sounds. The tongue makes the same movement as if the player is repeatedly saying 'kitty' or 'ticket.' Triple tonguing is most used for patterns of three notes and is made with the syllables 'ta-ta-ka', 'ta-ka-ta', or 'da-ga-da.'

Stopped horn

This is the act of fully closing off the bell of the instrument with either the right hand or a special stopping mute. This results in producing a somewhat nasal sound. When required, in the sheet music the usual notation is a '+' above the note followed by a 'o' above notes that are to be played open. For longer stopped passages, the word indicating a stopped horn is written out. Below is a list for different languages:

  • English: stopped ... open
  • German: gestopft ... offen
  • Italian: chiuso ... aperto
  • French: bouché ... ouvert (not to be confused with cuivré which means brassy.)

The pitch lowers gradually when the hand is placed in the bell and slowly moved inward. When the bell is completely covered (stopped), the pitch falls to a half-step above the next lower partial (harmonic). For example, playing a middle C (F-horn, open) and gradually covering the bell into stopped horn, the pitch will lower a major 3rd to A (or 1/2 step above G, the next lower partial). However, playing a 3rd space C (F-horn, open) and repeating the stopped horn, the pitch will lower a half-step to a B-natural (or 1/2 step above B, the next lower partial). The hand horn technique developed in the classical period, with music pieces requiring the use of covering the bell to various degrees to lower the pitch accordingly. Mozart's 'Four Horn Concertos' and 'Concert Rondo' were written with this technique in mind, as was the music both Beethoven and Brahms wrote for the horn.

Practically, it is too cumbersome to keep track of what partial is being played and what the "1/2 step above the next lower partial" would be. As such, when playing stopped, horn players over blow one partial while playing stopped, play the partial above the note then intended, cover the bell completely and thereby arrive at 1/2 step above their intended pitch, and then compensate by fingering a half step below the written pitch. Thus most horn players are taught that stopped horn "raises the pitch 1/2 step".

It is crucial to understand the difference (between practical application by the player and the acoustic theory behind it) because some modern composers have incorrectly notated that the horn is to bend an open pitch upward to a stopped pitch. This is impossible. The horn pitch can only be bent downward into a stopped pitch.

In the middle register, try F-horn fingers when playing stopped horn. In the upper register, however, experimentation with traditionally flat fingerings on the B horn (For example, 1st valve G) can yield more secure notes without sacrificing good intonation. Some B horns have an a stopping valve that compensates for this, allowing the player to use normal fingerings with the stopping valve.

There is also an effect that is occasionally called for, usually in French music, called "echo horn", "hand mute" or "sons d'écho" (see Dukas Sorcerer's Apprentice) which is like stopped horn, but different in that the bell is not closed as tightly. The player closes the hand enough so that the pitch drops 1/2 step, but, especially in the middle register, this is not closed as tightly as for stopped horn. Consequently, when playing echo horn, the player fingers one half step higher.

The difference between stopping and "echo horn" is a source of much confusion to younger players, especially ones whose hands are not big enough to close the bell all the way for stopped horn. Instead of stopping properly, they erroneously close the bell insufficiently and finger 1/2 step higher.

For more information on stopped horn see "Extended Techniques for the Horn" by Douglas Hill (ASIN: B00072T6B0) — Professor of Horn at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, also has more information about stopped horn and the physics behind it; for more information on hand horn see A modern valve horn player's guide to the natural horn by Paul Austin (ASIN: B0006PCD4A).

Note that whenever one is using stopped horn, that the player should only use the F side. When one uses stopped horn on the B Flat side of the horn, the partials are not as accurate, even in ranges where a player would normally use the B Flat side. Also, the F side will give more of a full tone.

Also, the hand can be partially inserted into the bell in such a fashion as to lower the pitch of the horn one-quarter tone, an extended technique used in some modern compositions today.

Handhorn technique

Before the advent of the valve horn, a player would increase the number of playable notes beyond the normal harmonic series by changing the position of his hand in the bell. It is possible to use a combination of stopping, hand-muting (3/4 stopping), and half-stopping (to correct notes that would otherwise be out of tune) to play almost every note of a mid-range chromatic scale on one fingering. Most modern pieces for hand-horn tend to spend more time in the higher ranges, as there are more notes that can be played naturally (without altering hand position and maintaining pure tone) above the 8th note of any harmonic series.


Many older pieces for horn were written for a horn not keyed in F as is standard today. As a result a requirement for modern orchestra hornists is to be able to read music directly in these keys. This is most commonly done by transposing the music on the fly into F. A reliable way to transpose is to liken the written notes (which rarely deviate from written C, D,E, and G) to their counterparts in the scale the F horn will be playing in. Commonly seen transpositions include:

Some less common transpositions include:

It has been speculated that one of the reasons Brahms wrote for horn in the awkward key of B(♮) was to encourage the horn players to use the natural horn; he did not like the sound of the new valved horns.


Multiphonics is the act of producing more than one pitch simultaneously on the horn. To do this one note is produced as normal while another is sung. Doing this it is quite difficult to produce an aesthetically pleasing sound, but nonetheless can be done. Like other wind instrument techniques, it is not unique to the horn. One of its earliest uses, however, occurs in the Concertino for Horn and Orchestra by Carl Maria von Weber.

Another kind of multiphonics can be achieved by simultaneously playing two neighbouring notes of the harmonic series. A practical way of doing this is by placing the lower lip under and outside the mouthpiece, playing one note, and then gently, by increasing air pressure and adjusting one's lip-position, halfway slurring upwards to the next harmonic step. This might be frustrating at first, and the technique is quite an unstable one to perform in real-time, especially when compared with similar practices with other brass instruments, esp. trombone. This technique finds its occasional use in contemporary music where, successfully performed, it might evoke an interesting effect.

Circular breathing

Information on this subject can be found at the article on circular breathing.

Tips and tricks

Quick valve water emptying
Every horn is different and every hornist must learn how to get the water out of their instrument. This trick however is nearly universal across all standard double horns. Hold the horn so the bell is up in the air. Press down the third valve and flip the first and second while rotating the horn back to the normal position. All the water in the valves is now in the third valve tubings. This is for removing water from the valves during a concert where too much noise or blowing should not be risked. Fake high C
On some horns a high f(concert pitch) can pop out while pressing the first valve of the F side down halfway. This is not recommended for performance as the tone quality of this note suffers. A way to try it is to play a normal third space c on the f side and slowly press down the first valve. (discussion) Fake high D
Pull out completely the first tuning slide of the F-horn. Playing this combination (1+F) produces a stable, well centered tone, which blends quite well in the context of baroque music (e.g J.S.Bach kantata nr.100 in G). This is of course not the case with symphonic, post-romantic parts, or with contemporary music. Vaseline or Petroleum Jelly usage on slides
Vaseline or Petroleum Jelly make fair and inexpensive slide greases. They will work like the expensive slide greases that one might find in music shops, just don't go overboard with the stuff. If you have an expensive/professional quality horn this is not advised. Any rotary oil you put down into your valves is liable to act as a solvent and wash the vaseline into your valves from the sides of the piping. This can affect precision rotary valves quite a lot, so proper slide grease is advised for professional players as good quality ones will not be soluble in the rotary oil. A good alternative is anhydrous lanolin-- this is available from pharmacies, and can remedy loose slides.

Alternate fingering suggestions

A and D on the B side tend to be sharp, especially as you get into higher octaves. One suggestion is to play these notes with the third valve (and trigger). Also, for the A above the staff (the horn A, otherwise known as concert D), a way to flatten it is to play it with just the thumb. However, all instruments are different, so you will want to check this against a tuner.

If you are unable to play the fundamental of the horn (the concert F that is an octave below the bass clef) with the traditional fingering of 0, then you can sometimes also play it T13.

Lip Trill

A lip trill is a rapid oscillation between neighboring harmonics - used primarily for whole-step trills from second-line G up approximately an octave. Lip trills are possible both lower and higher, but much lower than G and the harmonics are too far apart for a whole step, and much higher and harmonics are to narrow. Many books give fingering charts for lip trills, but as with all things on the double horn, there are options. A good rule of thumb, however, is for a trill from G-A, use 1 & 3, on the F horn, A-B, use 2 & 3, etc. From third-space C-D, use 2 & 3 on the B horn, up to open B horn for f-g. In his book "The Horn", Barry Tuckwell also gives a fingering chart of possible 'faux' 1/2 step lip trills.

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