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French horn lesson

Learn about the French horn from an expert musician with the U.S. Marine Band. Includes warm-up exercises for long tones, arpeggios, dynamics, articulation, and the natural (valveless) horn.

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Video transcript

("Horkstow Grange, Lincolnshire Posy" by Percy Grainger) - In orchestral literature the French horn player doesn't play all the time. We are used as a color, one of many colors. I would say the strings probably have the hardest job, they're always playing. We have a lot of rests. And then we come in and we might play really loud, or something really soft, but then we rest a little bit again. In the band literature, we are that middle voice that maybe in the orchestra would be the cellos or the violas. And I find it very important to have a very thorough and slow warm up each day that covers what I'll call the bases. So the way that I typically will begin is with a slow, descending scale. And I like doing this because sometimes the previous day's rehearsal will have kind of beat your face up a little bit. The muscles in your face, they're very small, they're very sensitive. So I wanna make sure that I don't just start playing really loud and really high, which is much more taxing on those muscles. I wanna start kinda soft and just ease my way into playing for the day. So that might just sound like this. (French horn music descending) It's just a soft, slow scale downwards. But I'll go up half a step at a time and gradually get higher. (sings descending scales in ascending patterns) Just a little higher each time. ("When Jesus Wept, New England Triptych" by William Schuman) After I've started my warm up by playing some soft, slow scales down, I'll typically go and start playing some arpeggios. The arpeggios go from lower in the range of the horn to a little bit higher. And I feel like I can kind of touch each note that I'm able to play and it just makes me feel a little more secure throughout the day. And that sounds a little like this. (French horn music ascending and descending) So you can see that's not the most extreme high that I can play, but it does go down pretty low. I think it's important to mention at this time you might be saying, you know, Arpeggios and all these scales, I'm noticing you only have three valves on the instrument. The reason that this correlates with my warm up is because the French horn is a little slippery. You know, we don't just push down a button and then a note comes out, like the flute or the clarinet. You have to kind of position your air in a certain spot, but you have to know where that spot is each time. So that's why it's important in the warm up to play all these different notes. So if I were to just not use any of my valves, I can play this range of notes. (French horn music ascending) I like to touch each of those notes. And I'll sometimes do a little arpeggio like that just, what we call the natural horn without valves, also in the morning. ("Fanfare Ritmico" by Jennifer Higdon) So, when I do my warm up each morning, I typically start the same way every day. The slow scales down, then some arpeggios. Then, depending on what the demands of the music are for that day or that week, I will sort of tailor my warm up. If I have a lot of really short, staccato notes, I'm gonna make sure that in my warm up I'm practicing that. (French horn short and choppy music) (French horn smooth and connected music) I'm gonna play, so if I was gonna play legato, I might follow it up with some legato playing. If I'm gonna play really loud, then I will absolutely play some long tones where I maybe start soft and then grow really loud! Or if I'm gonna be playing soft, starting the note and then gradually dying away. I mean, you want to have, at any time, the ability to control your instrument in any way that you need. (French horn music growing louder) (French horn music growing softer) The ideal is when you're going to soft, if you can absolutely make it fade to nothing with no discernible ending to the note, that's what I really go for every time that I'm using that exercise. ("First Suite in E-Flat for Military Band" by Gustav Holst)