How to Play French Horn With the Proper Embouchure

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A French horn player is only as good as her embouchure. The better your embouchure, the better your range, endurance and tone when playing your French horn in a band, orchestra or brass ensemble. It all starts with proper positioning of the mouthpiece, the right amount of pucker in your lips and the air pressure you use to make a sound.

  • Hold the corners of your mouth tight in a slight smile. Keep the center of the lips relaxed so you can get a controlled, even sound when you make a buzz with your mouth. The lips should not flap or make a lot of loose noise when you buzz them.

  • Place the mouthpiece on your mouth, covering about 2/3 of the upper lip and 1/3 of the lower lip. One easy way to find the right position for you is to lick your lips slightly before bringing the mouthpiece to your mouth. See where the mouthpiece naturally settles on your lips (with the fleshy part of the upper lip comfortably inside the mouthpiece) and chances are good you've found the right position for you.

  • Moisten lips before you start to blow. Slightly wet lips allow you to more easily reposition the mouthpiece while playing. Wet lips also aid stamina as dry lips could lead the mouthpiece to get stuck in one place, causing them to wear out more quickly.

  • Keep the chin relaxed and flat. To see how this feels, place an index with the side of its tip against your lips much like you were signaling for someone to "shhh." If you are keeping the chin down and flat, you shouldn't feel much chin against your finger. Some players also think of not "bunching up" the chin.

  • Fight the natural inclination to use increased pressure on your lips the higher you play. Yes, you will need to add some pressure as you go into your higher range, but if you use too much pressure all the time, pressing the mouthpiece too firmly to your lips, your embouchure will wear out more quickly.

  • Breathe deeply, then direct the air with good force through the aperture (opening) in your lips to get a good buzz and good sound. If you have complied with all the preceding steps, this buzz should produce the rich tone the French horn is known for.

Tips & Warnings

  • Sit in the proper position to play the French horn as you won't be able to position the mouthpiece properly if you aren't exhibiting the right posture. You need to be able to comfortably bring the mouthpiece to your mouth without leaning into your horn so that you are slouched. Incorrect posture will prevent you from breathing properly, too.
  • Silently buzz your lips loosely, letting them flap a little, when you are in between pieces you are playing or during rests in your part. This will help you relax your lip muscles momentarily to help you keep up endurance.
  • Keep a tube of lip balm on your music stand to easily moisten your lips while playing.
  • Be careful not to let your cheeks puff out when you play. This makes your air stream harder to control and increases the pressure in your head. Keep the cheeks tight and direct the air to the aperture in the center of your embouchure instead of into your cheeks.
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