How to Play the French Horn

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There are three aspects of playing the French horn and making good sounds, including breathing, embouchure and air pressure. Find out how to use the lungs, abdomen and lips to play the French horn with help from a horn player in this free video on musical instruments and French horns.

Part of the Video Series: French Horn
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Video Transcript

So as we alluded to earlier. The most important thing about playing the French Horn is learning how to make a really good sound. It's by far in a way, the most important thing you can learn how to do. So how do we make a good sound? Well, there are three parameters that are involved. The first one is breathing. That is taking the air into the body. And breath support, that is letting the air out. So let's talk about breathing first. Now those of you who are in beginning band. Probably have Band directors that tell you. That you need to breathe from the belly. And that is only partially correct. When we breathe down in the belly. We are not incorporating our lungs from about the sternum. All the way up to the collar bone. So you're only getting about maybe thirty, forty percent of your lungs in action there. So what we want to do, is learn how to breathe. Not from the belly but from the middle of our body. From the sternum. So make a nice round cavity with your rib cage. Set the horn in a nice comfortable position. And let the body expand out, forward like this. The air will rush in, as the rib cage expands slightly outward. The sternum falls into the abdominal cavity. Excuse me, the diaphragm falls into the abdominal cavity. It gives us a lot of pressure from the air. The atmospheric pressure will just push the air basically right down into your lungs. So let me demonstrate. As nice, nice and easy. The easier the motion, the better. So once the air is in the body. Very easy, it's just like breathing normally. Except, we just expand the natural motion. We need to have more air volume in the lungs. We need to have, and the result in air pressure is extremely important. So we get the air into the lungs. Now the next thing is, how do we get it out? With the amount of pressure that we need. In order to make a really good sound. There's only really one way to do it. And that is to use the abdominal muscles. Press in towards the back bone. Thereby pushing the diaphragm. Which is the band of muscles right below the lungs. Pushing them up, allowing the lungs to contract. Thereby producing some pressure. And allowing the air to come up and over the tongue. Out through the Embouchure. So let's see if I can demonstrate that. We breathe in. And at that moment, we set the Embouchure. We set the muscles here. Not too tight, just a little bit of pressure. Just enough to get the diaphragm to start to feel the move upwards. Just a little bit. Getting a little bit of pressure. So and as I play, I feel the muscles of the abdomen pushing backwards. Towards the backbone. A very, very relaxed but slightly engaged kind of way. That continues on through the phrase. Until we're ready to breathe again. And then we expand outward. Allow the belly to come out. Breathe all and then visualize breathing. All the way up to the collar bone. Filling the lungs completely. Especially, as a beginner. As we get to be more advanced. It's not necessary to fill up all the way, every time. So that's breathing in a nutshell. O.k., so now we're going to talk about the part of one playing. That is the most misunderstood and the most concentrated upon, of any other parameters. That we need to examine. In terms of making a sound. And that is the Embouchure. That is how the two lips set on to the mouth piece. Now it's important to realize that there are three different ways. That we can do this. However there's one thread of truth. That flows through all three different Embouchure settings. And that is, what you need to do. Is use the large muscles of the face. To push the lips together. So the lines of force are pushing in. Rather than pulling back. If you see, any of your colleagues, any of your friends at school. Pulling their corners back like that. You know that that's incorrect. That's going to cause a lot of problems. In terms of range, in terms of endurance. In terms of all sorts of different things. What we need to do, is use the lines of force. Using the large muscles that surround the lips themselves. To push together. Now the three different types of Embouchures that we have at our disposal. Are completely determined by the size and shape of your lips. So I'll go through them very quickly. Two of them have German names. One is called Ansetzen. A, N, S, E, T, Z, E, N. And that refers to an Embouchure. Where both lips are inside the mouthpiece, at all times. So basically, it's like that. Then there's another German name for the second type of Embouchure. And this one is the one that's pictured in a lot of text books. It's called Einsetzen. It means that the lower lip ridge, is outside the cup of the mouthpiece. At all times, in all Registers. You can see closely, the ridge of my lower lip is set outside the rim of the mouthpiece. So that's the second one that has a lot of advantages. Especially in the low range. And then the third one is a Hybrid. That means both of them together. Where as we use the Einsetzen in Embouchure in the low range. And the Ansetzen in Embouchure in the high range. Thereby as we push the Embouchure together to get into the high range. It allows us to get the Aperture. That is the hole between the lips, smaller and smaller. Which allows for the notes to come out in a hurry. So let me just demonstrate. We'll start with a, with an Einsetzen. That is the ridge of the lower lip is outside the mouthpiece. Then you can see, right about there. The lower lip shifts up, into the mouthpiece. And allows the Aperture hole to get smaller and smaller and smaller. As I go into the high range. I'll do that shift, one more time. Pushing my lips closer and closer together. As I go up. And conversely, as I come down. Controlling the action of opening the hole in between the lips. At a very, in a very, very controlled kind of a way. As I come down. That's Embouchure in a nutshell.


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