How to Tune a French Horn

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Tuning a French horn can be complicated, because there are essentially 14 different horns within a single instrument. Understand the art of keeping a French horn in tune with help from an experienced musician and music instructor in this free video on brass instruments.

Part of the Video Series: The French Horn
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Video Transcript

This is Dr. Steven Gross, horn professor at The University of California, Santa Barbara. How to tune the horn, what makes the horn interesting is that it's not really one horn but it's actually fourteen different horns. To explain we have the instrument without pushing any valves but then we in a sense create a totally new horn by pushing each valve, and another, etc., etc. So with the B Flat side of the horn there are seven different valve combinations and with the F side of the horn there are also seven different valve combinations creating a total of 14 different possible valve combinations. So what does this have to do with tuning? It's this. Every time we push down a valve we create a new horn and therefore we have to have a whole new set of valves to play in tune with. So for example this is horn pitched C or concert F but if I push down the second valve, I now have a horn in E which is great but if the composer calls for different pitches I have to keep on putting down more and more and more valves to get it in tune and so the other shot of it is F shot of it is for every valve I push down I really don't have enough slides to cover all the length I need to cover all fourteen of those horns. That's why we have to be creative. We do have a set of standard fingerings for the horn but we always must know what key we're in and which pitch we are in a certain key so particularly here I'm getting a little bit complicated but I think you'll understand that a third or notes that are three steps apart will always have a certain scientific ratio and if we have in our head the pitch of dah dee we always know where to place the third and consequently it's the same for all the rest of the pitches in the scale. Of course all of our modern instruments come with these slides so that we can push and pull the slides as need be depending on a good compromise for all of the keys. For my horn for example I have to push out my first valve a little bit more than I have to push out the second and the third not at all but by adding a little bit more length to my slides I can get more of the tubing to get things in tune. Also you have to know in your head where to bend the pitch to make it in tune but lastly we have the right hand in the bell which is one of the most important aspects of tuning because we can shade the pitch so it can be just right.

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