Horn Overview and History

HornEarlier than the 1900’s, most people connected the horn with the hunting horn of the past. The earliest horns were made of animal horn. After that, wound metal tubes were used as hunting horns. Composers always wrote very rustic hunting-style music for the horn sections in the orchestra. The horn has since been modernized and it is not solely connected with hunting anymore. The horn is known as a middle instrument, where it is a “harmony filler”. The lines that the horns play in the music are somewhere in the middle between the bass line and the melody. In beginning band, the horns will have similar parts as the alto saxophones. It is an excellent instrument for blending and creating rich tone colors within the band.

Where to Purchase

Local dealers are: The Music Academy of ChelmsfordUniversity Music, and Music and Arts.

Horn Brands and Models for Beginners

Holton H378
Conn 6D
Yamaha YHR 567

Horn Brands and Models for Intermediate Players

Conn 8D
Holton H379


Some instruments are written in concert pitch. This means that when that specific instrument plays a “C”, a “C” comes out. To transpose means that the player is playing an instrument that sounds a different pitch (higher or lower) than the pitch they are presently reading on the staff. Horn players sound a perfect fifth lower than written. If you play a “C”, an “F” is the sounding pitch. When directed to play a “Concert B-flat”, you will play a “F” to correctly play the requested note.

Instrument Assembly

  1. Lift your horn from the case by the bell and large tubing; never by the valve!
  2. Place the mouthpiece into the leadpipe and gently twist it in.

Hand Position

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Embouchure and Sound Production

The “embouchure” (pronounced ahm-boo-sure) is the way a musician applies their mouth to the mouthpiece of their instrument. All wind musicians must work very hard to build muscle memory in the jaw and mouth so that your sound is consistently of good quality.

  1. The horn depends on vibration from the player. The goal is to buzz your lips to sound like a bee or a fly.
  2. Use the words “dim” or “em” to set up the lips correctly. The corners of your lips are firm, and the center of your lips are placed together, but not tight.
  3. Blow your air through the closed lips in the center. Use the syllable “peh” while the air is coming through to keep your lips together; this will help the vibration happen!
  4. LOW NOTES: 2/3 to 1/3 ratio of upper lip to lower lip should be used. It’s important to find this “groove”, so continuously place the mouthpiece on your lips while you’re practicing so that you may memorize where it should be placed.
  5. LOWER JAW: pretend that you are chewing, but keep the embouchure firm. This helps with flexibility of buzzing and therefore sound production.
    1. High Notes: use the syllable “ee”
    2. Middle Notes: use the syllable “oh”
    3. Low Notes: use the syllable “aw”
    4. Practicing using all of these syllable formations with your jaw will result in a “siren” sound while you are buzzing on the mouthpiece- this is what we want!
  6. The lead pipe (part of the horn where you place the mouthpiece in) should not be straight in front of you like a trumpet, but pointed down. This gives your lips freedom to buzz correctly on the horn.
  7. Summary: It is important to set the mouthpiece rim above the lip-line on the upper lip, a downward angle to the leadpipe will allow free vibration of the upper lip, and a flexible lower jaw to help with high, middle, and low playing.


Brass instruments have similar intonation issues due to the valve system, which is based on the overtone series. The following information below explains which notes will be in tune, flat (lower), or sharp (higher) based on valve combinations. Use the fingering chart below to map out which notes will most likely be flat or sharp on your instrument.

Valve Combination Pitch Tendencies

The following valve combinations will either be ok with no pitch problems, sharp (the pitch is too high), or flat (the pitch is too low). Use a tuner for a reference. If your pitch is too high or low using these combinations, we will “lip it up” or “lip it down”. This has to do with changing your embouchure and adjusting your muscles.

To correct a flat pitch: Firm corners of your lips, raise the tongue
To correct a sharp pitch: Relax corners of your lips, lower the tongue








Ok pitch

Ok pitch

Ok pitch

Slightly sharp

Slightly flat

Moderately sharp

Very sharp


The articulation that we will use on the horn is the syllable “Doo”. This is how your tongue will begin each note on the trumpet. There are different types of articulations that we will go through in band rehearsals. While at home, always practice beginning each note with the tongue on the roof of your mouth right where the teeth meet the gum.

Horn Fingering Chart

Click here to download your own copy!

BandWorld Brass Instrument fingering Chart

Care and MaintenanceBrass Care Kit

  1. Every few days, apply rotor oil to the valves. For each valve, hold down its lever and remove its slide. Turn the horn up and put a few drops of oil into the tube, working the valve to distribute the oil. Replace the slide and repeat the process on the next valve.
  2. Clean your mouthpiece with a mouthpiece brush, Dawn dish soap, and warm water.
  3. Clean your horn’s finish with a polishing cloth (do not use liquid polish).
  4. Apply slide grease to the slides (pull them out one at a time while pressing the corresponding valve down). Wipe them clean with a soft cloth, rub a small amount of grease on them, and insert back into place.

Giving Your Instrument a “BATH”
YEARLY: We recommend taking your instrument to a technician once per year and getting it chemically flushed and cleaned out. Ultrasonic cleaning is also an option. But, a few times a year, it’s good to give your instrument a bath. Here are the instructions:

Use a medium sized plastic bin. Fill halfway with warm water and Dawn dish detergent.

Step 1: Disassemble your horn (NOT THE ROTOR VALVES) by removing all valve caps, slides, and mouthpiece. You will not be submerging your horn.
Step 2: Place all parts in warm water and let them soak for 30-60 minutes. Do NOT use hot water. You may use Dawn dish detergent.
Step 3: Use a long tube brush to gently scrub inside the tubes.
Step 4: Rinse everything, let dry.
Step 6: Reassemble the instrument. Use a good amount of oil and slide grease. Wipe away any extra grease or oil.

Notable Horn Players

J.D. Shaw

James Sommerville

Dale Clevenger

Dennis Brain

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ABC Block SOLIDSwhite

A project by Allison Lacasse: 3rd year Practical Application project for completion of a Masters Degree in Music Education at the American Band College of Central Washington University (2018).