The French horn or sometimes called just horn is a member of the brass family. As with all brass instruments, the sound is produced by buzzing the lips into a mouthpiece. The French horn is a beautiful sounding instrument but beginners should proceed with caution. Due to the way a horn is constructed, it is more difficult for young students to play the correct notes. The French horn can be a great beginning instrument for someone with some music background and the ability to match pitches correctly. The student should be able to sing in tune in order to know when they are playing the correct pitches on their horn.
Taking care of a French horn is easier than a woodwind instrument. It is stored in the case in just two pieces. The only regular maintenance required is to oil the valves now and then and grease the slides as needed.
The French horn is played with the left hand on top of the instrument with the first three fingers resting on the valves. Some French horns also have fourth valve for the thumb. The right hand should rest against the top portion of the bell. As students advance they will learn how to place the right hand inside the bell for a beautiful sound.
French horns are made as single horns or double horns or sometimes as a rarely seen triple horn. The simplest beginning horn is a single horn which can come in two sizes, either a Bb (B flat) or an F horn. There are differing beliefs as to which is the best student instrument. Most teachers prefer the F horn but in my experience, students succeed more often with a Bb horn. Either way, the single horn is much cheaper and less troublesome than the double. Students can start on a double if they are fairly certain they will be playing the horn for a while and if they have lots of music background. Virtually all advanced students and professional players perform on a double horn. Most beginning students move to a double horn as early as their second year of band.
The French horn is not as popular as the trumpet or clarinet. Less students performing an instrument means that the competition will not be as fierce. Good French horn players are desperately needed in all beginning and advanced bands.
The French horn is popular in bands, symphony orchestras and small instrumental groups. The instrument is also popular among Hollywood composers since they write a lot of movie music for the French horn. It also works very well as a solo instrument.
There are several good choices for purchasing a beginning French horn. The first decision to make is to decide which style of the instrument to purchase. The choices are a single horn (Bb or F) or a double horn. I recommend a singe Bb horn but students can truly succeed with any of the options. Giardinelli sells a very popular single French horn: the Holton H650 student Bb Horn. Two good student double horns from Giardinelli include the Holton H378 and the Holton H379.
Purchasing a used French horn can be a good option if it is purchased with some caution. There isnt a lot that can go wrong with a French horn compared to a woodwind instrument. If the valves move freely and the instrument doesnt have leaks or large dents, it is probably a decent instrument unless it is manufactured by a substandard brand. Buying a used instrument is only recommended if you know an advanced horn player or band director who can test a used instrument before you buy.