by Dr. Paul Austin



The horn is perhaps one of the most fascinating musical instruments. With its rough- and-tumble beginnings as an outdoor signaling device played by hunters or war mongers, today it enjoys its role as the heroic soul of the orchestra in concert halls played by professionally-trained musicians.

Currently horn students can get a boost in their training by gaining some knowledge about the natural horn. Perhaps this information can unlock a few mysteries about the valve horn, as well as give the satisfaction and peace of mind in leaving no stone unturned in their musical education.

For starters, this instrument was a particular favorite of composers such as Mozart and Brahms. Their knowledge of which pitches would be open and present, as opposed to covered and veiled, was evident in their writing style. In fact, study of those open vs. altered pitches found in Mozart Concerti and the Brahms Horn Trio can help a horn player determine the shape of the melodic phrase which was intended by the composer.

Since the natural horn is naturally in-tune (thanks to the harmonic series), the art of playing horn fifths is quite easy. Listening skills are enhanced when determining what notes to adjust with the right hand, and how much to do so.

Lip trills seem to occur easier on the natural horn, perhaps since it is a lighter instrument than the valve horn. Flexibility and strength are also a welcomed bonus of natural horn playing, since the embouchure and face muscles receive a workout.

A number of music schools own natural horns for students to check out and explore. Of course, using a valve horn without changing valves can give players an idea of natural horn playing.

With 2013 upon us, why not include a New Year's resolution about making the natural horn a part of your daily horn world? Just a few minutes at each practice session could make all the difference in your training.

Dr Paul Austin studied the natural horn with Richard Seraphinoff and Anthony Halstead and is the author of "A Modern Valve Horn Player's Guide to the Natural Horn", available from Birdalone Music (

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