Tuning the Farkas Double Horn

by Philip Farkas

(These instructions are for a horn with a separate Bb tuning slide. When tuning a horn that does not have a separate Bb tuning slide tune the Bb side of the horn first, then tune the F side to match. The rest of the tuning procedure is identical. Please also note that the smaller F tuning slide provided on some horns is for the purpose of emptying water only. It should remain completely closed during playing. RJO)

     There are two phases to tuning the Holton Double French horn: first to tune the general pitch to that of the organization or to the instruments with which it will be played; and second, to tune the various intervals of the horn so that the instrument is "in tune with itself."

     1. Begin by tuning the open notes of the F horn to a well-tuned piano, a tuning bar or fork, or a strobe tuner. The ideal note would be the F just above middle C on the piano. (This is the note written as the C in the third space to those of us who play "Horn in F.") When the pitch of this note agrees perfectly with the concert F of the band, orchestra or other instrument with which you will play, you have made the first important step. Of course while adjusting this intonation you will keep in mind that pulling the main tuning slide flattens the horn and pushing the slide in will sharpen the horn. All these adjustments must be checked with the right hand in the bell of the horn exactly as it will be held while playing.

    2. Next tune the Bb open horn to the now-in-tune open F horn by matching the same F concert (playing as a C third space by the horn playing) by slurring from the open F horn to the open Bb horn, simply putting the thumb valve up and down and comparing the pitch of the same note as played on both the F and Bb horn. Leave the main tuning slide alone and adjust the Bb horn to the F horn by pulling the main Bb tuning slide if the Bb horn is sharp. If the Bb horn is flat push in the main tuning slide slightly but pull the main F tuning slide out an equal distance to bring the F horn Back to where it was in pitch. The F horn and Bb horn should now be in tune together as well as in tune with the other musicians. But notice that we have only tuned the open notes.

     3. Now comes the painstaking job of tuning the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd valve slides on both the F and Bb horns so that our scales and intervals are in tune with our now well-adjusted open notes. This too, can be accomplished by tuning to a good piano or strobe, but tuning by ear while critically listening during the operation is the best way. After all, we are going to have to play in tune always by critical listening and adjusting. What better way to start than in tuning your own horn to itself! The instruction given here for tuning the 1st valve of the F horn should serve as an example and once you have grasped the principal involved you can simply apply that principle to all six valve slides.

     4. You could tune the first valve by playing the open middle C on your horn (sounding F concert below middle C on the piano) and then playing the D one step higher, which is played on the 1st valve. But this interval of a major second is hard to hear, so instead we use the same principle as that used by the piano tuner - we compare bigger intervals - such as fourths and fifths. So after playing your middle C, which we must assume is in perfect pitch, play the F in the first space - a fourth above your middle C, but also played on the 1st valve. Now you can readily hear whether the slide is too long or too short because that interval of a perfect fourth is much easier to judge critically than is the interval of a major second. The same principle can be applied to the 2nd valve. You could tune it by judging if your 2nd valve B natural is exactly a half-step below the open C. But this interval is very difficult to judge correctly. The better way would be to play your middle E (first line) on the open F horn, which again we must assume to be perfectly in tune, since the first thing we did was to tune the open notes. Next play the B natural (third line) which is a perfect fifth above the E. Now we can hear if the second valve needs shortening or lengthening, because that interval of a fifth is a very good one to judge critically.

     And so we proceed, through all the various slides, always comparing the intonation of the valve slides to the well-adjusted open notes on both the F and the Bb horns. But we compare them by playing large intervals, fifths, fourths and even octaves, and not by small intervals, half-steps, seconds, etc.

     There are three things well worth remembering in tuning your horn: First, the horn was designed so that ideally it is in tune when all the slides are pulled out a slight distance. This is ideal since we then have the flexibility to shorten or lengthen the slides. Were the slides designed to be limited to only flattening the pitch and would have no way of sharpening the horn. So do not be dismayed if all the tuning slides are pulled out slightly when the horn is in tune. This result was intentionally designed into the horn.

     Second, remember that tuning an instrument is a matter of compromise. If an interval is out of tune perhaps one of the notes should be sharpened slightly and the other note flattened slightly. This compromise is often much more successful than tuning one note drastically and leaving the other note "as-is." The compromise should be aimed at having all notes quite well in tune as opposed to having one note perfect and another very much out-of-tune. If all the notes are close to being in tune, our careful playing plus the great flexibility of the horn are going to permit us to play very well in tune.

     Third, please remember that great thought, experimentation and expense has gone into the production of a Holton horn, which has superb intonation. Therefore, if you find that your four main tuning slides are pulled out to an extreme degree you must assume that you are not using enough "cover" with your right hand. More covering of the bell with the hand will definitely flatten the pitch. And since dozen of the world's finest professional horn players have agreed that the horn is well-in-tune with their particular use of the right hand you must assume that you are not conforming to this hand usage if your intonation differs widely from theirs. Conversely, if you seem to be too flat, even with the slides all the way in, you must assume that you are putting your right hand too far into the horn bell.


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