Primary colours of Horn Playing

My philosophy

Just as there are three primary colours in painting, Horn technique, I think, is based on three primary rudiments as well. In painting the primary colours are blue, red and yellow.

The three primary elements in horn playing are:

  1. 1. Air
  2. 2. Tone production
  3. 3. Articulation of the tone

This sounds very simple but in fact is quite difficult. To play a high C or a low F and articulate them in many ways is very difficult and can take many years to master.

It is important however that the thought process remains simple. That is, the three elements.

How many of us have been confused or mislead by complicated teachings!

I believe it is important that we remain as natural as possible when playing. After all we breathe, produce sound and articulate it every day when we speak. However with a horn in our hands many of us become blocked, nervous or even disabled.

Without the three and, more importantly, the balance between the three elements, it is almost impossible for us to create the colours required to play the music composed for the horn.

I would like to take the first element and break it into two aspects.

Air: Inhalation and blowing.


Many teachers have said...”now take a deep breath”. Do we know what this really means? Do I know how I breathe? I was always breathing as deeply as possible and as fast as possible, but never knew where my air was going, what movement my body was making......naturally! How many students analyse this? Try breathing in very slowly and observe how the upper body expands. This feeling must then be quickened in a relaxed manner.


Have you ever tried blowing through the horn making no sound. What does it feel like? With an Alphorn, students blow the full 3.9m to the end when playing but most students with a french horn blow 20cm, not even to the end of a phrase and to the end of the last note! Blowing is a stream of air which flows like a river, when a difficult passage comes blowing should be more, just as the river becomes white water when it is narrow or steep. Most students stop blowing..