How to Tune a French Horn

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Every french horn player has heard it. The ageless joke of how to tune two french horns; you shoot one of the players. It does nott have to be like that, though; with a good ear, an electronic tuner, and a bit of luck, you can be playing along with a dozen other horns in no time, with absolutely no waves in the sound.



  1. Get a tuner, set it to 440Hz (unless your group tunes to a different pitch, such as 442Hz or 445Hz, then you can easily just adjust the Hz)
  2. As a standard procedure to set a general area of intonation, pull out all your key slides about a half an inch. Pull your main slides (F and Bb) out about one and a half inches to two inches, depending on your instruments tendencies (sharp or flat).
  3. If your tuner can produce a tone, set it to sound a concert Bb or A.
  4. If you chose Bb, play an F using the first valve and adjust your main slide, then play F on the Bb valve and octave F on the same valve, tuning your Bb slide. Also, try to tune the other notes of the chord, for example your C and your A. Being in tune relatively is a major plus. Try and match your pitch in tune with the tone.
  5. If you chose A, play your E and octave E open on F horn, and then with the Bb valve and 2nd key, both octaves. Try and match your pitch in tune with the tone.
  6. Switch the tuner to "Tuner". There will be no pitch, but usually a light or needle to tell you your intonation. WITHOUT LOOKING AT THE NEEDLE (VERY IMPORTANT FOR DEVELOPMENT) close your eyes and play a concert Bb (your F). When you stabilize your tone, open your eyes and look at the needle. Are you in tune? Adjust.
  7. Repeat the above step for the Bb side (trigger-F) as well, both octaves until you are in tune.
  8. ***In a hurried situation, tune the F side to your reference pitch (whether its a tuner or the oboist.) Then tune the Bb side to the F side by switching between F on the F side and F on the Bb side.***


  • For adjusting the individual tuning slides for each rotary valve: in general pull out the 1st valve slide a little bit, the 2nd valve slide will be 1/2 the length of the 1st valve slide, and the 3rd valve slide will be the combined distance of the 1st & 2nd valves.
  • Use an electronic tuning device to help you.
  • Practicing pitch in a practice room with a piano (tuned) or a tuner will help. Example, set the tuner to a concert G, and sustain your C. Purposely bend the pitch sharp and then flat without cracking, then get back to a in tune concert G. Do the same thing, but dont look at the tuner until you think youre in tune. This is a great way to learn the center of the pitch for all of your notes.
  • Tune using the needle first rather than a tuner that produces a tone. If you tune to the tone first you will automatically try to "lip" the note up or down to the same note as the tuner. Play the note naturally first, without looking at the needle and then once the note has settled THEN look down and adjust accordingly.
  • Dont tune straight off in your practise session. Tune once you are properly warmed up and your horn is at a normal temperature.
  • Learn how to adjust tuning using your hand. When you are in the middle of a piece and you have a long chord as a section, you cant stop and tune in the middle of it! Learning how moving your right hand position very slightly fixes minor tuning hiccups is a vital skill if you want to play successfully in any kind of ensemble.
  • Never ever go into an ensemble that is tuning to a concert "A" and change your main tuning slide unless you are absolutely sure that your horn is perfectly in tune with itself. Always tune (properly! All slides!) to your own tuner before you go on stage so that you can just change your main slide VERY slightly when youre sitting on the stage.
  • Use a soft-lead pencil to put a small line on each tuning slide where your settings are. This will wear off in time but hopefully not before you know pretty much where each slide should be!
  • Re-tune your horn to itself EVERY month. It may seem excessive but horns are quite temperamental instruments and they need it!


  • Tuning you horn only gets you "in the ball park" of being in tune. You need to listen to each pitch as it is played and adjust your embouchure in order to correct the pitch.
  • Emptying condensation in the middle of the concert will usually throw your pitch off a bit. To offset this, I tend to compare the amount of piping I have out before I empty my condensation to a part of my finger, so when I pull a slide out to empty the condensation I can easily re-measure the tuning slide out by lining it up with a crease in my knuckle or with the end of one of my nails, etc.

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