• The numbers of the harmonic series indicate an exact mathematical relationship between the frequencies of the notes in this sequence: 1:2, 2:3, 3:4, etc.

• Once you get to the sixth harmonic in any series, you run the risk of running into the out-of-tune seventh harmonic.  If you have a fortissimo entrance and the standard fingering for the note you’re playing happens to be a sixth harmonic—all you need to do is over blow a bit and you’re on a BAD note!  Be aware of sixth harmonics.

• Fifth and tenth harmonics are just slightly flat.  They’re still used for standard fingering, but if you look at the horn wheel and see that you’re playing a fifth or tenth harmonic, you can lip the note up a bit to be sure of your tuning. 

• If you’re playing in an orchestra and are tuning to a concert “A,” don’t tune your whole F horn to a flat harmonic (look at the horn wheel, our written “E” is a fifth harmonic that’s slightly flat).  Use 1&2 for tuning your F horn in an orchestra.

• If you keep hitting the wrong note, check the horn wheel for the harmonics nearby the note you keep missing.  This will tell you what note(s) you’re playing instead of the right note.  Try another fingering or use the other horn for that note for a while. This will help you to play the note correctly with the standard fingering on the preferred horn.

• The less tubing you use, the easier it is to hit a note, the better the intonation and the better the tone.  Use the horn wheel for alternatives.  Use the fingering combinations of 1&3 and 1&2&3 for warm ups on their harmonics, all that resistance your lips feel will get the blood flowing.

• The last section of Stravinsky’s ballet, The Firebird, has the horn do a lip glissando in the key of B natural.  That’s the fingering of 123 on the F horn.  It was a miscalculation on Stravinsky’s part since that fingering creates a weak sound and is hard to control—but it certainly makes use of horn harmonics.

• Benjamin Britten’s Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings begins and ends with the horn playing all natural F horn harmonics.  They’re brilliantly out of tune; listen for the 7th, 11th, 13th and 14th harmonics.  Play them yourself with all open F horn by ear.  Good for the lip.

• Evidently, Dennis Brain figured out where to sit in every concert hall so that his playing would have the best acoustics by measuring the length of the horn uncurled (approximately 12 feet 9 inches) from the nearest wall.  Try it.

• Hand horn, or natural horn, doesn’t use valves.  It uses the 16 natural harmonics that the tubing allows then the player fills in the chromatic gaps by moving his or her hand in the bell.  Horn players had to carry around extra lengths of tubing to be able to play in different keys.  When valves were first added to the horn, players merely depressed the valve to put the horn into the correct key and played the notes using hand-horn technique!

• Valve 2 lowers the horn by a half step, valve 1 lowers the horn by a whole step, valves 1&2 together lower the horn by a step and a half (so does valve 3), 2&3 lower the pitch by two whole steps, 1&3 by two and a half steps, and 1&2&3 by three whole steps.  Notice that this sequence of fingering makes a chromatic scale.

• In a fast passage of music, out-of-tune harmonics can be used if they help the fingering.  The audiences’ ears will be forgiving if it’s fast enough.  (More than 10 notes per second make the pitch become vague to a listener, but I’ll bet this is true even if the notes are slower.)

• Phillip Farkas recommends using an out-of-tune 7th harmonic as an alternate fingering (the G# above middle C on the F horn).

• As a horn player, you can adjust pitch with your lip, with your hand or with your fingering.  In spite of valves, the hand in the bell serves not only to keep the instrument’s natural roughness of tone in check but also to ensure perfect intonation (not to mention playing “stopped” notes).

Confused about definitions?  Me, too.  Here are some definitions of harmonics, partials and overtones: 

• Daniel Burg says, “Partials are the different notes that can be played without modifying the tube, [of a horn] using only the tension of the lips and pulmonary pressure.  Harmonics are the components of a note.  They are multiples of the fundamental and follow the same order” of the partials.

• From The Cambridge Companion to Brass Instruments, we have, “When a sustained sound is produced on a brass instrument, the air inside the instrument vibrates not only at the frequency of vibration of the player’s lips, but also at exact integer multiples of this frequency.  These are the spectral components of the sound, sometimes called ‘overtones’;  the lowest component (whose frequency is that of the lip vibration) is the fundamental.  The frequencies of the spectral components of the sound when a sustained single note is being played without vibrato form a harmonic series.”

• From The New College Encyclopedia of Music, we have, “. . .a wind-player, by increased lip tension can split the air column in his instrument into one of its component parts, so that instead of sounding number 1 of the harmonic series, it produces one of the upper partials as its principal note.  This is done to a limited degree on woodwind instruments and extensively on brass instruments.  The horn, for example, has a choice of upper partials from the 2nd to the 16th harmonic.  This explains why horn players sometimes seem uncertain about their notes.”