My Student Needs a Horn - Houghton Horns

My Student Needs a Horn

Buying a new instrument for yourself is a ton of fun, but helping someone else choose one can be nerve-wracking. How can a teacher guide a student to find the horn they need to level up their playing ability? Check out some tips below.

Lauryn Marshall tries out horns with her teacher Josh Davis.

What does it mean to “upgrade” a horn?

Although you should never look to equipment to solve fundamental problems, certain issues can be greatly improved with a change in equipment, especially those dealing with tone, articulation, and slurs.

Some horns have much better intonation than others. 

Certain horns are easier to play than others.

Your job is to help the student find a quality instrument that fits their ability level and playing style without exceeding their budget.

How do I help my student find a good horn?

If your student doesn’t know where to start their search, our article How Do I Choose a French Horn? might prove useful.

If practical, accompany your student to a reputable shop to try multiple horns. If you or your student are self-isolating for health reasons, you can always Zoom in to an instrument trial at our shop. Alternatively, Houghton Horns offers a 15-day return period on new instruments, so you should be able to find a time to listen to your student’s new horn.

Have your student warm up on their current equipment before trying new horns.

Pick VERY familiar music for your student to test horns with.

Switch back and forth between their current equipment and new instruments. Switching from one new instrument to another can add too many confusing variables.

New equipment might feel uncomfortable or awkward for your student at first. Does the student need to be encouraged to step out of their comfort zone, because the new horn will become familiar to them within a couple of weeks? Or maybe the instrument needs some minor adjustments such as having the pinky hook moved in or a Fhrap added so that it fits their hand more comfortably. In some rare cases, the horn might be a poor fit for a younger, smaller student’s hands. You’ll know where the difficulty lies.

What do I listen for?

— Evenness of tone throughout the student’s entire comfortable range

— Stability of tone

— Clarity of tone (No extraneous noise in the sound)

— Clarity of articulation

— Smoothness of slurs

— The ease with which the sound is produced

— Intonation (only if the student plays with focused, centered sound, otherwise you may wish to test the intonation yourself)

Other tips

Be opinionated and share those opinions with your student. However, don’t make the decision for them.

Be budget-conscious. Speak privately with the parent about their budget before an instrument trial appointment. When a kid thinks she’s found “the one” but has to put it back on the shelf because her parents simply can’t afford it, that can be a really disappointing experience. See our article How to Shop for Pre-Owned Brass Instruments for suggestions on finding a high-quality but affordable instrument.

Constantly check your student’s right hand position and make sure it stays consistent when the student plays multiple horns in a row.

Make sure that the student is playing a good mouthpiece BEFORE they try horns.

When your student is ready, they can make an appointment for an instrument trial here.

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