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Why The F (horn)?

Grumpy Cat
WTF - Why the F Horn?

Now that I have your attention, let’s talk a little bit about the advantages of practicing on the “F” horn!

Historically, our modern-day horn is a descendent of the hunting/natural horn. The sound uttered on these early instruments was likely raucous and rustic (I’m being generous here). But, like other early instruments, the technique and artistry evolved.

Mozart wrote some of our most beloved horn concertos for his friend Leutgeb and the Eb Natural Horn. Practicing these concertos on the F horn (1st valve) can help us get in touch with our horn-playing “roots”, giving us a deeper appreciation for the rich history of the horn.

Acoustically, the “F” horn is the longer horn on our double horn (F/Bb) offering more resistance and available partials. The tone is thick, complex, and multi-dimensional and closer to what many players believe is an ideal horn tone.

By playing on the F side of the horn, we are required to focus air and embouchure more keenly in order to navigate through the resistance and closer partials. This, when done successfully, will translate into a greater ease of playing when we return to the double horn fingerings.

Also, playing lip slurs on the F horn is extremely important. Gliding smoothly and evenly through the harmonic series will help lay the foundation for maximum tone and flexibility.

Have I convinced you of the value of practicing on the F side yet? Keep reading…

As a private horn teacher for over forty years, I have discovered many tips that have helped myself and my students improve on the horn. One of these is regarding accuracy, the never-ending quest of every horn player on the planet! When one of my young students is dealing with accuracy and consistency issues (don’t we all?) I have them prepare part of a Kopprasch etude (or similar) using only F horn fingerings. By training their ear and embouchure to center notes on the F horn, I have noticed tremendous improvement in this area.

In summary, practicing on the “F” side of the horn helps us:

  1. Connect to the horn’s rich heritage
  2. Cultivate a warm, ideal tone
  3. Promote ease of playing
  4. Develop smooth, even slurs and greater flexibility
  5. Improve ear training and accuracy


Why  The F horn not?

— Karen Houghton

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Follow These 3 Easy Steps to Supercharge Your Practice Sessions!

As musicians, we are accustomed to the constant expectations and pressures of practicing our instrument.  We put in the time, but are we getting the most out of our practice sessions?  It can be discouraging to put in the necessary time and hard work and not achieve the desired results.  Let’s take a step by step look at how to efficiently practice!


For our approach, let’s use Etude #1 from 12 Etudes Brillantes, Op. 43 by Gallay, edited for horn by James Chambers, which can be found here.

cover of 12 Etudes Brillantes by Gallay ed Chambers

1.  Before you begin, make sure to have a practice plan.  What is your goal for the upcoming practice session?  Start with a broad goal and narrow it down.  Answer the following questions:

  • Which piece am I focusing on?  Etude #1 from 12 Etudes Brillantes by Gallay
  • What aspect of my playing am I focusing on?  Accuracy
  • Which measures am I focusing on? Pickups to measure 1 and the pickups to measure 3

Your practice will be much more efficient if you identify these 3 targets.  Remember that limiting your goal is a good thing.  If we were to say that we are working on Etude #1, Accuracy, for measures 1-48, (instead of the pickups to measure 1 and pickups to measure 3), this is not very focused.  We are playing other sections very accurately – we are choosing the specific part in the music that is not accurate.  Perhaps your accuracy is not the issue – there are other aspects to focus on, such as sound quality, intonation, or rhythm.

A screenshot of a cell phone Description automatically generated

2.  Next, identify what you are going to do to reach your specific goal.  This is where many younger students decide to play a section over and over again in hopes that the repetitions will make it better.  While this can work, it is not an efficient use of time.  Additionally, we have limited time to practice in our busy lives and limited endurance.  Part of planning a practice session is identifying tools you will use in order to reach your practice session goals.  Fill in the answer to the phrase, “I’m going to _____.”

  • I’m going to slow down the pickups to really hear and feel where the notes need to slot (7 notes).
  • I’m going to play 3 notes, then add a note at a time.  I will only add the next note when I am consistently accurate with my first 3, my first 4, etc.
  • I’m going to play these 7 notes all on the F side.
  • I’m going to _____ … There are many, many more possibilities and your private teacher is a great resource for efficient practice techniques.

3.  Guess what? – you may now pick up your horn and actually play!  Your practice plan has been established with a clear and concise goal that makes it possible to see and hear a result.  While it does take extra preparation and thought prior to beginning your practice session, it is absolutely crucial.  If you continue to practice in this manner, you will see results.


Brief note:  As you focus on your practice session goal that is very specific, you will likely notice other aspects of the music that need attention.  Keep your focus on the specific goal that you established but take note of the other areas that need focus.  These can be specific goals for future practice sessions.

Happy horn playing! 📯

–Dr. Sally Podrebarac

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What Hetman Do I Need?

three bottles of Hetman in front of a blue fence
three bottles of Hetman in front of a blue fence

Brass instrument players, have you ever been confused by which type of Hetman your instrument needs? See our chart for French horn, trumpet, trombone, tuba, baritone, and euphonium.

If you have any questions about oiling your specific instrument, please do not hesitate to contact us at 817-993-6400 or [email protected].

As a technician, the Hetman products give me ease of application and so many choices: such a wide array to get the exact viscosity needed on any given part.

— Dennis Houghton, owner and master repair technician

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20 questions on the 20th with Michael Sachs

This month we feature Michael Sachs, Principal Trumpet of the Cleveland Orchestra, esteemed faculty of both the Cleveland Institute of Music & Northwestern University’s Bienen School of Music, and music director of Strings Music Festival in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, since 2015. Mr. Sachs is the author of several pedagogical trumpet books, and has also been extensively involved in the acoustic design and play testing for the creation of the new Bach 190 C trumpet and 25M lead pipe, as well as the Artisan line of Bach Stradivarius trumpets.

1. What was your first instrument and how old were you when you started?

I first started on a King cornet when I was 6 and a half years old.

2. Could you describe what would be your perfect day?

Tough question depends what time of the year you are talking about. Maybe being someplace warm in southern California or Maui close to a beach. I would be get up not too early, have a nice breakfast overlooking the ocean.…..put in a nice hour of warm up (likely Stamp, Clarke, Bai Lin and Arban)….head out and play a round of golf…..enjoy a nice lunch……go to the beach and chill for a bit before enjoying a really nice dinner. End the day hanging and laughing with friends.

3. Most memorable performance?

Probably performing Mahler- Symphony No. 8 in Carnegie Hall with Robert Shaw conducting in 1995……also playing Mahler- Symphony No. 5 at the Salzburg festival, Mahler Symphonies No. 1 and 3 at Royal Albert Hall in London, and Bruckner- Symphonies No. 4, 5, and 8 at St. Florian Abbey outside of Linz all a close second.

4. Significant teachers/mentors in your life?

Ziggy Elman (my first teacher), Tony Plog, James Stamp, and Mark Gould who were my primary teachers, along with Louis Ranger, Chris Gekker, William Vacchiano, Alan Dean, Bud Herseth, Vince Cichowicz, and Arnold Jacobs, all of whom I took lessons from at various junctures. Other mentors and role models include- Tom Stevens, Armando Ghitalla, Roger Voisin, Phil Smith, David Zauder, John Mack (Principal Oboe here in Cleveland when I started), and Tom Morris (Executive Director in Cleveland when I started).

5. Something you’ve been meaning to try, but just haven’t gotten around to it?

Surfing. I grew up in Santa Monica and spent a ton of time at the beach, but never surfed, always body-surfed and boogie-boarded.

6. Favorite symphony?

The last Mahler Symphony that I’ve played (right now that’s No. 5).

7. When was the last time you cried, and why?

Watching my daughter playing (and winning) her last tennis match her senior year of high school earlier this year.

8. If money was no object, what would you buy?

Many more historic trumpets- I own a few but if money was no object I’d scour every source I could find and see where some wonderful old instruments were hiding, and get them. I’m not really a car guy but a pristine ’62 Austin-Healy and/or ’66 Shelby Mustang would probably be in the mix somewhere.

9. One thing most people don’t know about you?

As a little boy, I wouldn’t go to sleep unless I had my satin blanket nearby.I hate pickles, can’t have them even near my food.

10. Opera or ballet?

Opera. I love the action and the drama along with the silly stories.

11. First job?

Fourth/Utility Trumpet with the Houston Symphony.

12. Favorite sports team?

Los Angeles Dodgers. My mom and dad grew up huge Dodgers fans in Brooklyn and moved to LA two years after the Dodgers did. Went to many games growing up including the 1978 World Series with my mom.

13. If you could invite one person to dinner tonight, who would it be?

Living- Barak Obama (maybe Sandy Koufax!).Dead- Thomas Jefferson, Anton Weidinger, Gottfried Reiche.

14. Coffee or Tea?

Probably Tea. I don’t drink much coffee at all unless I’m at a nice Italian restaurant and then I’ll sometimes have an espresso, but only if I don’t have to perform later!

15. Favorite book?

Doris Kearns Goodwin- Team of Rivals, David McCullough- John Adams.

16. Favorite movie?

Godfather I and II, with Young Frankenstein, Legends of the Fall, Full Metal Jacket, earlier James Bond movies, Casablanca, Highlander, and Inherit the Wind all close seconds. Have to also toss in Animal House, Billy Jack, Up in Smoke, The Last Dragon, Blood in Blood Out, and The Warriors for their absurdity factor.

17. Siblings?

One- I have a sister who is a year older than me and is a writer living in San Francisco.

18. Favorite piece to play?

Any Mahler Symphony.

19. Least favorite piece to play?

Tchaikovsky- Capriccio Italien, Lizst- Faust Symphony, Bizet- Farandole from L’Arlesienne Suite…..Just not my favorite pieces of music to hear.

20. Dogs or cats?

Dogs- I grew up with big German shepherds!

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How to Shop for Pre-Owned Brass Instruments

Kacie Wright examining a pre-owned horn
Kacie Wright examining a pre-owned horn

For the budget-conscious musician, shopping pre-owned instruments can get you the same quality for a much lower price. But how do you know you’re choosing the right instrument? Here are some things to look for.

What condition is the instrument in?

Key points to examine on a brass instrument before purchase:

— Are there any dents or corrosion?

Not all spots are created equal. If the instrument is unlacquered brass, there will be brown fingerprints everywhere someone has touched it. This is a normal part of the oxidation process. Over the next couple of years, that horn will develop a dignified golden-brown patina.

If the instrument has red spots, that might be a sign of red rot, or it might simply be oxidation that managed to sneak under the lacquer. Consult a repair technician if you are concerned about the color of any spots on the instrument.

— Are the valves leaky?

Most reputable shops will be able to give you compression readings, which will tell you if there are any leaks too small for the human eye to see. Houghton Horns is happy to give you these readings on request, and we are in the process of posting them online for all of our instruments.

— Do the valves and slides move smoothly?

If an instrument has been sitting unplayed for months it might be a little sluggish until it’s oiled. But if lubricating the instrument doesn’t get things moving within a few minutes, there might be a problem.

Horn players can follow the instructions in the article How Do I Oil My French Horn?

— Has the instrument been regularly cleaned and taken care of?

If the horn has been sitting in the owner’s attic untouched for 20 years, even a thorough ultrasonic cleaning by your trusted repair shop might not be enough to return it to its original play condition. Ask how often the previous owner played it.

Authorized dealers and repair shops are a good place to look for refurbished instruments because they have a reputation for quality to uphold.

If you are buying from an individual, at the very least you should ask for receipts of any ultrasonic cleanings and repair work they have had done. Take it to your repair shop for a consultation during the trial period.

— Is there any sign of previous damage or repair work?

Once a brass instrument has been dented, even the world’s best repair technician can’t restore it to 100%. Smoothed-out dents and patches in the metal will change the resonance of the instrument.

— Is it free-blowing and easy to play?

There should be the proper amount of resistance. Ask yourself if you would be comfortable playing this instrument for hours at a time, or whether you’d be working yourself to death.

The upper register should be free and easy. The lower register should be rich and vibrant.

— Does it have unexpected intonation problems?

We’re not talking about the usual intonation trouble spots (such as low D, C#, and fourth space E for trumpet players). If you play a few scales and find some notes are weirdly out of tune, maybe pass on this instrument.

Houghton Horns can give you intonation readings on any instrument upon request, and we are working to post the readings for every one of our instruments on our website.

— Can you move flexibly between slurred notes?

Bring some sheet music you are very familiar with to try on the instrument. A new instrument should enhance your technique, not hamper it.

— Is it comfortable to play?

Can your hand reach all of the valves and pinky hook without strain? If they can’t, can anything on the instrument (pinky hook, flipper, etc.) be adjusted to fit your hand better? Can your teacher or a friend recommend a strap or grip that will make the instrument easier to hold?

If all else fails and you really love the instrument, your local repair shop may be able to move the pinky hook and other parts around to better fit your hand. If you want to go that route, be sure to factor that cost into the purchase price. But at any rate, don’t buy an instrument that will be painful to hold for hours on end.

Just because the instrument isn’t comfortable for you at first, that’s not necessarily a bad sign. A new instrument may take a few weeks to start feeling natural to you, especially if you are jumping up from a school horn to a more expensive one. Professional instruments require a higher volume of air and a higher degree of control than beginner instruments, and the step up can be difficult for less experienced players.

Bringing your teacher along to trial instruments with you, or FaceTiming them during the trial, may be helpful in deciding whether there is a genuine issue with the instrument, or whether it will grow more familiar to you with practice.

— Most importantly: Do you like the way it sounds?

Will you enjoy practicing with this instrument every day? Even if it may feel strange to your hands and lips until you get used to it, does it make you sound good?

There’s no rush

Spend plenty of time shopping around before you purchase. Try multiple instruments.

If a seller is too aggressive or too desperate to make the deal that same day, consider that a red flag. No seller who wanted a happy long-term relationship with their customers would rush them into making an unwise decision.

What happens if it’s not working out for you?

Read the terms and conditions before you buy. Legitimate sellers should offer:

— a trial period

— a return policy

— a warranty

If the seller insists that all sales are final, and you might not be able to contact them again if there is a problem with your instrument, don’t trust them with your money.

Is this instrument what you really need, or just cheap?

Five years from now, will you be happy you saved $500 buying from a stranger on Craigslist, if the slide sticks and the valves leak? A brass instrument is a considerable investment that should serve you well for years. As the old adage goes, if the price looks too good to be true, it probably is.

It’s better to buy the right instrument the first time than have to buy a second instrument soon after.

Don’t be afraid to walk away

Sometimes people get attached to an instrument before they find out it exceeds their budget, so they sign the contract anyway, to their later regret.Try saving up for a few months – if you still love that model three months later and can’t imagine playing anything else, that’s when you know you’ve made the perfect choice! Wherever possible, we recommend saving up and buying an instrument outright, because that will save you hundreds of dollars in interest. 

If a loan will be necessary, you can check out our financing options here. After you’ve set a tentative budget, you might also want to ask your personal bank for financing options, because a bank that already has a relationship with you might be willing to give you better terms than a bank that does not know you. Have an idea of how financing will affect your budget before you get too far into the shopping process.

Sometimes customers feel too embarrassed to tell the sales staff that a purchase is beyond their budget at the moment, and this leads them into unwise financial decisions. Don’t stress about telling the salesperson that you will need to save up before purchasing. If the business is legitimate, they have seen this happen a thousand times before and will be happy to say goodbye for now and check in with you later. If they get angry or pushy, you probably don’t want to be doing business with them anyway.

Other considerations

Don’t forget to factor shipping and sales tax into your budget when shopping. If you are shipping the instrument internationally, tariffs and customs duties may apply.

Pre-owned instruments often come with cases, but they are generally in poor condition. Don’t expect a 15-year-old factory case to keep your instrument safe in a serious accident. You may need a new case for a used instrument.

For sanitation reasons, we recommend tossing out any mouthpieces that come with pre-owned instruments. Even if your new-to-you instrument doesn’t come with a mouthpiece, many musicians prefer to change mouthpieces at the same time to better fit the instrument. You might want to add a new mouthpiece to your budget as well.

Once you add in sales tax, shipping, customs, a case, and a mouthpiece, a $3,500 trumpet could easily become $4,000. We recommend keep a spreadsheet in Excel or Google Drive where you can compare all of the various ancillary costs associated with the instruments you are considering.

Ready to start looking?

Okay, so you’ve got a spreadsheet set up and a new browser tab open? Check out instruments on our online shop or schedule an instrument trial appointment. Happy shopping!

— Kacie Wright