Muting the French horn is quite straightforward. The term mute or indication for muted horn simply means to insert a horn straight mute in the bell of the horn. This mute only changes the timbre of the instrument and involves no change in the actual pitch produced. For this reason, this mute can be identified as the non-transposing mute. All fingerings on the F and Bb sides of the horn remain unchanged when using the mute.
Hints for using mutes:
Be sure the corks on the mutes are even and not damaged. If the mute does not go far enough into the horn, one can gently sand the corks down until they fit. If the corks are not high enough and allow the mute to go too far into the bell, glue more cork to increase the amount of cork for it to fit correctly into the horn.
Composers often ask for rapid changes from muted passages to open. The most efficient method to accomplish the rapid changes is by hanging the mute from the wrist. If a string to hang the horn from the wrist is not already on the mute when purchased, simply attach a string on the mute. This can be done easily by screwing an eyelet hook into the mute (be sure to put some glue around the screw to seal the hole.) Next, simply insert and tie a cord in a loop from which the mute can be hung.
I recommend, if possible, to purchase a mute with a longer cone rather than the short, squatty ones. Mutes with the long cone have a much better response in the low register and the intonation tends to be better. Many mutes now come with a “tuning tube” inside the cone; these are recommended!
TRICK! If you must get one of the short-cone mutes, there is a method to improve low-register response and intonation. Simply roll a large index card into a tube that will fit into the opening of the short mute. Once if fits, cut it where it extends about two inches out of the opening of the straight mute; you will have a much more responsive mute with more stable intonation!
A final tip: if you do not have a tunable mute, the horn generally plays sharp when muted so adjust the tuning of the horn accordingly.
Charles Gavin is an Endowed Professor of Horn in the School of Music at Stephen F. Austin State University. Students of Dr. Gavin have been noted for their success as performers and teachers. Most notable in the field of music education, four of his former students have had their bands named Honor Bands in the state of Texas. Dr. Gavin’s students have been or currently on faculties at the University of Michigan, University of Alabama, Ithaca College, Texas A&M University, East Texas Baptist University, Texas Women’s University, Oklahoma City University and UT-Arlington. As performers, his student’s experiences range from a Grammy-winning studio artist in Hollywood to the Dallas Symphony, Houston and San Francisco symphonies and concert venues in Europe.
A second article by Dr. Gavin will be published in the future dealing specifically with stopped horn. In the meantime, check out this article on Three Tips for Improving Stopped Horn.
Helpful Horn Hints (Part 1) – How to String a French Horn Valve
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