How to play fast sixteenth notes on the French horn

A recent visitor found my site by typing “playing fast 16th notes on horn” into a search engine.  I’m going to assume this person was looking for exercises to improve tonguing speed.

Rapid articulation was a challenge for me as an undergraduate horn student.  I had difficulty playing the Mozart concerti up to speed because I couldn’t consistently tongue fast enough to play the sixteenth note passages.  I tried a few different exercises, and eventually settled on the following:

  • Set your metronome to 100 beats per minute for the quarter note.  Starting on middle C (concert F), take a deep breath, and play 4 beats of sixteenth notes plus 1 additional note on the 5th beat.

  • Rest for four beats, then move up a step to D and repeat the exercise.  Rest for four beats, then repeat on E.  Continue up the scale in this manner, playing the exercise on F, G, A, B, and C.
  • Begin again on middle C, and repeat the exercise in the same manner, this time moving down the scale.  Play the exercise on middle C, B, A, G, F, E, D, and low C.
  • Increase your metronome speed to 104 and repeat the entire exercise.  Continue increasing speed and repeating the exercise until you find a metronome speed at which you cannot keep up.  That will be your new target speed.
  • The next time you perform the exercise, start two speeds below your target speed, and work up to your target speed.  For example, if your target speed is 116, perform the exercise once at 108, once at 112, and once at 116.  116 will begin to be comfortable after a few days.  When 116 is comfortable, increase your target speed to 120 and perform the exercise at 112, 116, and 120.
  • Continue in this manner, increasing your target speed each time you become comfortable with your current speed.

Tips

  • Make sure you take deep breaths and use plenty of air.  This will help you to avoid excessive tension.
  • As you articulate each note, think of “denting” the air column.  Don’t stop or interrupt the air- just “dent” the air enough to achieve the articulation you want.
  • You’ll find that you have to articulate high notes differently than low notes.  When playing high, your tongue will make contact near where your upper teeth meet your gums.  In the low range, you’ll have to articulate near the bottom of your top teeth.  Experiment until you find the “sweet spot” for each note.

Have something to add?  Tell us about it in the comments.

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  1. joy’s avatar

    good excersise

    Reply

  2. Neal C. Clarke’s avatar

    Thanks for the info Johnathan. Often the Horn gets lyrical parts but it’s good to know they can do fast tonguing with the rest of the Brass. Writing a work right now for Full Orchestra and this is very apropos. Thanks again.

    Reply

  3. Eric’s avatar

    Thanks for this! I’m bumping 3rd on the Tchaikovsky 5th Symphony, playing it for the first time in over 20 years, and struggled with the quavers/eighth notes.

    Reply

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