French Horn Boot Camp: Lip Slurs

Lip slurs are important for all brass instrument players, but especially for French horn.

This is because the French horn plays much higher in its harmonic series than any other brass instrument.

Because of this, lip slur practice should be a part of every horn player’s daily routine. The careful and consistent practice of these exercises will help every aspect of your playing!

I have two different pages of lips slurs with varying difficulties and challenges.

I highly recommend that everyone start off with my Basic French horn lip slurs. Once you are able to play these consistently and comfortably, you should then move on to my Advanced French horn lip slurs.

Don’t skip over the basic slurs – no matter how tempting it may be. Trying to move on to the advanced slurs before you get solid fundamentals will only slow your progress.

Basic Lip Slurs

Download, print, and view my Basic French horn lip slurs here.

The first page of these lip slurs are a good introduction to the lip slur concept in a range that is easy for just about everyone.

Basic Lip Slur Key Points:

  • Use a metronome! A good starting tempo is around quarter note = 80, although if you need to go a bit slower in the beginning, that’s okay. What is important is that you…
  • Change notes quickly! With the metronome set, make sure that you are subdividing (think or count out loud at least 4 beats of eighth notes before starting) and that your notes change exactly on time. Slurs that are slow (usually) mean that your air speed is not changing quickly enough (or you have too much lip tension), and slurs that are too fast mean that you’re not subdividing carefully before starting.
  • Volume should be equal! Make sure that as the notes ascend or descend they don’t get louder or quieter. Try this entire exercise at a volume that is just slightly louder than comfortable, to make sure you are using a healthy amount of air.
  • Know your “note neighborhoods”! For the front page of the Basic Lip Slurs, all these notes are only one harmonic apart. This means that there are no “hidden notes” for any fingering combination. On the back page, the higher octave does have notes in-between the written slurs, so you will have to use more precise airspeed changes in order to make these slurs accurate. If you don’t know your harmonic series, make sure you check out my Harmonic Series chart – this chart shows how the horn works, so it is important to know it! It is also the reference for my Harmonic Series Studies page.
  • Practice on the mouthpiece! If you’re having trouble, don’t neglect mouthpiece practice. While this likely won’t be necessary for the first page, it can be very useful on the second page. Also, practice without the mouthpiece (or horn) by just blowing the air for the each 2-bar slur group, and listen carefully for the airspeed changes happening with your tongue position and oral cavity. When in doubt – think “whistling”.

It should go without saying that once you can play these comfortable at around 80, you should start to speed them up. However, it is very important that you are able to play them as close to perfect as possible at the slower tempo before speeding them up. If you speed them up without mastering the basic concepts and execution, you will find they get very messy, very quickly at a faster tempo. It’s okay for it to take weeks or months between increasing the metronome setting, especially once you get them moving quickly.

Additionally, while these are labeled as lip slurs, don’t hesitate to practice them articulated as well. There are just as many rapid arpeggiated passages in the horn repertoire that are tongued as those that are slurred, so it’s important to practice both equally.

Advanced Lip Slurs

Once you are comfortable with both the Basic Lip Slurs and the Harmonic Series Studies, these more advanced slurs can provide a challenge while increasing flexibility over the horn’s entire range. You can download, view, and print my Advanced Lip Slurs here.

I would not recommend trying to do all 8 of these each day, but pick 2-3 that are a challenge, and try to practice them to your (or your teacher’s) satisfaction before moving on to another series. There will almost always be something in these exercises that can be improved upon if you are honest with yourself!

The slurs come from Bai Lin’s Lip Flexibilities book and Max Schlossberg’s Daily Drills and Technical Studies for Trombone, with adaptations by Matthew Smith and myself to cover more of the horn’s range.

All of the Basic Lip Slurs principles apply to these! If you can’t play these advanced slurs correctly, you are either going too fast or need to take a step back and work on the Basic Lip Slurs or your Harmonic Series studies. Practicing these sloppily will only train you to play sloppily!

Advanced Lip Slur Key Points:

  • All of these slurs use at least some note skipping in one or more registers. Make sure you know (via your harmonic series chart) where the skips are and the partial(s) that you are skipping over. You’ll find that although you play the same notes and intervals in the lower and upper registers, there are fewer “in-between” notes in the lower register, so the registers can feel very different.
  • Somewhat related to the above point – although there are fewer in-between notes in the lower register, lower notes are much easier to pitch-bend, and so you’ll probably have more success at doing the lower slurs quickly by incorporating some slight jaw dropping in the lowest registers. Conversely, for the higher slurs, make sure your air speed changes are very quick and your corners/chin are kept firm. Try not to squeeze your aperture as you ascend.
  • While you should make every attempt to do these in all registers, it’s okay to hold back on the highest couple of fingerings (T1, T2, and T0) until the higher notes become more comfortable. Make sure you are still going for these high notes in other exercises, however, such as basic slurs, harmonic series studies, scales, etc. The low register may be equally (or even more) difficult, but make an effort to go as low as possible each time you practice these. Make sure to keep a good-quality sound at the extreme of each register.
  • It should go without saying that these should also be practiced with a metronome. Since these are more difficult a slower starting tempo is advised, in order to ensure note accuracy and clean slurs. For some players, starting at 80 may be appropriate, while others may need to start at 60 or even slower. It is doubtful that you will be able to start each slur progression at the same tempo – don’t be afraid to turn the metronome down for those slurs that may be difficult, or those with faster subdivisions (triplets and 16th notes).
  • Like the basic slurs, these should also be practiced both tongued and slurred.

Need More Help With Lip Slurs?

As always, if you have any questions about these, or want to get some one-on-one help, leave a comment. I’ll do my best to answer it quickly!

Since it’s not always easy to diagnose slur issues via text, I also offer French horn lessons both in person (if you live in or around Louisville) AND online. You can find more information about my teaching here!