I was a band member once upon a time. In middle school, I played French Horn for four years. Then, I didn’t pick it back up for over 15 years until last December when my lovely wife gave me a wonderfully shiny silver French Horn for our five year anniversary, with the encouragement to start learning. I toyed with it on and off, remembering the fingerings from muscle memory and really getting into playing the basic songs in the books she bought me. However, I continually got discouraged because I was quite simply unable to hold a tune; the pitch of most every note was off by at least a half step, often a full step. I lived with this, and slowly got discouraged and the horn started gathering dust until a couple nights ago when we decided to try playing a duet with my wife on the baby grand.
“Let’s just play some scales, maybe that’ll help you find the pitch” C Major, here we come! C… sounds great! D… hmmm… E… that’s off… and so on… right up the scale… only C and A seemed to be hitting consistently. After a while, I got frustrated, asked her to hold a note, and tried different fingerings until I got one to match the pitch. WTF? Why is this a 2-3 when I’m used to playing it as a 0?
Then came the dawning realization that banished my ignorance, my assumptions, and the sum total of my muscle memory. This wasn’t the same horn! There are two types of French Horns – Bb and F. I grew up playing an F horn, this apparently was a Bb horn. So I got out a pencil, copied the Bb fingerings from my fingering chart onto the music, and started playing (very very slowly). Instant pitch! My problem wasn’t a 15-year-old embouchure as I’d assumed for the last year, it was a disconnect of my core knowledge!
I should have remembered what I knew. Heck, I even read all about it in David Agans’ book! FIGURE OUT THE PROBLEM BEFORE FIXING IT! Doh!