Maintaining Your Instrument

The physical French Horn is an expensive and beautiful work of art. As a musician, it is your duty to keep it clean, working, and in good repair. The following should help you to keep your instrument in good condition.

Oiling the Valves

Oil the valves every day you play your French horn or every second day. Remove the rotary valve cover and oil all moving parts. Alternately, remove each valve slide, place two or three drops of oil inside the valve tubing, replace the slide, and wiggle the valve.

Tuning and Playing

To lower the pitch of the French horn, lengthen the instrument by pulling the main tuning slide out. To raise the pitch, push the main tuning slide in.

The moisture that accumulates inside the French horn is not “spit.” It is condensation from the player’s breath – just like the moisture from a steaming kettle that condenses on windows. When this moisture accumulates inside the French horn, it makes it gurgle and has to be removed. Remove the mouthpiece and the main tuning slide, rotate the horn, and dump the liquid. Depress each valve in turn, remove the valve slide, and dump the liquid. Keep the valve depressed while you replace the slide.

When You Have Finished Playing

If your mouthpiece gets stuck while you are playing, do not attempt to remove it yourself or have anyone yank it out for you. Forcibly removing a stuck mouthpiece can break the braces on a French horn. Carry the French horn to your teacher to remove it with a tool made specially for pulling mouthpieces. To prevent stuck mouthpieces, always insert the mouthpiece gently, don’t pop it during rehearsal, and don’t use too much pressure while you play.

After playing, wipe away finger marks with a soft cloth. This will remove perspiration which can damage the lacquer and metal. Do not use polish on lacquered instruments because it can scratch the finish. 

Regular Maintenance

A clean French horn works and sounds better than a dirty one. Once a week clean the mouthpiece with warm water and a mouthpiece brush. Help keep the mouthpiece and instrument clean by avoiding gum, candy, and pop before you play. Rinse your mouth if you have been eating anything sweet.

Cleaning your French Horn

French Horn Cleaning Kit


  • Rotary valve oil.
  • Slide grease.
  • Mouthpiece brush.
  • Soft Cloth.
  • Snake brush. 

Once a month give your French horn a bath. Take all the slides out. Take the valves out one at a time and lay them in order on a towel. This will help you to put them back in the correct order when you have finished. Put the slides and the body of the French horn into warm soapy water. Run snake brushes through all the tubes. Rinse them off in clean lukewarm water. Wipe the water off the outside of the horn. Don’t leave the instrument in the water too long or the lacquer finish can peel off.

Put the French horn back together. Oil the valves and grease the slides. For slide lubrication you can use petroleum jelly, anhydrous lanolin, or commercial slide grease. Wipe off excess grease.

Handling the French Horn

The French horn will dent easily. Dents look ugly, affect the tone of the instrument, and are expensive to remove. Always put the French horn in its case correctly. Never set the French horn in its case with the bell hanging over the edge. Anyone accidentally closing the case on a French horn left like this will crinkle the bell. Don’t cram books and music into your case because the pressure on the tubing can cause damage. Be sure the mouthpiece and other accessories are put away properly so they don’t jar loose and cause damage. If your case is equipped with a restraining strap, fasten it. Remember that the French horn is an expensive instrument – not a toy – and should be handled with care.

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