Blog 19 


Here is the transcript of the Introductory video in a series exploring the microtonal possibilities of the (French) horn. 

Music starts Our Days (13-limit just intonation) 

‘The horn is an excellent instrument for exploring non-standard tuning systems. A significant compositional resource is provided by the available harmonics of the standard double horn.’ 

‘Savvy viewers will notice this instrument is actually a triple horn (F, B-flat, E-flat made by Engelbert Schmid). I’ll be using this throughout the series simply because it is the best horn I have! I promise to only use the F and B-flat sides.’ 

‘A player can produce 13 or more harmonics on the shorter tube lengths and up to 24 on the longest tube lengths.’ 


B-flat horn harmonics 1 - 13 

A horn harmonics 1 - 14 

A-flat horn harmonics 1 - 15 

G horn harmonics 1 - 16 

G-flat horn harmonics 1 - 17 

F horn harmonics 1 - 18 

E horn harmonics 1 - 19 

E-flat horn harmonics 1 - 20 

D horn harmonics 1 - 21 

D-flat horn harmonics 1 - 22 

C horn harmonics 1 - 23 

B horn harmonics 1 - 24 

‘The higher harmonics are not easy to produce reliably and the tone quality on longest tube lengths is less clear. In all the double horn has 16 tube lengths. Why 16?’ 


B-flat horn valves 1 & 2 then 3 

F horn open then B-flat horn valves 1 & 3 

E horn then B-flat horn valves 1, 2, 3 

F horn valves 1 & 2 then valve 3 

‘The 12 chromatic tones plus 4 alternatives. It may not be practical to use all 16 in one composition, yet some possibilities exist such as my piece Seven Small Wheels Revolving for horn and bassoon. There is a Spotify link in the text below the video.’ 

‘Traditional techniques of lip and right hand adjustments along with valve slide adjustments add tremendously to the possibilities. The performance of compositions in extended just intonation, and other non-standard tuning systems, is discovered to be within the realm of expertise of players using the standard double horn.’ 

‘I will tie in practical knowledge with a deep understanding of harmonics by classifying harmonic use according to just intonation prime-limits. This links in with the long and rich tradition of just intonation and other microtonal exploration.’ 

‘Episode One will show the octaves, harmonics 1-2, 2-4, 4-8, 8-16 as the space that we build our framework within. The relation between harmonics 2 & 3 is the real foundation of standard tuning for horn players (and Western music).’ 

‘Episode Two, in showing the relation between harmonics 4 & 5, brings forth our most accessible microtone.’ 

‘And thus the presentations will follow on up the harmonic series . . .


Britten 'Prologue & Epilogue' in his Serenade for tenor, horn & strings 

An excellent example of the way in which intervals of the harmonic series occur in music comes from the Prologue to Benjamin Britten’s Serenade for Tenor solo, Horn and Strings.  Britten asked that the player use only natural harmonics, a simple enough task for the horn player who produces the overtones above a given fundamental by altering the vibrations of the lips.  Britten exploits certain harmonics for their tonal effect in a most masterful way.   

Example 1.1 shows the Prologue in its entirety…

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Notating in DORICO 

Pitch and intervals are so interesting. (I won’t relegate rhythm to a lesser status, just musing with pitch as all good brass whisperers do.) 

Many of the just intonation pieces I write have a different ‘tonic’ or reference pitch from each other. This makes preparing a large set up of pitches in the music software (Dorico) time consuming for each work. The issue with making a large set is deciding which pitch will be the reference and minimising the complexity of the calculation of notation symbols and…

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'Brass' instruments that can play the 7th harmonic 

‘Brass’ instruments that can play the 7th harmonic 

(and probably the 2nd , 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th)

Here’s more of my exploration of harmonics and instruments played by vibrating the lips.


For the player of a standard brass instrument, knowledge of lower harmonics from early years comes through lip slurring practice although this is done primarily for muscle flexibility and strength building rather than tuning. Few give much attention to the odd numbered harmonics beyond 3 and 5. Some will play the 7th

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36 divisions played on the French Horn 

In a previous post I looked at playing 19 equal divisions of the octave on my horn with a modified stopping valve slide. My composition Epictetus The Younger uses a few pitches from the 36-division equal system. This piece is for standard B-flat trumpet and piano and can be played by French horn and piano.

The usefulness of this 36-division system is that there are 12 notes in common with a standard tuned piano. The usefulness of this for brass player is being able to play in duet with a pianist. This is…

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‘Brass’ instruments that can play the 5th harmonic 


The la-pa in China also known as the tongjiao has a range of harmonics 2 to 5 (Sachs 1964: 238). It is made of telescoped metal sections, like the Tibetan dung-chen yet is shorter. The same instrument in Taiwan is used in shadow play accompaniments. Harmonics 3 and 4 are most played, occasionally the 5th harmonic is added.1


Many labrosones are made of wood yet those previously discussed are played producing only one or two harmonics. Carved and fashioned from a manuka tree in New Zealand, the pūkāea…

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Third-tones (and 6th-tones) for trumpet to combine with a piano part 

I recently performed the compositions to observe sea and sky by Donald Bousted. He wrote it for the flute to play in 12 equal divisions of the octave (standard tuning) and the horn in 19 equal divisions of the octave. This combination worked well and I got to thinking about how close the divisions of 19 are to dividing a whole tone into 3 parts. This gives 18 divisions of the octave, basically a modified whole tone scale. I don't really want to write in whole tone scales, though of course there are only…

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Knowing the chords in Just Intonation 

The contemporary music quartet LOCANA (Janine Grantham - flute; Rachel Westwood - violin; myself - horn; Matthew Farrell - cello rehearsed in Brisbane on Saturday August 18 and Sunday August 19 in preparation for the Sydney MicroFest 2 in Sydney September 22 and 23. We spent a lot of Sunday practising my composition The Wound even without the other 3 musicians who will take part (Wendy Dixon - soprano; Greg van der Struik - trombone; Edwin Diefes - tuba). Although the parts are without notation errors…

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Horn playing 19-division tuning 

In 2017 I worked out how to play 19-equal divisions of the octave on a standard french horn which is pitched in F and B-flat. My solution was to flatten the 1st note of the scale using the right hand. I started on written F (top of the treble staff), which is concert B-flat. Bending this pitch by 63 cents and all lower octave written Fs is easy, though there is a change of tone colour.

The 2nd valve slide is lengthened enough to produce the longer semitone, below written F, of 126 cents, which is not too…

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'Brass' Instruments that can play the 3rd harmonic 

BLOG 11 

‘Brass’ instruments that can play the 3rd harmonic and probably the 2nd also


This blog presents some more exploration of the wide range of instruments that make a sound from the vibrating lips of the player. I found the research really interesting when I did it in 2010. I'm sure there is more to discover . . .


Players of the kakaki of west Africa use a musical style with abrupt rhythms and pitch changes between the 2nd and 3rd harmonics. The interval between these harmonics is often wider than…

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Nexus of pitch matching between brass and strings 


Nexus between brass and strings in just intonation


Temporary conclusion: the best nexus pitch is a C.


I’ve been composing a just intonation piece for 6 horns and decided to re-write some of it for a mixed ensemble of flute, 2 horns, violin, cello, double bass and soprano. In this blog I’ll show some of the tuning detail and the issues of working with strings and brass. Most of the tuning issues will be the same when composing in equal divisions.


  • 2 main tuning issues


1.Brass players and…

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The Brass Whisperer's main aim is to play with subtle music tunings and coax brass players (and other musicians) into achieving delicious harmonies. Resources for student French horn players are also featured.


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Omega Ensemble - Grand Mozart

City Recital Hall Angel Place, Sydney, AU

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Bach's Brandenburg Concerto no 1 in concert with Dorèe Dixon as the other horn player and the wonderful Australian Brandenburg Orchestra under the direction of Paul Dyer. All on period instruments.   Also March 1, 2 4 (in Parramatta), 6, 8 then March 9 and 10 in Melbourne.