The French Horn is one of the most beautiful sounding instruments in the Band and Orchestra. It is made of approximately 20 feet of tubing wrapped like a coil and flares out at the bell. It is actually not of French, but rather German descent. The International Horn Society prefers the term “Horn” instead of “French Horn” for this reason.
Many beginners start on a single Horn in F (which means that the Horn Player has to play an F to match a Bb pitch on the piano –the instrument sounds a 5th lower than a piano or flute). This Horn eventually becomes difficult for the beginner to produce higher notes because notes in the upper range are very close together, leading to difficulty in accuracy.
The Double Horn has double the amount of slides and is pitched in F for the lower notes and Bb for the higher range. There is a thumb lever (or valve) that switches the horn over to the Bb side. This is used to produce the higher notes with more accuracy.
The Horn uses Rotary Valves (like levers) and they are pressed down with the left hand – the only Brass instrument fingered with the left hand.
Points to consider:
- Very few beginners play the Horn because it can be a little big in size for them to start with.
- You need an exceptional ear to hear the pitches you want to produce before you play them on the instrument. (Even more so than the Oboe.) You need to match pitch exceptionally well.
- The Double Horn is heavy for a young person. It may be best to start with the Single Horn in F and switch after 1-2 years of playing.
- If you like playing inner harmonies, as well as melodies (more in Orchestral music and Chamber music), this would be a good choice. A lot of beginning band parts have the Horns and Alto Saxes playing the same pitches.
Advantages to playing the Horn:
- Few students play the instrument, so there can be scholarship opportunities.
- The Horn is in Concert Bands, Marching Bands (sometimes as a Marching Mellophone) and Orchestras. The Horn, in fact, has a prominent role in Orchestral music.
- There have even been Jazz Horn players, especially during the Cool Jazz era in the 1950’s.
Here’s the New York Philharmonic’s Phil Myers and R. Allen Spanjer in an excerpt from Dvorak’s famous Symphony No. 9:
My favorite Tchaikovsky Symphony: Symphony No. 4, 1st Movement features the Horns and the Brass:
And finally, some Jazz: David Brubeck’s Take Five:
- Listen to the Horn players in the videos above. Do you like the sound?
- If you want to play French Horn, work on matching pitch by singing along with the radio, and turning the radio off and singing back what you heard.
- Tell me what you thought of the article and videos in the comments below.
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