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French Horn
French horn.png
A French Horn
Other Names Horn

de: Horn, Waldhorn es: Trompa fr: Cor d'Harmonie it: Corno

Range A1-F5
Clefs Treble, occasionally bass
Transposition In F: sounds a fifth lower than written

The horn is a brass instrument consisting of about 12–13 feet (3.7–4.0 m) of tubing wrapped into a coil with a flared bell. A musician who plays the horn is called a horn player (or less frequently, a hornist).

Descended from the natural horn, the instrument is often informally known as the French horn. However, this is technically incorrect since the instrument is not French in origin, but German. Therefore, the International Horn Society has recommended since 1971 that the instrument be simply called the horn. French horn is still the most commonly used name for the instrument in the United States. Horns have valves, operated with the left hand, to route the air into extra tubing to change the pitch. Most horns have lever-operated rotary valves, but some horns like the Vienna horn use piston valves (similar to trumpet valves). A horn without valves is known as a natural horn, changing pitch along the natural harmonics of the instrument (similar to a bugle), but with a wide range of notes due to the long tubing, coupled with a small mouthpiece, which causes the playable range of the horn to be higher in the harmonic series, where pitches are closer together. Three valves control the flow of air in the single horn, which is tuned to F or less commonly, B♭. The more common double horn has a fourth valve, usually operated by the thumb, which routes the air to one set of tubing tuned to F or the second set of tubing tuned to B♭. Triple horns with five valves are also made, tuned in F, B♭, and a descant E♭ or F. Also common are decant doubles, which typically provide B♭ and Alto F branches. This configuration provides a high-range horn while avoiding the additional complexity and weight of a triple.

Pitch Range[]

Today, music for the horn is typically written in F and sounds a perfect fifth lower than written. The limitations on the range of the instrument are primarily governed by the available valve combinations for the first four octaves of the overtone series and after that by the ability of the player to control the pitch through their air supply and embouchure. The typical written ranges for the horn start at either the F♯ immediately below the bass clef or the C an octave below middle A. The standard range starting from a low F♯ is based on the characteristics of the single horn in F. However, there is a great deal of music written beyond this range on the assumption that players are using a double horn in F/B♭. This is the standard orchestral instrument and its valve combinations allow for the production of every chromatic tone from two octaves on either side of the horn's written middle-C (sounding F two octaves below the bass clef to F at the top of the treble clef). Although the upper range of the horn repertoire rarely exceeds high C (two octaves above the horn's middle C, sounding F at the top of the treble clef), skilled players can achieve yet higher pitches. Also important to note is that many pieces from the Baroque to Romantic periods are written in keys other than F. This practice began in the early days of the horn before valves, when the composer would indicate the key the horn should be in (horn in D, horn in C, etc.) and the part would be notated as if it were in C. For a player with a valveless horn that is a help, showing where in the harmonic series a particular note is. A player with a modern instrument must provide the final transposition to the correct pitch. For example, a written C for horn in D must be transposed down a minor third and played as an A on F horn.


A French Horn

Single horn[]

Single horns use a single set of tubes connected to the valves. This allows for simplicity of use and a much lighter weight. They are usually in the keys of F or B♭, although many F horns have longer slides to tune them to E♭, and almost all B♭ horns have a valve to put them in the key of A. The problem with single horns is the inevitable choice between accuracy or tone – while the F horn has the "typical" horn sound, above third-space C accuracy is concern for the majority of players because, by its nature, one plays high in the horn's harmonic series where the overtones are closer together. This led to the development of the B♭ horn, which, although easier to play accurately, has a less desirable sound in the mid and especially the low register where it is not able to play all of the notes. The solution has been the development of the double horn, which combines the two into e B♭ horn was a hotbed of debate between horn players of the late 19th century, until the German horn maker Ed. Kruspe produced a prototype of the "double horn" in 1897.

The double horn also combines two instruments into a single frame: the original horn in F, and a second, higher horn keyed in B♭. By using a fourth valve (usually operated by the thumb), the horn player can quickly switch from the deep, warm tones of the F horn to the higher, brighter tones of the B♭ horn. The two sets of tones are commonly called "sides" of the horn. Using the fourth valve not only changes the basic length (and thus the harmonic series and pitch) of the instrument, it also causes the three main valves to use proportionate slide lengths.

Other modifications[]

The horn, although not large, is awkward in its shape and does not lend itself well to transport, especially transport on commercial airlines. To compensate, horn makers can make the bell detachable. This allows for smaller and more manageable horn cases. The player can attach the bell when performing. This also allows for different bells to be used on the same horn, somewhat alleviating the need for multiple horns for different styles.

Timbre and Tone[]

The horn is the third highest sounding instrument group in the brass family, below the cornet at second highest, with trumpet being the highest. Horns are mostly tuned in B♭ or F, or a combination of those. In some traditions, novice players use a single horn in F, Ftripwhile others prefer the B♭ horn. The F horn is used more commonly than the B♭ horn, especially in school bands. Compared to the other brass instruments in the orchestra, it has a very different mouthpiece, but has the widest usable range – approximately five octaves, depending on the ability of the player. To produce different notes on the horn, one must do many things – the seven most important are pressing the valves, holding the appropriate amount of lip tension, raising the soft palate, positioning the tongue, lowering the larynx, blowing air into the instrument, and placing the hand in the bell. More lip tension and faster air produces higher notes. Less lip tension and slower air produces lower notes. The right hand, usually cupped at a "three o-clock" position in the bell, can lower the pitch, depending on how far into the bell the player puts it, by as much as a semitone in the instrument's midrange. The horn plays in a higher portion of its overtone series compared to most brass instruments. Its conical bore (as opposed to the cylindrical bore of the trumpet or trombone) is largely responsible for its characteristic tone, often described as "mellow".


Natural horn[]

A natural horn has no valves, but can be tuned to a different key by inserting different tubing, as during a rest period. The natural horn is the ancestor of the modern horn. It is essentially descended from hunting horns, with its pitch controlled by air speed, aperture (opening of the lips through which air passes) and the use of the right hand moving in and out of the bell. Today it is played as a period instrument. The natural horn can only play from a single harmonic series at a time because there is only one length of tubing available to the horn player. It is however possible to alter the pitch by using a technique that involves partially muting the bell with the right hand, thus enabling the player to reach some notes that are not part of the instrument's natural harmonic series – of course this technique also affects the quality of the tone. The player has a choice of key through changing the length of tubing with crooks.

Vienna horn[]

The Vienna horn is a special horn used primarily in Vienna, Austria. Instead of using rotary valves or piston valves, it uses the Pumpenvalve (or Vienna Valve), which is a double-piston operating inside the valve slides, and usually situated on the opposite side of the corpus from the player's left hand, and operated by a long pushrod. Unlike the modern horn, which has grown considerably larger internally (for a bigger, broader, and louder tone), and considerably heavier (with the addition of valves and tubing in the case of the double horn) the Vienna horn very closely mimics the size and weight of the natural horn, (although the valves do add some weight, they are lighter than rotary valves) even using crooks in the front of the horn, between the mouthpiece and the instrument. Although instead of the full range of keys, Vienna horn players usually use an F crook and it is looked down upon to use others, though switching to an A or B♭ crook for higher pitched music does happen on occasion. Vienna horns are often used with funnel shaped mouthpieces similar to those used on the natural horn, with very little (if any) backbore and a very thin rim. The Viennese horn requires very specialized technique and can be quite challenging to play, even for accomplished players of modern horns. The Vienna horn has a warmer, softer sound than the modern horn. Its pumpen-valves facilitate a continuous transition between notes (glissando); conversely, a more precise operating of the valves is required to avoid notes that sound out of tune.


There are two instruments with the moniker "mellophone". The first is an instrument shaped somewhat like a horn in that it is wrapped in a circle. It has piston valves and is played with the right hand on the valves. Manufacturing sharply decreased in the middle of the twentieth century, and this mellophone (or mellophonium) is rarely seen today. Amati still makes circular mellophoniums. The second instrument is used in modern brass bands and marching bands, and is more accurately called a "marching mellophone" or mellophone. A derivative of the F alto horn, it is keyed in F. It is shaped like a flugelhorn, with piston valves played with the right hand and a forward-pointing bell. These horns are generally considered better marching instruments than regular horns because their position is more stable on the mouth, they project better, and they weigh less. It is primarily used as the middle voice of drum and bugle corps. Though they are usually played with a V-cup cornet-like mouthpiece, their range overlaps the common playing range of the horn. This mouthpiece switch makes the mellophone louder, less mellow, and more brassy and brilliant, making it more appropriate for marching bands. Often now with the use of converters, traditional conical horn mouthpieces are used to achieve the more mellow sound of a horn to make the marching band sound more like a symphonic band. As they are pitched in F or G and their range overlaps that of the horn, mellophones can be used in place of the horn in brass and marching band settings. However, mellophones are sometimes unpopular with horn players because the mouthpiece change can be difficult and requires a different embouchure. Mouthpiece adapters are available so that a horn mouthpiece can fit into the mellophone lead pipe, but this does not compensate for the many differences that a horn player must adapt to. The bore is generally cylindrical as opposed to the more conical horn; thus, the "feel" of the mellophone can be foreign to a horn player. Another unfamiliar aspect of the mellophone is that it is played with the right hand instead of the left. Intonation can also be an issue when playing the mellophone. In orchestral concerts, regular concert horns are normally preferred to mellophones because of their tone, which blends better with woodwinds and strings, and their greater intonational subtlety—since the player can adjust the tuning by hand. For these reasons, mellophones are played more usually in marching bands and brass band ensembles, occasionally in jazz bands, and almost never in orchestral settings. While horn players may be asked to play the mellophone, it is unlikely that the instrument was ever intended to be used as a substitute for the horn, mainly because of the fundamental differences described. As an instrument it compromises between the ability to sound like a horn, while being used like a trumpet or flugelhorn; a tradeoff that sacrifices acoustic properties for ergonomics.

Marching horn[]

The marching horn is quite similar to the mellophone in shape and appearance, but is pitched in the key of B♭ (the same as the B♭ side of a regular double horn). It is also available in F alto (one octave above the F side of a regular double horn). The marching horn is also normally played with a horn mouthpiece (unlike the mellophone, which needs an adapter to fit the horn mouthpiece). It can also be played with a trumpet mouthpiece. These instruments are primarily used in marching bands. However, many college marching bands and drum corps use mellophones instead, which better balance the tone of the other brass instruments.

Wagner tuba[]

The Wagner tuba is a rare brass instrument that is essentially a horn modified to have a larger bell throat and a vertical bell. Despite its name, it is generally not considered part of the tuba family. Invented for Richard Wagner specifically for his work Der Ring des Nibelungen, it has since been written for by various other composers, including Bruckner, Stravinsky and Richard Strauss. It uses a horn mouthpiece and is available as a single tuba in B♭ or F, or, more recently, as a double tuba similar to the double horn. Its common range is similar to that of the euphonium, but its possible range is the same as that of the horn, extending from low F♯, below the bass clef staff to high C above the treble staff when read in F. These low pedals are substantially easier to play on the Wagner tuba than on the horn.


Lip Trill[]

A lip trill is a rapid oscillation between neighboring harmonics - used primarily for whole-step trills from second-line G up approximately an octave. Lip trills are possible both lower and higher, but much lower than G and the harmonics are too far apart for a whole step, and much higher and harmonics are too narrow. Many books give fingering charts for lip trills, but as with all things on the double horn, there are options. A good rule of thumb, however, is for a trill from G-A, use 1 & 3, on the F horn, A♭-B♭, use 2 & 3, etc. From third-space C♯-D♯, use 2 & 3 on the B♭ horn, up to open B♭ horn for f-g. In his book "The Horn", Barry Tuckwell also gives a fingering chart of possible 'faux' 1/2 step lip trills.

Double/triple tonguing[]

Normal tonguing consists of interrupting the air stream by tapping the back of the front teeth with the tongue as said in the syllables 'da', 'ta', 'doo', or 'too'. Double tonguing consists of alternating between the 'ta' and the 'ka' sounds or between the 'da' and 'ga' sounds. The tongue makes the same movement as if the player is repeatedly saying 'kitty' or 'ticket.' Triple tonguing is most used for patterns of three notes and is made with the syllables 'ta-ta-ka', 'ta-ka-ta', or 'da-ga-da.' To practice start off slowly in eighth notes at around 100bpm. If the second note does not come out as clearly as the first practice only the 'ka' and then add it back when the note is clean.

Stopped horn[]

This is the act of fully closing off the bell of the instrument with either the right hand or a special stopping mute. This results in producing a somewhat nasal sound. When required, in the sheet music the usual notation is a '+' above the note followed by a 'o' above notes that are to be played open. For longer stopped passages, the word indicating a stopped horn is written out. Below is a list for different languages:

English: stopped ... open

German: gestopft ... offen

Italian: chiuso ... aperto

French: bouché ... ouvert (not to be confused with cuivré which means brassy.)

The pitch lowers gradually when the hand is placed in the bell and slowly moved inward. When the bell is completely covered (stopped), the pitch falls to a half-step above the next lower partial (harmonic). For example, playing a middle C (F-horn, open) and gradually covering the bell into stopped horn, the pitch will lower a major 3rd to A♭ (or 1/2 step above G, the next lower partial). However, playing a 3rd space C (F-horn, open) and repeating the stopped horn, the pitch will lower a half-step to a B-natural (or 1/2 step above B♭, the next lower partial). Practically, it is too cumbersome to keep track of what partial is being played and what the "1/2 step above the next lower partial" would be. As such, when playing stopped, horn players over blow one partial while playing stopped, play the partial above the note then intended, cover the bell completely and thereby arrive at 1/2 step above their intended pitch, and then compensate by fingering a half step below the written pitch. Thus, most horn players are taught that stopped horn "raises the pitch 1/2 step".

It is crucial to understand the difference between practical application by the player and the acoustic theory behind it because some modern composers have incorrectly notated that the horn is to bend an open pitch upward to a stopped pitch. This is impossible. The horn pitch can only be bent downward into a stopped pitch.

There is also an effect that is occasionally called for, usually in French music, called "echo horn", "hand mute" or "sons d'écho" (see Dukas's The Sorcerer's Apprentice) which is like stopped horn, but different in that the bell is not closed as tightly. The player closes the hand enough so that the pitch drops 1/2 step, but, especially in the middle register, this is not closed as tightly as for stopped horn. Consequently, when playing echo horn, the player fingers one half step higher.

The difference between stopping and "echo horn" is a source of much confusion to younger players, especially ones whose hands are not big enough to close the bell all the way for stopped horn. Instead of stopping properly, they erroneously close the bell insufficiently and finger 1/2 step higher.

Note that whenever one is using stopped horn, that the player should only use the F side. When one uses stopped horn on the B Flat side of the horn, the partials are not as accurate, even in ranges where a player would normally use the B Flat side. Also, the F side will give more of a full tone.

Also, the hand can be partially inserted into the bell in such a fashion as to lower the pitch of the horn one quarter tone, an extended technique used in some modern compositions today.

Handhorn technique[]

Before the advent of the valve horn, a player would increase the number of playable notes beyond the normal harmonic series by changing the position of his hand in the bell. It is possible to use a combination of stopping, hand-muting (3/4 stopping), and half-stopping (to correct notes that would otherwise be out of tune) to play almost every note of a mid-range chromatic scale on one fingering. Most modern pieces for hand-horn tend to spend more time in the higher ranges, as there are more notes that can be played naturally (without altering hand position and maintaining pure tone) above the 8th note of any harmonic series.


Many older pieces for horn were written for a horn not keyed in F as is standard today. As a result a requirement for modern orchestra hornists is to be able to read music directly in these keys. This is most commonly done by transposing the music on the fly into F. A reliable way to transpose is to liken the written notes (which rarely deviate from written C, D,E, and G) to their counterparts in the scale the F horn will be playing in. Basically all you need to do if you would like to transpose from a major or minor scale is take 5 half steps down from the fist note of the scale on which you would like to transpose.


Multiphonics is the act of producing more than one pitch simultaneously on the horn. To do this, one note is produced as normal while another is sung. Doing this it is quite difficult to produce an aesthetically pleasing sound, but nonetheless can be done. Like other wind instrument techniques, it is not unique to the horn. One of its earliest uses, however, occurs in the Concertino for Horn and Orchestra by Carl Maria von Weber.

Another kind of multiphonics can be achieved by simultaneously playing two neighbouring notes of the harmonic series. A practical way of doing this is by placing the lower lip under and outside the mouthpiece, playing one note, and then gently, by increasing air pressure and adjusting one's lip-position, halfway slurring upwards to the next harmonic step. This might be frustrating at first, and the technique is quite an unstable one to perform in real-time, especially when compared with similar practices with other brass instruments, esp. trombone. This technique finds its occasional use in contemporary music where, successfully performed, it might evoke an interesting effect.

Circular breathing

The person inhales fully and begins to exhale and blow. When the lungs are nearly empty, the last volume of air is blown into the mouth, and the cheeks are inflated with this air. Then, while still blowing this last bit of air out by squeezing the cheeks, the person must very quickly fill the lungs by inhaling through the nose prior to running out of the air in the mouth. If done correctly, by the time the air in the mouth is nearly exhausted the person can begin to exhale from the lungs once more, ready to repeat the process again. Essentially, circular breathing bridges the gap between breaths. The air stored in your cheeks is used as an extra air reserve to play with while you sneak in a breath through your nose.




The horn is most often used as an orchestral instrument, with its singular tone being employed by composers to achieve specific effects. Leopold Mozart, for example, used horns to signify the hunt, as in his Jagdsinfonie (hunting symphony). Once the technique of hand-stopping had been developed, allowing fully chromatic playing, composers began to write seriously for the horn. Telemann wrote much for the horn, and it features prominently in the work of Handel and in Bach's Brandenburg Concerto no. 1. Gustav Mahler made great use of the horn's uniquely haunting and distant sound in his symphonies, notably the famous Nachtmusik (serenade) section of his Symphony No. 7. Many composers have written works that have become favorites in the horn repertoire. These includes Poulenc (Elegie) and Saint-Saëns (Morceau de Concert for horn and orchestra, op. 94 and Romance, op. 36). Others, particularly Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, whose friend Joseph Leutgeb was a noted horn player, wrote extensively for the instrument, including concerti and other solo works. Mozart's A Musical Joke satirizes the limitations of contemporary horn playing, including the risk of selecting the wrong crook by mistake. By the end of the 18th Century the horn was sufficiently established as a solo instrument that the horn player Giovanni Punto became an international celebrity, touring Europe and inspiring works by composers as significant as Beethoven. The development of the valve horn was exploited by romantic composers such as Richard Strauss, Bruckner and Mahler. Strauss's Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks contains one of the best known horn solos from this period, relying on the chromatic facility of the valved horn. Schumann's Konzertstuck for Four Horns and Orchestra is a notable three-movement work. Horn music in Britain had a renaissance in the mid-20th century when Dennis Brain inspired works such as Britten's Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings and other works from contemporary composers such as Michael Tippett, who stretches horn ensemble playing to its technical limits in his Sonata for Four Horns. Peter Maxwell Davies was commissioned by 50 amateur and professional UK horn players to write a horn piece to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Brain's death. Much of the horn repertoire is scored as featured parts for the orchestral players, especially the principal horn. It is common for leading horn players to move from principal positions in the great orchestras to distinguished solo careers, a path followed by Brain and many since. Due to the heroic quality of the horn's sound, it is often used in film music. However, Bernard Herrmann's score for On Dangerous Ground uses four horns (and anvils) during a chase sequence to suggest a wild state of mind.

Chamber music[]

There is an abundance of chamber music repertoire for horn. It is a standard member of the wind quintet and brass quintet, and often appears in other configurations, such as Brahms' "Horn Trio" for violin, horn and piano. Also, the horn can be used by itself in a horn ensemble or "horn choir." The horn choir is especially practical because the extended range of the horn provides the composer or arranger with more possibilities, registerally, sonically, contrapuntally, etc.


The horn has been rarely used in jazz music. Notable exponents, however, include composer/arranger Gil Evans who included the horn as an ensemble instrument from the 1940s, first in Claude Thornhill's groups, and later with the pioneering cool jazz nonet led by trumpeter Miles Davis, and in many other projects that sometimes also featured Davis, as well as Don Ellis, a trumpet player from Stan Kenton's jazz band.

Popular music[]

The bassoon is even rarer as a regular member of rock bands. However, several 1960s pop music hits feature the bassoon, including "The Tears of a Clown" by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, "Jennifer Juniper" by Donovan, "59th Street Bridge Song" by Harpers Bizarre, and the oompah bassoon underlying The New Vaudeville Band's "Winchester Cathedral". From 1968 to 1978, the bassoon was played by Lindsay Cooper in the British avant-garde band Henry Cow, and in the 1970s it was used by the British medieval/progressive rock band Gryphon (played by Brian Gulland) as well as by the American band Ambrosia (played by drummer Burleigh Drummond). The Belgian Rock in Opposition-band Univers Zero is also known for their use of the bassoon. {C}In the 1990s, Madonna Wayne Gacy provided bassoon for the alternative metal band Marilyn Manson as did Aimee DeFoe, in what is self-described as "grouchily lilting garage bassoon" in the indie-rock band Blogurt from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. More recently, These New Puritans's 2010 album Hidden makes heavy use of the instrument throughout; their principal songwriter, Jack Barnett, claimed repeatedly to be "writing a lot of music for bassoon" in the run-up to its recording. In early 2011, American hip-hop artist Kanye West updated his Twitter account to inform followers that he recently added the bassoon to an as-of-yet unnamed song.