The french horn is a german instrument designed in 1814 by Heinrich Stoelzel by improving on real animal horns by making it with metal and adding valves. 1
You may hear about it with other names like horn or corno. Pronounced /frɛntʃ hɔːrn/, from the English meaning “french animal horn” and called cuerno frances in Spanish, cor français in French and trompa in Portuguese.2
What’s the difference?
The difference with a battle horn, Viking horn, or just a horn is that the french horn is made of brass and now that it has become the standard, people just call it “horn” without the “french”.
The difference with an alto horn or baritone horn is in the shape and range of the instrument, both the baritone and alto/tenor horn look more cylindrical like a euphonium or a small tuba, while the french horn looks like a circle.
The Brass family meaning it makes sound from vibration on the metal when you blow air.
The types are determined by pitch, you can find them in keys like F and Bb with F being the most common3. Some horns even let you tune them in keys like A or Eb.
You need to also check by valve slides:
- Single horn: 1 valve slide per rotor, most common for beginners.
- Double horn: 2 valve slides per rotor, most common in orchestras.
- Triple horn: 3 valve slides per rotor, the most complete.
An extra thing you can check with a horn is if it comes with a single bell, double bell, or detachable bell, just understand that double bells are very rare.
The best for you
For a beginner we suggest a single F horn since it is the most common variant and cheapest too, it doesn’t have the biggest range, but by the time you master it, you’ll know for certain if you want to upgrade or move to another instrument.
For kids, we also recommend a single F horn since the double and triple horns get increasingly heavier and more expensive.
Famous players like Radek Baborak, Sarah Willis, and Hermann Baumann all play double or triple horns both on F and Bb so if you’re going professional, you don’t have any excuse with one of those.
It’s important to mention that you can play the instrument even with a disability, like this article shows, it just takes a couple of adaptations, one to hold it and another to press the valves.
Getting it another way
So far we have talked only about the physical instruments, but there are more options than that.
You can get an app for android called “How to play french horn” if you want to play for free, the horn doesn’t sound quite right but it tells you the fingerings for each note and lets you play freely the whole range.
Also for both IOS and android you can get Tonestro, if you already have a horn you can play into the phone microphone and the application will tell you if you play the correct note or not.
If you are on a computer you can try the “virtual french horn online”, it also lets you play for free and comes with preloaded songs and a record feature, the bad thing is that it’s starting to show its age, so it’s not that responsible and doesn’t have the highest quality audio.
|Variant||Lowest price||Highest price|
|Single F / Bb||$300 USD||$350 USD|
|Double F / Bb||$500 USD||$660 USD|
|Triple F / Bb||$750 USD||$3,000 USD|
For reference, the cheapest was a handmade no-brand brass single horn in F and the most expensive was a Gold lacquered triple horn from Wessex tubas.
|Single F / Bb||25 x 16 x 6 In (63 x 40 x 15 Cm)||27 x 19 x 15 In (68 x 48 x 38 Cm)|
|Double F / Bb||21 x 13 x 13 In (53 x 33 x 33Cm)||26 x 18 x 15 In (66 x 45 x 36 Cm)|
|Triple F / Bb||22 x 14 x 14 In (55 x 35 x 25 Cm)||26 x 17 x 17 In (66 x 43 x 43 Cm)|
|Single F / Bb||12 Lbs (5.4 Kg)||15 Lbs (6.8 Kg)|
|Double F / Bb||13 Lbs (5.8 Kg)||15 Lbs (6.8 Kg)|
|Triple F / Bb||14 Lbs (6.3 Kg)||16 Lbs (7.2 Kg)|
Brass (copper with zinc) and it might have a lacquer (layer) of gold, silver, or steel with some additional painted color on top of it. Material has no effect on sound but it does in price and durability.
How to play – first lesson
This instrument is easy to learn, but it can take years to master, especially if you’re trying to get to a solo position in a top tier orchestra. To start you should get used to the instrument, this means the way you hold it, efficient warmups among other things.
“I remember that I started playing brass – not so much because I had a calling but because I thought it looked cool.”-Max Martin