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History of the French Horn

The French horn is a brass instrument that comes in many different varieties and has a wonderful sound that distinguishes itself from others in an ensemble. The horn itself is not actually French, it is German. It is one of the most challenging instruments to play due to all of the tubing and the complexity of the instrument itself. There are 3 main types of french horns, the single, double and the rarest triple horn. The single horn is the most common type for beginners to use as it is in the key of F and it has 3 rotary valves. The difference between a rotary and a piston valve is that rotary valves are connected by a string which if the valve is pressed causes the mechanism for the valve to rotate on the x axis while the piston valves use a spring and once pressed is pushed down on the y axis. Older french horns used to have piston valves until 1818 when German horn maker Heinrich Stolzel made the first rotary french horn. The double horn is another type of french horn that is used and is most commonly used in orchestras and symphonic band groups. The double horn has the 3 main valves but one crucial difference, the double horn not only has an F side, it also has a Bb side which is where the trigger(throw or thumb valve) comes in. This differentiates itself from other instruments due to the fact that the double horn has a wider range than a single horn has. Triple horns have the better advantage than single and double horns because it has an even wider range. Triple horns have the 3 basic valves and 2 trigger valves, one for the Bb side and one for the Eb side. The instrument itself has a voice that is compared to mid voices in a choir. It is one of the few instruments in the brass section that uses rotary valves. It is most commonly used in brass ensembles, symphonic bands and orchestras.

The horn has many different solos to play from such as Tchaivkosky’s 5th Symphony, Brahms’ 1st Symphony and John Williams Jurassic Park opener. Most of the time, the horn is fit in to match the sound of the trombone section. It is also used as a cover up for alto saxophone because some pieces of music both have the horn and alto sax part the same but in different notation. Tuning a french horn is also a challenge because the length of the tuning slides can alter the pitch of the note to be registered as a sharp note or flat. Another challenge for horn players is the spit that builds up in the instrument and having to pull out all the slides is like a game to find where the source is coming from. The instrument itself at first might be difficult to play, but it takes about 3-4 years to get use to it and then get the basics off their shoulders and start performing shows and in community events.

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