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All About French Horns: Types Advantages and Choosing the Right One

French Horns: All About the Different Types, Advantages, and Limitations

Are you a French horn enthusiast or curious about the different types of this brass instrument? Look no further because this article will cover everything you need to know about the different types, advantages, and limitations of French horns.

Types of French Horns

Single Horns

A single horn, also known as an F horn or B flat horn, is the simplest and least expensive type of French horn. It’s ideal for beginners, kids, and hobbyists who play it for fun and not for a career.

Single horns have only one set of tubing, which means they can only play in one key, generally in F or B flat. Some models, like compact B flat horns, are smaller and easier to play for younger or smaller students.

F alto and B flat alto/soprano descant horns are other types of single horns with different bells that allow them to produce unique sounds.

Double Horns

Double horns are the most common type of French horns and are used by intermediate to professional players. They have two sets of tubing, a main tuning slide for the F horn and a second tuning slide for the B flat horn.

The two slides allow the performer to switch between the two keys with ease. There are two main types of double horns: Kruspe and Geyer wraps.

The Kruspe wrap, invented in Germany in 1900, has a flatter bell shape and a broader bore that produces a brighter, more projecting tone. The Geyer wrap, invented in America in the 1950s, has a more conical shape that produces a darker, more mellow tone.

Double horns also have a fourth rotary valve that the player can activate with their thumb, known as the thumb valve or trigger valve. It changes the pitch of the instrument, making it easier to play in different registers.


Double Horns

Compensating double horns are halfway between a single horn and a double horn. They have less tubing and are lighter than regular double horns, making them easier to handle.

They also have what’s called a thumb valve, which compensates for the extra tubing needed in the F and Bb horns. However, they are notoriously difficult to tune, and players often need to adjust their embouchure accordingly.

Double Descant Horns

Double descant horns are designed for playing in extreme upper registers, making them ideal for playing solo pieces or high passages in an orchestral setting. They have additional tubing that allows them to play above the normal range of a French horn.

Richard Merewether and Robert Paxman were two horn makers who made significant contributions to the development of double descant horns.

Triple Horns

Triple horns are the most expensive and rarest type of French horn. They are used by only the most advanced players who require an extra level of security in their playing.

They have three sets of tubing that allow the player to switch between the F, B flat, and another key, usually an F alto. The third side of the instrument provides an even greater range of notes than a double horn, making it an extremely versatile instrument.

Vienna Horns

Vienna horns are unique in that they have a unique set of double-cylinder valves, known as pumpenvalves, that allow for smoother slurs and more effortless playing. The valves are used by pushing a set of the rods located near the valves.

These horns are used more frequently in Austria, but some orchestras in other countries have started to use them as well.

Mellophones and Marching French Horns

Mellophones and marching French horns are a variation of French horns that are bell-front instruments, meaning that the bell faces forward. The tubing is longer, but the bore is narrower, making it about half the size of a regular French horn.

They are frequently used in marching bands and drum corps, where projection and clarity are essential. They come in two keys, F and B flat, and are tuned slightly differently from concert French horns.

Alto/Tenor Horns

Alto and tenor horns are often confused with baritones, tubas, or other low brass instruments. However, they are their own unique type of brass instrument.

They are small, with a more tuba-like appearance, and have a mellow tone that makes them ideal for brass bands. They are in the key of E flat and have piston valves.

Wagner Tuba

The Wagner tuba, invented by Richard Wagner himself, is a rare orchestral instrument that’s used primarily in Wagner’s own compositions. It has rotary valves and plays in two different keys, B flat and F.

The Wagner tuba has a cylindrical bore, making it similar in sound to the French horn, but with a more powerful and brassy tone. Advantages and Limitations of Different

Types of French Horns

Single Horns

The primary advantage of a single horn is that it’s the least expensive and simplest type of French horn, making it ideal for beginners and those who play it for fun.

However, single horns have significant limitations when it comes to playing advanced music.

Double Horns

The primary advantage of a double horn is its accuracy, making it suitable for intermediate to professional players. They can play in two different keys, making it easier to navigate between different registers and types of music.

However, double horns are more expensive and heavier than single horns. Compensating

Double Horns

The primary advantage of compensating double horns is that they are halfway between single and double horns. They are lighter and have less tubing, making them easier to handle.

However, compensating double horns are notoriously difficult to tune, and players often need to adjust their embouchure accordingly.

Double Descant Horns

The primary advantage of double descant horns is their ability to play in extreme upper registers. They are ideal for playing solo pieces or high passages in an orchestral setting.

Richard Merewether and Robert Paxman were two horn makers who made significant contributions to the development of double descant horns.

Triple Horns

The primary advantage of triple horns is their added security. They provide an extra level of versatility by having a third side of the instrument, allowing players to play in three different keys.

However, they are very expensive and rare, making them inaccessible to most players.

Vienna Horns

The primary advantage of Vienna horns is the unique set of pumpenvalves that allow for a smoother, more effortless playing experience. It’s ideal for playing faster, more technical pieces of music.

However, Vienna horns are relatively rare and expensive, making them inaccessible to most players.

Mellophones and Marching French Horns

The primary advantage of mellophones and marching French horns is their bell-front design, which makes them ideal for outdoor performances. They are also less expensive than other types of French horns.

However, they are not suitable for concert performances since they are tuned differently from concert French horns. Alto/Tenor Horns

The primary advantage of alto/tenor horns is their mellow tone, making them ideal for brass bands.

They are smaller and easier to handle than other types of French horns. However, they are limited in their range and are not suitable for advanced solo pieces.

Wagner Tuba

The Wagner tuba is an orchestral instrument with a unique sound that’s ideal for Wagner’s compositions. However, it’s a rare and expensive instrument that’s only suitable for advanced players.


In conclusion, French horns are fascinating brass instruments that come in a variety of types. Your choice of French horn will depend on your experience level, musical requirements, and budget.

French horns are versatile instruments that can play a wide range of music from classical to jazz to rock. They require a lot of practice and dedication to master, but the results can be truly awe-inspiring.

Choosing a French Horn: What to Consider

The French horn is a unique and versatile musical instrument that adds a distinctive sound to any ensemble. From classical pieces to modern compositions, the French horn’s warm and rich sound makes it a highly sought-after instrument for players of all levels.

However, with so many different types and models of French horns available on the market, aspiring horn players must consider several factors before making their purchasing decision.

Level of Player


For beginning students, who are new to the instrument, a single or compact French horn is usually the best option. Single horns are simpler and less expensive, making them more accessible for students who are just getting started.

Compact French horns are usually easier to handle and make a great option for younger students. Intermediate:

Intermediate students should consider purchasing a double horn.

The double horn has a more accurate and versatile sound that offers a wider range of tonal possibilities. It is perfect for intermediate students who are looking to refine their skills and take on more challenging pieces of music.


Advanced students will require an instrument with superior sound quality and technical abilities. A compensating double horn or triple horn is ideal for advanced players.

These types of horns offer a much greater range, projection, and responsive action, making them perfect for advanced players and professionals.



French horns are an essential member of any orchestra. In an orchestra setting, a double horn, triple horn, or a quad horn may be required depending on the music being played.

The sound emanating from French horns blends nicely with the other orchestral instruments, particularly strings and woodwinds. Chamber/Wind


Chamber ensembles typically require a standard double horn.

These smaller ensembles require versatility and tonal control from the performers, and a double horn is perfect for achieving this. Wind ensembles frequently use triple horn or quad horn instruments to create a powerful and resonant sound.

Concert Bands:

French horns play an important role in concert bands, from supporting the melody to incorporating harmonic background sounds. A double horn or triple horn is best suited for this type of ensemble.

It’s also important to note that concert bands frequently use mellophones and marching French horns as well. Marching Bands:

Marching bands require French horns that are specifically designed for marching.

Mellophones are the most common marching horn type, and marching French horns are also popular. They both project sound outward, which is essential in a marching band setting.

Marching bands require robust and compact horns that can stand up to the rigors of marching in outdoor environments. Drum and Bugle Corps:

Drum and Bugle Corps typically use mellophones or marching French horns.

These instruments are perfect for the high-energy and fast-paced performances required of this genre. Marching bands should be chosen in line with the musical style and individual personal preferences.

It’s important to consult with a music teacher or band director when making this decision. British Style Brass Bands:

British-style brass bands use unique instruments that are different from other French horns.

These bands also incorporate tenor horns, baritones, euphoniums, and bass instruments. It’s essential to check with the band’s director to determine which type of French horn is best suited for this type of ensemble.

Wrap Style

The wrap style of a French horn determines the placement of the tubing and the location of the rotary valves. There are three main wrap styles: Kruspe wrap, Geyer wrap, and Conn wrap.

Kruspe wrap:

Kruspe wrap French horns are popular in Germany and elsewhere in Europe. They feature a slightly wider bore that makes them louder than Geyer wrap horns.

They also have a slightly flatter bell, which produces a brighter sound quality. The Kruspe wrap is ideal for solo work.

Geyer wrap:

Geyer wrap horns are commonly found in North America and produce a darker, more mellow tone compared to Kruspe wrap horns. These horns feature a slightly narrower bore and a more conical valve section.

They also have a more rounded bell shape which emphasizes the low register. Geyer wrap horns work remarkably well with orchestras.

Conn wrap:

Conn wrap horns originated in America and were initially designed as an intermediate horn. Conn wrap horns are similar to Geyer wrap instruments in both bore and valve section.

The wrap is similar to the Kruspe horn, but it’s longer and doesn’t angle as sharply.

The Wrap Up

Choosing a French horn requires keen attention. There are several factors to consider such as your level of playing, ensemble, and wrap style.

It’s worth noting that your choice of French horn will significantly affect the sound you produce. Also, personal preferences come into play when choosing a French horn.

It’s helpful to seek recommendations from a trusted music teacher or experienced performer to help make an informed decision. With a perfect French horn, you’ll be delighted with the exceptional sound and quality of music you can produce.

Choosing the right French horn is crucial for aspiring horn players, regardless of their level of experience or ensemble. The level of player, ensemble type, and wrap style must be considered carefully when selecting a French horn.

Single horns are great for beginners, double horns for intermediate players, and advanced players require compensating double or triple horns. The ensemble can influence the type of French horn best suited to that performance, and the wrap style dictates the quality of sound produced.

Seeking recommendations from a music teacher or experienced performer is advisable. By making the right choice, players can enjoy excellent sound quality and create beautiful music.

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