French horns started life as valveless hunting horns which only played a harmonic series
To fill in the gaps to make the instrument a fully chromatic instrument valves were added. The 2nd valve adds a length of tubing which lowers the open notes by a semitone. The 1st valve adds a length of tubing which lowers the open notes by a tone. The 3rd valve adds a length of tubing equal to a tone and a half so any note playable with the 3rd valve is also possible using the combination of 1st and 2nd valves. The 3rd valve on its own is ‘flat’ so the combination of 1 & 2 is the preferred way. By using combinations of valves on both the Bb & F side gives the horn player many ways of playing each note which is why it is considered to be the most difficult brass instrument to play correctly!
Single horns have 3 valves and are in F or Bb, confusing as both read horn in F music and transpose down a 5th, ie read a C, play a C and an F 5 notes below will sound out from the horn on both the single F AND the single Bb!
Teachers are still divided on which single horn is ‘best’ to start a pupil with and there are merits on both horns, therefore it is VERY IMPORTANT if a player wants to buy a french horn to start learning on it is IMPERATIVE that they seek advice from their teacher as they could easily purchase the wrong single horn.
Single F horn
Considered to have the ‘traditional’ French horn sound but due to its 12ft tubing is very difficult to pitch in the higher register as the notes are very close together!
Our single F Kinder horn (JP162) is wrapped up very small and is ideal for children.
Single Bb horn
Easier to pitch in the upper register due to its 9ft tubing but can sound more like a trombone! Our single Bb Kinder horn (JP161) is again ideal for children. There are a couple of notes in the very low register, which are not achievable on the Bb horn.
The single F & Bb horns have some fingerings in common with each other namely A, Bb, B, C but with the remaining notes you have to press down different valves to get the same notes! French horn makers also produce full size single horns.
These horns are placed mid way between Single horns and Double horns, they are basically a 3 valve single Bb horn of 9ft tubing with an extra 4th or ‘thumb’ valve which when used adds an extra 3ft of tubing which equal the 12ft of a single F French horn. The 1st, 2nd and 3rd valves have 2 sets of slides the shoter ones being the Bb side. On compensating horns the Bb slide on the 2nd valve WILL NOT MOVE! Our Compensating French horn is the JP163, probably the most well known compensating horn was the Paxman Studenti which was made by Kalison in Italy.
A Compensating horn gives the player the range of a double horn without the weight of a double horn however, the compensating system does not offer the level of secure tuning and natural harmonics available on a double horn and consequently is not the favourite choice of many players / teachers who prefer to go from a single horn straight to a double horn.
These have a ‘full’ set of F tubing (12ft) and a ‘full’ set of Bb tubing (9ft) and all the valves have separate F & Bb slides (which can all be removed), it is essentially 2 horns in one which share a leadpipe and bell!
The 4th or thumb valve allows the player to play on either the F or the Bb side of the horn and it is the PLAYER and not the music or the composer who chooses which side to play on. The general rule of thumb is the low register is played on the F side and the higher register on the Bb side, the middle register on either side depending on where you coming from and where you are going!
Double horns options:
Different bore sizes
Different bell sizes
4th valve as F /Bb or Bb/F
Mechanical linkage or strung
Adjustable 4th valve for smaller hands
Different wraps, Kruspe (offset 4th valve) or Geyer (inline)
Intermediate double horns:
Pro level doubles:
Holton 180 / 181
Yamaha 667 / 668
Conn 10DR / 11DR
Alexander 103 / 1103
Contact Steve: firstname.lastname@example.org for handmade doubles