All instruments are difficulty to play, but the French horn is probably the most difficult brass instrument to play well. The French horn is made of an enormously long piece of brass tubing. If you stretched out a French horn it would extend half way across the front of the stage! The tubing is actually 25 feet long. Something very strange happens to a brass instrument when the tubing is very long. Suddenly, you push down the valves, but instead of the right note coming out, lots of different notes can come out and YOU have to pick out the right one with your lips! On the trumpet, when you press down the first valve, you might get a B-flat instead of an F, but a B-flat is a lot higher than an F, so you would know that it is wrong. On the French horn, if you press down the first valve you might get a D or an F or a B-flat, and because the notes are closer together, it is more difficult to tell if you are right or wrong. Until the 19th century, French horns had no valves. The player carried a suitcase filled with crooks, or extra lengths of tubing. Depending on the key he was playing in, he put in a length of tubing that was the right length for that key. By the end of the 19th century, horns were made in F, and people learned to play them, but it was still very difficult, so an extra set of tubing was added to create a "double" French horn, to help musicians play the high notes more accurately. Today, there are even "triple" French horns, to help players.
The American Horn Quartet
The American Horn Quartet is amazing because of how well they play these very tricky instruments. They make it look and sound very easy, but anyone who has ever tried to play the French horn knows that these musicians are practically wizards on this beastly instrument.
Recordings by the American Horn Quartet
French Horn Cases
French horn cases come in two styles: the standard one that is in the shape of a French horn, and the slim rectangular one that looks like a suitcase or backpack. HOW CAN YOU FIT A FRENCH HORN INTO A FLAT, RECTANGULAR CASE? The bell of certain French horns screws off so that they can travel in flat cases. The standard French horn case will not fit under any airline seat or in any overhead compartment! With a standard case, you either have to buy a seat for your horn, lock it and put it in with the luggage (always dangerous!), or purchase a horn with a removable bell.
visit www.hornguys.com for more French horn cases.
Bores, Boars, Boring, Bored...
The French horn, unlike the trumpet, has a conical bore. The tubing, if you uncurled it, is cone-shaped, namely it gradually gets larger all the way from the mouthpiece to the bell. This may seem like a subtle difference, but actually it changes the way the instrument sounds. A conical bore creates a much more mellow sound. The mellow tone of the French horn is due to its conical tubing. Cylindrical bores, or tubing that begins with a mouth piece and the travels straight and only flares out at the bell, produce a brighter, brassier sound. Trumpets have cylindrical bores. Think of the sound of a trumpet. Then think of the sound of the French horn. They have totally different personalities!
French Horn Activities:
Check out the Merry Pranks of Master Till Science Curriculum Guide for more information on the french horn and other brass instruments.
Now that you know all about French horns, print out this fun maze