French Horn/kinds of horns


What is the difference between a double, triple, and descant horn?  By the way, my horn playing is coming well.


Hi, glad you're getting somewhere...

A double horn is almost always in F and Bb, and it's been the standard instrument since the middle of the twentieth century. Having the Bb side makes accuracy in the high register a bit easier, but having the F horn is essential in the lower register. You can get single horns in either F or Bb but a double is the best all-round instrument.

Triple and descant horns usually incorporate an F-alto horn, an octave higher than a normal F horn. A triple is usually in F,Bb and F alto, a descant can be a double in Bb and F alto or even a single F alto which is what I use. They are rather specialist tools for the professional - the F alto side of the horn is difficult to make a good sound on and often suffers from tuning issues, but it offers much more security in some of the very high horn parts written in the Baroque and Classical eras. It also works better in a chamber orchestra context, as the sound is less weighty than a double. So when trying to come in accurately on a high C or D above the stave is needed, they are a useful tool.

Triples aren't very popular because they tend to be very heavy, although a full triple would in some ways be the ideal instrument for the jobbing horn player who doesn't know what they will be faced with when they turn up to a recording session.

Some freelance players over here who mainly play first horn, play on a Bb/F alto, there's also a Bb/Eb alto by Schmidt which is a clever idea. But as I say, they are basically for professionals to do a job with.

It's no easier to play high notes on a descant, it's just easier to hit the one you want, and if you have the skill to make it sound nice it's very useful. If it's not essential to your career prospects not to crack a high note occasionally, then stick to a double.

Hope this makes sense...


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Alan Jones


Can answer just about anything on playing the horn, repertoire, buying instruments, repairs, care and maintenance


25 years of professional playing and teaching in the UK


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