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What Are the Different Parts of a French Horn?

A. Pasbjerg
A. Pasbjerg

The French horn is a brass instrument constructed primarily of one long coiled, conical tube, but it has a variety of different parts that can be used by the player to change the pitch and tone. At one end is the mouthpiece that the player blows into to force air through the horn. At the other end, the tube opens into the flared bell, into which the player inserts his or her hand while playing. The other main parts of a French horn are the valve levers, which are pressed to change the pitch of the notes being played.

The main body is one of the most noticeable parts of a French horn, and it is made up of a single long tube. The tube is typically around 12 feet (3.6 m) long. It descends from the mouthpiece and then coils several times within a circular body before opening out into the bell at the other end.

Woman posing
Woman posing

Another of the main parts of a French horn is the mouthpiece. This portion of the horn is slender and cone-shaped, and can come in different sizes to suit the note range the player wants to achieve. A player can also produce higher or lower notes depending on the amount of lip tension he or she uses, and the amount of air blown into the mouthpiece.

Perhaps the most striking of the parts of a French horn is the wide, flared bell at the end from which the music of the horn is generated. The bell is so wide that it can make transporting the instrument difficult, so most modern French horns have a removable bell to make transporting it easier. Playing the French horn is unique in that the instrument is held across the body so the bell faces backward. Another unusual aspect of playing it is that the player's hand rests inside the bell, which allows him or her to control the amount of air coming out and thus the tone and volume of the music.

The last of the primary parts of a French horn is the levers, which control a series of rotary valves. The player presses the levers to adjust the air flow through the tubing, which in turn alters the pitch of the notes being played. French horns can either be a single horn, which uses three valves, or a double horn, which includes a fourth valve operated by the thumb.

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Discussion Comments


Why is the French horn coiled?


Does someone mind explaining the difference between a mellophone and a marching baritone horn if there is any? I was talking to someone the other day who was trying to say that they were the same thing, but another person was saying that they were different.

The basic argument one person said was that the mellophone is more like a French horn, while the marching baritone is closer to a baritone sound. I don't know that I have heard either of the two instrument before, or would even know one if I saw it, so what is the difference if there is one?

What are the sounds of the two horns, and do they look the same? It seems like it would be a pretty simple question to get answered, but I can't seem to find any good sources online that say whether the two are different or not.


@matthewc23 - The main difference between a single and double French horn is the key they are in. With one fewer valve on the single horn, there are fewer notes that can be played, since the range is more limited. The double horn increases the range of the horn, so that it can play higher notes.

I would say the primary reason for the price difference is because double French horns are usually reserved for professionals or higher level players. A beginner French horn will usually always just have three valves.

As far as buying an instrument goes, my suggestion would be to look at all your options together, and pick the best deal. Unless you know someone who plays the French horn, testing out the instruments will be impossible, so read reviews online, and try to find what you think will be the best option. Use that information and try to find similar horns at music stores and online and choose whichever is the best deal.


@John57 - I am with you on the single horn and double horn issue. What does it even mean? Does anyone here know? What I do know is that a single horn just has three valves, while the double horn has four, but how does that equate into different playing styles and ease? Also, why is there such a difference in price between the two different types. I just ask because my daughter is starting on the French horn in band next year, and I would like to make an informed decision when I finally buy an instrument.

Also, as far as buying French horns, would people recommend picking one out in person at a music store, or would it be best to find one online? I remember when I was younger and was getting my first instrument, there was a lot of searching that went into finding a good instrument at a reasonable price. We didn't have the internet then, though, so I am curious how that has changed things.


@John57 - It is always good to hear about someone who is interested in starting with the French horn. It really is one of the most beautiful instruments around, but I might be biased on that!

If your daughter plays the flute right now, she will probably face two obstacles. Fortunately, both are easily overcome with enough practice and dedication. The first is that the French horn, of course, uses a brass style mouthpiece, whereas the flute uses a different method. It is pretty easy to learn how to blow into the mouthpiece, and if she is in band at school, I'm sure the teacher could give her some pointers about "buzzing."

The other challenge is going to be to learn all the new fingerings. Since the French horn uses valves instead of keys, she'll have to practice going over fingering charts. A lot of playing notes on a brass instrument has to do with manipulating air flow along with fingerings, too, which isn't as much of a problem with a woodwind. Best of luck.


Is the french horn very hard to learn how to play? For some reason, my daughter has always been fascinated with this instrument.

Not only does she like the look of this instrument with the flared bell, but also loves the sound it makes.

Right now the only instrument she knows how to play is the flute, but I think she is ready to learn something new.

She saw a french horn for sale online and keeps asking if we can go and look at it. She has only played a french horn one time and it was a single horn that just had three valves.

Is a single horn easier to learn how to play than a double horn?

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