What Is the Difference Between Single, Double and Compensating French Horns?

The French horn is a musical instrument in the brass family, and consists of approximately 13 feet of metal tubing wrapped into a coiled shape. It is found in orchestras, brass bands and a variety of contemporary chamber music settings. The naming of "single," "double" and "compensating" horns relates to the pitch of the horn, the amount of tubing it contains and whether a fourth valve is present.

  1. Single French Horn

    • The single French horn has the simplest design and configuration of the various French horns. Typically pitched in F, the single horn is also available in the higher B flat range. The single horn is popular among beginning students as it is both cheaper and lighter than other configurations.

    Double French Horn

    • The double horn was invented to combat the problem of a single horn's inherently limited range of pitches. Before the invention of the double horn, a horn player would have to switch between single horns in F and B flat keys to achieve all the notes necessary. The double horn combines both a B flat and an F horn into one instrument, with a shared lead pipe and bell section. Professional horn players typically use a double horn.

    Compensating Horns

    • A compensating horn is essentially halfway between a single and a double French horn. The compensating horn is made up of a single horn at B flat pitch, with an extra (fourth) valve which allows the notes down to an F pitch to be reached through downward transposition. The compensating horn is lighter and cheaper than a double horn, but the quality of harmonics and sound produced through the compensating mechanism is inferior to that of the double horn.

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