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French Horn Guide Part 2

Intermediate - Introduction to The Double Horn:

As the student progresses, they will outgrow, either physically or experientially, the single horn they started on and be advised to move on to a double horn. The double horn is quite literally the combination of a Bb horn and the longer F horn into one instrument. The double horn achieves this by stacking the valve tubing of both instruments and using a double layer rotary valve. By activating an additional thumb valve, the player can immediately and smoothly switch between the two layers to play in the key of their choosing.

The image below shows the Bb horn air route on a full double horn. Starting from the leadpipe and main tuning slide to the change valve to the  Bb tubing then back to the change valve and on to the bell (the underside level of valves 1, 2 & 3 and the shorter tuning slides are used to change notes in this route but are not highlighted).

This image shows the longer F horn air route from leadpipe and main tuning slide to change valve to horn tubing back to change valve to bell (the longer top layer of valves 1, 2 & 3 and tuning slides are used by the F horn but are not highlighted).

 Double horns in the intermediate level are offered in two types: full double and the less common compensating (or half) double. Both these instruments have four valves, have two layers of valve slides, are pitched in Bb and F and change between the two via a thumb operated valve. Valves 1,2 and 3 operate the same as the single horn and alter the pitch accordingly regardless if the player is on the Bb or F side of the horn.

  • A full double has the F valve slides on top and the Bb slides on a layer below. When played in F, the air is routed through the top level of the rotor and slides (along with some extra length of tubing) and out the bell. When played in Bb, the air is routed to the lower level of the rotor and slides (and a shorter route) before going out the bell. When playing in F, the lower Bb slides and tubing is not utilised and likewise when playing in Bb the F slides and tubing is not utilised. Furthermore, full double horns most often come in two styles or “wraps” - Geyer and Kruspe. I go much further in depth on the differences between these two in the High Level Double Horns section. 

Both instruments below are full double horn models:


  • A compensating double horn works a bit differently. The top layer of slides on a compensating double horn are pitched in Bb. So when the horn is played in Bb, the top layer of the rotor and slides is being utilised. When played in F, the top AND bottom layer of slides (along with some extra tubing) become engaged to lower the pitch accordingly - adding tubing to “compensate” to reach the lower pitch. 

Notice the shorter slide tubes on the top of the compensating horn:

The images below show the airstream through a compensating horn. The first photo showing the horn in Bb with the air always passing through the top side of the valve section (and using the top layer of slides - not highlighted).  

This image shows the compensating section added to the Bb horn creating a horn in F by having the air passing through the valve section twice (and using both the top layer of slides and the bottom layer of slides - not highlighted).

    Both systems are fully functional and each have certain advantages. The compensating double horn is about 20% lighter due to the fact that more of the tubing is shared. This lighter horn is a terrific option for a primary school age player that is ready to step up but finds the full double horn difficult to manage. The airstream on a compensating double horn when played in F needs to make a lot of twists and bends to go through the valves twice and to navigate both layers of slide tubes. This can make a compensating double horn feel less "open" when playing in the lower register.

    A double horn that plays in F without the thumb valve depressed is said to “stand in F”, switching to Bb when the thumb valve is depressed. Likewise, a horn “standing in Bb” will play in Bb when the thumb valve is not depressed and in F when the thumb valve is depressed. Intermediate horns all come standing in F. Many but not all horns have the ability to have the standing swapped if desired by the player. A horn that lacks the ability to switch may be less desirable for some players and should be considered before purchase.

    The player's comfort should always be taken into account. Some horns, as mentioned in Part One offer adjustable finger hooks and flippers. Additionally, some double horns offer more flexibility in the placement of the thumb trigger. This is typically dependent on the wrap style. Those horn with the 4h valve placed near the 3rd valve often have more adjustability than a horn with the 4th valve near the 1st valve.

    The images below show various thumb trigger designs:

    This horn with ball and socket style linkages has little adjustment for the thumb lever but can stand in Bb or F.

    This ball and socket linkage offers no flexibility with the placement of the lever but can stand in Bb or F.

    This horn with string linkages can raise or lower the lever a little bit by adjusting the string but can only stand in F.

    This ball and socket style linkage horn can have the thumb lever raised or lowered a great distance as well as change the angle of the paddle. It can also stand in Bb or F. 

    This string linkage horn has great flexibility with the placement of the thumb lever and can also stand in Bb or F.

    Intermediate horns are mass produced and built to a price point. You should expect a no frills but decent instrument that is reliable and easy to play. I always recommend sticking to a well known name brand that has excellent repair and service support. Expect to pay $3500 to $5000 for a new name brand horn or a minimum of $2500 for a decent unknown brand. Used current model horns can be found but you may need to be patient and act quickly. This field is littered with online sellers offering instruments at prices that are surprisingly low. Remember, you get what you pay for and buying a poor quality instrument can do more harm than good when trying to keep a young person inspired. 


    Horns for Schools:

    Horns are expensive and young players will advance quickly as they grow, needing different instruments within a relatively short time frame. To address this and encourage more horn players in their bands, many school band programs in the Sydney area provide horns for their students. 

    The most successful primary school programs offer a variety of instruments that can be passed along as the student grows physically and gains skill. With the trend to start students in year 3 or earlier, Kinder horns are almost mandatory for the training band player. If the school has a big enough band and budget, investing in a few name brand full size single horns that will outlast and outperform a Kinder horn could better suit the year 4 or 5 students. Lastly, the school should have some double horns for the senior band players. The compensating double should be a consideration for the primary school band program as the lighter weight and size suit the age group well.

    Some high schools provide instruments for the students. Invest in a reputable name brand double horn if financially possible. Budget constraints are real and understandable so that name brand horn may not be possible. Look for the best double horn your budget will allow and choose quality over quantity if possible. Try to find a horn that comes in a decent case or allow room in the budget to replace poor quality cases within two to three years. 


    What’s Available Here:

    The following are current model intermediate level double horns that you are likely to find at various shops in the Sydney marketplace. All these instruments should be found for less than $5000: