of the Double Horn
is a double horn, & how does it work?
In the early twentieth century there was still some controversy over what should be the basic key of the valve-horn. F was popular for its dark sound, and Bb was popular for the advantages it gave in accuracy, especially in the upper register. The double horn was an attempt to provide all the advantages of both. Because the F horn sound was the ideal, it provided the basic design for most of the early doubles. A change valve was used (thumb valve) to switch from one side to the other. When playing on the F side the sound is traveling through more tubing. Because the amount of tubing added for each valve is relative to the length of the horn, and the Bb side of the horn is considerably shorter, each side needs its own set of slides. Even though we are essentially playing on 2 instruments, in different keys, we don't transpose. Modern horn players just think of the Bb side as different fingerings, the same way tuba players do with Bb, C, and F tubas. A number of instrument makers produced some very popular compensating models1, but the full double won out as the instrument of choice of most players by the second half of the century.
side of the horn do I use?
The short answer is both. Most modern doubles do a pretty good job of matching up the two sides, but if they were truly interchangeable they wouldn't need to keep making them with both sides. There is really no magical range in which one side works & the other doesn't, but the F side is going to provide the most characteristic horn sound in most cases, so it should be used as much as possible in exposed solos. When the double horn is introduced to students (in the U.S.) they are commonly told to play F horn up to a certain note, then switch to Bb for everything above that. The range that is most commonly used to switch between F & Bb sides is shown in ex.1.2 Notice that the fingerings are the same on both sides through this entire range. This allows you to stay on one side longer,3 & helps hide the change-over point. The important thing is to maintain a good sound, and not let the audience hear the technique. To do this most of us need to practice the complete range of the horn on both sides. When I'm preparing for a solo performance I usually play through all my solo's completely on F horn, and then on Bb horn. So, if the decision of which side to use use isn't quite as simple as what note to switch on, how do we decide.
What are the advantages of both sides?
F Horn - This is the true sound of the horn, big and dark. Because the overtones are closer together there are also a lot more alternate fingerings available on F horn in any register. I find it easier to do range extension exercises on the F side, and very smooth, almost liquid, slurs seem to come more naturally to me on the F side of the horn. Even if you are planning to perform a passage on the Bb side of your horn, practicing it on the longer side of the horn can make it feel just that much more secure when you do use the trigger. This side of the horn will serve you well if used as your primary choice.
Bb Horn - When played properly this can be the most facile instrument of the entire brass family, and have an absolutely lovely sound. Unfortunately, it can also be a crass, ugly, and inflexible instrument when abused. The most important thing to remember is that the trigger on a double horn is not an octave key. At its best the Bb horn provides security on hazardous entrances, power in some registers that are weak on the F horn, a lighter sound when needed, and some much easier fingerings. Depending on the music being performed it may also provide a more appropriate sound, and therefore become your default fingering for that piece.
When to use the F side:
In exposed solo's, especially slow tuneful passages, the F horn will give the darkest and most interesting sound. The reason most composers write for the horn is for the beautiful sound which they associate with the instrument. I have provided several examples of situations where F horn can be used to good advantage throughout the treble clef. I have chosen several examples from the orchestral and solo literature, and typeset them myself, to avoid copyright problems. I have provided parts in the original key, as well as transposed for horn in F. These would make excellent transposition practice (see the previous clinic for a description of that).
1) The third horn solo from the third movement of Schubert's Symphony #3 (ex. 2) is one of these spots. As you move from measures 16 to 17 stay on the F side, making sure to keep an open setting so that the sound can expand as you make the leap up to the d#'. Avoid the all too common habit of letting your jaw close up, or raising your tongue to increase the air speed, just use more air.
Now try to use Bb horn for the d#'. This time stay on the Bb side until you jump down to the c# (m. 18). The rest of the excerpt is then played on F horn. Don't switch sides for the last g#, because that would make it jump out of the line. Try playing it both ways, and see if you can hear the difference. Remember, you want a smooth consistent sound throughout the solo. When you do decide to switch sides, in most cases, it's best to stay on that side of the horn. Isolated notes on one side or the other tend to be difficult to mask.
2) The third movement of Mozart's third horn Concerto (kv 317) is another place that the F side of the horn can be used extensively4. To get a feel for the original technique put down your first valve on the F side, and play the opening phrase. You will notice that there are a few notes that don't work well. Look at the part in the original key and you will find that all the notes that work well open (the c major triad plus d) are all easy notes this way. The c#'', d#'', f '', and a'' all require differing degrees of shading with the right hand to be in tune. Play this phrase a few times, all on the F horn. Notice how simple the fingerings are, and how easy it is play with a consistent sound. Now try the same phrase on Bb horn. Resist the temptation to play the first note on the F side. (Play the first 4 notes that way a few times & listen to see how poorly the sound of that f ' matches up with the rest of the phrase.) Before deciding which side of the horn suits this piece better, listen to a few recordings of the Mozart Concerti by professional players. My experience suggests that most of you will come much closer to that sound by playing mostly on the F side, but a few of those using very large equipment may need to go to the Bb horn to lighten up their sound.
When to use the Bb side:
The Bb horn provides both power in that muddy register around middle c, and delicacy and control in the upper register. Let's look first at how to use the trigger for power in the lower register.
1) There are so many examples of this sort of spot in the band and orchestra literature that I'm simply going to use a descending F major arpeggio as an example. Try playing the example given, doing as large a crescendo as possible, on the F side of the horn, then put the trigger down and try the same thing on the Bb side. You may notice that the sound of the Bb horn is not as lovely in that register (especially at that dynamic level), but when the 2 low horns in the back of the band are trying to balance 6 trumpets and 4 trombones, it seems a reasonable compromise. The trick is to keep the sound focused, because a clear centered mezzo-forte will carry much more effectively than a spread fortissimo.
2) The upper register is the most common domain of the Bb horn. The thing to be careful of is not to allow your sound to brighten. In fact, if playing an exposed entrance on the Bb side gives you the confidence to play relaxed, with correct technique, you may actually end up sounding darker. This is because you are playing differently, not because of tonal characteristics of the horn, but if it works . . .
The first rule to remember about the trigger is that it is not an octave key. If you can't play a certain note on the F side of the horn, then you probably won't get it on the Bb Side. It can, however, provide that little extra advantage you need to stretch the correct technique you are hopefully using in the middle register of the horn into the upper register. One of my favorite range stretching exercises is based on the fact that the Bb side is built a perfect fourth shorter than the F side. This is very effective if you will set for the lower note, & consciously maintain that setting for all 3 notes.
3) The Bb side will often blend better with other brass instruments. In brass quintet I usually play any passage that I am doubling with the trumpets on the Bb side. This is especially true in unison/octave passages, but can also be useful when playing in thirds, etc. Depending on the players involved I sometimes find the opposite to be true with trombones. This is an area in which attentive listening provides the only true measure of which side to use.
4) Last, but not least, the Bb horn provides a large range of additional options for fingerings in difficult technical passages. Try playing a 2 octave F major arpeggio very fast, first on the F side of the horn, then on Bb. Try running some fast one octave scales in the treble clef. You will find that certain keys lie very well on one side of the horn or the other. For fast runs I particularly like the F side for C major, and the Bb side for C#. Don't be afraid to experiment with different fingerings. It is still important to maintain a consistent sound and good intonation, but the fact that the 6th note of a 10 note run is 3 or 4 cents sharp will not be nearly as noticeable as breaking down in the middle of the run and not making it to the top.
Review and General Rules:
The most important thing is the music. If changing sides at a certain spot makes a phrase sound better, then it is correct. In most cases, however, staying on one side as long as possible will yield better results. The F side of the horn is the one most likely to give the horns most characteristic sound, and should therefore be used as much as possible. The Bb side is useful for many situations, and will provide the preferred sound in certain settings. Your guide must ultimately be your ear, and good taste. Both sides are appropriate for the entire range of the horn, but not for every musical situation.
Next Week - The Warm-up, Part One: Basic Principles
|1. Compensating double are horns that use one set of slides for the short (Bb) side of the horn, then add a shorter set of slides so that the air can pass through both sets on the longer side of the horn (F). Full Doubles have separate slides for each side. Return to Text|
|2. Since most horn players talk amongst themselves in "horn pitch," everything on this site will refer to the written pitch, for horn in F, of whatever note us under discussion. Some obvious exceptions to this may occur in the section on transposition, but should be self explanatory. Octave designations (C, c, c', etc. will follow the standard rules used in Grove's Dictionary, and most other standard sources.) Return to Text|
|3. If you will stay on the F side up to c'' when going up a scale, and stay on the Bb side down to the ab' when coming down, you will often eliminate the need to change sides. The less often you change between the sides, the more consistent your sound will be. Return to Text|
|4. Since he lived before valves were invented for brass instruments, all of Mozart's music was originally played on what we now call natural horn. F horn with first valve is the same length as a natural horn with an Eb crook (the original instrument), but just doing this with a modern valve horn doesn't give quite the same feel. Valve horns have a lot more bends to interfere with the air stream, and the valves add a lot of weight. A true natural horn tends to speak much more quickly, and center a bit better. Return to Text|