Instrument Guide The horn family

Martin Lawrence, a horn player with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, introduces the remarkable collection of instruments that he has acquired over the years. They range from the modern horn and venerable period instruments to extraordinary objects used to make music in various cultures. Although though they may seem radically different from each other, they are all connected in the way they are played: by effectively 'blowing a raspberry' into the mouthpiece, which is how instruments in the brass family are defined. Here Martin demonstrates the varied sounds that can be created from each one, starting with the modern valved horn.

The Modern Horn

Says Martin: 'Many people say that it has lost the magic created by older versions of the horn. However, you won't hear a wrong note played with this instrument and it is everything we need in the commercial music world.'

The Verdi Horn

This became the standard horn specification by around 1880. It was the first horn to be produced with three valves. The main reason for using valves is to create different lengths of tubing, much like changing the 'crooks' on the classical horn (see below), but to be able to do it with the touch of a finger. This in turn creates an even sound over the range of the instrument.

The Classical Horn

Martin says, 'I use this when we're performing music by Classical composers such as Mozart, Haydn or Beethoven.' The instrument has no valves but the player can insert 'crooks' - tubing attachments of different lengths – to create either a lower or higher pitched sound. For the first time players could use their hand, inserted into the bell, to create semitones – a practice known as hand-stopping.

The Baroque Horn

This is used for the music of Baroque composers such as Bach and Handel. It's a rolled-up coil of tubing with no valves. Bach used genuine hunting calls performed on this instrument in his Brandenburg concertos.

The French Hunting Horn

A simple rolled-up coil of tubing without valves that originated in France. This instrument was primarily used for hunting and each tune played on the instrument had a different meaning, as Martin demonstrates.

The Conch Shell

Nature has provided a neat length of curled-up tubing in this shell. It can be turned into a brass instrument by cutting a hole in the spire of the shell near the apex.

The Didgeridoo

There are Australian Aboriginal paintings dating back over a thousand years that show people playing the didgeridoo. The instrument is made from the trunk of a hardwood tree (often eucalyptus) that has been hollowed out by termites.

A hose and funnel

Martin demonstrates how to make sweet music out of a rolled-up hose pipe fitted with a funnel and tap attachment – a sort of crude French horn.

The Dungchen

This floor-length instrument is widely used in Tibetan Buddhist culture for ceremonies. It is often played in pairs or multiples and the sound is compared to the singing of elephants.

The Human Thighbone

It's hard to believe that such a gruesome object can produce music, but monks in Bhutan play it to please the deities and frighten evil spirits. 

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