Single Horn: Single horns are found primarily in F or in Bb. In many parts of the U.S.A., beginners start on a single F horn, mostly because these instruments require a greater focus on accuracy and solid fundamentals from the beginning. In general, most players agree that the sound of the F horn is the ideal sound. While the more common double horn does include an F horn in its construction, combining two instruments in one always means that some compromises must be made so both parts work better together. Dennis Brain, one of our most famous horn soloists, played a Single Bb horn on many of his recordings for that exact reason!
Double Horn: The most common type of horn is the Double Horn, which combines an F horn and a Bb horn into a single instrument. If you are in middle or high school, studying music in college, playing professionally, or are a horn enthusiast, you likely have a double horn. Double horns are designed to be versatile and practical throughout the range so that one instrument can be used to play in a wider variety of styles and ensembles.
Descant Horn: Descant horns are a special type of double horn that are found primarily in Bb and F alto. (F alto is an octave shorter than the F side found on the Double Horn). These instruments help provide a lighter color in the high range by utilizing a more manageable harmonic series and are a popular choice for professional players in need of a specialized instrument for repertoire that requires sustained sensitive playing in the high range. That said, a descant horn will not automatically give you a great high range – it will merely give access to it on a different harmonic series than your double horn.
Triple Horn: Triple horns are primarily found in F, Bb, and F alto or sometimes F, Bb, and high Eb. Essentially, the triple horn combines the Double horn and Descant horn into one horn. Again, the triple horn allows for the player to access the higher range at a more manageable harmonic series. Triple horns do not give you extra range you don’t have – they simply make it easier. Some professional players prefer to use a triple horn for daily use, or for certain repertoire.
As you can see, there are many options of different types of horns. Currently, the most common horn is the Double Horn. However, every player has different preferences and needs, and may choose to play a Single, Double, Triple or Descant as they see fit.
–Dr. Sally Podrebarac