The natural horn is the ancient ancestor of all modern horns, having no valves whatsoever. Since it lacks valves, only the notes in the harmonic series can be produced without the use of the right hand. In order to play notes outside of the harmonic series,hornists originally used varying hand positions, a practice still commonly used today on modern horns to make minor pitch adjustments. Today, when playing music written before the advent of valves, we see parts written for horn in many keys besides F. While multiple keys consistently challenge players of modern valved horns to accurately transpose by sight, they actually simplify the reading and playing of music for the natural horn. The hornist would just add the correct crook to change the natural horn's key, thereby enabling the player to both read the music as written and more easily play passages with the hand. Realizing that handhorn technique doesn't change between keys can help make transposition much easier. All we need to know is which key combinations are equivalent to the key of the horn part.
List of natural horn keys with their corresponding fingering on the modern horn:
- C alto - none
- B alto - none
- Bb alto - T0
- A alto - T2
- Ab alto - T1
- G - T12 or T3
- Gb - T23
- F - F0 or T13
- E - F2 or T123
- Eb - F1
- D - F12 or F3
- Db - F23
- C - F13
- B basso - F123
- Bb basso - none
- A basso - none
- Ab basso - none
Before starting to learn handhorn get to know the harmonic series of the horn or the notes that can naturally be played without valves.
For every pitch there are a few things we can do to give us a near chromatic range:
- To play one half-step lower, close off the bell a bit. This will take some experimenting to figure out how much, but it should be relatively easy.
- To play one half-step higher, fully stop the bell. (For a full explanation see Stopped horn.) For modern horns, we are encouraged to make this sound quite nasally. For the natural horn, it should be much smoother. Experiment to make the note sound more uniform with other notes. This may even require playing some of the open notes slightly more closed.
- Pitch bending with the lips is required for some notes. For example Beethoven especially likes throwing in low written G's (bottom line base clef in new notation). This is not a note in the harmonic series, but bending the pitch that low is quite possible. Another example that is not used often is for playing the D just below the treble clef staff. It is a whole step away from the C and E which can be played open. Bending all the way to the D from either note is quite difficult, but a half-step bend down from the E is very doable. So if we bend a half-step and then close off the bell a bit we can get a D.
Some repertoire for natural horn:
- Mozart Horn Concerti
- Beethoven Sonata for Horn
The single horn has three valves which lower the pitch of the instrument two, one, and three half steps respectively. Valves eliminate the need for hand-horning, though stopped horn is still commonly used among modern players. Single horns are usually made in the key of F, though many can be found in Bb alto.
The double horn combines the F and Bb single horns into one instrument. Double horns have four valves; the three valves of the single horn plus an additional valve, played with the thumb, to switch between the F and Bb horn. The double horn is the most commonly used today. It gives players extra versatility by allowing them to use the Bb horn to produce better tone in the upper register and in the low range from the F below middle C to the C a fourth below that. The F horn is typically used in the mid-low to middle register.
The descant horn is a single horn in the key of F, but pitched an octave higher than the usual F horn. It is often used for pieces in which the horn part is entirely in the upper and upper-middle registers.
The triple horn combines the single F, single Bb, and descant horns into one instrument. It has the four valves of a double horn plus a fifth valve to switch to the descant "side" of the horn.
- Alp Horn
- Wagner Tuba
For more information on all types of horns see Horn.