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Alto horn

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Known in the United States as alto horn, in Germany as althorn, and in the United Kingdom as tenor horn, this brass instrument pitched in E♭ has a conical bore (gradually widening), and normally uses a deep, cornet-like mouthpiece. It is most commonly used in marching bands, brass bands and similar ensembles, whereas the horn tends to take the corresponding parts in symphonic groupings and classical brass ensembles. In the United States and Germany the name tenor horn is identical to baritone horn. To avoid confusion, the instrument is also occasionally referred to as E♭ horn.


[edit] Description

The alto horn (in E♭) has a conical bore like the orchestral (French) horn (in F) and uses deep funnel or cup shaped mouthpieces depending on the model. It is used in British Brass bands and is very rarely included in the orchestra where its place is taken by the orchestral horn. The conical bore and deep mouthpiece produces a mellow, rounded tone which is most often used as a middle voice, supporting the melodies by the trumpets, cornets or flugelhorns, and fills in the gap above the lower tenor and bass instruments (the trombone, baritone horn, euphonium and tuba). Solos for the alto horn are very occasional, and are usually taken by the solo horns. Most alto horns are pitched in E♭ and are transposing instruments. Their typical range is from the A an octave and a minor third below middle C to the E♭ an octave and a minor third above middle C (A2 to E♭5). The standard bell-up horn comes in two basic shapes, one with the beginning of the bell looping over the top of the valves and the other looping below the valves.

[edit] Playing technique

Alto horns are very free-blowing instruments and intermediate players should be able to reach the high register (from the F above middle C onwards). Its beautiful mellow tone is most evident in this register and the notes at the bottom of its range sound less mellow.

They are held in the same way as the tuba, and the euphonium, with the bell facing up and the piston valves being pressed by the right hand.

There are many bad habits a player can develop while learning an alto horn.

  1. Do not press the mouthpiece onto your lips firmly. Although it may help reaching the high register, it will hamper future development.
  2. Never puff your cheeks out. By doing this, you are forcing the air out using your cheek muscles and this will cause a bad sound. Always use your diaphragm muscles to control the air stream.
  3. Always breathe through your mouth, and not through your nose. Breathing through your mouth will help to take in more air deeper into your lungs.
  4. Always sit up straight. Slouching will cramp up your lungs, making breathing technique harder. It also looks very unsightly!

To produce a tone a player buzzes his lips by tightening them and gently forcing air out. The mouthpiece should be pressed gently against the lips and the rim of the mouthpiece is used to sustain the correct embouchure.

To reach higher notes, the lips are tightened further and the player should blow the air at a faster speed. Without using the valves, the player can play E♭3, B♭3, E♭4, G4, B♭4, C♯5 and E♭5 (concert pitch) in ascending order. These notes are part of the horn's natural harmonic series.

The three valves lower the notes by 2 semitones, 1 semitone and 3 semitones respectively. By using a certain combination of these valves, all the notes in the chromatic series can be played. Since the valves can only lower the pitch of the note, the closest harmonic note above D♯ is used, in this case a G (B♭ in concert pitch). The distance from G down to D♯ is 2 tones or 4 semitones; this is how much the pitch needs to be lowered by. Therefore the valve fingering is 2-3 (which means the 2nd and 3rd valves are depressed) because 3 semitones (the 3rd valve) + 1 semitone (the 2nd valve) = 4 semitones (the pitch difference between D♯ and G).

[edit] Naming issues

In the UK, the term alto was dropped, even though the little E♭ horn was originally advertised in Sax’s catalogues as an alto horn. The reason this was done is that in British brass bands the E♭ cornet is referred to as the soprano, the B♭ cornet as the alto (unsaid but implied), the E♭ horn as the tenor, the small-bore B♭ horn, formerly the tenor horn, became the baritone, the baritone mysteriously disappeared from the Saxhorn lineup, and so on. The name tenor could apply only to one instrument, of course, and as it had been reassigned to the E♭ horn. Sometimes the name is shortened to just E♭ horn to avoid any confusion.

And yet, in other countries, there are yet more names for the alto horn; for example, 'Althorn' in Germany and even just 'E♭ Horn'. But just remember that the alto horn is pitched in E♭, unlike the baritone and euphonium, which are pitched in B♭. Also, the UK baritone horn (sometimes referred to as the tenor in the US) horn has the smallest bore, followed by the US baritone horn, and the euphonium has the largest tuba-like bore of the three.

[edit] History

It was invented as the alto voice in the saxhorn family invented in the mid-1800s by Adolphe Sax, a Belgian who is best remembered for the saxophone. It has been made in various forms: most common is a sort of mini-tuba shape, with the bell pointing upward, which may help the voice blend before reaching the audience; the solo horn looks like (and indeed effectively is) an enlarged flugelhorn, with the bell pointing forward, projecting more toward the audience; another variant has the bell facing backward (for military marching bands that preceded the soldiers, thus helping them hear better and keep better time in marching). Of these types only the standard upright instrument is seen in UK brass bands and remains the most common configuration seen.

Other saxhorns include the baritone horn (which is generally known as the tenor horn in the US, and the baritone horn in the UK).

[edit] Lists of important players

Today's premiere players

These are some of the most universally respected and influential tenor horn players in the world today:

  • Lesley Howie of Leyland Band (Horn Tutor at the Royal Northern College of Music)
  • Martin Armstrong of BHK Horden Band
  • Owen Farr of Buy As You View Band
  • Sheona White - formerly of YBS Band and now freelance artist
  • William Rushworth
  • Phil Randell - former British Open Horn Champion
  • Melvyn Bathgate of Brighouse and Rastrick Band
  • George Thackray of Fodens (Richardson) Band
  • Karlheinz Hoeflich Soloist
  • Sandy Smith - formerly of Grimethorpe Colliery (UK Coal) Band

This article was started using a Wikipedia horn article
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