The Difference Between a Flugelhorn & a French Horn

The French horn has a brassier sound than a flugelhorn. The main visual difference between a flugelhorn and a French horn is the rounder shape of the latter instrument. A flugelhorn looks like a large trumpet; the french horn does not. Sound-wise, however, the two instruments do share some similarities. It takes some extra study to figure out the differences.


The flugelhorn has the range of a typical trumpet, sounding from G# below middle C to three octaves above middle C. While the range seems impressive, only the most talented and skilled performers have the ability to play higher than two octaves above middle C. In contrast, the French horn can play the low B sounding pitch below the bass clef to a concert A above the treble clef staff. Concert pitch is the sound heard when an instrumentalist plays a written note. The written note differs from the actual sounding pitch of the flugelhorn and French horn.


The differences in timbre between the two instruments are subtle. The French horn has a brassier sound capable of penetrating an entire orchestra. The French horn may also increase the roughness of the sound by placing the hand further inside the bell. The flugelhorn, in contrast, emits a mellow sound that does not have the ability to penetrate an entire orchestra. When composers write solos for the flugelhorn, the rest of the ensemble must play at a lower dynamic level.


The French horn can be played in the key of F or the key of Bb. The choice of which side of the horn to use lies in the hands of the performer and depends on the desired sound. The horn player may play in F for a softer sound while the B-flat side of the horn will create a brassier sound. The transition between the two sides requires the performer to hold the trigger. The flugelhorn only plays in B-flat.


A composer must write the horn part a perfect fifth higher than the pitch desired. This peculiarity applies to all transposing instruments. The flugelhorn also transposes but it doesn’t have as far to go. The flugelhorn parts only need to be written a major second higher than the sounding pitch as the instrument’s foundation is tuned to Bb.


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