Differences Between French Horn and Trombone

Trombones and French horns have several common elements. They are members of the brass family, use a mouthpiece to create sound and have a wide range of notes available to them. The differences make them suitable for different uses in an orchestra, band or solo venue.


The main mechanical differences involve the use of a slide versus valves. The French horn uses rotary valves to change pitches. When a valve is depressed, the airflow changes direction and travels through tubes. The length of the tube changes the pitch. In contrast, the trombone has a very simple slide system. Instead of tubes, the instrument lengthens and shortens through a series of seven different slide positions that correspond to the seven valve combinations.


Both instruments can descend to the low E below the staff. However, the French horn can go an extra octave and a fifth higher. This puts the French horn in the same range as the trombone and trumpet combined. This extensive range makes the French horn the uniting factor between the high brass and the low brass.


French horns have a clear, mellow and limber sound, while trombones are commonly metallic, brassy and forceful. The difference is not always easy to describe, but most people will immediately tell the difference between the two when they hear them. The French horn valves create a stronger, clearer and more precise sound than the trombone. The trombone is certainly capable of playing fast passages, but the slide use makes it more difficult.


Standard techniques on both instruments include tonguing, slurring, flutter tongue and glissandos. However, the French horn is capable of placing the hand in the bell to create sharp accents and stopped horn effects. The trombone has several mutes the French horn may not use, such as the plunger mute. The trombone’s slide also creates effective glissandos between notes.


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