Horn Wars – Scoring 1/2, 3/4 vs. 1/3, 2/4

One of the most frequently asked questions in the Orchestration Online Facebook group is “How should I score horns – 1/2, 3/4; or 1/3, 2/4?” This refers to the placement on the standard two-staff layout of horns in pairs. In other words, should horns be scored like the left sample or right sample below? The …

Horns – No Key Signatures, Please!

Despite what several modern orchestration texts may claim, horn and trumpet players prefer not to have key signatures. I picked up the Alfredo Casella orchestration text in an English translation a while back. Some of the presentation of principles is truly original, and I can recommend it as a supplement to a more thorough book …

Horns – Slurring Up vs. Down

It is much simpler to slur up on a horn than to slur down. Most non-wind and non-brass players don’t instinctively understand this, and it can lead to scoring that is much more difficult than the composer realizes. For a brass player to slur upwards, pressure must be increased and the embouchure tightened. This is …

Horns – Lyrical Character

If you want to test the effectiveness of a horn part, simply sing it all the way through. This tip comes from my wife, the professional horn player. Too many composers have the idea that horns simply are the chucks in a “boom-chuck” – which they can do very easily. Or that horns are simply …

Horns – Rethinking the “Horn Pad”

The “horn pad,” once thought obsolete and to be avoided, still has possibilities for the imaginative orchestrator. From the Late Classical through to Romantic Periods, composers would often employ what’s come to be known as the “horn pad” – 3-part and 4-part harmony sitting softly in the background, while the strings or strings+winds dominated the …

Horns – Differences Between Stopping and Mutes

Orchestrators should learn the difference between stopped notes and muted notes on the horn, and also how to ask for mutes and give time for their installation. One bit of common knowledge in older orchestration manuals like the Piston is that composers don’t seem to differentiate between stopped notes and muted notes in scores, sometimes …

Horns – Practical Range of Stopped Notes

Be mindful of range when scoring stopped horns – the best notes are inside the treble staff. The higher the pitch above top G, the greater the risk of cracking. The lower the pitch below middle C, the flabbier the tone. It’s interesting that neither Piston nor Adler (or most other texts) address the issue …