Different Types of Horns

The horn is the sort of instrument that many people know of but not very many know much about. The horn is not the most beloved instrument. It is often considered to be a boring and almost dorky instrument.

One that is very simple to play and doesn’t require a lot of skill and technique. It is considered to be a bit of a background instrument that supports the rest of the orchestra. 

While there are instruments that are more complicated, the horn absolutely does not deserve this reputation. The horn is not so simple. In fact, there are multiple different types of horns. These vary in shape, style, and, of course, sound.

Different Types of Horns

Types of Horn

Due to their ancient origins, horn instruments have appeared in many different cultures across the world. Almost every culture has developed some form of horned instrument.

So there are a huge number of types. “Horn” is a very broad term and within each type of horn, there are several varieties.

The modern horn is much more complicated but that doesn’t mean we should forget about its origins. So, what are the different types of horn?

  • Alphorn
  • Alto horn (Tenor horn in the UK)
  • Baritone hone
  • Buccina (Roman)
  • Bugle
  • Contrabass bugle
  • Cornett
  • Cornu (Roman)
  • Dord
  • Dung Chen
  • French horn
  • Lur (prehistoric)
  • Nyele
  • Ophicleide
  • Post horn
  • Serpent
  • Shofar
  • Sousaphone
  • Sringa
  • Tuba
  • Vienna horn
  • Wagner tuba
  • Wazza

As you can see, there are a lot of different types of horns. These horns are from across the world and across the centuries. They vary quite a bit but are all very similar in their essential purpose and sound.

Variety of Horns

As well as different types of horn, there are also different varieties. The different varieties of horn are:

  • Fingerhole horns
  • French horn
  • German horn
  • Marching horn
  • Mellophone
  • Natural horn
  • Russian horns
  • Saxhorns
  • Vienna Horn
  • Wagner tuba

So, as you can see, there are a lot of different horns. Which is to be expected for such an ancient and universal instrument.

It would take a long time to go through the detailed differences of every single horn that exists across the world. So here are just a few key features of the most commonly used and well-known types of horn.

The French Horn

This is likely one of the most famous types of horn. If you know absolutely nothing about different horns but were asked to name just one, you would likely think of a French horn.

In fact, it is so popular that it is often simply referred to as “the horn”. So if you hear someone talking about the horn, they’re almost definitely talking about a French horn.

So, what is the French horn like? The French horn is a brass instrument that has a large bell and a small mouthpiece. Between these two ends, the horn is curled in a circle twice.

It also has a complicated series of bends and turns in the tube. Depending on the type of horn, the tube will be made up of one piece of metal or two. These are called Single or Double Horns.

The double horn is the style most commonly used in orchestras and bands. Attached to the tube is a series of valves. These are opened or closed with the fingers to alter the sound.

The German horn has a slightly different style but is very similar to the French horn. In fact, the double horn is technically a German horn.

The Bugle

The bugle is a very simple type of horn. It is used for playing simple notes. They are often used in military situations. They are usually blown only a few times to send out a small number of short, sharp sounds. This is the kind of horn used during hunts. 

Bugles also have a small mouthpiece and a larger bell. But, overall, bugles are much smaller than French horns. Bugles are made from one tube that doubles over itself. But this is done in the shape of an oval, rather than the circular shape of a French horn.

The Vienna Horn

The Vienna horn looks very similar to the French horn but is a bit more complicated. Whereas the tube(s) of a French horn are all kept within the outer circle of the tube, the tube(s) are more complicated and swirl outward of the edges of the horn.

The Vienna horn has a very unique style and is most commonly used in Vienna. It is the preferred horn of the Vienna Philharmonic.

Origins of the Horn

As already mentioned, the horn originated from the real horns of animals. Because of this, we can’t know exactly when people first began using horns as either tools to relay messages or as instruments.

But archaeologists have discovered metal horns that date back to the Bronze Age. The Bronze Age begins in 3,000BCE. So the horn is a pretty old instrument. 


So, there you have an exhaustive list of the many different types of horn that exist across the world. Plus a brief overview of the most commonly used horns.

Horns are either incredibly complicated or incredibly simple instruments. They are some of our oldest instruments and have been continuously reconstructed and reimagined to be more complicated.

These complicated adaptations are partly just to see what else might work, but they are also intended to find even more ways of improving and elevating music. 

The horn might not be the most beloved instrument but it is an essential part of an orchestra. The horn isn’t the prettiest or the most elegant instrument. But it is beautiful and it is the backbone of an orchestra.