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 Intro to Horn
Disclaimer: None of this information is intended to provide you with knowledge or skills which are sufficient for collegiate or professional playing. You're on your own there, pal.

What Is A French Horn?

To be a useful player, it's good to know as much about the Horn as possible. The first thing you should know about the French Horn is what it is. A French Horn is an instrument consisting of approximately 11 to 12 feet of tubing generally in the key of F. French Horn is unlike other brass instruments in the band and does not play in the exact same manner. It plays an octave higher than it's built and thus the notes are very close together. This is what makes it difficult to play. Every note on the French Horn has a slew of alternate fingerings. As it's built, the French Horn is actually a bass instrument (same length as F Tuba), but it is played as an alto.

These things are French Horns:

Single French Horn:
The first photo is a basic single Horn in F. The second is a single Bb Horn with a stopping valve. This is to help you play with your hand stopping the bell as a mute sound. The third horn is an antique single French Horn in F with piston valves and an ascending third valve (minus one whole step). French Horns do not exclusively use rotor valves, but pistons are considerably rare and not recommended. Not pictured is a Vienna Horn which uses Vienna valves.

Single horns are generally used by students because they are cheap, simple, and light. Unfortunately, this makes them inflexible and likely to have poor slotting -- a very bad situation for the student. Single French Horns are most suitable for playing in woodwind quintets where their lighter, shriller sound is more acceptable. A single Horn is by no means useless, but it is more difficult to play and less likely to produce the heavy sound required for high school band literature.

Double French Horn:
The first photo is a Holton Double Horn in Kruspe wrap configuration. The second is a typical Chinese built Geyer wrap horn. There are also compensating doubles and doubles which use a thumb activated piston valve.

Double Horns are the most common instruments used by college and high school Horn players. The added weight aids slotting and the Bb trigger adds much needed flexibility to the Horn. Geyer wrap horns have a heavier but more natural feeling trigger throw and tend to have smaller bell throats. Kruspe wrap triggers tend to require a wider grip but can be much faster. The differences aren't really that important.

Marching French Horn:
A couple of Marching French Horns in Bb. Yes, a Marching French Horn is still a French Horn.

Marching French Horns are the choice marching instrument of schools and players that absolutely require something which is a French Horn but audible in formation. My experience with these instruments is that they play quite poorly compared to less contemporary marching solutions. Don't show up to band with one of these unless your band is in desperate need of an audible French Horn or it's marching season.

There's some other stuff like Descant Horns, Triple Horns, and Natural Horns which are also arguably French Horns, but who cares? High school players will never touch this stuff. Use Google if you're so damn curious.