English Horn vs. Oboe (What’s The Difference?)

The English horn and oboe are both instruments that you will find regularly appearing in orchestras.

However, the way that you play the instruments, and the sounds that they make, are going to be completely different from one another.

We want to pit the English horn vs oboe. Hopefully, by reading through this information you should get a feel for which one is right for you (if you are a beginner) 

Before we dive in, we do want to point out that you may find the English horn listed as a cor Anglais, which essentially means English horn in French.

If you go to a store and ask for an English horn, they will 100% know what you are talking about, though. 

The Classification of the Instruments 

Both the English horn and the oboe are classified as woodwind instruments. This means that the sound travels through the actual instrument when a set of reeds vibrates due to airflow from your mouth. 

However, we do have a difference here. With the oboe, the reed is going to be attached to the instrument.

However, the English horn will use something known as a bocal. This is a piece of metal that clips onto the oboe. It is the bocal that you blow into, and thus the reed is going to sit on that. 

The Look and Shape of the Instruments

The oboe and the English horn are both shaped similarly to one another. They are long instruments and can both be played standing or sitting down.

Although, of course, since the intention of these instruments is to have them in an orchestra. We won’t get into the differences when it comes to the actual buttons that you push when you are playing the instrument.

This doesn’t matter to a beginner, and there isn’t that much variance there anyway. 

There is one major difference between the two in the look department, though. The English horn is around 50% longer than the oboe.

Although, they both break down into three parts for ease of storage and cleaning. However, do bear in mind that the English horn is considerably longer.

The Sound of the Instruments 

Now we get into the technical differences between these two instruments.

We are going to discuss a little bit of music theory here, but it is incredibly basic, and we hope that we can illustrate the point for you.

If you are unsure as to what we mean here, then we do encourage you to view a couple of YouTube videos of these instruments being played. This way you can really hear the sounds.

Let’s start with the oboe. This plays in a key known as C. This is the ‘standard’ key for many woodwind instruments. This includes the flute and bassoon.

Now, you don’t actually need to know what C tuning is here. You just need to know that it is a C tuning. 

When you hear the oboe, it almost has a ‘singing-like’ tone to it.

No matter what other instruments are played, the higher-pitched sound of the oboe will often cut through everything else and come on top.

Some people will describe the music that an oboe plays as very joyful in tone, although it does have a huge range and can come to some melancholy notes too.

Due to the sound that an oboe makes, it can often be used as the main melody for a song. In fact, the oboe can stand pretty decent on its own without any other instruments in backing. 

The English horn, on the other hand, is going to be in the key of F. This means that the pitch of an English horn is a fifth lower than the oboe.

Again, you don’t really need to know what this means. All you really need to know is that the sound produced by an English horn has a bit more ‘depth’ to it.

It is almost bass-like. The lower tone of the English horn often means that it will be a featured instrument when the music is meant to have a more melancholy sound to it.

The range of the English horn isn’t as great as the oboe.

Nearly everything that you play with it will almost sound mournful and solemn. This doesn’t mean that it can’t hit those higher notes, but it is going to be a lot more difficult with the English horn. 

We are going to discuss these differences when we talk about which instrument you really should be learning first. That will happen in a few sections.

The Job of an Oboe in an Orchestra 

This doesn’t apply to the English horn. If you have the English horn in an orchestra, then your job is to simply play amazing music.

One of the oboe players will often be given a major task, though. This is to play the ‘tuning note’. This is the note that all the other players will turn to.

It means that the orchestra is in tune with one another. This, in turn, is going to lead to some incredibly beautiful music being played.

The reason why the oboe is selected for this role is due to the sound it makes.

Remember what we said earlier about the oboe being slightly higher pitched than the English horn?

Well, that higher pitch helps the instrument to be heard. It helps people to identify the sound, and this makes everybody’s job easier. 

The Price of the Instruments 

Neither the oboe nor the English horn will be cheap instruments. For an oboe, you are often looking at a minimum price of $2,000 for a basic instrument suitable for a beginner. The English horn will be closer to $4,000 for the basic instrument.

The price won’t really be your only concern here, though. This is because the English horn is a far rarer instrument.

Not even the best music stores will have them in stock. This often means that if you really have your heart set 

Which One is Best for Beginners?

For most people, both the English horn and oboe can be difficult for beginners to learn. However, most people recommend the English horn.

The English horn is a touch easier to make a note that sounds good from the very first day. You may also find that the English horn is a touch more forgiving in its sound.

Because it has a more ‘melancholy’ sound as opposed to the oboe which is higher pitched, any mistakes you make may not stand out quite so much. 

That being said, the English horn does have downsides for beginners. The first is that it is going to be expensive, and it can be tough to find one.

We would normally recommend that people rent instruments, but there are some places that may not even have English horns available to rent.

This means that even if you did want to play the instrument, you may not be able to do so.

The English horn has a lower range than the oboe too. This means that it is somewhat of a less-versatile instrument.

If a song doesn’t really call for melancholy tones, then an English horn isn’t really going to be needed. It may be able to slot in elsewhere, but this is rarer.

The oboe, on the other hand, could probably fit into most orchestral compositions. 

While we are on the subject of orchestras, you will find that the English horn will have less competition for places.

So, if your plan is to play in an orchestra or a band, then an English horn may be the way to go. You will have less competition for a seat.

Outside of the beginning weeks of learning the instrument, you will find that learning the oboe and the English horn will be pretty much on par with one another.

Neither is more difficult than the other. They are still going to take years and years to get really, really good at them.

Which One Should You Learn First?

We are not going to tell you whether you should start. This is because our opinion doesn’t matter here. You are the one that is going to be playing the instrument. 

Our suggestion is to find out which one you like the sound of the most. You can watch a few YouTube videos for this. You may want to attend a couple of concerts.

By doing this, you will really start to get a feel for the sounds that each instrument makes. You will find that one of the tones will start to resonate with you a little bit more.

Don’tworry if it seems to be taking a lot of time to make your decision. This is fine. These instruments are expensive pieces of kit.

You are likely going to be learning them for the next few years too. This means that you really do need to make sure that the decision that you make is the right one. 

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