Mellophone vs. French Horn (What Are The Differences?)

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A mellophone is a brass instrument with a conical bore similar to that of a flugelhorn or euphonium. Most drum and bugle corps, as well as marching bands, use it as the middle-voiced instrument in place of French horns.

A French horn is a brass instrument with a set of valves, a tube wrapped into a coil, and a flared bell.

Professional orchestras and bands play the French horn with the right hand in the bell to enhance the range of harmonics and soften the tone.

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Mellophone vs. French Horn: Key Differences

A marching French horn is in the key of Bb, and measures the same length as the Bb double horn. To play the French horn, you can use the fingerings of a Bb double horn. Its lead pipe accepts horn mouthpieces.

Meanwhile, a mellophone is in the key of F and measures half the length of a double horn. It uses trumpet fingerings, and its lead pipe accepts flugelhorn or trumpet mouthpieces. You can use a horn mouth piece, but only with an adapter.

A mellophone’s mouthpiece is different. It resembles something between a euphonium and a trumpet mouthpiece. A marching French horn, on the other hand, has a standard traditional mouthpiece.

Sound Projection

As mentioned earlier, marching bands use a mellophone in place of the French horn, since it is a bell-front instrument. That allows projection of sound towards the direction that the user is facing.

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That is vital, especially in marching bands and drum corps, since the audience is always on one side of the marching band. Manufacturers construct mellophones with a smaller bore to produce higher volume than French horns.

Ease of Play

It is generally easier to play a mellophone compared to playing a French horn. The length of the French horn tubing, combined with its conical bore shape, causes the overtones or partials to be closer together than in other brass instruments with cylindrical bores.

That makes it difficult for users to play the instrument correctly at first, since it requires one to focus on the partials to get the notes right. The length of the F mellophone’s tube is half that of the French horn. That provides it with an overtone series similar to other brass instruments like trumpets.

According to most people, a mellophone is an easy to learn marching band instrument, but with little use in other musical activities.

On the other hand, the French horn is a complex instrument, that some musicians might take a long time to learn, even if they have a concrete trumpet foundation.

Tone and Sound

A French horn is closely related to the tuba. Therefore, its fundamental tone is similar to that of a tuba. It also has a darker and richer sound compared to a mellophone, which can sound brassier.

The aim of a mellophone is to fairly closely imitate the French horn sound without having to deal with one when marching. Yes, the sound is not exact, but it is very close while the mellophone is in F similar to French horns. However, it is not a thumb key option that switches the brass instrument to the Bb key, like it is on a double horn.

The marching French horn is designed to provide a concert French horn sound, with a bell-front design.

Other Distinctions

The design is vital during projection on the field. As mentioned before, playing the French horn requires focus due to its embouchure, which is a 1/3 lower lip and 2/3 upper lip placement.

In contrast, the mellophone does not have all these challenges, since its mouthpiece is like an enlarged trumpet. Its embouchure is 50 percent lower and 50 percent upper lip. Also, it is easy for players transferring from other instruments, such as a trumpet, to achieve a great sound and note accuracy. Most directors use this as their selling point for the mellophone. That is because schools move musicians around on various instruments for balanced instrumentation on the field.

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Using a French horn on the field can be problematic, since it is a conical brass instrument with a very small mouthpiece. Most musicians will tell you that it is difficult to play the instrument while marching, without cracking notes.

Marching velocities can go above 150 beats per minute. That can make it difficult for you to play the French horn with accuracy while moving around the field, unless you are highly talented and experienced.

A mellophone is a cylindrical brass instrument, and this provides it with the best pitch accuracy. Its cylindrical mouthpiece also contributes significantly to the instrument’s stability.

Some people may use a French horn mouthpiece on a mellophone, thinking that it can improve the sound, only to find that they’ve made it worse. The volume of a mellophone and the accuracy of a French horn is not a good combination.

Mellophone vs. French Horn: Which One Is Easier To Play?

It is not easy to beat the French horn’s dark, rich texture. However, I would recommend the mellophone, since it is louder compared to the marching French horn. The brass instrument is easier to play, especially for beginners or those transferring from a trumpet, and is convenient when marching.

In my opinion, if you have a small band with a shortage of musicians, and you need that middle horn sound, the mellophone is the ideal option.

Keep in mind, though, most directors do not recommend going for an instrument simply on the basis that it is easy for you. Pick a brass instrument that can offer the sound that you are looking for. It may not be easy at first, but with vigorous practice, you can perfect your skills.

Ultimately, the deciding factor in this matter depends on personal opinion and preference. Both options are viable and workable with some time and effort.

PRO TIP: Whether you choose the mellophone or french horn, pick up a good instructional book on scales to speed up your learning. This book covers scales and arpeggios for french horn or mellophone.

Mellophone vs. French Horn: Which One Is Better For You?

For beginning brass players, especially those in a marching band, a mellophone is better. It is convenient for a player to make quick moves and flashes while marching, compared to a French horn.

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However, in some ways a mellophone does not offer the same quality sound as the French horn. Mellophones sound brassier, while a French horn offers a thick and rich sound.

Therefore, if you are in a marching band, a mellophone would be better, while a French horn is best in a concert setting.


What is the main difference between a mellophone and a French horn?

The main difference is the direction of the bell, with the mellophone’s bell facing forward and the French horn’s bell facing backward.

Is a mellophone easier to play than a French horn?

Many players find the mellophone easier to play due to its larger mouthpiece and simpler fingering.

Which instrument is better for marching band, mellophone, or French horn?

The mellophone is typically preferred for marching band due to its forward-facing bell and more projecting sound.

Can a French horn player switch to playing the mellophone easily?

Yes, many French horn players can easily switch to playing the mellophone due to their similar playing techniques and fingerings.

Is the mellophone used in orchestras?

The mellophone is not commonly used in orchestras, as its sound is more suited to marching band and brass band settings.

Can a mellophone be played in a concert band?

While it is uncommon, some concert bands do use mellophones as an alternative to French horns or trumpets.

Which instrument has a higher pitch, mellophone, or French horn?

The French horn has a higher pitch than the mellophone, as it is typically pitched in F or Bb, while the mellophone is typically pitched in F or G.

How much does a mellophone or French horn cost?

The cost of a mellophone or French horn can vary greatly depending on the brand and quality, but typically ranges from a few hundred to several thousand dollars.

Is the mellophone used in drum corps?

Yes, the mellophone is commonly used in drum corps as a replacement for the French horn, due to its projection and ease of use on the field.

What is the history of the mellophone and French horn?

The French horn has a long history dating back to the 1600s, while the mellophone is a more recent instrument developed in the early 20th century as a replacement for the French horn in marching bands.

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