Mellophone vs. French Horn (What’s The Difference?)

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

While 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.

Key Differences Between The Two Instruments

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

Its lead pipe accepts horn mouthpieces. While a mellophone is in the F key and measures half the length of a double horn, it only uses trumpet fingerings. 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, while a marching French horn has a standard traditional mouthpiece.

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.

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 high volume than French horns.

It is easy to play a mellophone compared to playing a French horn. The length of the French horn tube as well as the bore size squeeze the partials together compared to the normal range of other brass instruments.

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 and trumpets.

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

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

A French horn is closely related to tuba. Therefore, its fundamental note 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 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 the French horns.

However, it is not a thumb key option that switches the brass instrument to Bb key like it is on a double horn. 

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

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

While the mellophone does not have all these challenges since its mouthpiece is like an enlarged trumpet. Its embrochure 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.

Using a French horn on the field can be problematic since it is a conical brass instrument with a very small mouthpiece. Most users claim that it is difficult to play the instrument while marching without cracking.

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

A mellophone is a cylindrical brass instrument and this provides it with the best putch 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 make it even worse. The volume of a mellophone and the accuracy of a French horn is not a good combination. 

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.

One talented mellophone player is equivalent to 3 marching French horn players. The brass instrument is easy 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 shortage of musicians and you need that middle horn sound, the mellophone is the ideal option.

In addition, most directors do not recommend going for an instrument that 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.

However, the deciding factor in this matter depends on a personal opinion and preference. All the options mentioned above are viable and workable. 

Which One Is Better?

For beginning brass players, who are 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.

However, a mellophone does not offer quality sound like the French horn. Mellophones sound brassier while a French horn offers a thick 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.

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