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Mellophone VS French Horn: Is The Difference Really That BIG?

Are the rumours true? Is a Mellophone the same as French Horn?

When it comes to the Mellophone VS French Horn debate, there’s often a bit of a misunderstanding. 

With some of us thinking that a Mellophone isn’t actually an instrument at all – many of us mistake it for a slightly more dolled-up name for a French Horn. Its alter ego perhaps. While others wouldn’t even associate the term “Mellophone” with brass instruments whatsoever. Instead, we’d most likely mistake it for some extravagant breed of xylophone. 

However we’re here to tell you otherwise, and prove to you that this plucky brass instrument deserves a lot more than to be mistaken for it’s Frenchcousin. And that’s because there’s actually a substantial difference between a Mellophone and the French Horn, although on the surface you wouldn’t necessarily think so. Intrigued? 

Read on and we’ll put an end to the Mellophone VS French Horn debate once and for all. 

After something specific about the difference between a Mellophone and a French Horn? Use the links below to get clued up on these kooky brass instruments in record time…

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Is a Mellophone the same as a French Horn?

Nope.

As you’ve probably guessed, the Mellophone is not the same as the French Horn. In fact, musically you could say they’re worlds away, despite on the surface, appearing like they have a lot in common. 

While both are part of the brass family, there are a whole host of ways in which they differ. Differences that not only affect how they sound, but also the way that they’re played as well as the setting where they best perform. 

So, to kickstart the Mellophone VS French Horn debate, here’s just a couple of differences between the two…

Differences between a Mellophone and a French Horn

  • Lead pipe angle – One off the most noticeable differences between the French Horn and the Mellophone is that the lead pipe is set at a different angle. For those who don’t know, the lead pipe is what you blow into. So what this means is that on a Mellophone, the bell (horn opening) faces forward, opposed a French Horn where the bell is 99% of the time, facing sideways. Therefore, to switch between the two can actually be quite a contrast, due to the difference in the angle at which they’re played, as well as the variance in sound too. Let’s just say to play the Mellophone, you need a good set of shoulders.
  • Fingering – Another technical quirk of the Mellophone VS French Horn debate is where your fingers actually go on the instruments. So for instances on a Mellophone, your fingers sit on the right hand side and press the valves, which are located towards the top of the instrument. Whereas, with the French Horn, you control the valves from the side – the left-hand side to be precise. 
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  • The key of the sound – French Horns are known for their deep rich tone, which in the majority of cases, is pitched in the key, F. You may get the occasional French Horn pitched in B flat too, but to be honest, they are quite rare. Nevertheless, the sound’s world’s away from that of a Mellophone. Mellophones come in a far wider variety of sounds, including B flat, E flat, F, C and even G! However, the majority are pitched in F, hence the confusion with the French Horn.
  • Bell size – Probably the most noticeable difference between the French Horn and a Mellophone is the size of the bell. On a French Horn, this is actually quite small, especially when compared to that of the Mellophone. However, this is somewhat to do with the degree to which they’re flared. Something that you’ll find is a lot more sudden on the French Horn. A trait that arguably makes it harder to play (but more on that later).
  • Volume & how it’s created – Now this is a plot twist that you may not expect. Despite the fact both the French Horn and Mellophone are brass horn-like instruments, the way they actually operate differs quite substantially. So while the Mellophone uses its lengthy conical bore to build up a louder sound, the French Horn doesn’t. In fact it’s remarkably shorter bore means it’s a lot quieter than a Mellophone. So much so that to match the volume of one Mellophone you’d need three French Horns!
  • Lip placement –  One of the most subtle differences between the French Horn and the Mellophone has to be lip placement. While the Mellophone mimics that of the enlarged Trumpet, with a 50/ 50 mouth placement (upper and lower), the French Horn is 1/3 lower lip and 2/3 upper lip. So understandably mastering the French Horn takes a bit more practice.

Similarities between a Mellophone and a French Horn

  • Tubing length (usually) – Yes, despite their individual shapes, the length of tubing used to create both the Mellophone and the French Horn is much the same. One of the reasons why they’re commonly regarded close brothers when it comes to the orchestra and marching bands. 
  • They’re close relations – And speaking of family, both these wind instruments are also part of the Brass family. So not only do they require frequent cleaning to remain hygienic, but also oiling to keep all the valves in working order. 
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Is a Mellophone harder than a French Horn?

We wouldn’t say so. 

In fact, we’d say that a French Horn is the hardest of the two. And that’s mainly because the French Horn requires a lot more from the player. Because of how it’s designed, it’s not so much made for use ‘on the go’, so unless you’re sat/ stood stationary in an orchestra, it can be quite tricky to hit your notes without them breaking. 

Hence why you won’t usually find a French Horn starring in a marching band – it’s most likely they’ll be replaced by the Mellophone. And that’s because the Mellophone can cope with movement. Also, with it being larger and substantially louder, it projects it’s sound better in an outdoor environment and is overall easier to control.

The range of a French Horn also makes it harder to play. Combine the bore size with the shorter length off the F tube, and it requires players to exert a lot more in the way of precision. And that’s despite both instruments being made up of the same tubing!

Can you use a French Horn mouthpiece on a Mellophone?

You can indeed, however we wouldn’t recommend it. 

And that’s because in order to do so you’ll need an adapter, which (A) don’t come cheap, and (B) the actual shape. See the mouthpiece of a Mellophone is also said to make it easier to play then the French Horn. The reason being that because of its shape, your lip positioning (as mentioned above) should be more even. Whereas, if you’re using a French Horn mouthpiece, you’ll likely have to put more thought into the positioning of your mouth. 

In case you wondered, the mouthpiece of the Mellophone resembles something between that of the trumpet and the euphonium. Whereas that of the French Horn is slightly more traditional.

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Do both Mellophones and French Horns star in the orchestra?

Yet again another place where the Mellophone VS French Horn debate starts to get complex. 

You see, it’s very rare that you’ll come across a Mellophone in an orchestra, mainly because of the volume. Compared to a French Horn, they’re loud! So more than often they’d end up either drowning out the rest of the orchestra or being the source of a huge echo. Although that’s if the orchestra’s inside. If it’s outside you may well come across a Mellophone, especially if it’s part of a concert. 

And that French Horn? That’s practically the reverse. So while 99% of the time, you won’t come across a French Horn used by an orchestra in an outside setting. If the setting is inside, then there’s a good chance they’ll star in the composition. Basically, the French Horn and the Mellophone are like un-identical twins. Where one’s used, the other isn’t, be that in an orchestra, marching band or as part of a concert.  

Mellophone VS French Horn – which would we recommend?

On the surface, making the choice appears to actually be quite difficult. 

Both produce more or less the same sound, just with a slight difference in volume. They also cost pretty much the same too; to get yourself a high-quality instrument you’ll be looking at several £1000s. 

And while you could say that a Mellophone is better for beginners, really that all depends on your ability. If you’ve a knack for a slightly more delicate instrument from the get go and warm to the slightly unique way that it’s held, then the French Horn may actually be easier. And even if it isn’t, put in the practice hours and very soon that’ll be the case.

Therefore, when it boils down to it, the ‘make or break’ difference between the two is to do with the setting in which you’re looking to play. 

If you’ve got your eye on concerts or starring in a marching band, then we’d say you can safely forget the French Horn and opt for the Mellophone. The added volume makes it ideal for an outdoor setting and in turn reduces the amount of instruments you’ll need to achieve the same sound. So hopefully your performance is more coordinated – music to any band manager’s ears!

But then if you’re looking to join an orchestra or record live samples, the French Horn would certainly be the way to go. All despite whether you’re a music novice or have handfuls of previous experience. 

And with that, hopefully you’re now far more well versed on the difference between the Mellophone and the French Horn. So much so that you can confidently reach a conclusion about which is best brass instrument for you.

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Enjoyed this take on the ‘Mellophone VS French Horn’ debate and eager for more? Be sure to check out our latest articles on all things Brass Instruments as well as latest Musical Instrument Reviews.

Like debates? We’ve also recently published a rundown of the Grand Piano VS Baby Grand debate + another on the Various Types Of Keybaords, that might be worth checking out too!