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What Is a Baritone Horn?

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  • Written By: T. Carrier
  • Edited By: John Allen
  • Last Modified Date: 21 September 2014
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A baritone horn is a type of low brass instrument. It produces sounds in the B key range, making the emitted noise deeper and lower than other horn types. Components that comprise the instrument include the following: coiled tubes, valves, a bell opening, and a mouthpiece.

Baritone horns are part of the brass family. As such, the instruments are generally composed of brass tubes of varying lengths. Inside these tubes, air vibrates at different levels and thus produces different sounds when it is expelled at the instrument's opening. This vibration is controlled by lip movements that a player makes on a mouthpiece and by outside devices.

Structurally, the baritone horn has a larger-than-average mouthpiece where the player places the lips. Its main body is shaped like a cylinder which coils and wraps several times, making the horn’s overall length appear smaller. The tubes end in a large funnel called the bell from which the music emerges. In many cases, the bell points upright, although it may occasionally point sideways as well. Baritone horns are structurally similar to another instrument known as the euphorium, but the latter structure typically contains four valves while the baritone horn contains three valves.

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Generally, low baritone sounds are produced by this horn. These deeper noises result from the instrument’s primary tuning in the B key, unlike the higher-pitched F key generally found in other horn types. The pitch on a horn is achieved by special affixed devices known as valves that control tube length and air flow within the horn. The baritone is often considered the second lowest sound on a musical scale.

Certain groups use baritone horns with greater frequency. The instrument is especially prominent in areas of Great Britain. High schools are another common home for the brass band fixture, as are many orchestras featuring brass players. In many regions, the instrument has fallen out of popular use, however.

Several sources of inspiration led to the creation of the baritone horn. For example, the serpent was an early wooden instrument that also produced low sounds and also possessed a mouthpiece. An object similar to the serpent came into prominence in the early 19th century, and this brass object — the ophicleide — became the first true ancestor of the baritone horn. The tenor horn soon followed, which operated in a B key, produced similar sounds as the baritone horn, and introduced the valving concept. Marching bands were among the first groups to play actual baritone horns thereafter.

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