I’ve played the trumpet since I was 5 and my best childhood friend played the French horn. We would often play together and I feel like I can give a good account for the two instruments.
Especially when it comes to how hard the two instruments are for a beginner.
Are Trumpets or French Horns Harder to Learn?
The trumpet is easier to learn than the French horn. The French horn has a smaller mouthpiece which requires more lip control and muscles of the player in order to hit the correct note and produce a clear tone that doesn’t crack.
That’s the technical reason why the French horn is more difficult to learn, but there are several other things we need to look into in order to decipher which of the two instruments you should take on as a beginner.
7 Factors Impact the Difficulty of French Horns vs Trumpets
There’s no doubt that the French horn require more practice than the trumpet. Let’s break it down and see exactly why that is.
1) The French horn Is a LOT Heavier Than Trumpets
A Trumpet typically weighs around 2 pounds (1 kilogram) while the French horns often weigh 6-8 pounds (around 3 kilograms).
That’s a huge difference!
This also makes it a lot harder for the player to play the French horn while standing up, and it’s also an issue if you have to carry the horn to class. Especially if you’re a small kid or if you are a small person with relatively weak arm muscles.
That’s also one of the main reasons that French horns are so expensive (which will get to in a second). There’s just a lot more brass in the instrument.
2) Trumpeters Often Play Harder Parts Than French horn players
The trumpet is a classical solo instrument, whereas the French horn often plays a more anonymous role in orchestras.
The trumpeters are often people who like to stand in the front and impress everyone with their musical abilities, and that worth mentioning here.
If you prefer to sit in the back and blend in with the rest of the orchestra, the French horn might be a better fit for your personality type.
On the other hand, you shouldn’t choose the French horn if you don’t feel like playing solos! The same goes for comparing the trumpet to baritones and other bigger horns.
3) The French Horn Mouthpiece Is Harder To Master
The mouthpiece for the French horn is very small. It’s a lot smaller than what we typically use for horns, but only a bit smaller than the trumpet mouthpiece.
As you can see below, the mouthpiece for the French horn is actually smaller that the trumpet mouthpiece even though the total length of the tubing is much longer.
This means that you have a smaller area of the lips to control that tone.
The lips muscles form the buzzing sound and motion that creates the sound and with a smaller mouthpiece comes less control.
That’s another reason French horns are more difficult to really master than the trumpets.
4) French horns Requires More Embouchure Than Trumpets
This ties in perfectly with the size of the mouthpiece, which we just looked at.
Because the mouthpiece of the French horn is a bit smaller, the player will need a better embouchure.
It might not seem like a big difference, but the slightly smaller cup (outer ring of the mouthpiece) on the French horn makes a big difference.
The air pressure need to be almost exactly the same as on the trumpet, but you have a smaller area on the lips to produce that pressure.
Also, the size of the bore (the diameter of the hole inside the mouthpiece) plays a role, but if you go with a mouthpiece with a slightly bigger bore, you will gain more control of the tone, but you will have a harder time playing the high notes.
5) The Trumpet Is Louder Than the French Horn
The French horn is famous for its smooth and almost silk-like sound. It’s really beautiful and you typically find that French horns are used for the more mellow and laid-back solos in orchestral settings.
The trumpet is known as a marching instrument that can play really loud, and that can certainly be an advantage, but many times it also makes it hard to practice the instrument at home.
People easily get annoyed when you practice the trumpet, while the French horn has a more soft tone that doesn’t annoy people as much.
This is especially true when you are still trying to learn the instrument. I think it’s safe to say that almost everybody hates the sound of someone trying to learn the trumpet (yes, even parents!).
6) French Horns Are MUCH More Expensive
While this doesn’t have anything to do with how hard or easy the instrument is to master, it’s definitely worth mentioning the price difference here for anyone who is trying to decide between the French horn and the trumpet.
You can get a fine student trumpet from $300-$800 but the French horn typically starts at around $2,000.
A good professional trumpet like the Bach Stradivarius will cost you around $3,000 while a good professional French horn will cost you closer to $6,000!
This also becomes apparent when you look at the weight of the two instruments.
As we discovered above, the French horn can easily be 10X heavier than the trumpet, because there’s so much brass tube in the instrument.
This makes a huge difference if you are a parent looking to choose the best instrument for your kid.
Not only is the instrument immensely expensive but you also need to trust the kid with the instrument (I cannot count how many times I forgot my trumpet in the weirdest places as a kid!)
7) The Trumpet Has a Bigger Range
The trumpet and the French horn have different ranges when it comes to the number of tones they can play. Trumpet can go a bit higher, and the French horn can go deeper.
Here you can see the actual range of trumpets and French horns:
This doesn’t mean that the French horn is easier to master. Instead it limits the use of the instrument a little bit.
This might come as a surprise, as the French horn sounds like it does play higher notes.
This is because the long tubing in the construction of the French horn makes it sound more like a horn than a trumpet, and the high Bb is a high note to hit on any horn.
How Long Does It Take to Learn Each Instrument?
Most beginners can learn to play basic melodies on the trumpet with a stable clear tone within 4-8 months.
However, you will need to at least double that time frame with the French horn.
Even though I’ve played trumpet, cornets, and baritones for the better part of two decades, I still find it very difficult to play beautifully on the French horn. It’s with good reason that brass players often say that the French horn is the most difficult instrument of all the brass family of instruments.
It can be a huge advantage to start out on another horn (or a trumpet!) before you take on the French horn!
Check out the section below about the alto horn, it’s much easier to start there before moving to the French horn.
Which Is More Popular, the Trumpet or the French horn?
We definitely find more trumpet players than French horn players in every part of the world. The main reasons are the same as what we looked at above:
- The trumpet is two times cheaper to purchase
- The French horn is twice as heavy
- The trumpet is much easier to learn to play
However, there’s a good reason why the French horn is so famous despite all these things!
The French horn has a totally unique silk-like sound that you must hear before you make up your mind. In case you have the chance, check it out and see for yourself!
Which Brass Instrument Is the Easiest to Play?
The alto horns are the easiest brass instruments to learn. They are rather small and still have a big horn-like mouthpiece, which means that it’s easier to control the tone. Alto horns do not require as much lip muscles and training from the player as other brass instruments.
If you’re looking to start out with an easy brass instrument before moving to the French horn, you should definitely try to get your hands on an alto horn.
You will pick up the alto horns much faster than the French horn and even the trumpet, and once you can produce a good long tone that doesn’t crack it will be much easier to move to another brass instrument.
My brother played the alto horn for many years and he literally never practiced at home, and still, he was able to play well in the orchestra.
That would be almost impossible for trumpeters and French horn players!