What is an English Horn? Discover Its Musical Journey and Impact

Delve into the world of the English Horn, a key player in the double-reed woodwinds family. Learn its history, key features, and impact on iconic music pieces.

Have you ever wondered about the sad and haunting sound behind some of the most beautiful music ever composed? If so, let’s embark on an exploration of the unsung hero of the woodwind family: the English Horn.

What is an English horn? It’s a member of the double reed group of woodwinds, often mistaken for an oboe, but it stands out with a deeper, more mellow tone. Positioned in the middle of its group, the English horn is a fifth lower than the oboe, adding a unique flavor to any orchestral piece.

How does the English horn fit into the oboe family?

Here’s something you might not know: The English Horn, also known as the cor anglais, is an integral member of the oboe family. This family is part of the double reed group of woodwinds, a unique clan that boasts diverse members from the bagpipes to the contrabassoon. The oboe, with its highest pitch, is the soprano of the family, while the English Horn sits comfortably in the middle.

Image of an english horn.
Image of an english horn.

If the oboe family were a band, you could think of the English horn as the alto vocalist – not as high as the lead singer, but still absolutely crucial in providing that rich, full sound.

Let’s break it down, shall we?

  • Oboe: The highest-pitched member and the soprano of the group.
  • Oboe d’amore: A minor third lower than the oboe, making it the mezzo-soprano.
  • English Horn: A fifth lower than the oboe, our alto in the mix.
  • Baritone or Bass Oboe: Both are an octave lower than the oboe, forming the bass backbone of the family.

It’s the English Horn’s unique tonal placement that helps it stand out. And trust me, in an orchestral setting, its voice is invaluable.

Dos and don’ts of using the English horn

Do consider the English Horn for its unique sound.Don’t
Do use it to add depth and richness to your composition.Don’t assume it’s interchangeable with the oboe.
Do invest in a good-quality sample library for home recordings.Don’t neglect the right context in your music arrangement.
Dos and don’ts of using the English horn
My favorite MIDI keyboard (at the moment):

AKAI Professional MPK Mini MK3

What is an english horn? Discover its musical journey and impact | 717qmgla7zl. Ac sl1500 | audio apartment
My favorite MIDI keyboard (at the moment):

AKAI Professional MPK Mini MK3

I’m loving the AKAI MPK Mini MK3 for its compact design and the range of controls. It’s one of my essential tools. The velocity-sensitive keys and MPC-style pads are great for making beats, while the thumbstick and knobs give me precise control.

What is the historical significance of the English horn?

The English Horn is steeped in a rich history that dates back to the Baroque period. Its predecessor, the oboe da caccia, was popularly known as the “hunting oboe” and was often heard during this time. It may be slightly longer than the oboe, but its distinct bulb-shaped bell, often referred to as a d’amore bell, gives it a distinctive sound. You could say it’s like the elder statesman of the family!

So, why would an oboist want to play the English Horn? Well, the English Horn allows an oboist to expand their musical range and versatility. It’s an exciting challenge and can make you a more sought-after player in orchestras or other musical ensembles.

Notable composers that used the English horn

No instrument becomes great without a few good tunes to play, right? The English Horn has been favored by many prolific composers across the centuries.

  • Tomaso Giovanni Albinoni, an Italian maestro and one of the first to write oboe concertos.
  • French composer Hector Berlioz,
  • Finnish composer Jean Sibelius, Czech composer Antonin Dvořák
  • Italian composer Gioacchino Rossini
  • German composer Richard Wagner

Now, let’s make the leap into the 21st century. The English Horn is no stranger to more modern music either. Think of it like Gandalf from “The Lord of the Rings” – old, yes, but always ready to bring magic to any ensemble. Instrumentalists like Bob Cooper have woven its melancholic tones into their jazz solos, adding a touch of antiquity to contemporary tunes.

While it might not be the first instrument that comes to mind, its unique sound can add depth and richness to your tracks. You might not be able to hire a professional player, but there are high-quality sample libraries available that can bring the sound of the English Horn right into your DAW (Digital Audio Workstation).

Image of three men playing musical instrument that includes english horn.
Image of three men playing musical instruments that, includes english horn.

What role has the English horn played in modern music?

Stepping into the modern era, the English Horn has shown it’s no old fogey. This woodwind has kept up with the times and adapted to various music styles, from jazz to pop. Notable instrumentalists like Bob Cooper have embraced it in their jazz solos, as well as pop music figures like Mitch Miller. He was known for his hit “The Yellow Rose of Texas,” but his musical prowess extended to the English Horn too. Talk about hidden talents!

This woodwind has kept up with the times and adapted to various music styles, from jazz to pop.

Often, an English Horn part is played by an oboe player, similar to an actor taking on multiple roles in a production. Their part has been composed in such a way that allows the player to “double” on English Horn. It’s like performing a juggling act but with instruments. The English Horn is the “Doctor Who” of the music world – ever-changing, always surprising.

Despite being steeped in classical music tradition, it’s found a place in the rhythm of modern music. In fact, it’s even earned a special place in pop culture. How’s that for versatility?

  • Bob Cooper: He played jazz solos on the oboe and English Horn.
  • Mitch Miller: Apart from being a pop singer and choir leader, Miller played the oboe and English Horn in Percy Faith’s arrangements.

There’s no denying the English Horn’s ability to elevate any composition with its unique tonal qualities.

What makes the English horn unique among other instruments?

No two instruments are the same – even within the same family. The English Horn is no exception. It’s not just an oboe that grew a bit longer. Its distinctive features, such as the pear-shaped bell and the double-reed mouthpiece, give it that special something.

The key characteristics of the English horn

  • Material: Typically made of wood such as grenadilla, rosewood, cocus, vulcanite, or boxwood.
  • Mouthpiece: The English Horn has a double-reed mouthpiece with two reeds lying close together. The reeds are wider than those found on the oboe, providing a different sound.
  • Tubing: The tubing length, including the mouthpiece, is approximately 90-95 cm and conical in shape.
  • Bore: The bore of the English Horn is narrow, with an inner diameter slightly wider than the oboe.
  • Keys: It uses the Conservatoire (French) system for its keys.
  • Bell: The bell is pear-shaped (also known as the bulb bell), adding to its unique sound.
  • Tuning: The English Horn is tuned in F.

Having these details at your fingertips will help you appreciate why the English Horn sounds the way it does. Here’s a data table that summarizes the key specifications of the English Horn:

NameEnglish horn, Cor Anglais
MaterialWood (Grenadilla, Rosewood, Cocus, Vulcanite, Boxwood)
MouthpieceDouble-reed mouthpiece
TubingLength 90-95 cm (Including Mouthpiece), Conical
BoreNarrow, inner diameter slightly wider than the oboe’s
KeysConservatoire system (French System)
BellPear-shaped (Bulb Bell)
TuningIn F
ClassificationAerophone, Double-reed Instrument, Woodwind Instrument
Key Specifications of the English Horn

What are the advantages and disadvantages of including the English horn in music production?

The English Horn, like any instrument, has its pros and cons when it comes to music production. Below we discuss a few of these to help you make an informed decision when considering the English Horn for your compositions.


The advantages of including the English Horn in your compositions are substantial:

  • Distinctive sound: The English Horn has a uniquely rich and melancholic tone that can add depth to your music.
  • Versatility: It’s an extremely versatile instrument that blends well with many other instruments.
  • Uniqueness: Not many contemporary tracks use the English Horn, so it can help your compositions stand out.


However, there are also some considerations to be aware of:

  • Availability: It might be difficult to find an English Horn or a player skilled in the instrument.
  • Learning curve: If you plan to play it yourself, it has a steep learning curve, especially if you are new to double-reed instruments.
  • Cost: English Horns are relatively expensive instruments, which may be a factor for some home studio owners.

If you want even more great tips and information, check out the video.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Here are a few common questions that come up about the English Horn.

What other instruments does an English Horn player typically play?

English Horn players typically also play the oboe, given the similarities between the two instruments. The music parts are often composed to allow the player to “double” on the English horn and oboe in the same piece.

Are there any famous pop or rock songs featuring the English Horn?

Yes, there are. The English Horn is not common in pop or rock, but when used, it creates a unique sound. A popular example is “I Talk to the Wind” by King Crimson.

Is the English Horn difficult to play?

It can be challenging, particularly if you’re not familiar with double-reed instruments. Like the oboe, it requires specific techniques to control the pitch and tone.


We’ve had quite a good time exploring the ins and outs of the English Horn, haven’t we? Whether you’re considering picking up the English Horn or just wanted to satisfy your curiosity, I hope this post was music to your ears.

Did I cover everything you wanted to know? (I read and reply to every comment). Let me know in the comments section below. If you found this article helpful, share it with a friend, and check out my full blog for more tips and tricks on English Horns and other musical topics. Thanks for reading, and keep making beautiful music!

Key Takeaways

This article covered the English Horn, from its historical roots to its modern applications. Here are some key takeaways:

  • The English Horn is a member of the double reed group of woodwinds and sits in the middle of the family in terms of pitch.
  • It was developed from the oboe da caccia and is often played by oboe players.
  • This instrument features prominently in classical compositions by composers like Berlioz, Sibelius, Dvořák, and Wagner.
  • The English Horn has found its way into modern music, from jazz solos to orchestral arrangements in pop music.
  • Despite its distinctive sound and versatility, the English Horn has its challenges, including availability, learning curve, and cost.

Helpful Resources

Image Andrew Ash
Written by Andrew Ash, Staff Writer

Hey there! My name is Andrew, and I'm relatively new to music production, but I've been learning a ton, and documenting my journey along the way. That's why I started this blog. If you want to improve your home studio setup and learn more along with me, this is the place for you!

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