Natural horn notes (alto horn in C) - coloured as 'difficult'

Hi, I’m looking for knowledge about natural horns, which I’m only dipping into for the first time.

I want one to play Bb4 and C5, which and my understanding is that horns in C should be able to play these as open notes. Both the Basso and Alto horns in C should be able to play them, but if I put in an alto horn, Dorico marks G4-Bb4-C5 all with their (almost invisible) ‘difficult-to-play’ colour. The Basso horn is only marked for C5 in this range of notes.

In my research, I haven’t found people say those Alto horn notes are hard, so I wonder if anyone has any references or experience?

Many thanks

I don’t know about that particular instrument, but you now can modify that range yourself in Library / Instruments if you feel Dorico’s defaults aren’t well chosen. (Of course, you can simply turn off View / Note and Rest Colors / Notes out of Range too.) I’ve found plenty of Dorico’s ranges to be not terribly accurate. The Alto Saxophone range has concert Eb3 as an “advanced” note, but the Rubank Elementary Method teaches it in lesson 11. If a 5th grader who has only been playing 2 1/2 months can easily play it, it’s probably not “advanced,” LOL!

If those notes are easily playable, I would just change the instrument definition and not trust Dorico’s opinion.

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Those pitches are well within the range of any horn (or trombone, or trumpet).

But if you have someone actually playing a natural horn with no valves, you will need it pitched in B♭ basso. On a C instrument (if you can find such a thing), the interval between B♭ and C (7th–8th harmonics) will be much too large. On a B♭ horn the 8th–9th harmonics will be a much better interval.


Mark, I don’t think Natural Horn players will change instrument/crook for just one note “out of tune”… I can confirm that natural horn players can play an extended range - above what Dorico shows at “out of range”.


Hi Fred - I’m not put off by the Dorico definition / note colourings; I’m just curious - I’m sure they consulted, and of course horn players might disagree!

Hi Mark - I haven’t picked up anywhere which harmonics are easier and harder to transition between (which of course if different from ‘are they achievable individually’), so thank you for that. If anyone has any references or resources that touch on that, I’d like to know.

I’ve been playing with Beethoven’s approach of getting different horns to share notes so that all are open if possible. I read that that happens with chords where horns play several notes; I was thinking about it in sequential notes as well (filling in harmonies in an ensemble)

I’ve mentioned it on another thread, but you may find it worthwhile reading Berlioz Treatise on Orchestration (revised by Richard Strauss) available at IMSLP. Berlioz covers the natural horns in detail and Strauss extends it to Valve horn.


Hi Janus, thanks - I’d seen that and looked at the specific pages, which confirmed that according to his figures, it seemed he thought these notes were playable on both high and low horns in C.

Written G4-Bb4-C5 (6th-7th-8th partial) is in any horn’s most comfortable middle range. It’ll just sound high on a C alto, which is exactly the point of using a C alto in the first place. Dorico’s ‘out of range’ colours do not seem to take the actual horn transposition into account.