Quick guide to popular Flugelhorns

The Flugelhorn

Originally used for hunting, the flugelhorn became well known as a brass musical instrument in the mid 1800s. It is a little bit bigger, heavier, and has a larger bell with wider tubing. It is more conical compared to a trumpet. The flugelhorn, or fluegelhorn or flugelhorn or literally wing horn or flank, descendant of the bugle, provided inspiration for the creation of B Flat Saxhorns. In the 18th century, the flugelhorn was neither brass nor silver, and was blown for hunting. The player was called a Flugelmeister.

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How to Play the Flugelhorn

There are three valves in the flugelhorn but some are rotary valves just like the French horn. Some describe it as a bugle with valves. The same fingering system if used for playing the flugelhorn.  The mouthpiece is deeper and more conical. Fully stretched out, it is of the same length as a trumpet and cornet, and also pitched at B flat.

When it comes to timber and tone, it sounds different from a trumpet. The shank is the same in size as the cornet and thus they can be interchangeable, as a bugle with valves. The flugelhorn originated in Europe and was a very popular instrument in classical and folk music. It’s sound is dark yet smooth, melodic and flowing.

If the trumpet is soprano, the flugelhorn is alto. The difference is the materials, thickness and design. It also has three valves, smaller than a trumpet but with a wider throat and bells, the sound more mellow. Many say that it is out-of-tune that’s why it’s lost considerable following for a while when many Dutch groups shifted to the cornet and the trumpet in the 1800s.

Some designs have incorporated a fourth valve to improve tone using alternate fingering and to allow the playing of notes below the range of a 3-valve instrument. This fourth valve is similar to the 4th valves of euphoniums, tubas, picollos and trombones. The lower range and dark sound creates a new tone. Another downside of a flugelhorn is its weight. It is heavier than the trumpet and cornet.


Flugelhorn in Pop Music

The flugelhorn is well loved even in popular music. The timbre of the flugelhorn is a bit fatter and more mellow and falls somewhere between the trumpet’s and the French Horn. It is easy to control, is nimble and responds quickly except when it comes to higher notes. It is bright but softer and meditative.

The flugelhorn is standard in British brass bands. It has appeared many times in Jazz pieces and in a lot of orchestral work like those of Stravinsky, Gruber, Vaughan, Marquez and Tippet. More recently, it appeared in some Burt Bacharach song arrangements. It is now a favorite drum and bugle corps piece. The group Santana used it for many of their performances. Clark Terry and Miles Davis used it well for modern jazz music. Chuck Mangione used it for “Feels so Good” in the 80s. This piece illustrates the mellowness of the flugelhorn.


Purchasing a Flugelhorn

There are many things to consider when buying a flugelhorn. Firstly its price ranges from $2,000 to $10,000. Buying should be done with care and if possible with the help of an expert, professional or teacher.

Search for the different flugelhorn styles or if you can attend classes or conventions like a manufacturer’s seminar before actually going out to shop. Avoid one that sounds like a trumpet. The most important thing is quality of sound and construction followed by intonation. Intonation can be corrected but never quality. A 4th valve is good to improve range but it can also add weight to the instrument.

A 3rd slide devise, a new improvement for 3rd slide triggers, is better and lighter than a fourth valve. When buying a flugelhorn, bring with you a mouthpiece for sanitary reasons so you won’t have to keep trying to blow horns pre-tested by other buyers. Your choice of a finish is a matter of taste but they say that silver gives a brighter tone than a lacquer. Since you are not buying trumpet, the lacquer should be preferred. Sweat can tarnish finishes fast so consider that too since silvers are more costly than lacquers.

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