Girish Mahajan (Editor)


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Classification  Wind Brass Aerophone
Other names  en: Mellophonium, tenor cor, fr: cor alto, de: Altkorno, Alt-Corno, it: genis corno

The mellophone is a three-valved brass instrument pitched in the key of F or E♭. It has a conical bore, like that of the euphonium and flugelhorn. The mellophone is used as the middle-voiced brass instrument in marching bands and drum and bugle corps in place of French horns, and can also be used to play French horn parts in concert bands and orchestras.


These instruments are used instead of French horns for marching because their bells face forward instead of to the back (or to the side), as dissipation of the sound becomes a concern in the open-air environment of marching. Tuning is done solely by adjusting the piping, instead of adjusting both piping and hand position as on the French horn. Fingerings for the mellophone are the same as fingerings for the trumpet, alto (tenor) horn, and most valved brass instruments. Owing to its use primarily outside of concert music, there is little solo literature for the mellophone, other than that used within drum and bugle corps.


The present-day mellophone has three valves, operated with the right hand. Mellophone fingering is the same as the trumpet and is typically pitched lower, in the key of F or E. The overtone series of the F mellophone is an octave above that of the F horn. The tubing length of a mellophone is the same as that of the F-alto (high) single horn or the F-alto (high) branch of a triple horn or double-descant horn.

The direction of the bell as well as the much-reduced amount of tubing (compared to a French horn) make the mellophone look like a large trumpet. The mellophone uses the same mouthpiece as the alto (tenor) horn, which is in-between the size of a trombone and trumpet mouthpiece. This mouthpiece usually has a deep cup, like that of the flugelhorn, and has a wider inner diameter than a trumpet mouthpiece. These mouthpieces give the mellophone a dark, round sound. Some trumpet players who double on mellophone use a trumpet-style parabolic ("cup") mouthpiece on the instrument, resulting in a much brighter, more trumpet-like sound. Horn players doubling on mellophone often use a smaller, lighter, conical ("funnel") mouthpiece, as used on French horns, with an adapter to allow them to fit in the larger-bore lead pipe of the mellophone. This style mouthpiece gives the instrument a warmer sound than using a trumpet mouthpiece, and allows French horn players to play the mellophone without changing their embouchure between the two instruments.


Two instruments carry the name mellophone:

  1. Traditional mellophones with a rear or sideways facing bell.
  2. The marching mellophone, with a forward-facing bell.

In general, the mellophone has its origin in the horn design boom of the 19th century. The earliest version was the Koenig horn, based on a design by its eponym Herman Koenig, but manufactured by Antoine Courtois, who may also have played a significant role in its design. Courtois had just won the right to manufacture the saxhorn, in a lawsuit against the inventor of the saxophone, Adolphe Sax. The Koenig horn had three piston valves — the kind used on a modern trumpet, which were a relatively new technology at that time — and was otherwise shaped somewhat like a modern french horn, but smaller. This shape was largely influenced by the post horn.

Kohler & Son originally began using the name "mellophone" for its line of horns based loosely on similar instruments by Distin. These were also post horn-like instruments with valves, but the mouthpieces and bell angle were slowly evolving to allow for more projection and control of sound with the technology of valves.

The traditional instrument is visually modeled on the horn, with a round shape and a rear-facing bell. Unlike French horns, it is played with the right hand, and the bell points to the rear left of the player. It was used as an alto voice both outdoors and indoors by community and school bands in place of the French horn. The manufacture of these instruments declined significantly in the mid-twentieth century, and they are rarely in use today.

Mellophone bugles keyed in G were manufactured for American drum and bugle corps from approximately the 1950s until around 2000 when Drum Corps International changed the rules to allow brass instruments in any key; however, Kanstul and Dynasty still make them in small quantities.

Modern marching mellophones are more directly related to bugle-horns such as the flugelhorn, euphonium, and tuba. Their tube profile is likewise more conical than the trumpet or trombone.

Difference from the horn

The marching mellophone is used in place of the horn for marching because it is a bell-front instrument allowing projection of the sound in the direction that the player is facing. This is especially important in drum corps and marching bands because the audience is typically on only one side of the band. There are also marching B French horns with a bell-front configuration. Mellophones are usually constructed with a smaller bore for louder volume than marching French horns. Marching B horns do use a horn mouthpiece and have a more French horn-like sound but are more difficult to play accurately on the field.

Another factor in the greater use of mellophones is its ease of use as compared to the difficulty of playing a French horn consistently well. In a French horn, the length of tubing (and the bore size) make the partials much closer together than other brass instruments in their normal range and, therefore, harder to play accurately. The F mellophone has tubing half the length of a French horn, which gives it an overtone series more similar to a trumpet and most other brass instruments.

In summary, the mellophone is an instrument designed specifically to bring the approximate sound of a horn in a package which is conducive to playing while marching. Outside of a marching setting, the traditional French horn is ubiquitous and the mellophone is rarely used, though they can be used to play French horn parts in a concert band or orchestra.

Stan Kenton's instrument

C.G. Conn developed the 16E "Mellophonium" and first marketed it in 1957. Kenton himself was not involved in the design of the mellophonium, though he provided an endorsement for Conn's advertising, upon adopting the instrument, in 1961. The new instrument was used by Kenton to "bridge the gap" in tonalities between his trumpet and trombone sections. Kenton used a four-man mellophonium section September 1960 through November 1963 on 11 albums; two of those LPs received Grammy Awards (Kenton's West Side Story and Adventures In Jazz).

Bach instrument

The Vincent Bach Corporation also produced a mellophonium, with the coils of piping more reminiscent of the cornet.

F. E. Olds instrument

The F. E. Olds company manufactured mellophoniums with the same wrap as the Vincent Bach Corporation design.


Mellophone Wikipedia