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How to Select the Right Mellophone for Your Marching Band

The mellophone may not have the name recognition of the trumpet, but this instrument is a crucial component of any good marching band. Unlike the French horn, these middle-voiced instruments are designed for open-air environments. For a successful rendition of a John Philip Sousa march, the mellophone is essential. If you're shopping for one of these horns, you'll find a variety of buying options on eBay.

What are the main characteristics of a mellophone?

The modern-day version of this horn has several distinguishing features. They include:

  • Three valves: These instruments have three valves, which are usually designed for use by right-handed players. Fingering styles are similar to those used to play the French horn. Unlike the French horn, however, this instrument has piston valves, which move up and down instead of in circles.
  • Slides: Located near the bottom of the valves, the slides affect intonation. They are pushed in or out to alter the pitch of the sound.
  • Tubing length: The mellophone has less tubing than a French horn, which means that these instruments look more like trumpets. The tubing is conical in shape, which means that the tube widens as it extends forward.
  • Lead pipes: These pipes connect the tubing to the mouth area. The way these pipes are tapered can impact how difficult the horn is to play. Beginner marching band musicians may want to consult with an expert before buying their horn.
  • Bell direction: To ensure that these instruments resonate in open-air settings, the bells face forward.
What kind of mouthpiece is used to play the mellophone?

Every musician is different, and mellophone players need to find the mouthpiece that's compatible with their mouth shape. Some marching band horn players find the most success with mouthpieces designed for trumpets. These parabolic-shaped pieces give musicians a bright, bold sound. Traditionally, however, players use pieces made for the alto horn, which have a deep cup and a comparatively wide diameter. These options result in a dark, rich sound.

What about intonation?

Most contemporary mellophones are pitched in the key of F. When used to play the part of the French horn in marching bands, this can get confusing for young players, as most of the music is written in E-flat. Because of this disparity, it's important to choose a mellophone that holds its tuning; they can go sharp or flat in extreme temperatures.

What materials are mellophones made of?

The material used to construct an instrument has a big impact on the resulting music and sound. There are two basic options:

  • Brass: If you want to achieve a French horn-style music quality, opt for a brass instrument. This metal helps to produce a warm, rich tone. For a slightly rougher, trumpet-like quality, consider an alloy horn.
  • Silver: You can also choose a silver or gold-plated horn. They produce a sound similar to brass, but they often require more upkeep, as these metals tarnish without frequent care.
Brands of mellophones

Most popular instrument makers offer these popular marching band horns. Brands include:

  • Yamaha
  • Jupiter
  • Blessing
  • Holton
  • Kanstul
  • York
  • King
  • Olds
  • Nirschl