modern crumhorns (alto, bass)
300 dpi JPEG 
  Crumhorn Der Sackpfeyffer zu Linden
 Hier geht's zur deutschsprachigen Version
Go here to the German version

Preamble: The crumhorn has nothing to do with the brass-wind instrument
horn (except that's a wind instrument too).


The crumhorn is a double-reed wood-wind instrument with a cylindrical bored curved tube that's finished with a conical bore. The double-reed resides in a windcap. It has 8 small fingerholes including a hole for the left thumb. The lowest tone is handled with a key on large instruments. Modern instruments – an alto and a bass crumhorn are shown above – moreover have two keys for the left forefinger and the left thumb. The small fingerholes enable crossfingerings. The crumhorn has a moderate large range to slide the tones in relation to European wood-wind instruments. That allows to exactly tune the tones especially in a crumhorn ensemble but the exact tuning of the tones is the greatest difficulty by playing of the crumhorn.

The name "crumhorn" leads away from a medieval instrument. This instrument has a cylindrical bored straight tube that's finished with an animal horn (from a cow or a goat) as bell. This kind exists still today as the chanter for the bagpipes "gaide" and "bock". The look of the second and possibly older kind of the crumhorn reminds of the medieval instrument. These instruments have a cylindrical bored straight tube. A short tube is rectangularly mounted at this lower end. Another short tube is mounted at that free end rectangular to the first short tube and parallel to the long tube. This short tube is finished with a moderate large bell. This construction don't need the technical difficult curve of the tube.

The crumhorn shown above (without keys) is a typical instrument of the Renaissance and it was developed in the 15th century. It was build in imitation of the vocal quartet with soprano, alto, tenor and bass as a whole family like the most instruments of the Renaissance. Sporadically some higher and lower sounding instruments were build. The c/f-pitch has come to stay as among the most Renaissance wood-wind instruments:

Only the sizes from soprano to great bass have come to stay. Crumhorns have a scale range of a major ninth. They can chromatically be played except the minor second above the lowest tone. Originally it wasn't considered to overblow them (Reed instruments with a cylindrical bored tube overblow into the twelfth!). Crumhorns sound as written like most of the Renaissance woodwind instruments (cornamusa, dulcian, rauschpfeiff, shawm, bombard, chalumeaux). They're like an 8′-rank of a keyboard instrument in this point.

The modern crumhorn gets an extended scale range through the two keys. It's possible to overblow it too.
The alto crumhorn shown above has the following scale range:

f g - g' (fingerhole fingerings) g#' - bb' (key fingerings) b' (strong tuned up bb') c'' d'' e'' (overblowing)   a1 = 440 Hz  


Download here a sound example (improvisation, own work): Altkrummhorn.ogg

If the thumb key is used and specially the air pressure is modulated some squeaking tones can be played. Moreover the three lowest tones can be influenced in this way that the key-note and their twelfth sounds together. The tones described here don't typically sound for the crumhorn. So they can only be used for modern music. These special tones can be produced well with a hard reed that's suited for the solo crumhorn too. Softer reeds are mostly played in a crumhorn ensemble because they enable an easier tuning of the tones and the sounds of the single instruments merge more together.

The bass crumhorn can be underblown. If the air pressure is a little bit lowered, the lower fifth is sounding instead of the tone that's fingered. Doing this the scale range can be extended down to Bb1. However it's very difficult to control these underblown tones.



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© Sönke Kraft, Hannover 2001
last update: 13.10.2008