I've received as gift a hollow natural cow horn, similar to those anciently used for signaling before metalworking was discovered.

I'd like to know if, given it simplicity (natural carved material creating a conical tube) the tone/frequency it has is fixed and given by its physical characteristics (such as length and inner diameter) or if it also depends by the technique used, like embouchure or something else.

I'd like to be able to play it with a way lower tone/pitch (if the software I used is not wrong, it is a F#/Gb8, I'd prefer a F7 or lower), hence my question.

I am not a musicist so I apologize if I misspelled or misused any terms.

Here attached is a screenshot of the sound spectrum (frequency vs time) produced by me playing it.

Thank you

enter image description here

  • 2
    It's hard to believe the pitch is really F#8. That is higher than the top note of an 88-note piano keyboard! F7 is the highest F on a piano. From your spectrum on the right, the fundamental frequency looks like about 500 Hz or about an octave above middle C (i.e. C5) which is more believable. – user19146 May 28 '17 at 1:49
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    As alephzero says, this is definitely not an F♯8. It really looks like a slightly flat C5 (18th overtone at 9.3 kHz suggests fundamental 517 Hz; C5 would be 523 Hz, whereas F♯8 is 4980 Hz!). How the program gets this so spectacularly wrong eludes me. – leftaroundabout May 28 '17 at 21:52
  • I don't know how it guessed it, maybe I'm misinterpreting a default starting pitch setting in the drop down menu (been using Audacity's change pitch feature). I did play with this change pitch feature and apparently a downward pitch shift of around 84% gives my recording the kind of tone/pitch I'd like it to have (attached spectrograms). Thank you i.imgur.com/BlkK82H.jpg – Allison Ross May 28 '17 at 23:41

You may be able to produce a few different notes of the horn's harmonic series by varying the way you blow it. If you can find a brass instrument player (trumpet, French horn, trombone, etc) let them see what they can get it to play, and explain how to do it.

If you are happy to modify the horn, you may be able to get a wider range of notes by fitting it with a brass instrument mouthpiece, to give you more control over how you blow it. Do that at your own risk, of course.

It's unlikely that you can lower the pitch significantly. You could try partially blocking the end of the horn, for example shading it with your hand. or inserting one or more fingers into the end.

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    Yep. I'd just add that if the cow horn has a relatively wide bore and mouthpiece cup, you can bend the tone pretty easily down (with practice). If it's narrow, it will be harder. – Scott Wallace May 28 '17 at 20:26
  • It's relatively wide, about 2 inches (5 cm) at its widest end. I know it'd probably be very difficult to explain, but how far could I expect to bend the tone down with practice? Which books or videos would you suggest reading/watching? Thank you. Here is a spectrogram of the kind of pitch I'd be after (I did use Audacity's change pitch feature and dialed it down 84%) i.imgur.com/BlkK82H.jpg – Allison Ross May 28 '17 at 23:47
  • @AllisonRoss- I don't know of any books or videos that might help you. But it's pretty easy to explain: to lower the pitch, you need to simply relax your lips, so that their natural resonant frequency goes down. You will hear when this happens. But there's a struggle in a horn (or a reed instrument) between the natural frequency of the lips (or reed), which you can control with pressure, and the resonant frequency of the tube. If a tube is relatively short and fat, you can relatively easily overcome its resonant frequency with your control. If it's long and thin, it becomes harder. – Scott Wallace May 29 '17 at 10:54
  • In any case, if you can overcome the natural frequency of the tube and produce the tone you want with your control of your lips (or the reed), the resulting tone will not be well amplified by the tube, because it's not one of its harmonics. In any case, I think it will be very difficult to produce a tone a whole fifth lower (which is what I assume you want, an F instead of a C) from your cowhorn. – Scott Wallace May 29 '17 at 11:02
  • I see, thank you. So in order to produce the lower tone I'm looking for, maybe it'd be easier to start with another cow horn altogether? I however don't know which length and inner/outer diameter would be needed (since I guess they're the main features affecting produced tone). – Allison Ross May 29 '17 at 15:42

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