Old musical instruments: the warp horn

Double Reed Instrument

In the very last part of the Middle Ages and in the Renaissance, the warp horn became popular, an instrument that is already a striking appearance due to its shape. By the way, also the somewhat nasal sounding sound is quite characteristic. The very first mention of the warp in dates back to 1489, in Germany. The warp horn is a blowing instrument with a double reed. In contemporary musical instruments only the oboe and bassoon are double reed instruments. These are the modern followers of the Schalmei and the dulcian of the Renaissance.


Playing Double Reed Instrument

Instruments with a double reed are played with the double reed largely in the mouth. By varying breathing pressure, lipstand and lip pressure (embouchure), the vibration of the reed can be affected, and therefore also the pitch. The shalmei belongs to the group of 'loud instruments', excellent for playing in large spaces or outdoors.

Photo: The upper part of the warp horn, the wind hairdo and mouthpiece are omitted for a while, so you can see the double reed. In the past, of course, real wicker was used for this, nowadays you can also find plastics more often. Since the wind haircut is usually over it, you don't see that plastic. In the photo looks a 'real' reed on the instrument and there is a plastic reed next to.

Soft Instruments

In smaller spaces, the sound of a shalmei was too loud, too obtrusive. They searched for wind instruments that produced less sound, and therefore sounded pleasant inside. In the group of soft instruments you could find recorder, flutes and curves.


As mentioned, also a warp horn is a double reed instrument. At the warp horn, the double reed is not taken directly into the mouth, but a wind haircut is placed around the reed. The player blows on the nozzle on the wind haircut. As a result, the reed is vibrated and you hear sound. Since there is no direct contact of lips on the reed, it is not possible to influence the tones with lip stand or lip print (embouchure). The only way to influence the pitch is by breathing pressure or by squeezing the reed more firmly (or less firmly) between the lips. The tone you play can be increased slightly by blowing louder or squeezing the lips slightly more.

By the way, the fingering of the warp horn largely corresponds to that of a shalmei or a recorder.

Photo: the upper part of the warp. You can see the wind haircut and the mouthpiece (which you need to blow into)


Limited range

Many wind instruments have a large tonal range, by overblowing. That is, by blowing louder and a special fingering, a second, higher, octave could also be achieved. That does not apply to the warp horn, because the wind haircut prevents this. The tonal range of the warp is therefore limited to an entire octave (consisting of eight tones), plus one tone. Such a tonal range is also called a none (= negen).

More modern warm-horns


The limited range has been extended in more modern versions of the warp horn by applying one or two valves. That saved one or two tones, so you could handle just a little more music. On the specimen in the photo you can see a soprano warp with such an extra valve.

Kromhoorn family

Like so many instruments, the warp horn was also performed in a 'family'. In the imitation of the human voice, you had:

  • soprano, voted in c
  • alt, voted in f
  • tenorm, voted in c
  • bass, tuned in f
  • Sometimes even a big bass was used, also tuned in c.

The lower the instrument sounds, the larger it is.



The choice of music to play always had to take into account the tonal range. Yet there was enough left and several composers have written music that is excellent to play with kromhorns. There were several warp companies, and even in orchestras there was a warp section. In orchestras from 1700 the warp is no longer present.

Picture: Double reed instruments from the Renaissance, as recorded in the Syntagma Musicum by Michael Praetorius (early 17th century)


The warp has a typical shape, you could almost call it a kind of walking stick. This form had three functions:

  • A decorative function. The eye also wants what and the typical form attracted naturally attention.
  • The music sounds mainly through the end of the instrument. Due to the curved shape, this sound is pushed up and forward more than to the floor. So the music could be better directed to the audience.
  • Because the sound is not directed to the floor, the player will also be able to hear the music better. And that was important, because intonating these instruments was not easy. If you couldn't hear yourself properly, then of course you couldn't tune in to each other.


A variant of the warp horn is the cornemuse. This is also a double reed instrument that is played via a wind haircut. The difference with the curving horn is in the shape: a cornemuse does not have the curved shape of the warp horn, but is straight. The playing style and sound are quite similar to each other. A cornemuse often does not have the extra valves that you see on the warp horn. As a result, the tonal range is limited to the none (= negen tonen: één octaaf plus één toon).

The word cornemuse is used in France to denote a bagpipes. When you look at a bagpipes, you see that the pipes of it do look like a cornemuse. The sound of a cornemuse also corresponds to the sound of a single bagpipes pipe.

Photo: soprano cornemuse

The warp now

In orchestras you don't see the warp horn anymore. Groups that play Renaissance music often choose to perform them as much as possible with original instruments or replicas thereof. So the instrument is still being built.

Kromhoorn at the Stadpijpers

I like to play the Renaissance music myself, and as I have told many times before, I do so at the Stadpipers of 's-Hertogenbosch. I mainly play schalmei, dulcian, and sometimes soprano or sopranino recorder. At the Stadpipers we don't really use the Kromhoorn yet, although we sometimes practice with it, and we always take copies with us when we explain (for example in schools) about the music and the musicians from the Renaissance. Because a warp horn is a softer sounding instrument, it is less suitable for outdoor playing. But, we keep the options open, because variety is just always very nice, anyway?

(c) 2021 Hans van Gemert

Own photos and one print from the Syntagma Musicum, which can be regarded as the very first music encyclopedia. Written and signed by Michael Praetorius, between 1614 and 1620.

This article is an edit of an article I had previously posted on Infonu.nl


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