The alphorn was originally a tool for herdsmen, who used it for signalling and for calming their animals. Original alphorn music is therefore usually simple in structure, and reflects the mountain environment. It was only later that the alphorn was recognised as a "real" musical instrument and that it started to be used in compositions. Modern alphorn music is experimental and unlike the original pastoral melodies often uses highly daring sequences of sounds.
All the notes which can be played on an alphorn are present in the "Melody Composer". There are also three typical alphorn harmonies ("Chords"; coloured light blue).
In traditional alphorn tunes the player moves mainly in the third octave using the notes C-G, and the G of the second octave. These frequently used alphorn notes are yellow.
The notes above them can in practice only be played by top virtuosos, and are shown in green. These high notes go beyond the traditional range of the alphorn and belong to the realm of experimentation.
The four deepest notes of the alphorn (dark blue) present a challenge to the player. The deeper they are, the harder they are to hit.
A special note in the instrument is the so-called "alphorn F" in the third octave, which is coloured red. This note, which is perceived as "false", occurs only in instruments using natural harmonics, and gives a tune the alphorn's characteristic charm.
For practice, make the "alphorn call" with the notes G-C-D-E-C-G. These are the notes which alphorn players normally use to play a simple tune. Then try to bring in the "alphorn F" and deeper notes, as in the "Stockhorn Gruss."
Now give your creativity free play and make up your own tune. But don't forget that it is not easy for alphorn players to jump between very different notes, and that that is not what this instrument is about. In an artistically composed alphorn tune like the "Ranz des Vaches", the notes line up gently one after the other like the snow-covered peaks of the Swiss Alps.
Start off by composing a monophonic tune and enjoy your "alpine masterpiece"!
Advanced composers can then try backing their tune with the most commonly used chords of an alphorn ensemble.