The question of water keys and horns


Here is a question you know you have wondered at some point: why are some horns constructed without water keys?

It is a puzzle for a lot of people, as literally the cheapest versions of every other brass instrument have water keys. But here we are in horn. Some pretty expensive models, with screw bells and everything, don’t have water keys.

Why? Isn’t this the 21st century? What happened?

Having a water key is something that truth be known probably has sold a bunch of Holton horns over the years, when parents compared them to Conn models. No water key on the Conn! Must not be as good; horn with water key must be better!

But the question remains, why no water key? One possible angle is that horn buyers are complacent or resistant to change. Over years, we have just accepted that while other brass instruments have often multiple water keys, on horn we don’t have them. We make do without them. Tradition or something.

But the real answer probably lies with some of the people that assisted with certain horn designs when they were created. In short, the same people (or type of people) that were really reluctant to have a screw bell on a horn (“it will ruin it!”) are the same folks that did not want a water key either. Theory being it might ruin something, a note in the high range, something.

Also, those makers would be correct to say at this point that people are in fact buying every one of those horns without water keys that they make. Why change anything? Ignoring the fact that of course lots of buyers have water keys added after purchase to rectify the omission.

How do horn players actually feel? I did a quick Twitter survey, not scientific of course but still a cross section of our horn world. In short, 90% of horn players want water keys! My only surprise was that the result was not 100% in favor of water keys.

To close, horn makers, it is the 21st century, give us our water keys please. Looking at you Conn and Hoyer in particular … you are cheating horn players of something basic that you offer on every other type of brass instrument you sell.

University of Horn Matters