Brass Band Instrumentation

Discussion in 'The Rehearsal Room' started by Okiedokie of Oz, Dec 3, 2003.


Do you think the American system of teaching bass clef eupho and baritone ONLY (!!!!!!) is good or b

  1. Good. Keeps them prepared for concert band works

  2. Bad bad bad bad bad!!!! They are ruined for brass bands, which is their traditional playing field!!

  1. Okiedokie of Oz

    Okiedokie of Oz Active Member

    I don't know if this has been covered (so feel free to delete it, Mods) but as it was touched upon in the Best Tuba player thread, annd it's an interesting topic (for me) I want to ask if brass bands need to adapt their instrumentation slightly.

    Evolution is bound to happen, the question is will it happen in our time, or not? Will we let Trumpets and french horns in? Will we continually segregate baritones and euphos? Is there thatr much different between an F and Eb tuba, or a C and Bb tuba?

    Just to kick it off, my views are (summarised):
    No trumpets!!!!!!!
    French horns I am iffy about
    Leave Bari/euphs as they are (in TC too, not this crap Bass clef stuff the Yanks are pushing down school kid's throats!!! Actually, I might bring that up later)
    and C tubas I don't mind (easier in some cases than BBb I've found) But leave the F tubas out of it.
  2. Tpascoe

    Tpascoe New Member

    As one who grew up in the American system I think that from a brass band perspective that the bass clef for bari/euph is not a good thing. I believe there are great advantages to the treble clef system that out weigh the negatives. In school I had to play bass clef and was restricted to being a bari/euph player with little flexablility, but I also played as the Salvation Army so I was required to learn treble clef. This allowed me some flexability and I have played in the cornet section, the horn section, the baritone section, the euphonium section, as well as trombone and bass sections. With the exception of the trombone I could move easily between instruments where the band had a need. This also made me popular to the University faculty who knew I could fill a brass part without having to learn a new clef. These changes occured more often in the brass band then the concert band though so the advantage of one clef makes it easy to move players to needed chairs in the brass band.

    One clef and one set of fingerings seems to offer a lot to a MD who needs to fill a chair. Just a thought!
  3. Okiedokie of Oz

    Okiedokie of Oz Active Member

    I also feel starting on treble makes it easier to learn bass and tenor clefs. Starting on bass makes everything else a pain in the rump!
  4. Despot

    Despot Member

    Most modern concert band parts have alternate treble parts anyway, so what's the point?

    Recently asked to dep for a concert band. First question I was asked, "Would you prefer to read treble or bass?"

    Would also limit your flexibility in moving about the band.

  5. erm wasn't that the point at the start of the brass band movement to make it easy and accessable to the masses???
  6. Dave Payn

    Dave Payn Active Member

    I don't think it'd do any harm to learn bass clef but I wouldn't call it essential.

    Anyway, slightly off track but still on the subject of brass band instrumentation, I put this on the tMP boards a while ago. I hope it's some relevance and constructive comments welcome, please;

    Are brass bands too insular?

    A question I have pondered now for some time. In the not too distant future I hope to set up my own Internet based brass band publishing firm, largely aimed at ambitious lower section bands and school ensembles, but not ignoring the upper echelons of banding or indeed ensemble works in general.

    I'm hoping that in the long run we'll be able to add new original brass band works to the catalogue. However, I shall kick off with some arrangements. I went through the possibilities of what we could arrange which hasn't been done before or which hasn't been touched upon a great deal and what would work for band and what wouldn't and I became increasingly frustrated.

    Why? Not the ability (or lack of), of the arrangers I've earmarked for the project, I have every faith in them but what I perceive as the limiting nature of our brass band set up. Very few arrangers of published material have dared 'experiment' with the band size in a radical way. Sure, some arrangements are catered for those bands who may be short on numbers, and quite right too. But one of my chief interests in producing new arrangements is music from the renaissance and baroque era.

    Too often in the past, the arrangements have, in my view, been amended to the suit the standard brass band size than considerations such as keeping the same key or close to it (i.e. for a lot of baroque music, that means say a 'bright sound' A work that was originally in D major, doesn't to my ears sound quite as 'bright' when transcribed into Bb or Ab major as has been done in the past). The works of Handel and Bach, I decided a while ago, don't always easily transcribe to brass band, but better on orchestral brass. Why so? Orchestral brass ensembles can vary in size and regularly do so and have a greater variety of instruments, particularly in the trumpet department.

    Therefore, they can stay in the 'bright keys' originally intended for some of these works. OK, so 'authentic baroque pitch' is as near as dammit a semitone below modern pitch (with A=415 HZ as opposed to A=440 of nowadays). So for the D major baroque stuff, read D flat major (E flat major at B flat cornet pitch) Excellent, I was thinking, the brass bands would prefer the flatter key and still be able to keep the bright sound. Then came another obstacle. Lack of variety of tone and/or pitch. With one soprano cornet, most of the 'up-tempo' baroque stuff would be a smack in the face in that key unless you share it out with the solo cornets or rep who would be at the very top of their register most of the time and therefore struggling, by and large. Sure, another option is to share the melodic lines an octave down with say, horns and/or flugel but to my ears, it makes the music sound duller than it should, certainly for baroque.

    The band I play with (Fulham) although 4th section, is blessed with a surfeit of cornets and trombones at present and has been for some time. I intend to embark upon an arrangement of Handel's Fireworks Music soon. A lot of high stuff from violins, oboes and trumpets in one of the original versions (the other original version is scored for large wind and brass only) so I intend to arrange it for 4 solo cornets, two sops, (possibly three, one using an E flat trumpet. Sacrilege I know, but there you go) rep, 2nds and 3rds, three flugels, (to give a tonal variety in the middle upper register, quasi oboes) and the rest as standard with the possible exception of adding an extra trombone and all at what would be 'authentic baroque pitch' as described earlier. Some will no doubt be thinking 'The guy's nuts' Perhaps I am... They might also be thinking, '4th section band finding three decent sop players? Uh-uh'.

    I've played with a few bands where we've been lucky enough to have players available to come in, or players from within the band who can 'double up' on sop. In any case, the trouble is, (and I'm certainly not guaranteeing it would be a good arrangement anyway), if it does turn out OK, it's unlikely to sell if I were to publish it, because of the difference in instrumentation from the norm.

    But hang on, I'm talking only about arrangements and of a specific period thus far. What about original music? Are there composers out there that would feel less inhibited in writing original brass band concert works if there was a shift towards varying the size of bands? I could make comparisons with brass ensembles, but then I would, possibly quite rightly, be told that it's a difficult comparison when one is openly called an 'ensemble' which implies a potential 'downsizing' when required as opposed to 'bands' which by the nature of its name, implies a larger body of players. OK, so I'll make a comparison with orchestras. Quite often, at orchestral concerts, you'll see a change in size in the same concert, depending on the forces the piece/s was/were written for. A Mozart or Haydn symphony in the first half followed by say, Prokofieff's Scythian Suite or Respighi's Pines of Rome as part of the second half would require a radical change in numbers (not the best analogy but it'll do for now).

    Obviously, I would doubt that this approach would work for contests. I'm thinking along more concert based lines. I also said at the beginning (without necessarily trying to plug anything as the business hasn't got started yet!) that I would be aiming for 'ambitious' lower section bands. Nevertheless (though I'm not asking for business advice here) am I fighting tradition too much here? I know and understand there are some bands who can barely scrape a set of instruments together, let alone expand. There are also some bands where players have access to or own several instruments of a similar family (i.e. trumpet and cornet in varying pitches, flugelhorn).

    But overall, my question to other readers on this site is this? Would the brass band movement, or more to the point its concert repertoire, be improved and enhanced by occasionally expanding or even decreasing in size and playing pieces accordingly? I dare say ideas like this have been tried long before I suggested it here but would our top bands, say, have a greater chance of being invited to play at something like the Proms (i.e in the RAH, not in Hyde Park!) if composers and arrangers wrote and arranged for different sized bands. Or to put it in a nutshell, could brass bands ever effectively become known as 'brass orchestras'?

    I only cite my potential arrangements/publishing business as examples of what I'm trying to convey here, but your views on this subject (positive, negative and downright slagging off) will be most welcome.

    (n.b. new addition to the original message) I should also add that I'm not suggesting dispensing with the set up we have now, just occasionally changing it.

  7. Okiedokie of Oz

    Okiedokie of Oz Active Member

    I know I had to make a few shortcuts when arranging this year's carols music. I am not an arranger, and the band we have isn't currently capable of too much polyphony, so I only did 2 cornets parts, 2 horns, baritone/tenor troms, euph/bass trom and bass parts plus marching drums (snare bass, and symbols with a bell lyre). The sound I get is big and bright, but the music is now also usable if I need to make a small carol ensemble. So I am for experimentation.

    As for the eupho parts being both clefs, it isn't always the case. Some publishers will only do one, or the other. Or have a different Baritone TC part to the Eupho BC part. Is it possible to make an international standard on this?
  8. Keppler

    Keppler Moderator Staff Member

    Bring it on.. will be watching with interest, Dave.
  9. shedophone

    shedophone Member

    I dont see why bands shouldnt be open to expansion a bit- but how can we say they are not?
    Over the last 30 years bands have added percussion, keyboard, electronics and even bagpipes!
    Personally i dont agree with trumpets mixing with cornets, and french horns have completely the wrong sound for a brass band!

    Going back to the whole trable/bass clef issue... Its a lot easier for the conductor the more clefs are kept the same. Its also easier for the player not to have to learn two clefs.
    However, it is good to play in two (3, 4?) clefs as you can then play in any ensemble!

    Even though i was taught to play in treble clef when i learnt euph last year, i found it much easier to play in bass clef. Thats because bass clef euph/bari is in concert pitch.

    I dont agree that people should be taught to play in just bass clef, or just treble clef. Teach'em both! :twisted:
  10. PeterBale

    PeterBale Moderator Staff Member

    Just a couple of thoughts off the top of my head:

    In theory, it would be good to vary the size of the band for some items, and I believe it does happen occasionally, maybe by including one or two ten-piece arrangements, or featuring a trombone quartet or similar as a feature. There are also a few pieces around that use only certain sections of the band - omitting the cornets, for example, or something like "Fever-fantasy", where the solo euph is accompanied by a cornet ensemble.

    I agree that the top of the band can be lacking in tonal variation, and perhaps the inclusion of more than one sop - or Eb trumpet - or even piccolo trumpet, could enhance the possibilities available to the group. I attended the concert by Royal Academy of Music Brass last Friday evening, and you were immediately aware of the difference made by the additional instruments (including the use of more than one flugel as well).

    I am sure that, with the calibre of players currently involved in banding, it would be possible to find some who were able and willing to double up as necessary.

    There are two problems that I would see, however, that could impose limitations: one, as already highlighted, is the commercial aspect. One advantage the brass band has over other ensembles is that, by and large, the instrumentation will be standard, with the expectation that there will be players to cover the parts scored, all-be-it with the occasional judicious cue just in case. Thus the composer knows what he is writing for (even though he may feel it cramps his style somewhat) and the band purchasing the arangement/composition knows what is required as well.

    The other problem could be that of keeping everybody happy in rehearsal: this has been touched on under other headings, particularly with regard to attracting good percussionists, and making them feel that the time spent attending rehearsals is worthwhile. Having a more flexible approach to instrumentation could make the scheduling and planning of rehearsals even more complex, esopecially when the brass players are used to playing in every piece.
  11. EIBB_Ray

    EIBB_Ray Member

    I don't see the big deal. When our Euph/Bari (and bass) players came to play brass band they either knew TC, learned it, or (in one case) scanned everything and transcribed it to BC.

    Not everything is as clean as good old concert key cornet parts, most instruments have crosses to bear when playing different literature(i.e. horn parts in various keys, esp in orchestra), you study it, learn it and do it.

    The practice of writing all treble clef parts for Brass bands, makes huge sense for brass band, writing and teaching BC Euph and Bari makes certain sense for concert band.

    Sure some standard would be nice, but there isn't really anybody to enforce it, the market dictates. If BB was bigger in the UC there'd probably be more Euph Bari players learning TC.
  12. Okiedokie of Oz

    Okiedokie of Oz Active Member

    Hooray for technology. But what if you CAN'T transpose it? It becomes another job for the music teacher of bandmaster. Now, were we to do that here during contest preparation time, I'd have to write out the Test piece, own choice, street march, concert march, hymn and light entertainment program.

    That's fine if you're a musician with the time to learn all that. Buit what if you're an electrician who plays in a band just for fun???

    OK, I understand that point. Now let's look at this from my angle. I have a Brass band system run by a state governing body, which is governed by the national body, which takes its lead from the UK system. At the same time, I have an Education department running an Instrumental Music Program by the US system. Universities train the music teachers in the US system, but brass bands are taught by involvment. As such, we depend on the music program to send us students who wish to participate. BUT, there is no liasoning between the 2 structures, so we get clashes like -

    • * Schools are REFUSING to teach cornets because its "the wrong sound"
      * Brass Bands are refusing to take trumpets because its "the wrong sound"
      * Tenor horns aren't as flexible as french horns in older ensembles
      * Baritones and euphos are playing parts similar in design to tuba parts, and not being shown their potential performance-wise
      * Trombones being taught BC (OK, I can deal with this.......slowly. It's been happening long enough)
      * Schools are saying that Eb tubas are useless, and purchasing 3/4 single B flat basses. The backpressure in these instruments in these instruments are astronomical!!! and they want little kids to play them?????[\list]

      I actually got into a massive debate with a guest lecturer at uni over this. He's an American concert Band fan, I'm Brass band. I look at musicians taking up brass seriously in Qld at institutions, I see brass band players. Yet my employer continues to tell me what we ( brass bands) do is wrong????
  13. EIBB_Ray

    EIBB_Ray Member

    It's interesting, I never really thought much about there being an "American System." I don't think there's a grand conspiracy to keep brass band down. I think you really have a clash of two origins and a few people in both traditions fighting for what is "right." I say learn it all, I think American Universities are now expanding their reach in terms of tradition, stepping out of the concert band/orchestra tradition somewhat (slowly.)

    I don't buy the electrician excuse. Since I've become involved in brass band, I've encountered such fine musicians who are not musicians by profession. If you're doing a thing (brass band, orchestra, whatever) for fun, then you will do what you need to do to be proficient at it. That is, if you're a Brass Band Bari you'd learn TC, why would you care about what they are teaching in school, at Uni etc. I'm not a pro musician, I went to music school, studied french horn, but had hardly touched a horn in 15 years before I discovered Brass Band and tenor horn. Now I once was a fairly proficient sight transposer, but lost it over the years. Now if I want to play brass 5tet, I have to either get in practice doing it or write out the parts, certainly nothing an electrician worth his salt couldn't do.
  14. Euph-Bari

    Euph-Bari Active Member

    I learned on treble cleff as do many, but now i've got an idea that i may go into the army as a musician (in years soon to come) were as a euphonium player you need to know bass clef - so have stared to try and learn it - just can't get my head around it - it would have been gr8 if i could have been taught to play both from when i was younger istead of learning treable first and stugling with bass now :roll:
  15. Morghoven

    Morghoven Member

    I think it's obviously best to learn both clefs (or even all four if you do orchestral trombone!) because it does provide you with a lot of flexibility. The conclusion I've often come to, though, is that euphonium parts are much easier to read in treble clef, because you don't get lots of ledger lines on such a regular basis. As a single example plucked from recent experience - the high band F (and F# if you're brave!) on the first euph part to Harrison's Dream - three ledger lines in treble clef. Concert pitch bass clef it's a high Eb...on five ledger lines. Doesn't facilitate easy reading if you're always stopping to count the ledger lines. True, bass clef makes low euph parts a bit easier, but it's not very often you have to play fast stuff in that register so you have a bit more time to read it. Plus of course the issue of moving onto different instruments in the band which has already been mentioned.

    As a slight aside (and a follow-on from what Dave Payn and others have said)...I'd like to see four trombones become standard for a brass band! Any takers?

  16. Okiedokie of Oz

    Okiedokie of Oz Active Member

    Most bands I've played in always have 4 bones. Doubling up a part adds strength, and also trombonists aren't exactly easily replaced.

    I am all for multiple clef studies. I push all my private students into clef studies at a younger age because sometimes having that extra understanding can sometimes make things seem easier elsewhere. However, when students are being taught by people who only studied clarinet or something, it becomes to learn. Mainly because the teacher themselves do not understand the relationship. I mean, I've seen music teachers who can't in their heads transpose a concert note to a Bb instrument note, or vice versa. They have to write it down.

    I feel that if the musicians themselves were to object with the education systems, then the necessary changes will happen.....but as long as teachers and departments think what they're doing is sufficient, they'll let it go.
  17. EIBB_Ray

    EIBB_Ray Member

    Ah, there we agree! It's what the "market" will bear (or not bear) ! Frankly my first instrument was piano and it was imensely helpful (at least with the way my head works) for understanding clefs, transposition and loads of other theory topics.
  18. Okiedokie of Oz

    Okiedokie of Oz Active Member

    I found exploring different instruments helpful in piano playing and clef studying, and transposition.

    For example, friends of mine always get confused which way to go when transposing Eb to Bb or vice versa. I cheat. When I started on Eb tuba in a concert band, I tried reading BC like I was taught on eupho, but it didn't work. So my teacher said read it as TC, and add 3 sharps to thje key signature. Works great while playing, no brain work involved.

    But explaining this method to my mother, a theory teacher, her logic (treble clef and bass clef aren't the same!!!!) interferred. So after I worked out the theory to it all, I was able to explain as such.

    Take a concert Eb. What it is for an Eb tuba? (easy, I know, but watch me). Put that Eb into the bass clef. Any octave. now, take a pencil, rub out the clef. Draw a TC. Add 3 sharps to the key signature, cancelling out any flats starting at the Bb, first. Tadah. That Eb is now transposed to a C for my tuba.

    Anyway, back to the topic at hand -
    So, if you had it your way, what would you teach first, and when would you introduce other clefs?
  19. blue euph

    blue euph Member

    I think its just best to know and be comfortable playing in both TC and BC and bonus if you can play tenor and alto clef. It opens up your repertoire and gig opportunities whether you are doing just brass band, concert band, or any ensemble or solo work. Though the one thing I hate with TC is looking at music with ledger lines below the staff. It just doesn't look right for me. At the same time, I prefer not seeing ledger lines above the staff which the main fault with BC.

    Trumpets generally don't sound that great in a brass band but occasionaly, every now and then there are pieces that have one or two trumpet parts. But at the same time, trumpet players who play their cornets like trumpets is just as bad if not worse if they were playing their trumpets instead.

    "French Horns" can work in brass band and someways can gives that extra weight which the tenor horns just don't get and at times brass bands can use. This is a small complaint which a few arrangers I know have said to me. Horn players are use to transposing parts so that's not an issue. I played some brass band pieces which it just needed a french horn sound instead of having voiced the euph. in the upper register doubling up with the cornet in its "normal" range or tenor horn and flugel. Though I never played it but heard a recordings of it, an example of where a french horn could work in a brass band is the Toccata in D minor by Bach arranged by Ray Farr in the beginning section.

    4 trombone players works fine in my experience and could actually give the main 1st trombone player a break and / or have that person play second trombone instead. Lastyear, I do recall playing a jazz piece which was a trombone feature which had 4 trombone parts. The euphonium part was a yawn and I actually ended up adding a 2nd euph. part to harmonize it a bit which turned out fine.
  20. Okiedokie of Oz

    Okiedokie of Oz Active Member

    I totally agree, BLueEuph, but in trying to prepare an argument to Department of Education, I have to be willing to concede that Trombones and euphos aren't restricted to just TC or BC parts. Mind you, Tenor clef and treble clef have so much in comon, it ain't funny.

    Education in Queensland has become goal orientated, or "outcomes based", meaning that everything being taught has to have a practical outcome. I just feel that in rural Queensland areas, kids wanting to do music outside school are going to be negatively accepted in some brass banding areas.

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