Time to change trombone clefs?

Discussion in 'The Rehearsal Room' started by David Mann, Mar 10, 2006.

  1. David Mann

    David Mann Member

    I'm teaching a couple of people to play trombone, and both of them turned up with tutor books in bass clef. If I want to steer them towards brass bands, they will have to learn transposing treble as well. Is it time that new music and set test pieces had the option of tenor trombone parts in bass or tenor clef? I can see some difficulties:
    • Lots of music already published in treble clef
    • Leger lines for 1st trom in b.c.
    • How to print the full score
    I think that the option of concert pitch would make it easier for young / beginner players to try brass bands while they are still playing in other ensembles. What do you think?
  2. Steve

    Steve Active Member

    It all confuses me. Cant imagine how long it would take to work out the solo trom parts in brass bands if they were in bass clef!! As for tenor.....thats not even a real clef!! haha
  3. Richard Orme

    Richard Orme Member

    Whats wrong with Bass clef ? Suits me. lol
  4. Steve

    Steve Active Member

    Wonder why that is Richard (nothing above the stave ;))

    Best of luck tomorrow mate
  5. Daniel Sheard

    Daniel Sheard Member

    I agree that trombones playing in Bflat treble clef is silly. Tenor trombones would be better served using either tenor clef or bass clef. Trombone players in all other circumstances play in concert pitch. I still read brass band music in tenor clef and do a litlte bit of conversion.


    TIMBONE Active Member

    I know that this is a difficult one. If a new pupil is being taught for brass band, then it is obvious that they are taught in treble clef. However, the disadvantage is if they want to broaden their horizons, because bass clef is the least of their problems, it is having to mentally re-learn the relationship between notes and positions. I was fortunate, because I started in bass clef, and learnt tenor clef soon after. The advantag of this being that if I read a C in a transposed treble clef part, it is a concert Bb in tenor clef, 1st position. So, as long as I change the key signature, and know where to adjust accidentals, (ie C sharp is B natural), I am home and dry.

    There are other advantages too. Cornets and Flugel are tenor clef up an octave. Tenor Horns are bass clef up an octave. Baritones and Euphs are tenor clef. Eb Bass is bass clef. Bb Bass is tenor clef down an ocatve. :biggrin:
  7. lynchie

    lynchie Active Member

    If they're going to play the trombone, they're going to need to read tenor clef at some point anyway, and swapping between tenor and treble is easy stuff, so no, I think they should leave it as it is...
  8. Mister 4x4

    Mister 4x4 Member


    When the notes get too high above the staff, that's usually where my embochure's fear of heights sets in as well. :D

    (although, I recently squeaked a Top Bb in home practice, and nailed the A's playing a piece during rehearsal last night - messed up teeth and all. Not too bad I'd say after only 8 months of playing following a 20 year hiatus. I'll get there someday...)
  9. Space Cowboy

    Space Cowboy Member

    Agree entirely and do exactly the same. There's been many a time, including currently on Journey to TCoTE, when the conductor talks to me in BB treble and I think what's he on about i've not got that until the brain clicks back in.

    I learned to play in concert pitch, bass, tenor and alto. I play in a brass band, a wind band, a brass quintet, an orchestra, a big band and a soul band and it's all concert pitch exept the brass band. It's never made sense to me. Ledger lines are no problem, just look at some of the big band trombone parts.

    In my view trombone players should always be taught in bass cleff first.
  10. treble clef all the way!

    ive tried learning to play pieces in other clefs and they just create confusion!

    transposition is difficult aswell, and most brass band music is written for trombones in treble clef for trombones in Bb and the bass trombone which is usually in C (concert pitch)is in bass clef (and rightly so, wouldn't be a BASS trombone then would it, and besides, the notes they have to play sometimes, geez treble clef parts would have about 10 leger lines below the stave, and also the solo trombone parts (and 2nd to some extent) if they were in bass clef, they would have about 10 leger lines above the stave depending on the music being played)!

    point being, solo and 2nd parts should stay in treble and the bass part should stay in bass clef!

    treble is terrific, not terrible!

    just 1 point though, hasnt there been brass band music written for the basses in bass clef before?, you could say that bass players should now be learning in bass clef aswell?!
  11. Daniel Sheard

    Daniel Sheard Member

    Ten ledger lines? What music do you play?

    Trouble is with the present system is that when brass band trombone learners grow up and go to university they suddenly find a whole world of trombone music which they can't read.

    Had a period at university where I played nothing other than alto clef. Playing Mozart trombone parts is good for you.

  12. Bayerd

    Bayerd Active Member

    IMO it is definately time to change back to concert pitch notation, which would make life easier to take part in other musical genres.

    In my band, the two tenor trombonists are originally from non BB backgrounds and learnt Bass clef. Now they think in concert pitch and transpose the dots they see in front of them.

    I spent over 20 years on tenor trombone having learnt transposed treble clef first. I now play Bass Trombone but still think in BB treble (I know, I know, I should be thinking in concert pitch, just sometimes I forget)

    This makes for very confusing discussions within rehearsals, because the first question is always 'What clef are you talking in?'

    Also from a developmental point of view, as I was learning through school and college, life would have been much easier if I was thinking concert pitch, particularly when reading alto clef parts.
  13. Bayerd

    Bayerd Active Member

    Why not? It'd be easy enough for EEb to make the change, they just alter the accidentals in a similar way to trombonists reading tenor clef.
  14. Bayerd

    Bayerd Active Member

    From a compositional/transpositional point of view, would this notation make life easier for the writer?
  15. Bass Trumpet

    Bass Trumpet Active Member

    Interesting topic, this one. I am a little disappointed that there are still a few out there that seem to think that bass clef is somehow evil :evil: . Looking at the majority of music (not just brass bands), there are quite valid arguements both ways:

    Banders can read from tenor clef parts with a bit of juggling - I still remember as a child an old boy in my first band shouting 'That's a ******* C flat!' when trying to get to grips with tenor clef! Also, banders can easily switch parts around and cover for an absence in the baritones (for example). Treble clef readers can also sit on 1st trombone in an orchestra, as many tenor parts are in tenor clef.

    However, this all falls flat on it's face when that player decides to join that orchestra full-time. The next concert has West Side Story (bass clef) in the 1st half and The New World Symphony (Alto clef) after the drinks interval. In another programme (tenor clef :) ) the conductor asks the trombones to varify whether or not they are playing an F#. Our hero doesn't know and looks a fool :confused: ! Sorry, too many smileys, but it's Saturday :biggrin: !

    Perhaps our intrepid bander enjoys a bit of big band and swing? Bass clef all the way, I'm afraid, so he either has to write everything out or learn to play the maracas!

    In all seriousness, I think it all boils down to the environment that player develops in. If they have grown up surrounded by brass bands, then treble clef is fine. If they have wider opportunities than bands, then perhaps Bass clef might work just as well - Oh, I forgot to mention Wind bands who also play exclusively in Bass. Teachers must be very aware of which direction their pupils are going before imposing their own ideals.

    I would wholeheartedly recommend that any aspiring trombonist has a working knowledge of ALL clefs, including Alto, to enable them to go in the direction that suits them.

    ps. Sorry if anybody finds the term 'banders' derogatory, it's just easier to write than 'players from a brass band background' !!!!!!!!!!

    pps. Good luck to all the Midlands bands this weekend, what ever clef you read :biggrin:
  16. VenusTromster

    VenusTromster Member

    When I first started to play, I learnt in bass clef. This meant that I could take part in all the school ensembles such as Orchestra, Windband and Jazz band. I then joined a brass band and started by playing the bass trom part (apart from the extra low notes which were put up an octave)as at that point I could only read bass clef. I was then encourage by the rest of the section to learn treble clef. They helped me and so did my teacher which menat that I had the best of both worlds. Reading stuff in treble clef is fine, but it only generally comes across in brass bands, which then narrows down the choice for other music.

    I know what you are trying to say with regard to changing the notation, but if you get the chance to teach them both or encourage them to go through the same route that I did, then your on to a winner. :)

    TIMBONE Active Member

    It is certainly helpful if I take a score to the piano to test out certain ideas.

    TIMBONE Active Member

    I think it is helpful to cast our minds back as to why all but one instrument in the brass band is transposed and in treble clef. So that players are able to interchange if necessary. Whether the instrument is pitched in Eb or Bb, they are all in the same clef, and transposed so that the fingering is the same in each case, (relating slide positions to fingering or vice versa is not a big problem). It is still quite common for a player not needed on one instrument to move into another section where there is a shortage. This is the brass band - ce la vie. Just in case anyone is wondering, the 'odd-man-out', bass trombone, is in bass clef/concert pitch because when the brass band instrumentation was formalised, the bass trombone was pitched in G.

    My original training was military(wind)band, orchestral and big band. I must admit, I thought it was hilarious when I found out that the mighty Bb Bass was written in treble clef, transposed up a tone and two octaves :biggrin:
    Slider1 likes this.
  19. This is an interesting discussion, to which I can appreciate all points of view.

    As an ex-euphonium player, I started out learning trombone in bass clef, as my main reason for learning was to have the oportunity for orchestral playing. I have since played in orchestras, wind orchestras, big bands, shows and as they are all mainly written in bass / tenor clef (I would assume that if you learn in the bass clef, learning tenor clef is more or less obligatory, given that it uses the same note-name/position correspondence) this has been perfectly fine.

    However, recently I was asked to play with a brass band and thus learning treble clef became an issue. I will admit that I use the 'read-it-as-tenor-clef-and-add-two-flats' cheat usually, especially with sight reading, although am slowly getting much more competent with reading treble. This has not proved too difficult, except for the odd embarrasment as mentioned earlier, when you can't find the 'C' that the conductor would like you to go from, because you don't think that is what it is called.

    My only real problem with learning Bb treble clef at all is that it is not entirely true! I know that other instruments are written in transposing keys, and it is something which we can and must accept as the norm in some circumstances, but I think that if someone is taught this they should also be taught that there is a difference, and encouraged to understand how the transposition works in relation to other instruments etc.

    Sorry, this is a long post, I hope I am still being coherent...

    My point really is that either way can have advantages depending on your playing situation, both current and potential, and the only real solution is to learn both ways (not necessarily at the same time!) in order to gain the maximum benefits and opportunities as a trombonist. However, (and perhaps this is just a music student perspective!) I think it can be a little ignorant to use the Bb treble clef notation without considering the 'true' tonal effect of this, which baffled me a little to start with but as my understanding of music, tonality and harmony has increased it has all become much clearer.

    With respect to composing and arranging, I have found knowledge of both methods very useful - in studying orchestration it is clear that trombones seem to cause the most problems for many people as they are the only instrument whose notation behaves differently in different scenarios, but with my own experience of both ways of playing, especially the concert-pitch to Bb cheat, I have a huge advantage!

    Sorry if this was a long and boring post, but I find it a fascnating discussion with no obvious solution!

    Just makes trombones all the more special, perhaps :)

  20. Bass Trumpet

    Bass Trumpet Active Member

    I saw the original manuscript of an Alexander Owen score once. It had everybody from baritones downward in Bass clef, apart from the 'Monstre BBb' (as he called it) which was in treble.
    Last edited: Mar 11, 2006

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