Where have all the Bb bass players gone?

Discussion in 'The Rehearsal Room' started by Ali, Feb 2, 2012.

  1. Ali

    Ali Member

    I guess the title is self explanatory but where have they all gone. Most of the top players have retired, dropped down the sections due to family commitments, conducting and band politics or just found other hobbies. I want to know why there is such a shortage? Is it that it's not seen as a cool instrument to play (I think it is and its a beast to master) or is it because it's so cumbersome? There must be a reason for it!!!
    In this day and age, if you can get a good sound out of it and put in the parts then you will never be short of a band. What do people think?
  2. DaveBBb

    DaveBBb Member

    Good point. I've been studying the 'Dark Art of BBb Bass playing' off and on all my life, like my father before me and my brothers and a son. I have also noticed that there seems to be a dearth of BBb Bass players. Look at the 'vacancies' page on 4barsrest month after month, for example. Not sure why though. Probably because it is not seen to be 'cool' these days to humph a BBb Bass around. Maybe it's the cost of new BBb Basses and Schools/Colleges and Lower Section Bands can't afford to replace them and who wants to play a beat up old tuba? or maybe it's the ABRSM curriculum which seems to favour EEb tuba's, or maybe the MD that I know is not alone in his thinking that he would rather see 4 EEb's in the bass section rather than the traditional 2 EEb's, 2 BBb's -- "as EEb's are a 'proper' instrument". Who knows, but I agree Alan, there seems to be a problem.
  3. tubadaz

    tubadaz Member


    I know that a lot of people think that you can use EEbs instead of BBbs as they can play the notes, but I personally think (and I know a lot of people out there who think the same) that the BBb has a certain sound that isn't (necessarily) replicated on an EEb Tuba, especially in the lower register, plus the EEb gets very "wooly" when you get down the bottom end of the BBb range.

    My band (Shepherd Group, 1st Section North of England) have been searching for a replacement BBb player since the middle of last Summer. As a "stopgap", I've had to drop back onto BBb from EEb Tuba just to provide cover for the Areas. :frown:

    I wish I knew how to solve the problem, but I haven't a clue! :frown:

  4. AndyCat

    AndyCat Active Member

    There are loads of issues, some apply to those of us still playing, but not at the highest level, some don't!

    Teaching wise, any kid who's learning tuba gets shoved onto EEb. The syllabi(?) for exams, now an important part of a students "Record of Achievement" are all geared towards EEb, or at least bass clef readers. How many people teach BBb players bass clef? Not enough (although this keeps me in playing work, so don't go telling everybody...). I think if players and teachers saw it as A TUBA, not just a EEb or BBb Bass, many students might keep playing BBb longer. The amount of times I get told that you can't play in Orchestras or quintets/10 piece etc on a BBb is astonishing, because you can, and I do. Many countries around the world have the BBb as a staple in orchestras! Not our type admittedly, but BBb all the same.

    Specifically banding wise, there isn't the drive to become a BBb genius, specialist or committed achiever because, basically, you don't have to! As Alan implies, you no longer have to be a "top band standard" to actually be in a top band on BBb! People can pick and choose, pick their own level of commitment and "abuse" the needs of bands. I won't accept the offers of "just do once a week" or whatever, because that's insulting to other members, so stay playing at a lower level where I can commit. Luckily the overall shortage means I still get to do some decent jobs when I've the time!

    Of course, this goes right through Music Services and schools as well. How many EEb's are sold to every BBb sold to Music Services or schools, or even junior bands? Probably an interesting answer to get.

    I think I'm correct in saying that even our own NYBB is using some EEb players on BBb to fill the section at the moment (I apologise if this is no longer the case..), but did when I was there 20+ years ago too.

    Perhaps this is an issue that's been staring us in the face for decades?
  5. iancwilx

    iancwilx Well-Known Member

    I'm sure it has. On my very first NYBB course in 1961 I agreed to move from EEb to BBb to make up a shortage of numbers, so yes, i's been going on a while !

    - Mr Wilx.
  6. winterman

    winterman Member

    It is disturbing..

    Both myself (Bb) and the Solo Eb are "Aid Workers" shipped in from the Euphonium bench in our band to cover the desperate lack of Tuba players.

    Having said that, I do have one lad in my Youth Band who I did persuade to shift from Euph to Eb Bass and in the last 2 weeks to Bb Bass and he is doing a stirling job! :) To say he was the lad that used to go dizzy and nearly pass out trying to fill a Baritone when I first taught him in Learners, he can now out blow most, but definitely not all, Bb Bass players I know (with a good tone too!). He is loving the challenge of getting even further down the register!

    I do agree with the cumbersome nature of the beast, particularly as a non-driver, trying to organise getting it and myself "shipped" everywhere for jobs is a nightmare at times and I thoroughly appreciate the regular support from my fellow bandies with big cars and bigger hearts!

    I am so looking forward to the day I can get back to playing something musical though (apparently audiences don't want to hear a Bb Bass solo!
  7. Thirteen Ball

    Thirteen Ball Active Member

    I'll not deny that there is a dearth of quality in respect of BBs. The very fact that I can get, and retain on a certain degree of merit, a championship level chair is proof enough of that. I'm not being modest about my playing ability when I say I make a decent sound and have reasonable technique - but am I of the level where I could genuinely consider myself one of the elite? No, certainly not. I started playing too late for a start (age 21) and didn't even contest til 2004.

    What makes the difference in my case is that I'm there twice a week, every week, and never lack for effort and commitment - but I'm under no illusions. I'm only where I am because there are so few truly top level BB players around. And without being unkind, I've sat next to players in a lower ability bracket than myself who play at the same level.

    One thing not to underestimate is the amount of bass players with a slightly lower level of technique who get moved onto BB against their will because 'the Eb plays all the hard stuff.' A bit counter-productive in one way, because it means that they never have the chance to develop the necessary technique to cope with high-level bass parts of either flavour and may well struggle to cope with the physical demands of the instrument. How many times have we seen BBs struggle with running semiquavers, because as soon as anything hard comes along the MD normally knocks them off it - and then wonders why they can't keep up when a section comes along that they simply HAVE to play.

    I should imagine rather a lot of these players are a bit shocked when when the likes of 'Devil' land in front of them and there's no way of covering the technical passages on Eb. Like it or not, MD's and players alike do tend to to treat BB as the 'easier' option, despite the fact that the BB part can actually end up being a lot harder to play cleanly than the Eb part, and the physical demands of just getting a decent note out of the thing are so much more.

    For myself, I've tried moving back onto Eb on more than one occasion and am now happily on BB by choice. It suits me, as I never had a great top-end on Eb anyway, but that means my comfortable register lends itself to BB better anyway. In time, I've developed greater firepower and ability in the low and pedal registers and though my sound is still not all I could wish for - even after a number of years - it is still warming and darkening ever so gradually. But the best MD's I've worked under have never had the attitude of 'BBs can't play that' that seems prevelant among others.
  8. Daveflug

    Daveflug New Member

    Well thats just it; banders like tunes, and BBbs don't get tunes.
  9. winterman

    winterman Member

    It is true that BBb's don't get hardly anything in the way of tunes! :(

    I have to say as a, "stand in", Bb Bass player my bottom register is shocking (parping and ripping) while my upper register, above the staff, is more than comfortable (Top C's without too much problem), I have several Euphonium slow melodies I would love to play (Swan, Gabriels Oboe etc) but apparently the audiences only see the Bb Bass as a comedy item playing pathetic cheese if anything at all! >:^(
  10. Will the Sec

    Will the Sec Active Member

    Hi, my name is Will, and I used to play BBb bass. OK, I started on EEb, cos it was easier reading treble and bass clefs without too much hassle. I moved onto BBb after passing my grade 8, until I left the academy. (Newham Academy before anyone asks. A fine institution, though.) I then purchased my own EEb bass, and joined the then Newham band. I was asked to move to BBb bass for Pontins, "Cos it's too difficult for xxxx". (Meant I had the wonderful experience of sitting next to Vic, Gawd bless 'im.) I then discovered that the trombone was my weapon of choice, despite no tutelage in it, but strangely, wherever I went, my reputation as being a minimum of competent on Bb bass invariable meant I ended up playing it. As I was playing BBb bass when I inherited some spondulix, I purchased one. Then was promptly moved onto EEb, so swapped with LBB, who was now playing BBb having bought an EEb bass.When I asked if I could join my current band, I was asked what I played. I muttered something about 'anyhting from 2nd horn down, and was advised the bass section was full. (And rather good too.) This was a relief, as for long periods, as BBb bass, I felt like a pariah. Needed in the set up, but never completely part of the gang. (Varied from MD to MD of course.) So, where am I now? Well, I am no longer playing bass at all, as I wish to be a pariah or semi pariah no more. I am playing an instrument that is universally accepted as a soulful sounding, and beloved within the genre for its sweetness. I now play the Bass Trombone. Oh, yes!
  11. Laserbeam bass

    Laserbeam bass Active Member

    I am now playing my own bass again (Eb), but miss the delicate sounds that I have been known create on a BB ;)
  12. Bungle

    Bungle Member

    Some excellent points again from thirteen ball, which I recognise from being a former BB player
    "as soon as anything hard comes along the MD normally knocks them off it - and then wonders why they can't keep up when a section comes along that they simply HAVE to play". "
    "MD's and players alike do tend to to treat BB as the 'easier' option, despite the fact that the BB part can actually end up being a lot harder to play cleanly than the Eb part, and the physical demands of just getting a decent note out of the thing are so much more."

    Our band has only recently gained a BB player and that was only because he was an Eb player and we already had two Ebs. I think the lack of BB players is down to the weight of the instrument, people don't want to be lugging it around. I was lucky when I played Bb that the band store room was in the company I worked for, so could practice at lunchtimes without having to take it home. I had to do alot of practice to get a sound I was happy with after not playing for two years.

    Various people in our band were approached to play Bass but they all turned it down. I did think getting a Courtois compact Bb might be a possibility to attract a player, but after been given the chance to blow on one found it was just as heavy. I sometimes dep on Bb bass and will play Bb if I am visiting another bands rehearsal and they have two Eb as I like the technical challenge, but do get demoralised that I can't get the sound I would like to. Given the chance some people might enjoy playing Bb but are unwilling to give it a try.

    As for a solution, either identify some loyal member of the band who is willing to 'take one for the team' and transfer to Bb or identify a struggling player who might like an easier part. I do remember that in the youth band I played in, when the players got to about 16/17 they were moved into bass irrespective of what instrument they played to allow other younger players to come through. I remember going from principal euph to bass and then finding senior bands contacting me.
  13. Bungle

    Bungle Member

  14. Red Elvis

    Red Elvis Active Member

    I'm dabbling on EEb again at the moment whilst between bands. Having played with two good bass sections at Ipswich and Cambridge , and sat in for a blow last week with an excellent one at Aveley , the difference it makes to the sound quality of both the band and the section when you have a good solid couple of BBb players is something else !!

    I can't quite understand the mentality of the view that sees BBb bass as a default option if you can't hack it elsewhere- strikes me that a different skill set is needed , but one that is just as demanding as that required to play any other part / instrument well.

    Those that know me in real life will note that I'm not the smallest bloke in the world in terms of height or width , but on the (rare) occasions I've played a BBb I have struggled to hold the thing , let alone make a decent sound thereon !! Euph to EEb didn't seem like a huge leap size wise , but EEb to BBb was , for me at least.
  15. Laserbeam bass

    Laserbeam bass Active Member

  16. winterman

    winterman Member

    Reiterating some of my points :)

    I indeed "took one for the team" and still am, my only respite being carolling jobs at Christmas when I was allowed to do Solo Cornet or Euph for most of them! When challenged to find another Bb Bass player to be allowed to move off it (it was only intended as a short term "fix"!), and did so, was told to find yet another!<Mission:Impossible theme tune> :(

    I do have renewed respect for Bb Bass players having been burdened with it for so long now but really must find that one more body (brains optional ;)) so I can be free of it!
  17. winterman

    winterman Member

    Couldn't agree more!! :clap:
  18. P_S_Price

    P_S_Price Member

    To make a BBb sound really good, sharp and not fluffy and to fill it; particularly for loud long passages definitely makes it not an easy option. A decent BBb bass is harder to find than a fart in a pigsty!
  19. Tubawolves

    Tubawolves Member

    Having read the thread with interest here are my thoughts for what they are worth.
    BBbb Bass is a thoroughly nasty instrument to play physically, pumping out bar after bar of low sonorous notes takes a huge effort particularly supporting big sounding bands. In short its hard work! It rarely (more frequently in modern pieces) has anything really interesting or exposed to play and is a rather unfashionable instrument for any youngster considering their options.
    As a player lucky enough to have played on every seat across the Bass section at Championship level I think BBbb Bass is the instrument, certainly for me. Any band with a sound of any quality has a BBbb section of note. The likes of Dean Morley, Brett Wharton, Lawrence Eccleston, Loz Barton and the many more outstanding engine room boys we can name enhance a bands sound the moment they push air through the instrument. It is the bedrock of a band's sound, the powerhouse and foundation of all a decent band does. But why would a youngster want to carry the heaviest instrument home from school, the car gets wrecked every time the instrument is transported being so big, heavy and ungainly. Lastly you can't fit it in most car boots so it sits on the back seat (if it fits at all) cutting down your car seating capacity. A great instrument, physically hard to play, heavy to carry, unfashionable and not easy to transport. Is there a pattern here?;)
  20. MoominDave

    MoominDave Well-Known Member

    A complete side point, but it always amuses me that the word 'pariah' actually means 'drummer'...