I think it isnít a lack of Bb bass players that is the issue; itís a lack of players generally. Remember the reason Brass Bands write their Bb bass parts in treble clef is so traditionally cornets/euphs and bari's who were not making the grade or who had sudden embouchure growth or simply fancied a change could move onto the bigger instrument and only have to concentrate on the mechanics of playing as opposed to a whole new clef and a new set of fingerings. I doubt Bb bass players were ever produced in great numbers from scratch, I guess most of them came via smaller instruments simply because of the practicalities of young kids holding/playing/transporting and generally manipulating a big beast of an instrument and not being put off by the physical effort needed to make said instrument sound any good at a tender age.
As a teacher, I unashamedly play the numbers game. When I started out, a wise old teacher said to me something along these lines, if you want to produce 5 good players, start a hundred off. Out of that hundred 50 will have some potential, of that 50, twenty will have the ability/graft to do their grade 3,4,5 of that 20, TEN will have the necessary talent and range potential to become good and of that ten 5 will have the work ethic to become a top player.
The trouble banding has is a lack of kids seeing things through to their individual cut off point, wanting to be the best at something is seen as a bad attitude these days so a lack of drive from kids is filtering through the system which means the most awkward instrument to play is suffering first. But I fear it wonít stop at the Kaiser bass, eventually if we donít start replacing ourselves by each player starting 10 kids off, all the instruments will suffer in the long run. So of that original 100 kids, the few who fall by the wayside due to the numbers game should maybe be offered the chance to try the Bb Bombardon in larger numbers and maybe of those 30 or so kids, 10 who get that chance will have potential and 3 may end up in top banding.....
This forum is full of valid points and opinions, here are some of my own.
In my opinion, there are many reasons for lack of b flat bass players.
As pointed out in previous posts, there is a lack of grass roots encouragement with the instrument. This is similar for other instruments: where are the euphoniums, bass trombones, tenor horns or percussionists (as opposed to kit players) nowadays?
I think kids who do learn tuba are started out on 3 valve e flats 90 percent of the time. From a logical point of view, this is sensible, because the instrument is small enough for a young player to use. With a 3 valve b flat and 4 valve e flat similar in size, when the student grows a bit bigger, it makes more sense to put them onto the instrument that they are used to, and which is capable of playing more low notes, i.e. the e flat(because the equivalent sized b flat has no 4th valve).
Another reason, sadly, is the instruments. Since joining Music College, I have had the chance to play many keys and styles of tubas. In my honest opinion, and the opinion of most of the other tuba players I know, the British style b flat bass is one of the worst tuba designs ever to become popular.
This is taking nothing away from people who play them, I for one am in awe of how many players play such a badly designed instrument so well.
Before you even blow down the instrument, you have problems. There is no way to hold the instrument comfortably. If you rest it on the chair, you have to lean your head awkwardly to the mouthpiece. If it’s on your lap, the lead pipe is too high and the weight of the instrument makes it slip forward. The fourth valve is hard to reach also. The case is enormous, and rarely fits in a car boot. The instrument is also very heavy, mainly due to the compensating piping, which itself is a waste of time because the instrument still is incredibly hard to play in tune. The instrument itself is extremely difficult to play. My observations are:
1.the instruments tonal quality disperses above a middle b flat (middle c treble clef)
2. Whilst long notes sound full at the lower end, any moving parts are fluffy and unfocused.
3. Certain notes on the instrument seem to 'blurt'.
4. Notes on the 4th valve are hard to produce unless you are playing at a comfortable volume.
Because of these reasons, i know several players who have given up playing in a band because they were moved onto b flat
This said, many players seem to get round these problems and play the instrument well.
On an interesting note, apparently when besson produced the prototype sovereign b flat bass, they invited several professional players, including their lead consultant at the time, John Fletcher, and several brass band players, to try it out. The professionals said that it was awful, and John Fletcher told Besson that they should scrap the prototype and go back to the drawing board. On the other hand, the brass band players liked the instrument, as it could take dents and avoid serious damage, and liked the similar appearance to the e flat. They also liked that the weight allowed louder playing as it stopped the sound breaking up. Besson realised that most of their business would be selling to brass bands, so pushed ahead with the design regardless.
The BBb bass is very hard to pick up and play. E flat players don’t like moving across, because of the reasons above. Teachers with experience of playing them are unlikely to encourage students to play them.
I think bands and players should seriously consider using different types of B flat tuba. Rotary instruments are much easier to pick up and play. Whilst not compensated, the free left hand can move tuning pipes, and the instruments are better made and play more in tune anyway. Front action large pistons are also a large inmprovement.
I'm going to start a thread somewhere else because I think this is related to a different problem with music in schools
Your example of the pro tuba players arguing the sov was a poor design while the band players liked it is a case in point. Different ensembles want different things from a tuba. The sov may well be largely useless in an orchestral contest - but that's not what it was designed for. A ferrari F40 might be a brilliant car, but it's no use at all on a rally track is it? Horses for courses.
I frankly utterly disagree with your assessment of a compensating system. It's a necessity on a band bass. For the amount of time a band BB player spends in their low register, a non-compensator simply isn't an option as the tuning down there is so horribly poor. As regards the size, that's due to the open wrap of the instrument, which is again, key to the sound. And I know whereof I speak on that, as the band I currently play for has two courtois compact BBs which are wrapped to the size of an Eb in the same way dome front-action BBs are.... and they are worse than useless. I'd have a slightly tatty Sov or Imperial over a new courtois compact anyday. The reponse in all ranges is far superior. OK, a large part of that is probably because courtois have compromised the wrap to incorporate a 3+1 top action valve setup, but it goes to show that if you're going to build a band tuba, then build a band tuba, not a half-breed.
As regards your point about ergonomics, that can undoubtedly be an issue for a player of a smaller stature - particularly with a Sov or York - however steps are being taken to reduce those problems as well. Have you tried the new yamaha Neo? That's a traditional-wrap top-action 3+1 BB with a full compensating system, but has none of the problems you traditionally associate with a band BB. The 4th valve has been repositioned to allow an easier reach, the leadpipe is lower and more sensibly placed and the valves are shorter-action to allow the technical passages to be played more easily. If you've not played one I'd reccomend giving one a go as it may well change your perspective on them. For me this is very much the way to go. Work on perfecting an instrument that still gives the brass band sound, but doesn't have the difficulties of previous intruments. The reason for this? It was developed in conjunction with a brass band tuba player of exceptional standard - one Simon Greswell.
Yes, band BBs can be tricky to play because of their design. That's just their nature and a biproduct of the sound they produce. However just because something's hard to play doesn't necessarily make it inferior. By that token we should be advising orchestras to bin their french horns - which are notoriously difficult to play well - and bring in tenor saxhorns in stead. But what would be the point in that? You'd completely destroy the sound created by a bank of frog-horns in the ensemble.
I've heard bands play with front-action tubas - both piston and rotary. And yes, they can sound good depending on the relative standard of the players - but they don't sound like a brass band bass section, and for me, that's an end of the matter.
I belive Desford, Fodens and others flirted with Euro style Bb basses in the 80s. Appart from the mither of getting them in tune I belive the main issue was when deps came in and couldnt play the things....
There is a lot of talk about the sound characteristics of the compensated BBb, but I would think the players and mouthpiece used at least as much, or more influence that sound. It would be interesting in a blind test to see how much changing the type of BBb bass used really affected the band sound.
As contests are blind judgings for the most part I wonder how bands that have flirted with different styles of bass have done
"Where there's Muck there's Brass" It's okay to play a cornet and live in a pig sty
Like anything else, I think you should play - and to get back to the point encourage students to play - the instrument that sits with the ensemble they play in. If you turn up to a youth orchestra with a conventional bore 3+1 Sov BB and ask for a part in treble clef, you're unlikely to win many friends - or get much to play that suits the instrument. Likewise if you show up to a youth brass band with a non-compensated 4-in-a-row front-action rotary that points the opposite way to the rest of the section, then you're unlikely to help the sound or overall balance - not will you find tuning with the rest of the section easy. If that means you have to play a different instrument in different ensembles then so much the better, because the one will teach you about the other, and vice versa.
As for blind tests - I've certainly not done any blind tests but on a few occasions have been able to compare bass sections on front-action tubas back to back with sections on top-action brass band basses. I am, of course, not an unbiased observer but for me the traditional shape of tuba blends better with the ensemble - particularly when one considers the design of the euphonium and how often the 6 work together. I've nothing particularly against the sound of a section of players on more orchestral-style front action basses, other than a certain uncertainty of tuning/intonation in the low/pedal register, but even when well-played it just doesn't sound like a brass band to me. There's a certain darkness and warmth that's missing - which oddly I don't think comes from the basses at all, but from the interaction of their sound with the middle of the band.
I would not claim that changing the type of BBb tuba is not going to change the sound, but that the mouthpiece choice and style/technique/standard of playing will also have as much, or more effect.
I wonder how the new Yamaha Neo compares in sound to the Sovereign and the overall sound of the bass section? My perception trying one alone was that the Yamaha is more lyrical and orchestral sounding.
If someone wants to buy me a Neo, I will let you know how it plays
Nothing to see
It's certainly a small pace nearer the sound of an orchestral CC or BB - but not so much that it causes the unhappy non-blend with the middle I alluded to in #129. In fact it blends very well. But make no mistake, it's clearly been designed with brass bands in mind.
Just afew observations. When I was helping the design team at Yamaha, I was keen and demanding that they were to produce the best Brass Band BBb Tuba on the market. IMHO
Things you need to know.
1, I have only ever previously played a Besson or Boosey & Hawkes tuba.
2, I would not know what all the other tuba`s play like as I have no outlet in whichto play one. I am only good enough to play in a brass band so that is all that interests me.
3, I have no understanding about wraps and such things.
All I wanted to achieve was to create a tuba that fits the bill for Brass Bands. Ihated the cumbersome besson. With all its tuning problems.
The one thing I wanted over everything else was that the sound should be good. I spen tmany, many, hours with DK working on this. The relationship with the Ebs, Euphs,Baritones and Horns had for me and David to be perfect.
It is much easier to play Lyrical on a Neo because that has a lot to do with the air distribution and valve action.
I have had some fantastic feedback from players, so hope in my small little way, Ihave helped create a Tuba worth buying/playing
Last edited by Hove Edge; 29.02.2012 at 12:22.