Difficulty (or not) in Bass Trombone parts

If you're a composer, do you treat the technical abilities of the Trombone section as (in order from

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Well-Known Member
Here's something that I've been wondering about for a while:
When writing a test-piece, one writes to test (I would presume). Every other part in the band seems to be considered fair game for a bit of technical shenanigans that the players concerned will just have to practise hard on; but the Bass Trombone? A few examples aside*, the part in a Championship section test-piece is almost always ludicrously easy - it is very frustrating to be bored while sight-reading a part through perfectly**, listening to everyone else doing their best to run up, down and round about, and in general get to grips with a lot of tricky meaty stuff. You know that you've got a month coming up during which you'll be doing nothing but playing the same easy things over and over again while others have more fun around you...

Where are the crucial wobbly bits? Where are the big lyrical solos? The big technical solos? The big solos of any kind? Every other instrument in the band can point to several pieces that are real showcases for their instrument - where is the equivalent serious band literature that will really seriously challenge the Bass Trombone? I'm not convinced that it's out there at all - and why not? Why do a substantial proportion of composers not assume that the part will be played in a top section band with any degree of proficiency? Even when some trust is shown in the player, the Tenor parts are almost always harder than the Bass one!

Am I really correct? Do composers actually shy away from writing too much of importance for the Bass Trom?


* e.g.
The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea - Bourgeois
The Year of the Dragon - Sparke
Variations on an Enigma - Sparke
are all that spring to mind straight away as having sections that are technically significantly harder than average. I believe Masquerade has some tricky stuff, though I've not played it.

** Not blowing my own trumpet particularly - many of them really are this simple and unexposed.


I'm no famous composer, but when I write for trombones, I treat them as equals, and generally score them as a section (as recommending by Ray Steadman-Allen). Bass trombone can help create a good bottom end, I know this as I've had to play bass trombone and virtually be the bottom end sound!
What more composers should do (I think) is take advantage of the bass trombone's ability to go extremely low at times. Just look at those nice pedal F's in Paganini Variations. More of this I say!


Active Member
I would have thought with triggers, Double on a bass trom, then most reasonable passages are playable. Surley!!!! I could be wrong, i'll ask my brother (he's a trombonist!). He always puts me atraight when I'm writing for Troms!!


Well-Known Member
For me, the real strength that a Bass Trom brings to the brass band is the flexibility (couple with the Trom sound) in the register from the lower (non-pedal) Bb down to the pedal Bb. Yes it would be nice to see more low pedals, but they only really work wonders if they are written sympathetically - in a full band sound, they need so much oomph behind them if they are to be audible and yet not blatted horribly! The standard trigger register is a much more soloistic register to play in.

I'll add an 'all equal' option to the poll - this would mirror my position, in fact - in an ideal situation, the assumption of three players of equal standard specialising in different registers.



Well-Known Member
Mods - perhaps I'm being dense, but I can''t see how to further edit the poll options. Clicking on 'edit post' on the first post only brings up the text, not the poll details. Any help would be appreciated!


There you go Dave, SQ

Okiedokie of Oz

Active Member
While I can relate to what you're going through (jumpiong from the quivalent of Section 1 to section 4????), I can also sympathise with composers.

They have no idea who will be manning what positions. Will your first trombonist be a virtuoso?? Will your principal euph have that soaring tone colour that constantly gets featured? Are your basses capable of playing in more than a one octave range? Do your tenor horns have that great sectional sound mastered? Sometimes it's luck of the drawer.

Yes a test piece should find something to test everyone, but sometimes basses/bass trombones get the ultimate test - how well do you support your band despite your desire to go to sleep?

Now let me jump to this side of the fence, so I can whinge also.

It's not just the bass trom that gets left out. Baritone players get thrown around the band so often it isn't funny. They hardly ever get a moment of their own. Their always "With the Troms," or "With the Euphs", or "With the Horns".

Bass players can also get the wrong end of the musical stick (Tooting my own horn here, I know!). The number of times I'v seen in a test piece the standard "oom-pah" line, the bane of our very existance isn't funny. It drives me insane, because I know we can do soooo much more! Tuba harmonies, while muddy, can be cute. And we don't need the goddamn eupho to help us out!!!

that's my mixed up opinion, hope it helps someone see the light
Difficulty (or not) in Bass Trom Parts

Firstly, Mr Ploughboy could always ask the opinion of his top Bass Trombonist as well as his brother !!
I feel that composers do sometimes not fully consider the Bass Trombone. We seem to either get lumped in with the Trombones (where we belong) or the Basses. Maybe the consideration from composers is a lack of understanding on what the Bass Trom player can actually achieve/do with this magnificient instrument (not biased at all!) ?
TTFN :roll:

James McFadyen

New Member
I treat all instruments as equal and as a little groups. I think of the overall colour I want to create and then use whatever instruments I need to get it. If this means writing the Brass Trom different from the Tenor Troms, then I will have no problems with this.


Supporting Member
You think bass troms get poor treatment....... looked at a 2nd baritone part recently?!

Seriously though, not a composer, but in my experience the bass troms have more often than not been the best player in the section. It does seem though that most parts are written for "3rd best", which is a shame and a bit of a waste really.

Naomi McFadyen

New Member
I sometimes have bass trom doubled up with the basses, sometimes with top 2 troms... all depends on what colours and textures I'm trying to create in the piece etc etc etc...


Active Member
The way I tend to look at it is you start in the middle (2nd) and when you get good you go one way or the other. So i'd think the 1st and bass parts should be equal with probably an easier 2nd part...
mmmm lychie, not sure I'd go with that - in my experience it is often much more difficult to play the 2nd part because you have to fit in. As 1st or bass you can play the way you want to - 2nd has to match the way they play to the others - not easy and hard to do really well (takes good ears).

Dave, I'm with you - this has been a long standing gripe of mine - composers writing easy stuff for b.trom because they assume its the worst player in the band! :x

James McFadyen

New Member
I totally agree with Naomi!

Sometimes, some parts in the band have less to do than others, this is unavoidable in a lot of cases, but I do think as composers we should give players something decent to play, particuarily for all the Troms.

This is becoming an increasing concern.


Active Member
Mike Saville said:
mmmm lychie, not sure I'd go with that - in my experience it is often much more difficult to play the 2nd part because you have to fit in. As 1st or bass you can play the way you want to - 2nd has to match the way they play to the others - not easy and hard to do really well (takes good ears).

wait a minute, the bass trom part is normally somewhere between the tenors and basses, IF the basses are in tune with each other, then it is easier to get in tune in general from my experience, but then if the tenors are at a different 'tuning pitch', it becomes a large problem again. In general the bass trom is playing so little in relation to the tenor troms, that it's only the 1st and 2nd troms that have to fit to each other, with bass occaisionally joining in. This is certainly the case in tristan at times.

If anyone's ever noticed what happens in orchestral music, my favourite type is where i have section work, or have longer rests while the strings and woodwind build up to the brass parts. Like Nielson's 2nd Symphony, the third movement of.

Dave, Masquerade has one hell of a bass trombone part for the first 5 minutes, however, afterwards it goes more back to normal. In fact someone once advised me to practice the solos in it to improve.

One other minor gripe with bass troms, not sure if any others feel this, but i'm sure the baris feel this too, there are no good bass trombone solos around! and even concerto wise there are no good ones. ok, it may have been 3rd trombone/ G trombone, but the range has always been similar in orchestral parts. I have been driven to practicing the Vaugn Williams Tuba concerto, which is sacrelige, and I know Baritones play euph solos.

Is there an end in site to this terrible situation!??!?!?!?
Firstly, I agree to a point that often times the technical abilities of the bass trom player aren't given as stiff a test as they could be.

However - I just can't understand this boring/easy part mentality (usually from back row cornets, 2nd baris, 2nd horns and bass trom players, maybe to a lesser extent bass players).

Just because you might not have a page full of semi quavers doesn't mean that a) your part is easy, or b) you don't have a VITAL part to play in the performance.

Some parts are about sound - adding colour, and texture, supporting the band - and believe me it requires a great deal of skill to do that well. When you have a load of long notes and you're struggling to stay awake - try thinking about playing them perfectly in tune, perfectly in balance, with perfect production, perfect phrasing and with the appropriate sound. You'll soon find there are no easy pieces!

It really winds me up when you say to someone "whats your part like?", and they say "oh I've got nothing in it". Well how about instead of selfishly thinking about your own glory - think how you can add to the performance of the band and make everyone elses job easier by actually understanding how your part fits in and playing it spot on instead of just sitting there going through the motions.

The best bands have the best "2nd players" (for want of a better description), and the best basses. You can carry a few hit and miss soloists if the band sound is good and tight, and that comes from the basses, middle of band, and back row. Or as some people think the boring parts. No way.


Active Member
The Bass Trombone has a very distinct sound, which can be soloistic or used to create an additional colour within a group. However, when you are writing music which is aimed at a wider market (i.e. not just for Championship or upper 1st sections), then you have to consider the likelyhood of the Bass Trombonist being AWOL. This also applies to Percussion, Soprano Cornet etc. We all, I'm sure, know the perils of trying to secure players for lower section bands! :(
Therefore, it is certainly sensible to use it as part of the 'normal' group (i.e. with the other Trombones) and not have too many crucial, exposed passages.


Well-Known Member
Phil - good points. However, I am not a perfect human being! While appreciative of what we do receive, every so often I find myself resenting the consistent implication in the parts that I play that writing me material as relatively hard as is written for every other instrumental leader (and some lower players) in the band would cause the band a problem. I have spent a lot of time doing my best to fit in "simple" parts "perfectly" in a wide range of ensembles, and am aware of how distant a target perfection is.

In many ways it's a materialistic thing...




Masquerade's an absolute belter (and a bugger!). To your list I'd also add, Concerto Grosso - Bourgeois, Aubade - Aagaard Nilson (more a reading thing, though great exposed section work and a few solo's) and executing some of the quaver stuff in Harmony Music - Sparke is tricky if the conductor sets off at a flier.

Toby Bannan


Active Member
having actually paid attention for once last night, I think I can conclude that kaleidoscope has a much better bass trom part than 1st trom!

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