Alto Flügelhorn or Alto Tuba

Alto Flügelhorn or Alto Tuba or Alto Euphonium

Like the Piccolo Flügelhorn, I only include this instrument for completeness sake.  It is extremely rare, and I can find only a few examples of such an instrument ever having been manufactured.  In essence it is a wide bore Alto Horn.  Do not use this instrument in your writing.

That said…

The Mellophone as an Alto Tuba

I’ve gone back and forth in my head as whether or not to include the so-called “marching brass.”  In most instances, it’s a moot point.  Marching brass instruments are just reconfigured and redesigned versions of the traditional brass instruments.  There’s one exception though, the Mellophone.


There are actually two different instruments that go by the name Mellophone.  One is the older style instrument that is shaped like a Horn but pitched in alto F or E-flat and played with the right hand instead of the left.  The other instrument can more properly be called a “Mellophonium.”  This instrument is bell-front and looks like a giant Flügelhorn.  This version is the most commonly seen today in high school and college marching bands.

The Mellophone does not fit neatly into any one instrument family.  It is an odd mélange of the cornet, tuba, and horn families.  The wide bell flare is close to that of a Horn.  The bore structure is closer to cornets, but the bore width is closer to tubas.

It is clearly not a horn because the mouthpiece is not that of the deep funnel cup type, so the choice must be narrowed down to between a cornet and a tuba.  The closest analog is the Alto Horn.  Here we must look at specifics.  Alto Horns are pitched in E-flat while Mellophones are usually in F.  This means that the Alto Horn should be bigger all around than the Mellophone assuming that they are members of the same family.  However, this is not the case.  The Mellophone, in general, has a much wider bore than does the Alto Horn.  On average, the Alto Horn’s bore ranges between .409″ (top of the line professional) and .462″ (mid-range student) with an average of an 8.5″ bell, while the Mellophone’s bore is consistently .460″ with a 10″ to 11″ bell.  As we’ve placed the Alto Horn firmly in the cornet family, the means that the Mellophone should really be classified as a tuba.

This opens up an interesting world.  As we say in the entry on tuba species, there is no true member of the tuba family pitched in the alto voice range.  We go from soprano with the Flügelhorn to the tenor/baritone range with the Euphonium/Tenor Tuba.  The Mellophone could easily fill this gap.  I would like to think of it as just an Alto Flügelhorn pitched in F a fifth below normal.  I could easily replace the bottom voice in a group of Flügelhorns (say part four in a choir of four voices).  This will give an additional solo voice to the ensemble (one never before included in concert music), and will extend the range of the Flügelhorn section.

Some notes: the Mellophone (hereafter referred to as an Alto Tuba) should always be written in F transposing in the treble clef.  The instrument pitched in E-flat is a thing of a bygone age and no longer manufactured.  When being used as an Alto Tuba, it is essential that the widest bore instrument made be used for that part.  Also essential, is the use of the proper mouthpiece on the Alto Tuba.  Modern instruments are manufactured so that a trumpet mouthpiece can be used on the instrument, but the result is far from satisfactory.  In order to ensure proper results, a large, deep cup Alto Horn mouthpiece must be used by the player.  This will result in a warm, sonorous sound that will blend with the rest of the tubas.

Oddly, the Alto Tuba (Mellophone) has never been used in a concert setting.  This is probably a result of it being solely thought of as an instrument for the marching field.  However, if we remove ourselves from the football field, and realize that this instrument is not meant to be a substitute for the F Horn, then we are free to use it as it truly is – an Alto Tuba.

Summertime on Mellophone.  Note the wider bore and rounder south than the Alto Horn.

A section of 5 Mellophones


18 thoughts on “Alto Flügelhorn or Alto Tuba

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  4. Leifsrfalling

    I was curious. Assuming that a band had just enough horn players to cover the horn parts, who would be available to cover mellophone parts in the band?

  5. Ernesto Herrera

    Hey, i would like to know about your thoughts about the Fiscorn (bass flugelhorn). Would it be part of this Tuba Family? And what voice would it cover?

  6. I have a Cuesnon E-flat alto flugelhorn (or alto horn) SN# 75120. It has a two piece bell. I use it to play horn parts in two concert bands. I know there is probably a better made instrument out there somewhere ….with a one piece bell for instance and with better valves .. even rotary valves. Wonder if you knw of such an instrument?

      1. Emmett Anglin

        Thank you so much. O really do not want to have to go to Germany to hunt up a better alto instrument. I’ll go to Kanstul and have a look.

  7. Tim

    I’m going to avoid going on a tirade, but this is the craziest thing I’ve ever read. It should be massively obvious that the Mellophone is way too small to be a Tuba and sounds nothing like one. Then again, it should also be obvious that an Alto Horn is nothing like a Cornet, so whatever. It happens.

    The closest thing to Alto Tuba would be the old large bore (.500″) Alto Horns of the early 1900s. Those aren’t exactly growing on trees, but you can get an appropriate sound by just having a good Baritone Horn player on a suitable mouthpiece play in the same range. Mellophone cannot produce the same indistinct large sound as a Tuba. Technically, the modern Flugel doesn’t fit either, but that’s the best you can do.

    The idea of a full SATB range in a family of instruments with different keys needs to be dropped. It doesn’t work well and isn’t necessary. You can get a full SATB range from just 9′ Bb instruments. It’s cool to dig up obsolete horns, but don’t write for them.

    1. I hate to disappoint you, but in this, I feel that you are wrong on all counts. The mellophone is an alto flugelhorn with an oversized bell. This has been confirmed to me in person by Jack Kanstul who’s father invented the modern marching mellophone. That part cannot be disputed. Also, the mouthpiece for the mellophone is a larger version of the flugelhorn. This, of course, pre-supposes that the flugelhorn is a member of the tuba family, which is demonstrably is meeting all the characteristics that family has (large conical bore, capable of playing the fundamental pitch, etc.). The Alto Horn is a hybrid instrument but falls more in line with the characteristics of the cornets with a semi-conical bore and a cup mouthpiece.

      A tuba isn’t defined by having an “indistinct large sound.” A tuba has to be defined by quantifiable and repeatable characteristics, all of which are met by the flugelhorns and the mellophone.

      As to the idea that SATB part writing needs to be dropped, that happens to be your personal preference, and one many near-sighted composers and band directors share, but not one which I espouse.

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