Whole-Tube and Half-Tube Instruments and the Pedal Range

In his classic text, Orchestration, Cecil Forsyth talked about brass instruments being classified into two categories – whole-tube instruments and half-tube instruments.

Whole-Tube Instrument – a brass instrument capable of playing its fundamental pitch (the so-called pedal tone).

Half-Tube Instrument – a brass instrument that cannot play its fundamental pitch.

harmonic series

Forsyth was never clear as to which instruments fell exactly into what category.  In general, he stated that tubas were most definitely whole-tube instruments while trumpets and cornets cannot.  He neglects to mention trombones in either category, but includes passages that show pedal tones. Continue reading “Whole-Tube and Half-Tube Instruments and the Pedal Range”

Trumpet vs. Cornet vs. Flugelhorn

While all played by the same performer, the Trumpet, Cornet, and Flugelhorn are all in different families of brass instruments and all have different sound qualities.  Knowing the differences between the three instruments is essential for good band and orchestral writing.

The B-flat Trumpet, B-flat Cornet, and B-flat Flugelhorn all have the same range, but it’s a combination of bore structure and mouthpiece design that give these three instruments wholly different characters.

Continue reading “Trumpet vs. Cornet vs. Flugelhorn”

Contrabass Trombone

Contrabass Trombone

F Contrabass Trombone Range B-flat Contrabass Trombone Range

Oh mightiest of brass instruments, thy sonorous depths are a thing of awe.  It was once said of the Bassoon that it was as if the sea god Poseidon was speaking, but with the Contrabass Trombone, we have the voice of Yahweh himself.  The ancient God of the Hebrews speaks though this rare and powerful instrument.  I have not been religious in many a year, but I will gladly bow down in reverence before anyone who can wield this bull of heaven. Have I gone over the top?  Probably.  But to the point, there is no other sound in the entire band, orchestra, or any other ensemble, save the ancient Tibetan Dung-Chen, that can parallel the sheer power and might of the Contrabass Trombone.  It’s utter size and length renders it ungainly for most.  For years, it was said to be nigh unplayable, but my experience has shown otherwise.   Continue reading “Contrabass Trombone”

Bass Trombone

Bass Trombone Bass Trombone Range

The Bass Trombone is unusual among all wind instruments in that the modern instrument bears no relation to its predecessor.  The modern Bass Trombone is, in reality, a modified Tenor Trombone.  The Tenor Trombone is pitched in B-flat – and so is the Bass. Confused yet? The original Bass Trombone was a large, ungainly instrument pitched in either G, F, or E-flat a third, fourth, or fifth below the standard Tenor Trombone.  The instrument was so large that the slide had to have a handle attached to it in order for the player to reach all the way out to sixth and seventh positions.  Players found this instrument tiring, and by the end of the Nineteenth Century, it had almost completely disappeared.  In its place was a Tenor Trombone with a single valve attached to it.  This valve lowered the fundamental pitch of the instrument, B-flat a fourth to F.  In conjunction with the valve, the bore of the instrument was enlarged to be of the same proportion as that of the old Bass Trombone.  The effect was a small instrument with a large bore that made the same sound as the older, larger instrument.  However, there was a problem with this arrangement.  Continue reading “Bass Trombone”

Tenor Trombone

Tenor Trombone Tenor Trombone Range

If we are to say just the word “trombone,” we automatically think of the ubiquitous Tenor Trombone.  In many ways, the Tenor Trombone is the simplest of all wind instruments.  A standard Tenor has only a slide to change the pitch.  It is unchanged except for bore size since the days of the Renaissance.  Like other common instruments, there is little about the Tenor that I can expound upon.            

The standard Tenor Trombone is pitched in B-flat, but it is not a transposing instrument.  The fundamental pitch of the slide when it is in its closed position is a 9 foot B-flat harmonic series.  Continue reading “Tenor Trombone”

Alto Trombone

Alto Trombone Alto Trombone Range

The Alto Trombone is a small trombone pitched traditionally a fourth higher than the Tenor Trombone.  From the earliest days of the trombone entering the orchestra, the Alto Trombone was a key member to the standard trio of trombones (one Alto, Tenor, and Bass), but by the later parts of the Nineteenth Century, the Alto was slowly losing ground and it completely disappeared from the orchestra by the turn of the century.  Only rarely afterward does it make an appearance in the orchestra as a special instrument. All this said, the Alto Trombone still exists and is becoming more widely used again by principal trombone players.  Parts originally written for the Alto in mind are today being played on that instrument.  Continue reading “Alto Trombone”