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”

Various 19th Century Brass Instruments

The 19th Century was a century full of experimentation, especially in France.  We often have the idea that Paris was highly conservative, and in many regards, it was.  In the middle of the 1800s, the music being composed there was not highly original or innovative.  Berlioz  was the lone bright shining star of creativity, all other composers were mired in the Conservatory’s conservatism.

However, outside of musical composition, Paris was full of innovation.  One of my favorite authors, Jules Verne,  can be seen as one of the most innovative and forward thinking individuals of all time.  Technology and exploration was king.  It is in this line that the musical instrument manufacturers fell into.  In this era, we got such instruments as the saxophone, the saxhorn, and the sarrusophone as well as a whole host of other instruments that are long since forgotten.

Saxotrombas

Adolphe Sax can be credited for creating no less than 4 families of new instruments.  Two are well-remembered, but two have slipped into obscurity. The saxotromba was patented in 1845.  We know surprisingly little about this group as few surviving members of the family are extant.  What we do know, is that these instruments were somewhere in bore shape between a trumpet and a natural horn.  That is to say, they were mildly conical, but no so conical as a cornet.  The mouthpiece was cup-shaped like a trumpet but unlike the deep conical cup of the saxhorn.  They were used for a time in French bands, but were abandoned by the 1860s.  Interestingly, Richard Wagner first envisioned the Bass Trumpet part in his Ring Cycle for the Alto Saxotromba in E-flat (and for the Wagner Tuben to be played by saxhorns).  Evidently, the saxotromba was made in the exact same sizes and pitches as the saxhorns.

Saxtuba

These were yet another creation of M. Sax.  Again, little is known and only a few are extant.  These are almost identical to his saxhorns except in their shape.  Saxhorns were either made in tuba shape (bells up) or in trumpet shape (bells forward).  Saxtubas, on the other hand, look curiously like Sousaphones.  They were designed to look like Roman Buccine, and thus would be perfect for Respighi’s Pines of Rome.  There seems to have been used only twice – once in an opera by Halévy and once in a parade.

Sudrophone

Sax did not have a monopoly on creating unusual brass instruments.  The most unusual of the 19th Century brass instruments is most assuredly the sudrophone.  While they are very close to a saxhorn, they are shaped closer to a valved ophicleide. However, sudrophones have distinguishing one feature.  Sudrophones came with a vibrating membrane in the bell.  This membrane is reminiscent of the Chinese flute the Di (or Dizi) which has a similar membrane.  The membrane could be switched on an off if the resultant buzzing was not desired.

Antoniophone and Orpheon

The two instruments were essentially the same thing only differing by the brand name given by the maker. Antoniophone were made by Courtois, while Orpheons were made by Boosey. These instruments were essentially saxhorns.  The only difference here was the shape.  They were shaped somewhat like a saxophone with a curved bell that pointed upwards.  I’ll let this video do most of the explaining.

Needless to say, all of these instruments have faded from use.  As they are in some way or another slight modifications of existing instruments, there seems to be absolutely no reason to revive them for modern usage.

Saxhorns

I’ve purposely skirted around the subject of Saxhorns throughout my run of this blog.  Saxhorns are really a complete mess of a family.  Adolphe Sax intended them to be a homogeneous family of valved brass instruments.  However, to say that these instruments are wholly his invention would be false.  All he did was make them uniform and slap his name on the family.

There are usually thought to be 7 members of the family

  1. E-flat Sopranino
  2. B-flat Soprano
  3. E-flat Alto/Tenor
  4. B-flat Tenor/Baritone
  5. B-flat Bass
  6. E-flat Bass/Contrabass
  7. B-flat Contrabass

In addition to this, there are references to a B-flat Piccolo and  E-flat and B-flat Subcontrabasses or Bourdons.

A performance and explanation (in German) of Adolphe Sax’s instruments using original instruments from Sax.

Numbers 1 through 4 can be thought of as one family, while numbers 5 though 7 can be thought of as a second.  Numbers 5, 6, and 7 are the easiest to deal with, so I shall tackle them first.

The Whole-Tube Saxhorns

A whole-tube instrument is a brass instrument that is able to play the fundamental (i.e. pedal) note with ease.  These are usually wide-bore conical instruments.  Today, we call these tubas.  Saxhorns number 5, 6, and 7 are simply nothing more than today’s Euphonium, E-flat Tuba, and B-flat Tuba, which Sax standardized and somewhat perfected.  Numbers 5 and 6 had four valves, while number 7 had only 3.

The Half-Tube Saxhorns

A half-tube instrument is a brass instrument that cannot play its fundamental pitch easily.  Saxhorns 1 through 4 can usually be placed in the half-tube grouping.  These instruments all have three valves.  Numbers 3 and 4 are virtually identical to today’s Alto/Tenor Horn and Baritone Horn.  In fact, in France, these are still sometimes referred to as Saxhorns.  Numbers 1 and 2 are a little trickier.  Some say that they are closer to cornets while others say they are closer to flügelhorns.  The truth is, they are probably somewhere in between cornets and flügelhorns.  A cornet is firmly a half-tube instrument while a flügelhorn is firmly a whole-tube instrument.  Sax’s original instruments probably could play the fundamental, but not easily.  What seems likely is the the early instrument, and most of those made by Sax himself were closer to cornets, while later instruments, notably those by other manufacturers, were closer to flügelhorns.

A later Sax-made Sopranino Saxhorn in flügelhorn style

A later Sax-made Soprano Saxhorn in flügelhorn style

Over-The-Shoulder Instruments

OTS saxhorns were a purely American take on the instrument.  These became popular during the Civil War when bands would march in front of the troops going in to battle.  These instruments had bells that pointed backward so that the sound pointed towards the marching troops.  There are several modern groups that use these instruments in Civil War reenactments.

Today

Today, the saxhorns are still with us, but mostly under different names.

  1. E-flat Sopranino – E-flat Cornet
  2. B-flat Soprano – B-flat Cornet
  3. E-flat Alto – Alto Horn
  4. B-flat Tenor – Baritone Horn
  5. B-flat Bass – Euphonium
  6. E-flat Bass – E-flat Tuba
  7. B-flat Contrabass – B-flat Tuba

This is the standard make up of 80% of the modern British brass band, something that Adolphe Sax would immediately recognize.  The name Saxhorn has completely fallen out of use – save in one instance…

The French Orchestral Saxhorn

In France, there is still an instrument called simply the Saxhorn.  It is a bass instrument pitched in C a step above the modern Euphonium.  It has a minimum or four valves, though as many as six are common.  This was the standard French tuba for a large part of the 20th Century and the sound that many French composers, including Ravel, had in mind.  Due to the instrument being a whole-tube instrument and having extra valves, it is able to play most of the tuba repertoire despite being the smallest of the bass tuba instruments.

A List of All Available Brass Mutes

This post is more of a catalog of availability than suggestions or orchestration

Horn

  • Straight
  • Stopping
  • Cup (rare)

Wagner Tuben

  • Straight

E-flat Cornet

  • Straight
  • Cup
  • Harmon (rare)
  • Plunger
  • Hat/derby

B-flat Cornet

  • Straight
  • Cup
  • Harmon
  • Plunger
  • ClearTone
  • Bucket
  • Hat/derby
  • Pixie (straight mute used in combination with plunger)

Alto Horn

  • Straight
  • Cup

Baritone Horn

  • Straight
  • Cup

Piccolo Trumpet

  • Straight
  • Cup
  • Harmon
  • Hat/derby

Trumpet

  • Straight
  • Cup
  • Harmon
  • Plunger
  • Cleartone/solotone
  • Bucket
  • Hat/derby
  • Pixie (straight mute used in combination with plunger)

Bass Trumpet

  • Straight
  • Cup
  • Harmon

Alto Trombone

  • Straight
  • Hat/derby

Tenor Trombone

  • Straight
  • Cup
  • Harmon
  • Plunger
  • Bucket
  • Cleartone/solotone
  • Hat/derby
  • Pixie (straight mute used in combination with plunger)

Bass Trombone

  • Straight
  • Cup
  • Harmon
  • Plunger
  • Bucket
  • Hat/derby
  • Pixie (straight mute used in combination with plunger)

Contrabass Trombone

  • Straight

Cimbasso

  • Straight

Flügelhorn

  • Straight
  • Cup
  • Harmon
  • Bucket
  • Solotone/cleartone

Mellophone

  • None

Euphonium

  • Straight
  • Bucket (rare)
  • Cup (rare)

Tuba (Bass and Contrabass)

  • Straight
  • Bucket (rare)
  • Cup (rare)

With some of the rarer instruments, like Flügelhorn, Mellophone, Alto Horn, Bass Trumpet and others, they can use mutes designed for some of the other brass instruments (in most of these cases, the Tenor Trombone).

Brass Mutes

In my initial posts on the brass instruments, I did not spend a lot of time covering mutes.  Here, I rectify this.  It’s virtually impossible to write about the sound of mutes.  Instead, I will link to videos demonstrating the different varieties.

Trumpet

This video demonstrates four different trumpet mutes: bucket, straight, cup, and harmon (a.k.a. bubble or wah-wah).

This video is by the same player using a different brand of mutes: harmon, fiber straight, cup, and plunger.

Demonstration of a plunger mute.

Demonstration of a harmon mute

Performance on a bucket mute

Debussy’s Fetes from Nocturnes. One of the most famous muted trumpet passages in the orchestral literature.

All trumpet mutes work on cornet.

Piccolo Trumpet 

“Samuel Goldenberg and Schmulye” from Pictures at an Exhibition

Trombone

Demonstration of straight, cup, bucket, and plunger

Demonstration of a bucket mute

Demonstration of harmon and solotone mutes

Flügelhorn

Demonstration of a straight mute

Demonstration of a cup mute

Euphonium and Tuba

Demonstration of straight (practice) mute on Euphonium.

Euphoniums and Tubas using cup mutes

Demonstration of a straight mute for tuba

Demonstration of a bucket mute for tuba

…and now for something completely different…

The Heavy Brass – Introduction to Cornets, Trumpets, Trombones and Tubas

The Heavy Brass

(Cornets, Trumpets, Trombones, and Tubas)

            Aside from the Horn (and its close kin the Wagner Tuba), all other brass instruments can be grouped together into a semi-cohesive family.  These instruments; namely cornets, trumpets, trombones, and tubas; utilize a standard harmonic series that ascends to the eighth harmonic.  Anything above this harmonic is considered advanced technique.  This is in contrast to the Horn, which regularly ascends all the way up to the sixteenth harmonic.

Valves – Basic technique for all of the valve instruments (cornets, trumpets, and tubas) is exactly the same from family to family.  Each instrument has at least three valves.  The standard arrangement of the valves is:

1st valve – lowers pitch by a whole tone

2nd valve – lowers pitch by a semi-tone

3rd valve or 1st and 2nd valves – lowers pitch by a minor third

1st and 3nd valve – lowers pitch by a fourth

2nd and 3rd valves – lowers pitch by a major third

1st, 2nd, and 3rd valves – lowers pitch by a tri-tone

Together, there are a total of seven (or eight if we count the double of 1st and 2nd equaling 3rd) positions, and with these we can get a complete chromatic scale of two-and-a-half octaves.  Many of the larger instruments will possess a fourth and even a fifth valve.  The fourth valve traditionally lowers the pitch by a fourth.  The other valves will vary depending on maker.

Most of the heavy brass will possess piston valves, though many tubas and some European trumpets and Flügelhorns will possess rotary valves like the Horn.

 

Mutes – All brass instruments are capable of changing their sound via the use of a mute inserted into the bell of the instrument.  The name mute is somewhat confusing as it does not dampen the sound of brass instruments, but rather it changes the color of the sound produced.  Four mutes are commonly found: the straight mute, the cup mute, the harmon or wah-wah mute, and the plunger mute.

Straight mute – When a part is marked simply as “muted,” then the default mute of choice is the straight mute.  This is the one universal mute common to all brass instruments.  Various models exist from mutes made of cardboard, metal, or wood.  Each material will give a slightly different sound.  The general effect of a straight mute is to give a raspy, buzzing sound.  When calling for a straight mute, write either “muted” or “straight mute” in the part.

Cup Mute – A cup mute looks like a straight mute with a hat on.  This mute is generally only available for the trumpets, B-flat Cornets, and tenor and Bass Trombones.  The sound of the cup mute is curious and warm, not unlike the sound of clarinets.  When calling for a cup mute, write “cup mute” in the part.

Harmon Mute – This odd mute is the only mute that comes in two pieces.  The main part of the mute is a bulbous chamber with a hollow passage in the center.  In this passage, a stem can be inserted.  The position of the stem in the bulb will change the quality of the sound.  The sound of the harmon mute is very raspy, and can be made to sound as if from afar.  When calling for a harmon mute, write “harmon mute, stem in” or “harmon mute, stem out.”

Plunger Mute – The plunger mute is the simplest of all mutes.  It is simply the rubber end off of a toilet plunger.  This mute will only be able to be used by trumpets, cornets, Flügelhorns, and trombones.  No plunger is made to cover the bell of a Euphonium or tuba.  The plunger mute is manipulated by the left hand, and the player is directed to open and close the mute via markings (+ means closed, and o means open).

Muting effects without mutes – With any bell-front instrument, the player may be directed to “play into the stand.”  The means, the bell of the instrument is placed very close to the music stand to block some of the sound that will reach the audience.  Players may also be asked to turn around and face the back wall to change the amount of sound that reached the audience.  Typically, these effects are not asked for in the score, but are performance practices made by the player and conductor.

 

Doubling – Unlike woodwinds where a player will double on other members of their instrument’s family (like a saxophone player playing Soprano, Alto, and Baritone), brass players do not double within their family.  Instead, brass players double across pitch classes.  This means that a player will specialize in a particular range.

Soprano Player – A soprano brass player will play the following instruments: E-flat and B-flat Cornets, all trumpets except Bass, Soprano Trombone, and Flügelhorn

Tenor Player – A tenor brass player will play the following instruments: Baritone Horn, Bass Trumpet, Alto, Tenor, and Bass Trombone, and Euphonium.

Bass Player – A bass brass player will play the following instruments: Bass and Contrabass Tubas.

I have left off a few instruments from this list such as Alto Horn and Contrabass Trombone.  Alto Horn seems to fit neither the role of Soprano or Tenor, so finding a player to double on this instrument may present a challenge.  The Contrabass Trombone can be played by either a tenor or a bass player, but is more of a specialty instrument.

With these lists, we can see that a competent soprano player may be called on to play instruments in all four families of heavy brass.

Marching Brass – All forms of marching brass instruments fall into the category of heavy brass.  These instruments include the Mellophonium (commonly, but mistakenly called a Mellophone); marching Horns, Baritone, Euphoniums, Tubas, Trombones; the Sousaphone; and the whole family of marching “Bugles.”

As I have never heard a single note of MUSIC or artistry come out of any of these instruments, I disregard their existence in this book aside from this brief mention.  As soon as someone takes up the mantel of presenting any of these instruments as viable options for a musical setting, then we may be able to open up to their use.

It is sad that an entire family of homogenous instruments, the so-called bugles, have never been used by a single musician.  Alas!  But we have a whole host of other brass instruments more than capable of carrying out their part.

I may revisit marching brass at a later date.  I may not.