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 Tuba

Contrabass Tuba

Contrabass Tuba range

  • (Note: range does not include pedal notes)

We finally come to the bottom of the common band instruments, the Contrabass Tuba.  To most people, when we say tuba we are only referring to the Contrabass instrument, the Bass Tuba being an afterthought.

There are two sizes of Contrabass Tuba, the C and the B-flat.  The B-flat is used by students and amateurs, while the C is the instrument of choice for professionals.  To the bandestrator there should be no distinction between the two.  The sound and range will be identical.  Continue reading “Contrabass Tuba”

Bass Tuba

Bass Tuba

Bass Tuba range

  • (Note: range does not include pedal notes)

The Bass Tuba, a common sight in the orchestra, is now a rarity in the band.  The tuba we all know and love is the Contrabass Tuba.  The Bass Tuba is pitched either in F or E-flat a fourth or fifth below the Euphonium.  F is the instrument of choice in the United States and for much of Europe, while the E-flat instrument is common in Britain.  At one time, Bass Tubas were quite often seen in the concert band, and many older parts reflect this.  Continue reading “Bass Tuba”

Euphonium or Tenor Tuba

Euphonium or Tenor Tuba

non-compensating Euphonium range

compensating Euphonium range

As the Euphonium is almost entirely a band instrument, it has been neglected by most orchestration texts.  I will try and rectify this and cover as much detail as possible.  The Euphonium is one of the quintessential band instruments.  Every band will have at least one Euphonium player (and possibly a whole section of them).  However, its use in the orchestra is highly limited. Continue reading “Euphonium or Tenor Tuba”


Flügelhorn or Soprano Tuba

flugelhorn range

4-valve flugelhorn range

Most of us think of the Flügelhorn as a big, fat trumpet, but the reality is that it bears no relation to the trumpet family whatsoever.  The Flügelhorn is a Soprano Tuba, as it possesses the constant increase in its bore from mouthpiece to bell that signifies a true tuba.  While the Flügelhorn may be a member of the tuba family, it is always played by a trumpeter.  This relates to the rule of thumb of brass players doubling not members of their instrument’s family, but other instruments of the same pitch class. Continue reading “Flügelhorn”


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, 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.