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”

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).

Are the two types of Contrabass Trombone fundamentally different instruments?

Today, I ask an interesting question:

Are the two types of existing Contrabass Trombone, namely the instruments in F and B-flat, fundamentally different species on trombone?

We universally accept the modern Bass Trombone, pitched in tenor B-flat, as a bass.  No one, except a historical purist will argue this point.  For all intents and purposes, the true F Bass Trombone is extinct.  Because of this, today’s instrument in F, with one or two valves, is universally known as a Contrabass Trombone and not as a Bass.  This leaves the B-flat Contrabass Trombone as the outlier.

F Contrabass Trombone Range

B-flat Contrabass Trombone Range

Is the B-flat Contrabass Trombone, today, a Sub-Contrabass Trombone?

Historically, the B-flat Contrabass Trombone was not made with valves.  This means that the lowest available note was E1.  However, all modern B-flat Contrabass Trombones will have at least one valve, which will make the instrument capable of a low C1.  Both of these limits exclude the pedal range, which again, will extend the range even lower.

Converse to this, the modern F Contrabass instrument is capable of descending to a low F1 without using the pedal range.  Between the two instruments, we have a difference of a 4th in range.  In any other instrument family, we would classify two instruments a fourth apart as separate species.

Trombone players, in general, don’t like the large B-flat instrument.  Common quotes I’ve seen from players are along the lines of, “It’s too big,” It handles like a tank,” “It’s slow and sluggish.”  Oddly, professional tuba players will say the same thing about the B-flat Contrabass Tuba, which is why the C Contrabass Tuba is far more prevalent in professional groups.  The slightly shorter tube evidently makes a world of difference.  To this extent, Miraphone has recently constructed a C Contrabass Trombone with two additional valves.  Players who have played it say that it is a huge improvement from the B-flat instrument.

Players view the two instruments as tools to accomplish the same job.  It is expected that they, as would anyone, use the tool that is more efficient and takes less effort.

But, what if we composers and orchestrators treated the instruments differently?

What if we utilized the instruments as both a Contrabass Trombone (F) and a Sub-Contrabass Trombone (B-flat/C)?

For the standard composer/orchestrator, this would be overkill, but for a Hollywood session composer this could be a welcome addition.  Think of the raspy power of multiple Contra Trombone parts.

Maybe something like this…

I think, that in reality, we really do have two separate instruments that need to be handled differently and separately from one another.  For a creative orchestrator, there is, I’m sure, great possibilities here.

Trombones Part 2 – Trombones in the Band

Trombone in the Band

The traditional trombone section is comprised of three parts.  Usually, this is two Tenors and one Bass.  Occasionally, a fourth part is used.  If a fourth part is included, it is another Tenor part.  This is the standard section in an orchestra as well.  In a band, there can be more than one player on a part, whereas in an orchestra it is strictly one on a part.  Like I’ve said in other places, let’s use these extra players to our advantage.

The only works that I know that use Alto in a wind band setting are works from the 19th Century like Mendelssohn’s Trauermarsch.  I know of no reason the Alto shouldn’t be part of a wind band setting.

1 Alto Trombone

2 Tenor Trombones

1 Bass Trombone

This would be a very easy section to form assuming you have a player that is competent on the Alto.  Add to this a Contrabass, and we have a large section of five players with a huge range.

The sheer power of the trombone hit me full force when I started to study the score to the film Inception.  The composer Hans Zimmer uses a trombone section of 6 Tenors and 6 Basses/Contrabass.  Wow!  The sound is immense, powerful, and frightening!  I can imagine this sound in a band, and I like it.

We can think of a think of a large band section like this:

1 Alto Trombone

4 Tenor Trombones

2 Bass Trombones

1 Contrabass Trombone

This will give us a full section of 8 players.  Doublings are not needed here, but one might be made for the Contrabass player and have them take up a Bass or Tenor to save them from tiring from this exhausting instrument.  Very rarely does a Contrabass player play the Contrabass instrument for the entirety of a concert or work.  The Alto player might also take up the Tenor if needed.

I leave out the Soprano Trombone from the section, as I find it rather useless in the context of a trombone ensemble.  Its small sound won’t make an impact against a mass of Tenors and Basses.  Even the Alto has a small sound that might not cut through the mass.

The eight member ensemble can be both powerful and solemn at the same time.  Go listen to some trombone choir music, and you can hear the possibilities available from this majestic instrument.  In harmony, we get the majestic solemnity, in unison, we get the tremendous power.

A Bruckner chorale for 8 trombones (Tenor, Bass, and Contrabass).

Excerpts from Strauss’ Alpensymphonie for 10 trombones (Tenor, Bass, and Contrabass).

Bach’s Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor for Trombones (Tenor and Bass)

Trombones – Introduction

Trombone

Introduction            

The trombone is unique among wind instruments in that its method of tone production is not through keys or valves, but by means of a slide.  This fact is of course obvious to anyone who has ever seen a trombone in action before.  In fact, how often have we heard it called a “slide trombone?” Historically, the trombone is an old instrument, and on little changed since the 1400s.  In those six centuries the only changes to the instrument we’ve seen are the widening of the bore and bell and the addition of a valve or two to aid technique. Due to its use of a slide, the trombone was the first fully chromatic brass instrument, and it held its position as the only chromatic brass until the early 1800s when the valve was invented (here I discount extinct lineages such as serpents, keyed bugles, and ophicleides, that, while chromatic have no bearing on modern brass writing).  However, it is curious that this sole chromatic brass was only reluctantly added to the orchestra.  Its primary role was to reinforce choirs.  A group of trombones would play along with each of the vocal lines to ensure the pitch of the singers.  As such, up until around 1800 the instrument was thought of as only a church instrument.  The idea of a trombone being used for sacred music might come as a shock to those of us who only know the instrument in its modern usage: a loud, brash, and sometimes overbearing presence. An interesting thing to keep in mind is that the name trombone in Italian literally means “big trumpet.”  The -one ending means big (therefore a Clarone is a Bass Clarinet and a Violone is a big Viola or as we would call it a Double Bass).  This connection between trumpet and trombone is important because sound-wise they are identical.  They are both cylindrical bore cup-shaped mouthpiece brass instruments (the only ones that fit this description in fact) and therefore form a cohesive family. The trombone family has not changed much over the years.  The extreme ends (Soprano and Contrabass) are known to have been in existence for nearly as long of the other members of the family.  

Range Notes

Unlike the other instruments, I’ve included range charts that contain every note playable on these instruments.  When I use the term standard range, I refer to the non-pedal ranges.  With the Alto and Tenor Trombones, I do note include valve notes in the standard range because not every Alto or Tenor Trombone will have a valve.  Note, with the addition of valves, the number of positions is reduced by one (so that with both valves depressed a Bass Trombone has only 5 positions and an F Contrabass only has 4 positions).

The Entire Trombone Family

Species

Soprano Trombone

Alto Trombone

Tenor Trombone

G Bass Trombone

Bass Trombone

Contrabass Trombone