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”

Flügelhorn

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”

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…

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.

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