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

Tubas – Introduction

Tuba

Introduction

Tubas and Euphoniums and Flügelhorns, oh my.  When we think about these three instruments, we don’t normally associate them into a single coherent family, but that’s what they are.  The tubas, as I collectively call this group, are brass instruments whose bore is almost completely conical from the mouthpiece to the bell.  Their mouthpiece is also deeper than that of the trombones, trumpets, and cornets, but not as deep as the Horns.

This family has four extant members (and two extinct ones).  Two of these are of utmost importance to the standard wind band: the Euphonium and the Contrabass Tuba.  The Flügelhorn is a regular visitor, and the Bass Tuba may make an occasional visit, but more often than not is at home in the orchestra.

When we think of the tubas, we think of bass and the oom-pah sound, but the tuba family is noble and sonorous, warm and melodic.  Creative thinking and bandestration can change how we view this family.

With the exception of the two true tubas, none of these instruments have ever been sufficiently covered in orchestration texts, so I will go into slightly more detail here than I do for some of the other instruments.

As muting rules apply across the board for the tubas, I shall cover it in the broad introduction.  The only available mute for any of the tubas is the straight mute (though I have heard of creative tuba players making cup mutes out of ice cream cartons).  Mutes are rare for the Flügelhorn.  Mutes for the Bass and Contrabass Tubas are huge (resembling something NASA might put into orbit).  Make sure the player has enough time to insert and remove the mutes.

Species

Piccolo Flügelhorn

Flügelhorn

Alto Flügelhorn/Alto Tuba/Mellophone

Euphonium/Tenor Tuba

Bass Tuba

Contrabass Tuba