top of page

Instruments of a brass band

Updated: Mar 12, 2019

British Brass Bands are limited to specific instruments; they don't include trumpets or French horns, for example, which would instead be found in orchestras or concert bands.


The standard instrumentation for a brass band is as follows:

1 soprano cornet (E♭)

9 cornets (B♭) – Front row: one principal cornet, three solo cornets

Back row: one repiano cornet, two 2nd cornets, two 3rd cornets

1 flugelhorn (B♭)

3 tenor horns (E♭) – solo, 1st, 2nd

2 baritone horns (B♭) – 1st, 2nd

2 tenor trombones (B♭) – 1st, 2nd

1 bass trombone (B♭)

2 euphoniums (B♭)

2 E♭ basses

2 BB♭ basses

Percussion

The above totals 27–29 players, although in practice a band often has fewer than this.


Standard percussion can include the drum kit, glockenspiel, timpani, tambourine, triangle, or bells.

Notation

With the exception of percussion, bass trombone and some tenor trombone music, all parts are transposing and written in the treble clef with the instrument's lowest open note (B♭ or E♭) notated as middle C. This means that for every valved instrument, from the basses to the soprano cornet, a given note on the stave corresponds to the same valve fingering, enabling players to move more easily between parts. This system is unique to UK-style brass bands, though historically the North American drum and bugle corps activity followed the brass band convention of all-treble-clef writing.


Tenor trombone music is usually in treble clef like the other instruments in the band, though older scores or marches sometimes use tenor clef.


Bass trombone music is written at concert pitch in bass clef. This was historically due to this part being taken by a G bass trombone, rather than the modern B♭ bass trombone. As instrument technology modernized, the need for a bass trombone in G diminished, with the introduction of the B♭ bass trombone with F rotary valve. The larger bore and open wrap of the F valve gave the B♭ bass trombone a lower available playing register than the straight G bass trombone.


Tuned percussion is written in concert pitch on the appropriate stave for the instrument - e.g. bass clef for timpani, treble clef for glockenspiel. Drum kit parts are written using standard percussion notation.


The Soprano Cornet


The Soprano Cornet is the highest pitched instrument in the band. It's very similar to the Cornet, but it's pitched in E♭. In a brass band there is only one. They can take the role of the leading melodic instrument in the band, play a harmonic support role, or play countermelodic lines.


The Cornet


The cornet is usually the leading melodic instrument in the band - it usually gets the 'tune'. Although it may look similar to a trumpet (which we don't use) there are some major differences. The cornet has a conical bore, a more compact shape and thus a much mellower tone quality. In a full brass band there are 8 - 9 of them but in practice there are usually less.


The Flugelhorn



There's only one flugelhorn in the brass band. It's is built in the same B♭ pitch as the cornet, but has a much darker and more mellow sound due to it's shape. It can play solos, play melodic lines with the cornets or take a role with supporting harmony. It's tone bridges the gap between the lower pitched tenor horns and the brighter cornets.


Tenor Horn


The tenor horn sits in the middle of the band. There are usually three of them and they can play solos / the tune, or accompaniment. It has a mostly conical bore, much like the higher pitched flugelhorn or the lower pitched baritone horn. It's the highest pitched instrument in the band that is played upright; they're designed like this so that the sound can blend before reaching the audience, a quality that is especially useful for accompaniment playing.


Baritone Horn

The baritone horn is lower pitched than the tenor horn. There are two of them in a brass band. Usually they play accompaniment parts but sometimes they take a melodic role. It is pitched the same as the euphonium but its bore is narrower, meaning it doesn't sound quite as mellow.



Euphonium

The euphonium is pitched the same as the baritone. The difference is that the euphonium has a larger bore size than the baritone, and the baritone is primarily cylindrical bore, whereas the euphonium is predominantly conical bore. In a standard band there are 2 of them. The name euphonium comes from ancient greek 'eu' (good/well) and 'phone' (sound) and means 'well sounding'. They can be have melodic or harmonic parts. They're very popular for solos because of their deep and mellow tone.



Trombones

There are two types of trombone in the band: the tenor trombones and the bass trombone. Both of them use a slide to pitch notes.


Tenor trombones are treated as transposing instruments and pitched the same as the euphonium or baritone horn. They're narrow bored and have no valves. They play melodic and harmonic parts. There are two of them in a brass band.



The Bass trombones is pitched in B♭. Its tubing length of 9 feet (2.7 m) is identical to that of the tenor trombone, but it has a wider bore, a larger bell, and a larger mouthpiece. These features generate an overall darker, weightier tone that speaks with a more assured authority in lower registers when compared to the tenor trombone. Modern bass trombones also have one or two rotary valves which, when engaged, change the key of the instrument. This allows the player to bridge the gap between the first partial with the slide in the first position and the second partial with the slide fully extended in the seventh position. These valves may be configured in a dependent or independent system. In a dependent system, the first valve lowers the key of the trombone to F. The second valve can only be engaged in conjunction with the first valve, and commonly lowers the key of the trombone to E. In a brass band there's only one bass trombone. It doesn't usually get solos, and instead bridges the gap between the tenor trombones, baritones and euphoniums and the basses.



Basses

The basses used in brass bands are generally of two types: the E-flat bass and the B-flat bass (sometimes called the “double B-flat” bass). Technically, the instrument is a type of tuba, but we call them 'basses' by convention for reasons I'll get to later! They're the largest of the brass instruments. The ones used in brass bands follow the upright pattern (similar to that of the euphonium). Most of these basses are constructed with four valves of the piston type.


As in any musical group, the role of the bass instruments in a brass band is to provide a foundation for the rest of the sound. An essential component of all good brass bands is a powerful bass section, which is sometimes felt rather than heard. In the hands of a skilled player, the bass can be an effective melodic instrument, although solo bass passages are rare. The instrument is rarely used as a solo instrument, but some bass solos have been published over the years.


The E flat bass is the smaller of the two types of bass used in the traditional brass band. It is pitched a fifth lower than the trombone or euphonium, and an octave lower than the horn. The bass parts are written in treble clef. An E-flat bass playing such a part sounds an octave and a sixth below the written (concert) pitch.


The B flat bass is the largest and lowest-pitched instrument in the brass band. It is pitched a fourth below the E-flat bass and an octave below the euphonium. The bass parts are written in treble clef. When written in this way, the B-flat bass sounds two octaves and a second below the written (concert) pitch. This two-octave difference between the written and actual sounds is sometimes credited with the common designation of this instrument as the double B-flat bass.


Why don't we call them tubas?

The tubas used in symphony orchestras are pitched in F or C. They're constructed with rotary rather than piston valves. And since orchestral parts are written in bass clef, the tuba part is read at concert pitch.


Percussion

A percussion instrument an instrument sounded by being struck or scraped by a beater, like a drum, a cymbal, or a xylophone.


Pitched percussion, like the glockenspiel, vibraphone or marimba are notated in concert pitch, but unpitched percussion, such as the drum kit is different. It's notated with a specific percussion clef:




7,630 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

Comments


Post: Blog2_Post
bottom of page