Instrument ranges and transpositions

saxophones | woodwind doubles | brass | rhythm | lead part writing


BRASS

Trumpet, Trombone, and Bass Trombone


Brass sections in big bands come in various sizes from the 3 trumpets and 1 trombone in the GRP All-Star Big Band to five trumpets and five trombones of the Stan Kenton and the University of North Texas bands. The most common instrumentation today is 4 trumpets and 4 trombones (3 tenors and 1 bass). There are two very specialized parts in the brass section, 1st Trumpet (lead) and 4th Trombone (bass). It is important that the arranger know the comfortable ranges of these instruments as they will vary from player to player and could, if not written correctly, have a negative impact on the success of an arrangement.

Angular, be-bop types of lines will not work well for brass instruments, especially when harmonized. It is best to double these types of lines with a woodwind instrument which will be better able to play awkward lines in a jazz legato style (see ORCHESTRATION-DOUBLING).

NOTE: The trumpet and trombone are cylindrical bore instruments; flugelhorn, French horn, euphonium, and tuba have conical bores. And thus, cylindrical bore instruments have a more direct, piercing sound and conical bore instruments have a warmer, softer sound.

Below are the general ranges for brass instruments, lead part writing is covered on another page.


Transposition: Up a major second from concert pitch.

Trumpets are known for a powerful and brilliant sound. They do their best work in musical situations which require aggressiveness. In other situations, such as ballads, where a less aggressive sound is needed a section of flugelhorns will work nicely. But, not all amatuer trumpet players will have access to a flugelhorn. Verify this with the trumpet section before writing flugelhorn parts. Be aware that flugelhorns have a tendency to create intonation problems, especially in the upper register and when played by younger trumpeters.


Sounds as written.

Trombones have the abillity to play with an attractive and sonorous sound or with a direct, pointed sound. The trombone section is normally the harmonic foundation of the big band, often playing sustained chords or syncopated punches. It is important that writers know the basics of trombone slide positions and techniques. Some lines are not able to be played well on trombone. Ask an accomplished trombonist to play your trombone parts and ask questions.


Sounds as written.

The bass trombone can function very easily as the fourth part of a tenor trombone section or with the other bass instruments in the big band. It will often double the bass guitar or baritone saxophone for added volume and punch to bass figures. The extreme low range is best reserved for syncopated tutti rhythms and sustain pitches, not eighth-note lines.

NOTE: Not all trombones with an added valve (or trigger) are bass trombones. Generally, bass trombones will have two valves and a bore size that is larger than the tenor trombone. The larger bore size makes playing in the low register easier and the added valves reduce some of the slide movement required to get from one note to the next.