Jump to content

Orchestration for Band: PART 2 - Brass

Recommended Posts

Orchestration for Band: PART 2 – Theory (Brass)

Before we begin discussing brass instruments and their use in the Band, please make sure you have familiarized yourself with both QcCowboy's Orchestration Masterclass thread regarding brass instruments, and the following Young Composer's Wiki Articles: TrumpetHornTromboneEuphoniumTuba

In the modern Orchestra, the expected complement of brass instruments is as follows: four Horns, three Trumpets, two Tenor trombones, one Bass Trombone, and one Tuba. The brass are considered the "power" instruments of the ensemble due the massive amount of sound the collective brass can produce. In fact, while the trumpet has a (somewhat-deserved) reputation for being possibly overpowering, with the exception of the Horns, any single brass instrument is capable of overpowering the entire orchestra.

In the Band there is a slightly greater variety in the number of brass instruments used as well as a greater number of players overall. In addition, the importance of the brass section is greatly expanded in the Band over the Orchestral brass section's traditional use.

The following articles will discuss each of the brass instruments used in the Band, the number of players usually encountered in the various ensembles, the commonly used number of parts the section is broken into, usable range restrictions, possible substitutions for instruments (for cueing), and frequently encountered issues to be concerned with when writing for the instrument. The instruments will be addressed in score order.

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 4 months later...

The Bb Trumpet (and the Bb Cornet)

The natural soprano instrument of the brass choir, the Trumpet is an agile, expressive, and powerful instrument, easily capable of dominating the entire ensemble with its brilliant timbre if given the opportunity. Though there are many sizes of trumpet (from piccolo to bass), the Band only ever uses the Bb Trumpet, though occasionally an advanced player may of his on volition play a part on another trumpet (typically, a C Trumpet, especially if the player is a professional). In such situations, the player will transpose the part as needed; the composer should only ever write for the Bb Trumpet.

The Bb Cornet is similar to the Bb Trumpet; the primary differences are the bore size/shape (partly conical, as opposed to the Trumpet’s cylindrical bore) and slightly mellower timbre. In the U.S., the Bb Cornet is very rarely found as compared to the ubiquitous Bb Trumpet. Despite the apparent usefulness of the different timbres, nearly all Bands use Trumpets exclusively.

This is complicated by the convoluted way that composers have historically scored for Trumpets and Cornets in their works for bands. Many composers have specified that the Trumpet section be split in the following ways:

1st Bb Trumpets; 2nd Bb Trumpets; 3rd Bb Trumpets OR

1st Bb Cornets; 2nd Bb Cornets; 3rd Bb Cornets OR

1st Bb Cornets; 2nd Bb Cornets; 3rd Bb Cornets; 1st Bb Trumpets; 2nd Bb Trumpets

The latter combination is common among older works for Band. Both Cornets and Trumpets are specified, though invariably all the parts are played by Trumpets. When this setup is used, the Cornet parts are typically more important and interesting than the Trumpet parts; the Trumpet parts are simpler, generally more rhythmic background parts (separate from the Cornet parts), such as an after-beat part of a March (rat-a-tat-tat, rat-a-tat-tat, etc. in unison rhythm with a snare drum part). Further complicating this situation, when the Cornet and Trumpet parts are in harmony, the typical voicing/importance would be (from top to bottom) 1st Bb Cornet, 2nd Bb Cornet, 1st Bb Trumpet, 3rd Bb Cornet, 2nd Bb Trumpet.

Due to this mish-mash of non-standardization, a frequent occurrence in Band rehearsals is the ever-present drama of Trumpet players playing different parts than they are assigned, or discovering that an entire part is missing (look, Ma, no 3rds!) because of shuffling of personnel or movement of music between players’ folders. This inevitably wastes an inordinate amount of time in rehearsal and can be quite frustrating for the composer, the conductor, the players themselves, and amongst the Band as a whole.

It is the opinion of this author that composers should not continue the tradition of playing semantics games by including Cornets in the ensemble (particular since the Cornet itself is rarely if ever used), but rather should only ever indicate the use of the Trumpet, to be divided into as many parts as required. As a guideline, the author recommends dividing the Trumpet section into three separate parts (1st Bb Trumpet, 2nd Bb Trumpet, and 3rd Bb Trumpet), though in simpler works for younger ensembles, two parts may be sufficient.

With this information as a guide, the typical professional Band will have 5 Bb Trumpets, with the players as evenly split between parts as practicable. In works with fewer than 5 parts, the 1st Trumpet/Cornet part will have 2 players to handle divisi sections and sometimes to provide breaks for the principal player. The remaining parts will be assigned as deemed appropriate by the director or as necessitated by the music.

A collegiate or community Band may have from five to twelve (or more!) Bb Trumpets, as the instrument is fairly popular. In a professional ensemble the variation of skill from player to player will be much less than in other ensembles. Indeed, in a non-professional group there may be a stark difference in ability from the principal 1st Trumpet to the last chair 3rd Trumpet. Composers have overcome this by normally giving any exposed, difficult, or important passages to the 1st Trumpets, while the 2nd and 3rd Trumpets have supporting harmony. It is not idiomatic for the lower Trumpets to play independent lines; the 2nd and 3rd Trumpets are nearly invariably placed in a lower register than the 1st, except when all Trumpets are playing a phrase in unison. The 2nd and 3rd Trumpets rarely, if ever, cross into a higher tessitura than the 1st Trumpets.

The following graphic illustrates the full range and recommended ranges of the Bb Trumpet (or Bb Cornet).



The recommended ranges are for: a.) Community band, b.) Collegiate band, and c.) Professional band (on the range chart, the 'chord' for each pair of notes indicates a typical range for the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Trumpet parts). As a general guideline in non-professional ensembles, the farther one goes from the first chair Trumpet in the ensemble, the smaller the player’s usable effective range will be, i.e., the player’s upper range is less likely to be usable or secure. The Bb Trumpet (or Bb Cornet) is always written exclusively in the treble (G) clef.

As the Trumpet is commonly encountered in the band, it is not often cross-cued in another part in the ensemble (except for simple landmark cues). Solos may occasionally be cross-cued for the Bb Clarinet, Oboe, or Eb Alto Saxophone depending on the character of the piece, not for support of the line, but as an alternate solo instrument; i.e., for greater programmatic variety, as Trumpets frequently have important solos in Band music.

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 1 month later...
This topic is now closed to further replies.
  • Create New...