…And Other Low Brass Range Questions.
Back when I started college, I was a music composition major. I had played euphonium and trombone primarily. So, it was a bit embarrassing when I started writing music and didn’t know the answers to basic low brass range questions like: what is the range of a bass trombone?
Sure, I was required to buy an orchestration book that gave ranges, but these are often not useful.
For example, orchestration books often don’t address the following:
- What’s expected of a high school player?
- There’s usually no mention that the lowest note is an absolute.
- The highest note is actually only a suggestion.
Now that I’ve played every low brass instrument in quite a few situations, I have a much better feel for what can be expected. Here’s my take on the ranges of common low brass instruments.
Remember, this is going to vary quite a bit based on the precise skill level of a given player.
For information on the basics of trombone, check out my article on trombone slide positions.
Euphonium and Tenor Trombone Range
Beginners will be able to play comfortably in the range low G to middle C:
Intermediate players will be able to play low E to high F above middle C:
The important thing to note here is that the low E is the lowest note that can be produced on many student models of these instruments. To play below a low E, the instrument requires an F-trigger on trombone or a 4th valve on euphonium.
Many of these instruments can’t actually produce a proper low E without significant adjustments due to the 1-2-3 valve combination producing a significantly sharper E than if it were done with 2-4.
For this reason, I would never write a note below the low F in high school level music and below. I recall several rehearsals in high school where I had to explain to someone next to me that their instrument couldn’t make the notes written on the page.
This is frustrating for the players and unnecessary on behalf of the composer/arranger. Orchestration books tend to assume a “euphonium” has 4 valves, when this isn’t always the case.
The full range is a bit complicated. I’ll write it as the pedal B-flat all the way up to the B-flat three octaves higher:
Here’s a few things to keep in mind. A good trombone or euphonium player will very easily play higher than that. I’d have no problem playing the D above that in a solo context.
But this should be greatly minimized in general ensemble music. On the low side, pedal notes below the B-flat can be played by competent players with ease. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen this written in actual music, though.
The B-natural a half step above the pedal B-flat should be avoided at almost all costs. Depending on the make/model, it can be impossible to play the low B-natural without falsely lip-ing the note down into position.
Bass Trombone Range
I’m just going to give a single range for bass trombone. This is because it would be very strange to use a bass trombone in any “easy” or even “intermediate” level pieces.
The most common thing is for beginner and intermediate players to learn on a tenor trombone and switch later.
I’d mostly stick to the following range:
Now, the bass trombone more or less has the same range as a tenor trombone. The main difference is that it will have an F-trigger and a D-trigger. The bore size is slightly larger, too.
This means it can play the low range and pedal tones easier. It also means you could definitely write higher than the F, but I’m not sure why you’ve chosen to use a bass trombone at that point.
For a standard B-flat tuba, see the section on tenor trombone and euphonium. The exact same range applies at all levels except down one octave.
(More on instrument differences can be found here.)
I’d also treat pedal notes a bit more cautiously. Advanced players can play them, but the sound might not be what you’re expecting. It also takes so much air that it’s probably not worth it.
There are other keys of tuba. But you should not be overly concerned with this. Tuba parts are always written as concert pitch in that range. A tuba player may choose to play that part on a different instrument for ease or tone quality purposes.
It will be up to the tuba player to transpose this music.