The “piccolo flute” of a brass band, this is pitched in Eb, several notes (a fourth) above the main cornets. It is usually the instrument that plays the ‘twiddly bits’ up the top, adding musical decoration to the piece in question
As the highest pitched instrument in the band, it is also the hardest to get – and keep – in tune, and being so high, if it’s not in tune it can sound terrible. However, in tune and on a good player’s good day, it can be lovely to listen to!
In appearance it is very similar to the Bb Cornet (below) except its dimensions are slightly less and, of course, when you look closely, it has less tubing.
The soprano is one of three instruments of which there are only ever one in a brass band (the others are the flugel horn and the bass trombone).
All the other cornets in the band are (musically) the same, pitched in Bb and almost the same instrument as a trumpet, except that the cornet has a warm round tone, against a trumpet’s harsher ‘fanfare’ sound.
The four or five solo cornets (including the principal and asst principal) usually play in unison and tend to carry the tune most of the time. The second and third cornet parts are often rhythms and low harmonies – and the repiano sometimes plays the tunes with the solos but maybe a third down, and other times is with the seconds and thirds but usually a bit higher!
There are two basic types of tone in the instruments of a brass band; a brighter, quick-sounding style, eg cornets, trombones, etc; and a warmer, fuller sound – the flugel horn personifies the latter and has a lovely tone that makes it ideal for the slow, ‘last dance’ type of tune. It can produce one of the most beautiful sounds that come out of a brass band!
Although pitched in Bb, its conical tubing is wider than the cornet’s and not coiled up so much; it could be described as a ‘soprano horn’ as the tubing is much closer in type to the tenor horn than the cornet (see the pictures, left and right, for comparison).
Like the soprano, there is only ever one flugel horn in a brass band.
An instrument with a bright sound and pitched at Eb, a fifth down from the cornets and an octave down from the soprano, the tenor horn is the smallest of the instruments with an upright bell, and a very flexible instrument
Also one of the brighter-sounding instruments, the baritone is pitched at Bb, an octave down from the cornets.
A very under-appreciated instrument, it almost never gets given solos although its parts are usually very important to the overall sound of a piece. It is sometimes teamed up with the flugel and tenor horns, forming a choir of the smaller horns that can sound very effective.
A brass band uses two baritones, one on each of two parts.
Whilst pitched at exactly the same level as the Baritone, the Euphonium has a warm sound; its tubing is wider in proportion to its size and it often has a fourth valve, enabling it to play, in tune, low notes that would be out of the range of the smaller instruments.
It is probably the next most popular instrument to carry the tune after the cornet – perhaps you could say that the cornets tend to have the higher tunes and the euphoniums the lower ones!
There are usually two euphoniums in the band, but only one p art, on which they double up – unless it is split (two lines written, one each played by each player) or marked ‘solo’, of course.
The bright sound of the tenor trombone is very popular with composers, in particular where a note of humour is to be included – the only instrument in the band to use a slide instead
It is pitched in Bb, the same as the baritones and euphoniums, an octave down from the cornets. There are two tenor trombone parts, usually played by one player each.
The third of the “odd one out” instruments, the bass trombone is usually pitched in G, below the tenor trombones and tends to play either similar parts to the basses (tubas) or a harmony part to the tenor trombones.
It’s sound is a deeper version of the tenor trombones and when used with the tubas can produce a wonderful almost rasping version of their notes that cuts through the band in a way the tubas, with their rounder sound, can’t usually do.
Most bass trombones have either one or two extra bits of tubing, accessed by rotary valves (similar to the piston valves on the other instruments, but accessed by a rotating key instead of the straight up-and-down movement of the piston version). This enables them to get a greater range of notes more easily.
Eb & BBb Bass (tuba)
Everybody’s favourite “oompah” instrument, the bass (or tuba) comes in two flavours in a brass band – the smaller Eb (only smaller by comparison!), and the ‘big daddy’ of the brass band, the BBb. These are pitched respectively a fifth and an octave below the Euphonium, and complete the brass band family.
They are remarkably flexible for all their size; the Eb in the hands of the right player can sound just as lyrical as a euphonium whilst the weight of sound coming from the BBb is sometimes such that one almost feels rather than hears the sound!
The basses often play in harmony to each other and in a brass band are usually found in pairs of each, although there is only one Eb and one BBb part.
Having percussion in a brass band adds greatly to the overall effect of the music and is much more than just drums. In fact, there are many different instruments that fall under the percussion banner, including drums, cymbols, wood blocks, xylophones and even whistles! Some pieces of music require several percussionists.