• Brass Band 101 - Dublin Silver Band

    Dublin Silver Band: Brass Band 101
    (used here with permission)

    List of roles for every seat in the traditional British Brass Band

    The Brass Band is too often mistakenly treated like a brass ensemble or EVEN a wind band. These are a few concepts that are what set the brass band apart from other ensembles.

    • The brass band should be thought of as a combination of many 4-part ensembles stacked on top of one another:
      • Front row cornets
      • Back row cornets
      • Horns
      • Euphoniums and Baritones
      • Tubas
      • The "oddball" section is the Trombone section. This section must be very conscious of their specific melodic, textural, and harmonic roles.
      • Each individual member of these four-part groups has essentially the same role as their counterparts in the other four-part groups of the band.

    • There are times in the music where it IS acceptable to leave a note or two out simply because of the fact that it most likely will be played (doubled) in another voice.
    • In the four outer corner seats of the band sit the Eb Soprano Cornet, the Principal Bb Cornet, the Solo Euphonium, and the 1st Trombone. These for players are the four biggest contributors to the sound of the band.
    • The Principal Bb Cornet player should be known as "the leader of the left side of the band". This means that their sound should be what all of the Bb Cornets, the Eb Cornet, and often times the Bb Flugelhorn and Eb Tenor Horns should try to emulate.
    • Much different than in a wind band setting, the Solo Euphonium plays arguably the LARGEST role in the formation of the band's sound. Like the Principal Bb Cornet leads the left side of the band, the Solo Euphonium leads the right side of the band.
    • The 1st Trombone is the "oddball" of the corner players in that this player doesn't necessarily lead a side of the band as much as they just add to the sound. The 1st trombone is the driving force behind the edge of the band sound.
    • With the brass band being such a "chamber-like" ensemble, breathing is an important topic of interest. Breathing between a player and their neighbor should be ALWAYS planned out and written into parts. In other words, lose the concept of waiting for the person next to you to breathe. Ever player must think about "collective phrasing" instead of every player making the ENTIRE phrase. If you use this concept, extremely loud volume can be retained for longer periods of time.
    • Often times in the band (especially the cornet section) not EVERY player should play EVERY note. The best bands are full of masters of rewriting parts and splitting up parts to make it easier to play pieces and make music sound cleaner. The number one goal of sections should be to make the music SOUND correct, not always played note-perfectly.
    • When playing with stand-up featured soloists, band members must be constantly aware of balance. It is crucial that each player knows specifically when the band is playing accompaniment and when it is playing tutti. Except in the loudest and most aggressive music (with the strongest soloists) should accompaniment parts be doubled. Limiting to two solo cornets (spelling each other within the quartet), one each 2nd and 3rd cornet, one euphonium, and one each of the basses will not only reduce volume but lighten up the texture to allow the soloist to be heard. Other instruments which normally play one on a part need to be aware of doublings in their section or similar voices throughout the ensemble.

    List of Instrumentation (may vary depending on piece) and roles:

    Cornets (Recommended players to listen to: Richard Marshall, Tom Hutchinson, Roger Webster)
    The cornet is a wonderfully versatile instrument. In the hands of a skilled player, it should demonstrate a lyrical, singing character. However, the cornet's sound is not dull or dark. The cornet should have a complex series of overtones, much more evenly represented than that of the trumpet (whose tonal character is made up of mostly fundamental and upper harmonics), yet maintain its lyrical character. It is a misconception that the cornet sound should never have brilliance. At forte and louder, the cornet's sound should have plenty of edge, but not the sizzle of the jazz trumpet or bite of the orchestral trumpet. The cornet's brilliance is tempered from the audience's perspective because they seldom hear the cornet sound straight on, since the section sits with their bells pointing 90 away. (Intentionally "swinging" or pointing toward the audience can provide a dramatic aural and visual effect.)

    Eb Soprano Cornet (Recommended players to listen to: Peter Robert's, Paul Richards, Jon Vegar Sole Sundal)
    The Eb Soprano Cornet is the top voice of the brass band. The Eb Soprano Cornet should be treated somewhat like a piccolo is treated in a wind band; adding color and sparkle to the top of the harmonic spectrum. The soprano cornet is not, and should not be approached as, a piccolo trumpet. In terms of timbre differences, the spectrum should be HUGE; ranging from a sound as sweet as a soprano voice all the way to a sound as piercing and dominating as a big band lead trumpet. The prevalent sound should be sweet and light, floating on top of the ensemble. Only occasionally, when voiced to add brilliance in unison or octave to the ff solo cornet sound, should the soprano be bright and edgy. Only in the infrequent jazz-style voicing is the soprano analogous to the lead trumpet in a big band. In the tutti band sound the soprano should add to the ensemble's color without being prevalent. The Eb soprano player should work with the trombone section on the loudest parts to be the "orchestral brass section" of the brass band. At other times they should blend in with the rest of the band, only adding texture. They should always look in the music for places where they are in unison with other cornets and OMIT these parts to save themselves for more exposed sections and loud sections where it is essential for this voice to be heard.

    Principal Bb Cornet
    The role of the Principal Bb Cornet player is to be the leader of the entire top half of the band (This includes all cornets, flugelhorn, and tenor horns). The sound set up by this player should be what this half of the band should try and emulate and match. This player should play all parts marked "solo". This seat should be filled with the vocal leader as well. The section should always apply what this player wants for specific places in the music.

    2nd Solo Cornet
    The second seat Solo Bb Cornet should be the "first call" player. This person must be prepared to play any solo at any moment if for some reason the first player is unable to play. In 2 part split parts, this player should take the top part, then becoming the support for the principle player. In 4 part split parts, this player should take the second highest line. This player should also play all "one" parts.

    3rd Solo Cornet
    The third seat Solo Bb Cornet is the leader of the "support" group of this row. This player should produce the "meat" of the Solo Cornet row. They should also take the lower part in 2 part split parts and the 3rd part down in 4 part splits.

    4th Solo Cornet
    This player is the "bass" of the solo cornet row. This player provides support to the 3rd player in 2 part splits on the bottom part. This player also takes the 4th part on 4 part split parts.

    Repiano Cornet
    The Repiano Cornet serves as the leader of the back row cornet section. This is usually the second most important part in the section (behind the Principal Bb Cornet). This player serves as the "Utility man" of the section. At times, this part doubles all other parts of the section and is there to provide support to any part needed. This player also must treat his role as his or her own part. Having the mindset of the "main support player" in the section is very important.

    2nd Cornet (chair 1 and 2)
    The second cornet is the tenor voice of the back row cornet choir. These players must provide plenty of power and edge to the cornet section. These players should NOT think of themselves as "second class" but instead must think of
    themselves as equals to the front row (in order to balance the section).

    3rd Cornet (Chair 1 and 2)
    The third cornet is the bass voice of the cornet choir. It is EXTREMELY important for these players to provide a platform for the rest of the cornet section to sit on. The more support these players give, the better the ENTIRE section is going to sound. These players (along with the second cornets) should be encouraged to play out just as much as (if not more than) the front row players.

    Horns- (Recommended players to listen to: Sheona White, Owen Farr, Emily Evans)
    The tenor horn is correctly conceptualized as an alto cornet---the downward extension of the cornet section, NOT as a "soprano euphonium", the upward extension of the euphonium section. The tenor horn should have clearly audible overtones and character to its sound, not be a bland and strive only for darkness. Although the tenor horn's tessitura is in a similar range, it is not a French horn, and should not emulate the French horn's sound.

    Bb Flugelhorn (Recommended players to listen to: Zoe Hancock, Gyda Matland, Lauren Chinn, Iwan Williams)
    The flugelhorn, on the other hand, is not simply a "darker cornet", and is essentially a "soprano euphonium". As such, the flugelhorn is the crossroads of the band, connecting the lower band to the upper band with its range of sonorities. Just as the euphonium tends toward darkness in the lower pitch range and softer dynamics, the flugelhorn's tonal range varies the same way. Similarly, the flugelhorn's tone becomes more complex as pitch and volume rises. What makes the flugelhorn especially versatile and crucial is its ability to blend with both the upper and lower bands. It can, and often does, provide the top voice of the tenor horn choir, but also reinforce the cornet sound, supporting the back row or adding body to the repiano voice. This versatility is what makes the flugelhorn so valuable as a section and solo instrument.

    Solo Eb Tenor Horn
    The solo Eb Horn is the lead tenor horn voice. This part is where most solos show up. This player must be able to support for the flugelhorn but also to lead the Tenor horn section. In reduced parts, this player should NEVER play if they are in unison with another horn part.

    1st Eb Tenor Horn
    The 1st tenor horn part is the seat that provides a cushion for the solo horn player to sit on top of. This player should play all reduced parts (with the exception of solos). This player can be categorized as a combination between the assistant principal horn player and a lower solo tenor horn player.

    2nd Eb Tenor Horn
    The 2nd horn player acts as the bridge between the tenor horns and baritones. This player is a low specialist and should provide cushion for the ENTIRE horn section to sit on.

    Baritones (Recommended players to listen to: Katrina Marzella, Robert Richardson, Benjamin Stratford)
    1st Bb Baritone
    The 1st Bb Baritone player should be also known as the "utility" player, much like the role the euphonium plays in a wind band. The role of this player in the band is often to be the bass voice of the horns, to add brilliance to tutti parts with the euphoniums, to add depth of sound to the trombones, or to play on their own.

    2nd Bb Baritone
    The 2nd Baritone has a separate part from the 1st, so it does not play the same role as the 2nd euphonium would. The role of the second baritone is very similar to the first baritone because it does have its own part. The second baritone provides the edge in tutti parts with the euphonium needed to carry the section sound above the band.

    Trombones (Recommended player to listen to: Chris Thomas, Stephen Sykes, Brett Baker)
    The Trombone section of the brass band is an interesting section in that it should be treated like the "brass section" of the brass band. In other words, it should be treated like the orchestra treats their brass section. In loud passages, the trombones should come out of the texture and provide the edge and power to the overall sound. Most of the other
    time, the trombone section is more filler texture, or in the background.
    The section should try and produce more of a rich baritone sound instead of the typical wind band trombone sound. The trombone also acts a lot of times as the "woodwind" texture as well, playing very short and providing many different colors to the band.

    1st Trombone
    The Principal Trombone should dictate the piercing edge of the band. Unlike in a wind band, the trombone section (led by the 1st player) should have significant impact to the overall color of the band.

    2nd Trombone
    This player is more or less the middle man of the trombone choir; Supporting both the 1st and bass players. Insignificant unison parts with the 1st player (in order to assist with the endurance of the 1st player) should be taken by this player if asked by the conductor to cut to one player.

    Bass Trombone
    The Bass trombone is the person that should provide much needed edge to the bass sound of the band. This player should also provide the foundation to the trombone choir. The bass player sits near the Eb basses so that they can work together to create the "first layer" of the bass sound. In order to balance the band, the max volume of the Bass trombonist should match the max volume of the Eb basses, NOT the Bb basses.

    Euphoniums- (Recommended players to listen to: David Childs, Glyn William's, Glenn Van Looy)
    Solo Bb Euphonium
    The solo euphonium player's sound should lead the right side of the band. Their sound is the "icing on the cake" to the euphonium and baritone section. This should be a leader in terms of character of sound and volume. The solo euph player is also the "section leader" of the euphoniums and baritones. They should take parts marked "solo" or parts that are marked "one" in cases where there is no distinction between "solo" and "one".

    2nd Bb Euphonium
    The 2nd euphonium player is the main support to the solo euphonium in terms of volume. It is the job of the 2nd player to fit inside the 1st player's sound while still maintaining the volume to make the solo player comfortable enough to breathe. This position is the position where all the dirty work is done, much like an assistant principal horn player in a symphony orchestra. This player should take all parts marked "one" unless there are no parts marked "solo".

    Basses- (Recommended players to listen to: Eb: Carlton Sykes, Joe Cook, Les Neish; BBb: Robert Nicholson, Matthew Routley)
    The bass sound of the band is quite different than the tuba sound in an orchestra. The tuba sound in orchestra is a more focused and cutting sound in that ensemble, whereas the bass sound in brass band should be more similar to the double bass sound in an orchestra. The listener should notice that the bass sound is there, but should not be able
    to notice that the basses are tubas. The sound should be less focused than the traditional "orchestral" sound; more of just a "presence".

    1st Eb Bass
    The 1st Eb bass player is the solo player in this duo. This player sets the fundamental sound of the bass section and is the section leader.

    2nd Eb Bass
    The 2nd Eb bass player should try and match the 1st in terms of sound AND volume. Since the 1st player is the "solo" player, this seat should be treated like the assistant principal seat; playing parts marked "one" and supporting the 1st player with their volume.

    Bb Bass (both)
    The Bb bass players will dictate the size of the sound of the band. The max volume that this duo can produce will determine the max volume of the entire ensemble. Bb basses (more than the Eb basses) should play the role of a double bass in a symphony orchestra; delivering an "ever-present" sound instead of a focused one.

    The percussion section plays essentially the same role as in the orchestra or wind band, with this important difference. Since the highest-pitched instrument in the ensemble is the soprano cornet, some brass band composers and arrangers rely on the mallet instruments to provide the top two octaves of color and shimmer. These sounds might otherwise be covered by the piccolo, flute, oboe, clarinet, or violin in other ensembles. Therefore, skilled mallet players are indispensable in the brass band.

    My thanks to the Dublin Silver Band for allowing the use of his article here. You can learn more about the band below:

    Comments 5 Comments
    1. Euph Loosh's Avatar
      Euph Loosh -
      This past Spring, I attended my first British brass band workshop, sponsored annually by The Canadian Band Association (Ontario). (luckily, I play Treble Clef). While there, I noticed all of the instrumentation but didn't really understand their function - until now.
      I always learn something as I read your Forum. Thanks!
    1. jkircoff's Avatar
      jkircoff -
      I had just posted a link to a PDF version of that article in a baritone mouthpiece thread yesterday! Great minds think alike I suppose!
    1. davewerden's Avatar
      davewerden -
      jkircoff - I can credit you for the inspiration. I didn't know about the article until your post, so I approached the Dublin band and Mr. Jameson right away for permissions to turn it into a web page article. It's a perfect fit for the Articles section and is quite (painlessly) educational.
    1. jkircoff's Avatar
      jkircoff -
      Quote Originally Posted by davewerden View Post
      jkircoff - I can credit you for the inspiration. I didn't know about the article until your post, so I approached the Dublin band and Mr. Jameson right away for permissions to turn it into a web page article. It's a perfect fit for the Articles section and is quite (painlessly) educational.
      I am pleased and honored that I was able to contribute to your outstanding article section in an indirect way Dave!
    1. daruby's Avatar
      daruby -
      Great article. Though I have been playing in British brass bands since the summer of 2008, I first heard/saw this essential information presented by Helen Harrelson at the first NABBSS in 2014 (?). In fact, Grant Jameson was at that session as an attendee and part of the RWCMD brass band featured at the Halifax Tattoo. It is wonderful that as a result of attending the IBBSS since that first summer of 2008, I have had the opportunity to study under, perform with, listen to, and share beers at the pub with just about every musician on Grant's list. VERY good advice/explanations from Grant.

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