I got myself an old full score of an arrangement for Dutch-styled brass band (fanfareorkest) to copy which the instrumentation is unconventional to me (I believe it's written in continental tradition?), particularly the use of transposing bass clef for the Tuba, Bombardon, and Contrabass. My question therefore: how do I read these parts in concert pitch?

P.S. It's written in A-flat

The intriguing bass clef instruments


Sibelius doesn't know about Bombardons, but the important thing is to look at what follows the instrument name, e.g. "in Es" or "in Bes", which mean respectively "in E flat" or "in B flat".

In the snippet below, all three instruments are sounding a concert C. Double bass is non-transposing. E flat bass performs A natural to sound a concert C, and B flat bass performs D natural to sound a concert C.

So if you read the B flat bass part and transpose down a tone you get concert pitch. And read the E flat bass part, transpose up a minor third to get to concert pitch.

enter image description here

British Brass Band has B flat and E flat basses but written in treble clef. Only bass trombone is written in bass clef, and that's at concert pitch. I've not come across transposing bass clef parts like these before.

Here are some staves that show the notes the various brass band instruments perform and the corresponding sounding concert pitches:

enter image description here

  • Are you sure the double bass doesn't sound an octave lower than written here? – Dekkadeci Jul 18 '20 at 12:14
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    @Dekkadeci The double bass does of course sound an octave lower, octave-transposing instruments are often regarded as not proper 'transposing instruments'. – PiedPiper Jul 18 '20 at 19:48
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    The tuba parts would be an octave too high if transposed the way you suggest. The Dutch E-flat tuba transposition is in bass clef sounding a major sixth lower than written. – PiedPiper Jul 18 '20 at 19:58
  • Thanks Brian for your answer. My first thought was similar to yours, but then the parts would be unplayable. Should the parts be read an octave below from what they're written? – sanerski Jul 20 '20 at 12:31
  • Yes you're absolutely right. I've updated the image... – Brian THOMAS Jul 21 '20 at 13:41

You're fortunate in this case in that everyone's playing a concert Ab. So you can work out the transposition theoretically, then check your result empirically!

I guess you're familiar with 'Trumpet in B♭', 'Horn in F' etc.? Don't be thrown off by being in bass clef. It's the same thing. Play a major 2nd down for instruments 'in B♭' (because B♭ is a major 2nd down from C).

I suspect the bottom two instruments in your score sound a further octave lower than written.

Here's some further explanation:


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    Bb trumpet transposes a whole tone down, tenor instruments (Euphonium, Bariton, Bb tromone) a major second minus 1 octave, Bb Bass a major second minus 2 octaves down (treble clef!, the Eb bass logically is between the euphonium and Bb bass and sounds like the notated double bass. – Albrecht Hügli Jul 18 '20 at 12:32

It’s like Brian explains: all bass parts are identical, playing Ab in concert pitch.

There’s a trick for Eb Bass players reading treble clef:

Take the part for double bass, read as it were treble clef (just replacing the bass clef by a treble clef) and ignoring 3 flats: bass clef = treble minus 3 flats!

So the written Ab for double bass is read as F for Eb Bass in F major key (F => Ab transposed by the Eb-Bass.

  • Rather confusing in this case! That trick works for Eb tuba (accustomed to reading 'brass band treble) reading UN-transposed bass clef parts. – Laurence Payne Jul 18 '20 at 12:16
  • That’s exactly what I claim and am referring to. All other musicians (except Bb tuba player) will read and play the double bass part ... as notated! I suppose OP is from this kind of bandsman, otherwise the question e.g. for conductor makes absolutely no sense. – Albrecht Hügli Jul 18 '20 at 12:21
  • The "trick" is poor advice. Far better to learn to read the clef and transpose. Imagining a different clef and morphing the key signature stops working once there are accidentals in the stave. – Brian THOMAS Jul 19 '20 at 10:41
  • For an arranger, composer and conductor I would agree. But for the „ordinary“ amateur Eb-bass player this advice is most helpful. Sometimes your in a band practice and there is the Eb part missing. This trick helps to improvise in the situation. Well, today you may have a printer in the next room or can make quickly a copy on the mobile. You obviously never was in this situation. Tell an amateur player to learn reading another clef or transpose ad hoc major second down or up. – Albrecht Hügli Jul 19 '20 at 13:17

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