During the orchestration of a piano piece, sometimes there are fast passages (with long intervals) in the lower register, like that Villa-Lobos "Saudades das Selvas Brasileiras" passage: enter image description here

Or this passage in Debussy's "L'isle Joyeuse": enter image description here

However, for low-register instruments (for example, double bass, bass clarinet, contrabassoon, bass/contrabass tuba and trombone), it's not easy to play fast passages that involve jumps (notes 2 or more semitones apart).

I would like to know how to transcribe passages like these for low-register instruments, making them playable for musicians with average skills.

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    It's not as difficult as you might think. Certainly allowing a slurred passage is much easier than requiring each note to be attacked. Another option is to remove some of the "passing notes", keeping the first and last note in a run and perhaps every other note in between. Sep 18, 2019 at 12:58
  • @RogérioDec, no problem, I'm glad you're happy with it. You should keep in mind that (besides double bass and trombone) those instruments are rarely going to be played by intermediate musicians, given their price and availability. I cannot think of any difficulties that double bass and trombone players would face with those passages, but Carl Witthoft provides a good solution. It also depends on your orchestration. If you have 2+ instruments within the same "type", you can separate "voices" (passages) between them.
    – Pyromonk
    Sep 19, 2019 at 11:15
  • Where are you getting your facts about bass from? Is it an assumption, based on a text on orchestration? There are some seriously mean bass solos in symphonies, and solo pieces that are very fast.
    – user50691
    Sep 20, 2019 at 0:19

1 Answer 1


This is a misconception: low brass/woodwind instruments (as you mentioned: bassoon, tuba, trombone) are faster than you'd think. A bass clarinet is not slower than a B♭ clarinet, a tuba isn't slower than a trumpet.

In the two passages you provided, no low wind instrument should have trouble playing the bottom staff, assuming a decently skilled player.

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    There are certain physical limits involved with playing "low-register" instruments nevertheless. A contrabassoon is indeed not that different from a plain bassoon, but things do get funky with "low-register" instruments from the saxophone family. Of course, it is rare to find an intermediate musician playing a bass saxophone, but bass saxophones and below (contrabass, subcontrabass) do face certain difficulties. Given saxophones' notorious low range, most players need to perform embouchure adjustments that are simply impossible at high speeds and with fast staccato articulation.
    – Pyromonk
    Sep 19, 2019 at 11:22
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    @RogérioDec, while there is a limit to everything I'd let a bassist try the passage at the tempo you need before butchering it. As I mention in my previous comments there are some very fast bass passages in symphonies.
    – user50691
    Sep 20, 2019 at 0:21

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