The BASSES used in brass bands are generally of two types: the E-flat bass and the B-flat bass (sometimes called the “double B-flat” bass). The BASS horn, or TUBA, is the largest of the brass instruments. There are many different patterns and names for these instruments. The ones most often used in brass bands follow the upright pattern (similar to that of the euphonium). Most of these tubas are constructed with four valves of the piston type.
The tubas used in symphony orchestras are most often pitched in F or C. They are also usually upright in pattern, but many are constructed with rotary rather than piston valves. Since orchestral parts are generally written in bass clef, indicating the actual concert pitch to be played, the choice of which tuba to use is often left to the discretion of the player. In marching bands, the helicon or wrap-around tuba (in America, these tubas are commonly referred to as Sousaphones) is often used. These tubas wrap entirely around the player’s body, with a very large flared bell pointing forward. This type of tuba is generally inferior in sound to the upright versions, but is ideal for its intended marching application.
The bore of the typical bass is conical, and the instrument’s sound is on the mellow side. However, because of the depth of the sound, tubas are not regarded as having any particular bright or dark timbre. The tuba is used in almost any combination with the other instruments of the band. The size of the instrument makes it the least agile and responsive of the brass band instruments.
The E-flat Bass
The E-FLAT BASS is pitched a fifth lower than the trombone or euphonium, and an octave lower than the horn. In Salvation Army publications, as in many traditional brass band publications, the bass parts are written in treble clef. An E-flat bass playing such a part sounds an octave and a sixth below the written (concert) pitch. It is the smaller of the two types of tuba used in the traditional brass band.
The B-flat Bass
The B-FLAT BASS is the largest and lowest-pitched instrument in the brass band. It is pitched a fourth below the E-flat bass and an octave below the euphonium. In Salvation Army publications, as in many traditional brass band publications, the bass parts are written in treble clef. When written in this way, the B-flat bass sounds two octaves and a second below the written (concert) pitch. This two-octave difference between the written and actual sounds is sometimes credited with the common designation of this instrument as the double B-flat tuba.
Role in the Brass Band
As in any musical group, the role of the bass instruments in a brass band is to provide a foundation for the rest of the sound. An essential component of all good brass bands is a powerful bass section, which is sometimes felt rather than heard. In the hands of a skilled player, the bass can be an effective melodic instrument, although solo bass passages are rare. The instrument is rarely used as a solo instrument, but some tuba solos have been published over the years.