The Bone Yard
What exactly is a Bass Trombone?
First of all, what we've all
been commonly referring to as a trombone is technically and correctly
identified as a "Tenor Trombone". Just about all families of
instruments include different sizes and voicings. (Except the Oboe family which
has chosen to switch nationalities; English Horn, Oboe d'Amore...) Probably the
most commonly known are the saxophone family, as even the most basic young
concert band is likely to have Alto Saxes, Tenor Saxes and a Baritone Sax, and
most of us have watched Kenny G play his Soprano Sax. If you don't know the
order of voicings, from highest to lowest it basically goes like this: Soprano,
Alto, Tenor, Baritone and Bass. (let's not get into the mezzo, coloratura,
contra, etc.) In most cases there is also a corresponding difference in size
and length of the instrument.
Oddly enough, a bass trombone is essentially the same instrument as a tenor trombone. Research shows that there was once a bass trombone with the fundamental pitch of "F", but these are very rarely seen any more. Today's bass trombone is really a B flat tenor trombone with a larger bore, larger bell and a deeper mouthpiece. Kind of like a tenor trombone on steroids. Provided you have an F attachment, a competent bass trombonist can pick up your tenor and play just as low as he can on his bass. The same will probably be true the first time you try a bass; you can't play much lower than you could on your tenor.
So what's the point!? Well, that larger bore will let you get more volume out of your low notes without overblowing and missing them altogether. The response is quicker on those notes below low F as well. For some there's a real satisfaction to be had in adding some Bass 'Bone muscle to the tuba sound or being the brass version of the Bari Sax in your jazz band. Just be aware that you'll be reading 3rd or 4th trombone parts exclusively and whatever solos you get (with the band or orchestra) will probably consist of 3 notes or less. (Not that there isn't plenty of solo literature out there)
The basic bass brombone has an F attachment. Most manufacturers have a second attachment available in the key of E flat or G flat. Older models have two thumb triggers which may work independently or sequentially (one trigger engages the F, and the second trigger engages both F and E flat). Some have a thumb trigger for F and an independent index finger trigger for the second attachment. As with the F attachment, there are a variety of alternate positions for the combination of both attachments.
Back to The Bone Yard.