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Brass Sound Combinations

Brief description on various brass combinations. The source of this document is the Vienna Symphonic Library webiste.

Brass Sound Combinations

This has been very helpful to me when I create brass ensemble patches.

Trumpet in C - Sound combinations

1) Trumpet + brass instruments

Trumpet + trumpet
Two trumpets played an octave apart sound completely homogeneous as do a trumpet and a bass trumpet.

Trumpet + horn
Played in octaves with the horns beneath the trumpet sounds softer while remaining dominant.

Trumpets and horns played in unison are used generally to make the sound massive, the soft sound of the horns blending with the metallic ring of the trumpets. In the middle register the trumpet’s sound is so predominant that its dynamic level equals that of four horns.

Trumpet + trombone
Homogeneous sound combination with the trombone in the lower octave. The trombone intensifies the trumpet’s sound and lends it fullness. In chords the trumpet complements the similar-sounding trombone to produce the typical brass sound.

2) Trumpet + woodwinds

In this sound combination particular attention must be paid to the dynamic relationships. Balanced dynamic levels are achieved for instance by muted trumpets + woodwinds, or trumpets + forced woodwinds in the upper register.

Trumpet + oboe
The oboe tempers the metallic side of the trumpet’s sound. Especially in tutti passages the trumpet can be used for octave doubling with the high woodwinds (flute, oboe, clarinet).

Trumpet + clarinet
In unison, trumpets and clarinets produce a clearer, brighter sound than any other combination; for octave combinations the piccolo clarinet is best suited.

Trumpet + bass clarinet, bassoon
The combination with bass clarinet and bassoons is used to produce a massive sound.

3) Trumpet + stringed instruments

Dynamics are important here too. The trumpet’s brilliance is emphasized when it is played in unison with the strings, a tonal blend is achieved only with the viola. In addition the combination of trumpets played staccato or marcato with strings using the “col legno” and “at the frog” articulation is very effective.

4) Trumpet + percussion

Trumpet + xylophone
In unison with the xylophone: trumpet fortissimo-marcato, xylophone fortissimo.

Horn in F - Sound Combinations

The horn blends with all the instrument groups in the orchestra better than any other instrument.

1) Horn + brass instruments

If the horn is used in combination with other brass instruments the sound becomes thicker: cup and funnel-shaped mouthpieces mutually cancel out their characteristic sounds.

Horn + horn
Because four horns are usually used in the orchestra, chords are often written for four horn parts.

Horn + tuba
The sound of the tuba as the median between the sounds of the cup and funnel-shaped mouthpieces blends very well with the horn.

Horn + trumpet, trombone
In unison with the trumpet the horn loses its mellow euphony, the composite sound assumes a little of the trumpet’s metallic edginess and becomes more sober as a result.
In chord combinations of horns with trumpets and trombones the instruments’ dynamics must be carefully balanced: Played piano all brass instruments sound at more or less the same volume; but a horn played forte has only about half the volume of a trumpet or trombone played forte. These discrepancies can be compensated for by using proportionate dynamic instructions: trombones or trumpets pp = horn p. A trumpet or trombone played forte corresponds roughly to two horns played forte.

2) Horn + woodwinds

Horn + oboe
The combination of horn and oboe only produces a homogeneous sound if the horn is stopped or muted.

Horn + clarinet, bassoon
Horns, clarinets and bassoons played in unison blend very well.
The horn/bassoon combination is very effective when the bassoon plays the bass part. Blending is also very good with the bass clarinet when the latter plays pp or p.
Framing the woodwinds with horns is not recommended, because the latter smother the former.

3) Horn + strings

Strings combined with horns blend into a homogeneous overall sound. The cello is particularly suitable for playing in unison with the horn, since both have more or less the same pitch. This combination increases the intensity of the sound of both instruments.
A particularly pleasing effect is achieved when the muted horn is played with muted strings, as in Richard Strauss’s opera Salome.

The horn is allocated a wide variety of functions thanks to its numerous possibilities of expression:
In closed chord groups, for the playing of melodic, harmonic or rhythmical passages, or as a solo instrument, in unison with several other horns for the evocation of distinct, dominant themes; the horn section can be assigned a number of specific tasks (performance of filling-in parts, counterpoint parts or sections of these, bass parts, tremolos or trills, figurations etc.).
The horn frequently carries the main musical theme.

Tenor trombone - Sound combinations

1) Trombone + brass instruments

Good tonal blend with the other brass instruments.

Trombone + trombone
In unison and in octaves: metallic sound, impression of power.

Trombone + trumpet
Good sound combination, makes the trombone sound brighter. Particularly good blend in the lower register.

Trombone + French horn
Overall sound rich and mellow, intensified by the trombones in ff passages. In higher registers the trombone makes the horns sound brighter, the rest of the time the metallic trombone sound is masked by the horns. 1 trombone = 2 horns when the written dynamic levels correspond.

Trombone + tuba
Although it has a different timbre, the tuba is often used as bass to the trombone section. The main reason for this is to produce a full-sounding foundation in tutti passages. The trombone sounds much more compact and focused. The tuba can either be used on its own as bass to the trombones (as a fourth trombone), in octaves, or in unison with the bass trombone. These last combinations are often recommended. The overall effect is one of expansiveness and mellowness. The brightness of the trumpets and trombones is subdued.

3) Trombone + woodwinds

The combination of trombones and woodwinds produces a very patchy blend, so homogenous effects cannot really be achieved.

Trombone + oboe
are heard distinctly as a rule, although blending is good when the trombone is played with a mute.

Trombone + bassoon
The bassoon masks the metallic quality of the trombone’s tone, which results in delicate contours in the middle and lower registers and in piano passages. For the reinforcement of sound in tutti passages the octave combination of trombone and low woodwinds serves as the bass.

3) Trombone + strings

The combination with strings does not generally produce homogeneity. Trombones play in unison or in octaves with the cellos and double-basses, fleshing out the sound and playing a supporting role. The result is a concentration of the sound. If a trombone bass part is also carried by a double-bass the sound is projected more effectively.

Bass trombone - Sound combinations

1) Bass trombone + brass instruments

Bass trombone + trombone

The bass trombone is notated as the 3rd trombone in orchestral scores and often plays the tenor trombone’s lower octave or the contrabass trombone’s upper octave. Its sound is effective in multiple octave combinations as well as the fundamental bass.

Bass trombone + trumpet

Good sound combination, makes the trombone sound brighter.

Bass trombone + French horn

The metallic trombone sound is masked by the horns. 1 trombone = 2 horns when the written dynamic levels correspond.

2) Bass trombone + woodwinds, strings

Since it shares its dark timbre with the cello, the double-bass, the bassoon and the contrabassoon it combines well with those instruments. The bass trombone is the carrying instrument, however, the bassoon or cello merely add color.

Contrabass trombone - Sound combinations

1) Contrabass trombone + brass instruments

Contrabass trombone + trombone
Written as the 4th trombone in orchestral scores the contrabass trombone often plays an octave below the bass or tenor trombone. It is given thematic tasks to perform as well as the fundamental bass in the four-part trombone section (Wagner, Verdi, Puccini, Strauss).

Combines with the tenor and bass trombones to form a polyphonic trombone section.

Trombone + trumpet
Trumpets blend well with trombones and give them a brighter sound.

Trombone + horn
Full and mellow overall sound, the trombone’s brassy sound is masked by the horns.

Contrabass trombone + tuba
Bass lines are possible in unison with the bass tuba, which has a very different timbre from the contrabass trombone. In Wagner’s Ring, in Richard Strauss and in Schoenberg’s Gurrelieder it also plays an octave above the bass tuba.

A mute reduces the disparity between the timbres of the contrabass trombone and the bass tuba.

Despite its different timbre the tuba has often been used for the bass part of the trombone section instead of the contrabass trombone, mainly in order to provide a solid foundation in tutti passages. Compared to the tuba the contrabass trombone sounds far more concise, definite and metallic.

2) Contrabass trombone + woodwinds

The combination with the contrabassoon and the bass clarinet produces a dark, warm, penetrating sound which is used especially for low bass lines.

Bass tuba - Sound combinations

The bass tuba is a bass and contrabass instrument. One of its principal tasks is the doubling of other bass instruments, either in unison or an octave lower. Especially in tutti passages its role is to provide a firm fundamental bass. Forte pedal tones are generally played solo and are only combined with other instruments for pianissimo playing.

In especially large brass sections, for example with six or eight horns, two tubas are used, one of them playing the higher compass, the other the lower. In works which place particularly great demands on the tuba, two tuba players often share the task, relieving each other by turns.

1) Tuba + Brass instruments

Tuba + tuba
In brass bands the bass tuba often doubles with the contrabass tuba, playing an octave above it. This produces a massive sound.

Tuba + trumpet
Poor blending with the trumpet. The bass tuba serves as the bass to the brass.

Tuba + horn
Good tonal blend, since the tuba’s timbre is closely related to that of the horn. Often doubles the 4th horn.

Tuba + trombone
Are similar in force and complement each other, despite their disparate timbres. As bass voice to the trombones often plays the 4th trombone part. Doubles the 4th trombone. In keeping with its character the tuba also provides the bass voice for the entire brass ensemble.

2) Tuba + woodwinds

Tuba + flute, oboe
No tonal blend. In Benjamin Britten’s violin concerto the tuba and the piccolo play a solo.

Tuba + bassoon, contrabassoon
Doubling, also in octaves, of the bass voice with the contrabassoon.

3) Tuba + strings

Very good blend with the double-bass. The staccato is comparable to the pizzicato of the double-bass. In early phonograph recordings a bass tuba with a front-facing bell was used to double the double-bass, which improved the quality of the recording.

Contrabass tuba - Sound combinatons

The contrabass tuba is a contrabass instrument. One of its principal tasks is the doubling of other bass instruments, usually an octave lower. Especially in tutti passages its role is to provide a firm fundamental bass. Pedal tones are only possible piano and are seldom used.

In especially large brass sections, for example with six or eight horns, two tubas are used, either two bass tubas or a bass and a contrabass tuba.

1) Contrabass tuba + brass instruments

Contrabass tuba + tuba
Played in unison the effect produced by a contrabass tuba with its bass counterpart is not particularly interesting. Played in octaves the sound combination is homogeneous and pleasing, although it can be “dangerous” to do this forte because it smothers instruments in the middle register. A good blend is achieved with the Wagner tubas.

Contrabass tuba + trumpet, horn
Reverberant chord combinations can be produced together with the trumpets, horns and trombones.

Contrabass tuba + trombone
The contrabass tuba often provides the bass to the trombone section, either on its own or an octave below the bass trombone or in unison with the contrabass trombone. The contrabass tuba and contrabass trombone are similar in volume, although their timbre differs greatly.

2) Contrabass tuba + woodwinds

Contrabass tuba + bassoon, contrabassoon
Doubling, also in octaves, of the bass voice (bassoon and contrabassoon).

3) Contrabass tuba + strings

Contrabass tuba + double bass
Very good blend with the double-bass. The contrabass tuba’s staccato can be compared to the pizzicato of the double-bass.

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