Survey on tenor/bass trombone doubling

The practice of doubling has been a long-established one, but it is often shrouded in mystery when it comes to equipment and concept. For this blog, I’m focusing on tenor players who double on bass trombone, as this is of great interest to me. I also believe this is becoming a more popular practice, and evening tripling when you factor in the alto! Bass trombonists: don’t get your dander up – no one is gunning for your gigs or playing a 0G mouthpiece!

In an attempt to demystify doubling, I have reached out to several of my orchestral friends and colleagues for their thoughts on concept and equipment – mainly mouthpieces – when it comes to tenor players doubling on bass trombone. As you’ll see, there is a wide variety of ideas. While I focused on full-time orchestral players for this blog, it should be recognized that other stellar examples of doublers live and thrive in the studios of LA, show pits of NYC, university studios, and other locales. I had to draw up parameters somehow for this survey, and ultimately decided to keep it to players in the orchestral spectrum. This is not a slight towards those many other players who do this on a regular basis – in many cases more regularly than those I surveyed. Perhaps that is a topic for an extended post in the future….

Some of the contributors below have Bass Trombone responsibilities labeled as part of their contracts, others simply enjoy the opportunity when it arises. The employment of the doubler is quite different in the USA than it is in Europe, where the title of “Wechselposaune” is the technical term for the trombonist responsible for covering tenor and bass trombones. While it is a concept that has not quite caught on in the USA, some of the folks below are essentially “Wechsels”. The position in European orchestras is often much more demanding and I’m hoping to elaborate on this concept in another post.

My sincere thanks again to my guest contributors!

Mike Becker, Principal Trombone, Tucson Symphony; Bass Trombone, Britt Festival Orchestra

Tenor Trombone: Parke 700 cup, 1000 rim. Basically a 4G
Bass Trombone: Lasky 85MD, Hammond 20BXL and 21BXL

I generally use mid size bass trombone MP’s when I go back and forth between tenor and bass. I primarily play tenor in my job as Principal in TSO but do a lot of free lance work on bass. Generally, I have been using a Lasky 85 MD on bass which is like a 1.1/4 size cup, but has a deeper richer sound and sometimes I use a Hammond 20BXL, again like a 1 and 1/4 but a bigger bowl for a slightly richer sound. If I stay on bass for any extended period of time, I shift to a bigger bass size like a 21bxl. Like when I play at the Britt Festival in the summer. Bass is my position there. For most things though i find I can get away with the Hammond 20bxl or Lasky 85MD. I also think that the “bass trombone sound” concept can be achieved through concept and being able to control and get focus is more important than just trying to us big equipment.

John Ilika, Principal Trombone, North Carolina Symphony

I have always doubled (trebled?) on alto, tenor and bass trombone. I played (and won a national audition) for the Eastern Music Festival in the 1990’s. I have even subbed on bass with the Philadelphia Orchestra. I encourage doubling in my teaching studio at the UNC School of the Arts, in Winston-Salem. I believe that playing a secondary and tertiary instrument is beneficial as long as your primary instrument does not suffer.

When doubling, the mouthpiece cup volume needs to be appropriate to the instrument to produce the proper sound. A tenor trombone mouthpiece on a bass trombone simply does not produce the necessary lower overtones. The pitch will be sharp and nasal. Jim Nova has the same rim for his mouthpieces but has custom cups (e.g., very, very deep for bass trombone) from Greg Black. A deep cup or a real bass trombone mouthpiece works as long as the volume enables good sound/articulation etc…

For bass trombone I use a Griego 1.25 now. For years I played the Yamaha Doug Yeo but find the Griego more efficient now that I am getting older.

Using a bass trombone mouthpiece on a tenor trombone makes it flat and dull sounding. On my orchestral tenor (Greenhoe Bach 42) I use 2 mouthpieces, a Griego/Alessi 5F and a Griego 3 depending on repertoire.

I also use a Bach 36 regularly for pops concerts. Using a big mouthpiece like the Griego 3 with a small shank defeats the purpose of a brighter sound of the Bach 36, so there I use a Hammond 11. Zippy!

On alto, I use a custom Greg Black with a 5 rim and the cup of a Shilke 51B mouthpiece.

Confused yet?

Not really, it all comes down to how you warm up. In general, I think it best to warm up on your primary instrument fully and then work on the other instrument. I encourage students to spend most of their time on the secondary instrument playing scales and basic routines, not excerpts.

Pitch/lip bending exercise with the mouthpiece alone and on the instrument help center the embouchure and the sound. Flexibility before long tones.

One of the reasons I have always been able to switch horns easily is that I play the entire range of the instrument on all my horns. F pedals to high F. Switching mouthpieces is like choosing a different color to paint with but it is all the same sound canvas.

David Murray, Second Trombone National Symphony Orchestra

Tenor Trombone:
Griego 4 NY
Griego 4 Deco

Bass Trombone:
Greg Black 2G
Schilke 59

My approach to bass trombone is that it should simply be an extension from the tenor trombones, and that a larger instrument will inherently add fuller timbre to the blend. I choose a Greg Black 2G as my primary mouthpiece. It has ample richness, nice vibrancy, and a quick response. For the occasions where the repertoire is more substantial, I will use a Schilke 59. It is a large mouthpiece, but keeps the sound focused. I generally have no issue switching between mouthpiece makers and rim shapes. If I focus on achieving good sound and airflow, the idiosyncrasies between mouthpieces are less of a concern.

Timothy Owner, Acting Associate Principal Trombone, San Francisco Symphony

Tenor Trombone: Hammond Design “Tahu” modified 11, flattened rim, semi-shallow cup

Bass Trombone: Hammond Design 20BL

I have always favored smaller mouthpieces: for a long time I used a Bach 5G and a Bach 1.5G. After a long period of testing, I have settled on the Hammond mouthpieces listed above. I find the “Tahu” to be large enough to allow me to perform all of the lower tenor trombone parts in the orchestra, including 3rd in a four person section, but it is also efficient enough to sit on top when playing principal. On the bass trombone, my choice to use the 20BL came similarly. I tried to stick with 1.5-sized mouthpieces as they work well as a light bass trombone mouthpiece in my tenor with a 50LT slide, but the sound was inappropriate for regular bass trombone playing. As a result, I moved to more of a 1.25-sized mouthpiece in order to get a fuller, more appropriate sound without feeling like I was swimming in the mouthpiece. I choose Karl Hammond’s mouthpieces as I find that they give core to my sound, but I am still able to change my sound, brighter or darker etc, to match the context in which I find myself.
I find I need more time to adjust back and forth, but that particular trade off is worth it to realize my musical and professional goals on both instruments.

Tim Smith, 2nd Trombone, Buffalo Philharmonic

Tenor Trombone: Hammond 11MXL custom
​​ Hammond 10.75MXL custom
Bass Trombone: Hammond 20BL

I have chosen a true bass trombone mouthpiece in an attempt to make as legitimate a “bass trombone” sound as possible. The Hammond 20BL is comparable to a Bach 1.25G, with what I feel is a bit more space, as well as more point and center to the sound. The one downside is that I must spend more time on the bass in order to feel comfortable, but the upside (in my opinion) is a truer sound. While it takes more time to adjust when going back and forth between horns, keeping the mouthpieces unrelated — in size and feel — helps me establish a separate concept for each trombone. I apply this to the alto trombone, as well. The trick is to play at least a bit of bass every day, as refreshing the concept on a regular basis allows me to switch over to it more easily.

I will vary my warm-up on a daily basis, often starting on the bass trombone rather than tenor. This is contrary to the advice offered by many of my colleagues, who support starting on your primary horn every day. I find that this maximizes my air support, and more importantly, keeps me mentally engaged, as the different physical stimulus aids in keeping me focused. I agree with Mr. Ilika that the bulk of time on your secondary should be scales and etudes, not excerpts.

James Justin Kent, Solo Posaune: Bruckner Orchester Linz

Tenor Trombone: Bach 4G
Bass Trombone: Bach 1 /2G

Before I was Solo Posaune with the Bruckner Orchester, I spent a lot of time playing Bass Trombone in College and then professionally as 2nd/Bass Trombone with the “Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg”, and subbing with the NDR Radiophilharmonie in Hanover, Germany. While I was in Luxembourg, I also played bass trombone in a Trombone Quartet with two University Trombone Professors and a colleague from the OPL. So I was playing a good bit of bass trombone during that season going back and forth quite often.

When I first started doubling on bass trombone in High school, I played on a Bach 2G. I tried larger ones, but I found the quality of sound throughout the register to be not very good. I simply wasn’t used to the big switch. I find that when starting out, making either no change, or a slight one to be a better way to start out. The most important thing is to keep the quality of sound and not allow the sound to become unfocused. I found myself trying the open the sound too much when playing bass trombone in a effort to fill out the horn. While you will need to use a lot more air for bass trombone, don’t allow the aperture to come too big. When using too big of a mouthpiece (then you’re normally used to) this is a common pitfall. I found simple mouthpiece buzzing exercises when warming up to help with this. Make sure the mouthpiece buzzing sound quality is more buzzy then airy. This should properly limit the size of aperture.

When choosing your doubling mouthpiece, don’t go too wild in size. As a doubler, you want to always keep your quality of sound and not try to compete (size wise) with a devoted bass trombonist. If you are interested in going full time to bass trombone, then go nuts! But if your home base is going to be tenor trombone, then you don’t want to sacrifice your tenor playing too much.

If you sound better playing on the same size mouthpiece as your tenor trombone, I would recommend that at first. Making the best quality of sound throughout the bass trombone register is always number one. After you’re comfortable with that, if you want to try to go a little bigger, then do so, but if you sacrifice the sound, there is no shame playing on your tenor trombone mouthpiece.

James Markey, Bass Trombone, Boston Symphony (formerly Associate Principal, New York Philharmonic)

I have to confess that I don’t totally remember what I played [before moving to Bass Trombone full-time]. I’m thinking that when I played tenor I used a Bach 3G for bass, but it might have been a 1.5G. When I won the job on bass it was on a GW Harwood mouthpiece–deep cup, wider rim with a sharp first angle. Lately I’ve gone back to a brass mouthpiece made by Griego.

Jim Nova, 2nd/Utility Trombone, Pittsburgh Symphony

SE Shires horns:
Alto – A7YLW – A85/95
Large Tenor – TII 7YM A5 8.5″ – Axial Flow- TB47L
Medium Tenor – 7YLW 8″ – straight pipe – T25NLW
Bass – BII 7YM – Inline Axial Flow – B62L

Just for fun…
Miraphone soprano trombone
Kanstul F Contra bass

Mouthpieces all are Greg Black with his 3 rim
Alto – C cup
Large Tenor – 5G cup
Medium Tenor – 5GS cup
Bass – 1/2 G cup

Just for fun…
Soprano – Trumpet cup and shank
Contra – Greg Black contra cup

I found early in my career that when I maintained the same rim on my tenor and alto mouthpieces, but altered the cup shapes and depths, I could switch very easily. Then when I joined the Pittsburgh symphony and I had to start playing bass trombone, I found that maintaining the same rim size also worked on bass, but in the opposite direction with respect to cup depth and size. I always warm up and do my daily routine practice on the large tenor. As a result of my anchor points being the same for all mouthpieces, as long as I’m warmed up, I can switch easily to an auxiliary. I’ve also found that switching around offers numerous “cross training” benefits. Playing bass increases air flow and tone width and richness, which transfers back to tenor. Then when I play alto, the crispness and clarity of articulation transfers back to tenor as well. I think if introduced carefully, doubling is a fun and beneficial way to enrich the color options available to any trombone player. It goes without saying, I’ve put doubling to great use with arranging and overdubbing!

Jonathan Reycraft: Utility Trombonist, Saint Louis Symphony

Tenor Trombone Griego Alessi 1C
Bass Trombone Griego 2

I feel it better to use a Bass mouthpiece even if it is in the entry level size. I have ventured into tuba territory once before playing in marching band through high school, and even a little at Indiana University. Maybe this helped me feel more comfortable on bass trombone equipment, or by having bass trombonists as formative teachers. For Bass Trombone, I choose a Greigo 2 which falls closer in diameter to a Bach 1.25.

Nathan Zgonc, 2nd/Utility Trombone, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra

Tenor Trombone: Greg Black NY 3
Bass Trombone: G&W Adriano, and Mark 1

I play the Gregblack New York 3 series on tenor. Depending on the rep I play the different cups sizes.
I have been playing bass in the orchestra for 4 years now, but I have liked the Giddings and Webster models, Adriano and Mark 1. They are a true bass mouthpiece but they have the thicker rim that I am used to on the tenor. I tried the Jim Markey model for a long time but it’s just toooo big. But I do agree one needs to be able to use a bass mouthpiece to at least get as close to the right sound that you can.

2 thoughts on “Survey on tenor/bass trombone doubling

  1. Pingback: Double, double toil and…trouble? | Tim Smith - trombonist

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