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This is for those of us who play in concert bands, and want to play on Sax's own favorite, the bass sax.

Some band arrangements have bass sax parts, but that's fairly uncommon anymore. So, if we want to bring a bass sax to a concert band... what part shall we play?

Considerations:
A) The bass sax is a strong mellow voice, but not a contrabass instrument - our lowest note (normally) is Ab1 (the lowest Ab on the piano).
B) Some of us are not as agile in passagework as (e.g.) a good euphonium or alto sax player.
C) While we are properly a woodwind, blending with a brass choir is often easier. The woodwind section we blend best with is, of course, the saxes.

So here are my thoughts on the various options. I've ranked them from my last choice to my first.

8) Write a bass sax part from scratch to supplement the arrangement: maybe you can do this, but I can't (yet).

7) Contrabass sarrusophone part: these are rare, and probably not worth messing with. You'll see this in a few pre-WW2 English and French works.

6) Piano part (playing the bottom line) - this is a somewhat desperate expedient, but at least lets us follow the harmonies (if there is a keyboard part).

5) Tuba part: In Texas, at least, we always have tuba players, and the lead players are often very good. We have the volume to be heard against a tuba section, but it seems wasteful merely to swell this vast chorus. Many publishers will provide a Bb treble clef version of the tuba part if you go to a "world parts" link on the publisher's website - but I'm suggesting that we ask what fits best before we look for the easiest transposition.

4) String bass part: this too goes way lower than we do - at least to E1, and orchestral parts may go down to C1. Still, this is often an easy way to get a part, and many band arrangements don't use the lowest part of the bass's range. Many arrangements include a string bass part, and many bands (in my area at least) do not have a bass player. You may occasionally see an electric bass part - similar considerations apply.

3) Contrabassoon part: There are a few band arrangements with a contrabassoon part but not a bass sax part. This instrument too goes way lower than we do - down to Bb0, a minor seventh lower than us. We are far more powerful than a contrabassoon, so we have to be cautious about balance - especially if real bassoons are present. Also note that, if the music is a classical transcription, there may be a contrabassoon part in the orchestral original; sometimes band arrangements transpose the orchestral version down two semitones, so we can play C as C. This works, e.g., with Holst's band arrangements of his own work. Sometimes we can play the contrabassoon part an octave up, and still have a well-fitting part.

2) Bb contrabass clarinet part ("CBC"): The vogue for this instrument seems to have come and gone, but lots of arrangements with this part are still around. No transposition is needed, but the range goes at least a fifth lower than ours (to Db1, and sometimes down to Bb0). However, the arrangements I've seen often don't use those extra notes. With the CBC part, at least we're playing a woodwind's role. (Some arrangers write a single part for both CBC and bass sax.) Here too we are far more powerful than a CBC, so cautious balancing is needed.

1) Bari sax part: modern arrangements seem to use the bari sax as a light bass voice, without using its high range much. If the bari sax is being (mis)used merely as a bass voice, we can do it better. This requires learning another transposition, but it's not a very difficult one. Often we can drop an octave ad lib. We're already scored into the right section, so blending and balance are less tricky.

Some of the above will be elementary and/or boring to many of us, but I'd still welcome comments.
 

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Generally we just play a tuba part if nothing is written for bass sax. It's something even Sousa preferred because the bass sax gives a nice edge to the bass part without sticking out. In my street band it's a really cool blend for our bottom end between myself and my buddy on sousaphone!

I've played contra bassoon and contrabass clarinet a few times as needed, but doubling the tuba has the most positive impact for the band. I also don't play bass on every chart, just as needed. Most modern tunes the bari sax is sufficient for the low winds.
 

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In many ways, your argument is fairly moot on many charts. On most charts all these voices double a good amount of the parts anyway.
 

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Discussion Starter #4
In many ways, your argument is fairly moot on many charts. On most charts all these voices double a good amount of the parts anyway.
That's ultimately true. I guess that part of my agenda is persuading conductors that they NEED a bass sax. One aspect of that is imbalance - in my area, the bass clarinets and bassoons are not equal to the vast blasts of massed brass.
 

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Best way to do that then is to play and show them your ability to add to the ensemble, blend and not stick out.
 

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If it has to be done, I'd say stick to the tuba parts. Generally, however, I think instruments without parts written for them should stay out. It's a cool thing when a bass sax part does exist, and typically the problem is the absence of a bass sax, not its presence. (I've played a few bass sax parts on tenor.) But unless the ensemble is rather loosely administered -- which sometimes does occur with lower-level community bands that like to foster a "come one, come all" attitude -- it's preferable not to add instruments that aren't called for in the score. The exception is when a written part is not being covered at all by the existing band lineup, e.g., string bass or contrabass clarinet. In that case, the part should be played by any alternative instrument that's in the ballpark in terms of timbre and range.
 

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I played tuba parts, when playing bass sax on march repertoire. When the occasional bass sax part surfaced, I found them to be the same, except sometimes an octave lower than the tuba. Not a contrabass instrument, you say?

They did sometimes have a tacit section or two, where the tuba plays. So along with that business with the octaves, you could exercise some judgement as to when the bass sax is a good thing and when it's not. I sure can't support the idea that it's anything like contrabass clarinet, except inasmuch as they too tend to play the same line as the tuba.
 
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