The Full Voice Steel Band Orchestra

In a full voice steel drum band, more steel band instrument types are utilized to maximize the expressive capabilities of the ensemble.The four voice steel band has Leads (also known as Tenors), Double Seconds, Cellos/Guitars and Basses. The most common additions to a four voice steel drum band to make it full voice are the Double Tenors and Tenor Bass steel band  pans.The Double Tenor is in the same range as a Double Second since it most often has F below middle C as the lowest note.While it also has all the notes on two steel drum barrels,  it has a different note pattern and a distinct sound as compared to the Double Second steel band pan.The outer rim notes on the steel drum are grooved with a more square shape rather than the oval shape seen on most steel drum band instrument notes. This was an innovation of Bertie Marshall of Trinidad, who is a great master tuner and the most important creator of the modern harmonically rich sound of  steel drum band instruments. The squaring off of the note shapes gives the Double Tenor a more bell like sound, which adds a different timbre to the palette of sounds available to a steel drum band arranger.  

This might be compared to the use of  an oboe in a symphony orchestra.  While the oboe is a reed instrument like a clarinet, it is often used to bring a different color to an orchestral arrangement since it’s more edgy sound contrasts so nicely with the warmer sound of a clarinet.The Double Tenor steel band instrument is used to create this contrast to the Double Seconds.It is also very effective in doubling the melody parts played by the Lead steel pans but at an interval of one third lower in pitch.Because of it’s range, it can be used for both chordal playing, known as “strumming” and for melody.This is partly why it is a favorite steel band instrument for many solo artists in small ensembles.  The other reason is the unique tone of this steel pan.It is preferred by some players as an ideal voice for groups where there is only one steel drum player paired up with rhythm section instruments like piano, electric bass and drum set and also by steel pan jazz players.The hard to define sound of a Double Tenor steel pan can be said to be both warmer and more ringing or bell like.   

The Tenor Bass steel drum is a high bass instrument comprised of four barrels that is used as a lower color instrument and to add a punchier sound to bass parts also being played by the Six Bass steel band instrument.  They can also be used to play higher syncopated parts in conjunction with the bass line played by the Six Bass, something like when an electric bassist plays “slap” bass.

The range starts about an octave and a half below middle C and runs chromatically to middle C.Some have used the Tenor Bass in small bands as a more portable alternative to the larger steel drum band Six  Bass instrument. The trade off is that you lose about one half octave from the lower bass range.  Now that there is a very effective Short Skirt Six Bass steel band instrument that matches the depth and power of a Six Bass, this much more easily transportable steel band instrument is becoming an important alternative for those needing easy portability without sacrificing sound quality and range.

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