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The Section of Two
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What's a Mellophone?

Don't know what a mellophone is?


The single most frequently asked question about the mello... what exactly is it? The mello is a brass instrument that roughly corresponding in range and tone to the horn, which is why many mello players play horn in concert band. Both the mello and horn are pitched in F and have conical bores, but the similarity stops there. The mello has three piston valves (as opposed to the rotary valves on the horn) and the mello valves are operated by the right hand. They use different mouthpieces, the horn mouthpiece having a deep conical shape while the mello mouthpiece resembles a trumpet mouthpiece, with a cup shaped mouthpiece of medium depth. The mello is also designed with a frontal bell, like a trumpet or trombone. The mello, therefore, produces a sound with more edge and projection, which tends to complement the style of playing required on the field.

The instrument played by the Marching 110 mellos and just about every other college and high school marching band in the country is more correctly labeled a mellophonium. The mellophone proper is an instrument with a circular wrap (like a horn, with the bell facing backwards and down), with piston valves played by the right hand, and pitched in Eb. However, the correct term has never caught on, and most players don't care what the instrument is really called! One may think that the mello never had much of a career off the band field (though I did see one played in an orchestra once). Jazz scholars may remember that Stan Keaton used mellos in his jazz band for a while in the early '60s, but they tended to have problems blending with the other, more traditional instruments, and the idea was scrapped.

Mellos are only one member of a family of alto range brass instruments. Others are the Eb altonium, and the extremely strange hybrid known as the frumpet, which may have been the result of a screw-up at the Getzen factory.

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