From marching bands and classical orchestras to jazz, brass instruments remain a significant component of modern-day music. That’s why it’s important to be familiar with the brass instruments list. And, this article gives you a closer look at these musical instruments.
What Is a Brass Instrument
Brass instruments are musical instruments that produce sound by reverberating and amplifying the vibration of the lips via a tubular resonator. They are sometimes referred to as labrosones or labrophones in scientific circles.
They belong to the family of wind instruments that have been in existence since time immemorial. That is to say, brass instruments are close siblings to woodwind instruments.
However, the two differ functionally as well as materially. Typically, brass instruments are made entirely of brass whereas woodwinds may be made of different material combinations. In terms of playing the two instruments, they both rely on your breath to produce sound.
Even so, with a brass instrument, you have to vibrate your lips or buzz them against the instrument’s mouthpiece. This action causes the air inside the instrument to vibrate and produce sound. Their long pipes also feature button-like valves to amplify and modify the sound and pitch as you play the brass instrument.
Woodwind instruments on the other hand, only require you to blow into a single reed or double reed to produce sound.
With that in mind, let’s explore what the brass family entails by reviewing the following brass instruments list.
What Instruments Are in the Brass Family
In a brass instruments list, you will find flutes, trumpets, baritone horns, and more. Here is a closer look of each musical instrument.
The trumpet is considered one of the most ancient members of the brass family. Starting out as merely a signaling instrument for different occasions, the trumpet has had quite an interesting evolution to become a present-day musical gem.
Being the smallest member of the brass family, trumpets produces the highest pitches by buzzing your lips into its mouthpiece. The instrument features a cylindrical bore for air intake and sliding tube (or valves) to alter the note produced.
Generally, in a symphony orchestra, there are four trumpets for melody and harmony, and are played in a horizontal position. You’ll also find trumpets in jazz bands.
One of the most straightforward instruments in the brass family, the bulge is the simplest to handle and play. It features no slides or valves for pitch alteration. Instead, you have to rely solely on your embouchure to change the pitch accordingly.
The structure of the bulge is simply a metal tubing detailing a cup mouthpiece on one end and a bell on the other end. Thanks to its simple design, the bulge comes with only five notes. Its earliest version was made from animal horns and was commonly associated with the military.
The piccolo trumpet is the tiniest member of the trumpet family. Its length is half that of a typical trumpet but features a higher register range. That means its pitch is one octave higher than that of the standard Bb range. Thus, it ranges from D4 to G6 in high Bb.
Even so, that doesn’t mean the piccolo trumpet extends the range upwards, rather, it only makes your work easier when playing in the high register. That said, while some piccolo trumpets come with three valves, four is the accepted standard.
The cornet is closely related to the trumpet because they play similar notes and almost produce the same sound. However, in appearance, the trumpet is slenderer and longer than the cornet. In terms of the tubing or bore, the cornet is more conical and hence produces a mellower sound.
That said, the cornet can be classified as an Eb cornet and a Bb cornet based on their pitches. Typically, an Eb cornet (soprano voice) is popular in brass bands and produces a higher sound than the Bb cornet. Thus, the Bb cornet is popular with solo work in both brass bands and wind bands.
The flugelhorn originated in Europe and boasts strong ties with the military. From ancient history, this famous cousin of the trumpet and cornet has continued to grow in popularity. Today, it is commonly found in jazz circles as an auxiliary instrument.
It comes with a more distinct conical bore compared to the trumpet and hence producing a mellower sound. The flugelhorn also features three piston valves whose fingering system matches that of the trumpet. It rose in prominence in the early 1900s.
French Horn/Tenor Horn
Next on the brass instruments list after the diverse trumpet family is the French horn or what is sometimes referred to as the tenor horn. In the musical circle, you may also encounter the term, “alto horn”. The truth is that both alto horn and tenor horn mean the same thing. It’s just that the latter is an English term, while the former is an American term.
That said, the French horn is an actual horn that dates back to the 16 century inspired by French and German hunting horns at the time. It is among the high-sounding instruments in the brass family characterized by a circular tubing terminating as a large bell.
Rather than a conical bore, the trombone features a distinctive cylindrical bore that terminates into a flared bell. Another unique feature of the trombone is its use of a slide as opposed to valves or keys to alter the pitch. Thanks to the interconnection of long, slender brass pipes, sliding is possible to adjust the length of the instrument accordingly.
In terms of inception, the trombone was birthed in the mid-1500s and was originally called the “sackbut” (English) or “saqueboute” (French).
The trombone family comprises several members (mostly varying by size), key among them being the tenor trombone. It is the most popular of the trombone family and comes pitched in Bb. Moreover, the tenor trombone can further be classified as one with an F attachment and one without. Generally, the F attachment helps in altering slide positions on certain notes while providing a few lower notes.
Another distinction of the tenor trombone is that those with a single valve generally come with a larger bore than those without a valve.
A close sibling of the tenor trombone, the bass trombone is also quite popular in modern orchestras. Just like its counterpart, it is pitched in Bb except it comes with two rotary valves. Thus, the name “bass” doesn’t have to sound confusing if you get this difference. Essentially, the two valves help the bass trombone to play lower than its brother.
In terms of size, the bass trombone boasts a larger bore, bigger mouthpiece, and bigger bell. Thanks to the wider bore, bass trombones make it easier to play low tones. Their big bells also mean they produce mellower tones than tenor trombones.
The tuba is not only the largest but also the lowest-pitched member of the brass family. Thanks to its enormous size, it easily stands out from its peers. It is crafted as a long brass tube with an oblong shape and terminates into a super large bell. It may have up to 6 valves.
Generally, tubas vary in length, and the longer the tuba, the lower the sound and vice versa. Further, an orchestra usually features a single tuba played while seated and placed on the lap.
Common in marching bands, the sousaphone is a close companion to the tuba. However, while similar in range to the tuba, the sousaphone is specially designed for ease of use while marching or standing. Thus, the main difference between the two siblings lies primarily in their shape.
Although they have a similar tube length, the sousaphone boasts a unique circular shape that easily wraps around your body for easier carriage as you play. That means when used in a band setup, the sound of a sousaphone resonates over the players’ heads because its giant flared bell faces upwards.
Sometimes referred to as a mini tuba, the baritone horn or just baritone is a proud invention of the saxophone inventor. It came into being in the late 1700s and initially produced sound by striking glass rods. From there, it evolved as a member of the tuba family boasting a higher note range.
It features a sizeable tubing and three valves, and terminates into either a straight or curved bell. You can adjust the instrument’s pitch by altering the opening between your lips because the pitch depends on the volume of the vibrating air. Generally, shorter tubes produce higher sounds than longer ones.
The Mellophone is one unique member of the brass family specially designed for modern marching applications. In other words, it is optimized for outdoor musicality, projection, and playability. It features two or three keys and is mostly used in place of French horns because its sound dissipates faster outdoors.
In terms of appearance, the Mellophone features a bore with a distinct funnel shape and a tuning slide that functions just like the trumpet and other valve instruments. Because of its outdoor demeanor, the Mellophone is rarely used in performances.
The euphonium is a medium-sized member of the brass family characterized by a conical bore and three or four valves. It resembles a tiny tuba and plays one octave lower than the trumpet. What makes the euphonium stand out is its compensating mechanism or system that was developed in the 19th century.
The system essentially works by regulating the instrument’s intonation when the valves are pressed. It also simplifies the fingering process. The euphonium is a popular instrument in brass and military bands thanks to its unique middle voice sitting between a trumpet and a tuba.
Time to Add Some Brass to Your Music!
Modern music is more dynamic than ever before. To keep up with the fast-paced music evolution, understanding the right musical instruments to match today’s music demands is imperative.
Thanks to this elaborate brass instruments list, you now know what each member of the brass family can bring to your music. Good luck trying them out!