Brass instruments, also known as labrosones, which accurately means “lip-vibrated instrument”, they create sounds with the reverberation and amplification of the vibration of the lips through a “tubular resonator“, made distinct by their size, sound, and material.
Scholars and critics have often defined brass instruments with the sound it makes and not by the material it is made of with its namesake—brass. Brass is the yellow-colored alloy, which is typically the defining association to the instrument. Still, on the contrary, brass instruments are made from a good range of materials ever from when it was first created, from animal skin, shells, or horns like the bagpipes or shofar, and wood-like the alphorn and cornett.
Nowadays, some brass instruments made use of lighter materials like fiberglass. In turn, some woodwind instruments use the material brass like the flute and saxophone.
How Do Brass Instrument Works & Project Sound?
Brass instruments, contrary to its names, are not limited to the material brass and have first started as horns. Brass instruments projects sound with the vibration of lips, which in turn vibrates the air inside the instrument. Its tubes and valves act as amplifiers and modifiers for a more distinct pitch and note.
Brass instruments come in all shapes and form, made distinct with their range in pitch and note based on length of tubing, and whether it facilitates slides, valves or crooks to manipulate the resonance of the sound, or in a more straightforward approach, by the modification in the vibration of the lips like in the instrument shofar and bugle, which is a Jewish instrument made out of sheep’s horn and is used during religious holidays.
But the skill of playing a brass instrument is dependent on the player’s embouchure (the vibration of lips), lip and muscle tension, and airflow to create a harmonic series.
According to Alistair Mackie, a Joint Principal Trumpet of the Philharmonic Orchestra in London, the lips are the players’ “reeds“, in comparison to woodwind instrument players wherein they often shave the reed for optimum condition. The buzzing that comes from the lips, the amount of control, strength, and power made against the mouthpiece makes a huge difference in the skill and ability of a brass player.
Brass instruments are well-known to be played in orchestras and brass bands. Brass bands are culturally known in places like England. The popularity of the brass band started during the industrial revolution to assuage uprisings and political activities, and preoccupy workers with leisure time.
12 Types of Brass Instrument
As mentioned before, there is a wide variety of brass instruments differing in form, sound, and material. Here is a list of brass instruments and their descriptions.
This instrument is considered the most simple and straightforward brass instrument among labrosones because it does not have valves or slides that alter the pitch. Simple enough, pitch-alteration comes solely from the player’s embouchure. Due to its straightforward design, its notes are also limited within a harmonic series and only delivers five notes known as the bugle scale.
The origin of the bugle goes way back from the idea of horns that were obtained from animals—this is significant to the events of the primeval culture of hunting. It evolved with the signature coil from the French Horn to the instrument we now know today. As it had changed during the 18th century with the addition of keys, that distinction gave way to the modern trumpet and the valves to the modern cornet and flugelhorns.
Its sister brass is the trumpet, and their difference lay in the shape of their bell. Essentially, a trumpet is cylindrical with a cup-shaped mouthpiece while a bugle is conical with a funnel-shaped mouthpiece. In comparison to the lively, zesty sound of the trumpet, the bugle is known for its mellower and solemn tone.
The bugle is still being used today solely in the military and boy scouts, as well as Boys’ Brigade. In the military, it’s sound serves as the signal for routinary activities in camp—in assembling soldiers in marching and giving orders in the process. Back in the day, it was used in cavalries to send orders to soldiers on military combats and fields.
One infantry regiment is the ‘Rifles‘ in the British Army, who have retained the use of the instrument as a symbol and for ceremonies along with its past rifle regiments. There is the so-called ‘bugle major’ who is a senior non-commissioned officer whose role is to head the group of buglers.
While the evolution of brass instruments came from natural materials such as shells and horns, the trumpet emerged from the adjustments made on the bugle. The use of brass as the material for the instrument started in the 15th century, and the use of valves was created in the late 18th century, also with a range in the length of tubing.
Its sound became more diverse and varied depending on its built. Its subtypes ranging from piccolo trumpets with the highest range of note or pitch, also called the register, to the bass (pronunciation) trumpet, which has the lowest register, one octave lower than the standard B♭ or C trumpet. Its sound also depends on the shape of the mouthpiece, with a deep cup, it produces a mellower sound; a shallower cup produces a bright and piercing sound.
Trumpets became a popular instrument heard in classical and jazz ensembles. It can be heard until today mixed in pop culture like in modern bands and not limited to orchestras. Trumpets are known in orchestras as soloists for reasons that with a slightly longer tubing, and it delivers a brighter and clearer tone. In the brass section, it is dominating based on its volume. In comparison to other brass instruments like the cornet, the trumpet’s notes snap less efficiently, making a jazzy, slightly raspy, “colored” notes, making it easier to play.
The cornet is the smallest among traditional brass instruments, yet, many agree that this brass instrument is challenging to play due to mouthpiece with a deeper, V-shaped cup. Despite this, it is the most played instrument by brass musicians, and about 30% of brass players play the cornet.
Cornet is similar to the trumpet, yet differing in its shape having a conical bore, having a more compact shape, and a more solemn, rich tone quality. The standard cornet can transition in B♭, while there is also a soprano cornet in E♭ and C. It is distinct with its velvety and round sound, which blends harmoniously in a symphony orchestra. There are small differences made between a smaller E♭ cornet and a larger B float cornet. Because of its sound and form, cornet has a limitation for higher notes.
4) Piccolo Trumpet
A piccolo trumpet is the smallest in the trumpet family and is pitched an octave higher than a standard B♭ trumpet. Usually, piccolo trumpets are built for playing B♭ or A pitch with the use of different lead pipes for each key. The tubing in B♭ Piccolo trumpets is half of the length of a standard B♭ trumpet. Besides, it should not be confused with a pocket trumpet, which plays in the same key as a B♭ trumpet.
A piccolo trumpet cannot play the higher notes; though, it offers more accuracy in the upper register than standard B♭ trumpet. Manufacturers have also produced piccolo trumpets in G, F, and high C, they are rare.
Piccolo trumpets in B♭ are used for transpositions to cover for high material as appropriate though it is not explicitly written.
The Flugelhorn was first created in Berlin, Germany, by Heinrich Stölzel in 1828 as a type of valved bugle away from the conventional English valveless bugle. This model of the valved bugle gave Adolphe Sax, maker of the saxophone instrument family, further with the influence for his B♭ soprano (contralto) saxhorns. On that design, the Flugelhorn is displayed today.
A flugelhorn is usually compared to the trumpet or cornet but is debated by many on this claim since its mouthpiece has a particular characteristic. Its inner bore has a considerable size that affects a more significant air consumption and uses, though, it should reverberate the sound smoothly due to its lower blowing resistance.
The sound that the Flugelhorn emphasizes is the timbre, as it takes the melody a degree darker than the cornet and trumpet and goes between the sound of a trumpet and a French Horn. It has the same length as the tube as a trumpet but a wider and conical bore.
6) French Horn (Horn in F)
Also called as “horn” for short since the 1930s among musical experts. It is a brass instrument made of metal sculpted in the shape of a long tube which is coiled and expanded into a wide bell. One difference of the French horn is the German double horn, which is keyed in F or B flat, is regularly utilized by hornists in professional symphonies and musical groups. ‘Hornists’ or horn player is the name for musicians who specialize in the French Horn.
By the basics of playing Brass instruments, the pitch is controlled by a multitude of accompanying elements:
- The speed of the vibration of the air molecules in the instrument which are controlled by the lungs and diaphragm of the musician;
- Measurement and strain of embouchure;
- Also, in a cutting-edge French horn, the activity of valves (which varies in speed and control of the musician), which courses the air into additional areas of tubing.
The most commonly manufactured structure in horns is the rotating valves. Still, in more established horns, they use a cylinder or piston valves, for example, the Vienna horn utilizes two-fold cylinder valves or pumpenvalves.
The mellophone is known as a brass instrument for marching bands, with its horns facing forward rather than to the back as the dissipation of the sound is a concern due to the open air. Therefore, mellophones are used instead of French Horns. This instrument can also be played instead of the French Horn in professional orchestras and concert bands.
It has two to three valves in keys of F, G, B♭, and E♭. The mellophone’s G is the same as that of the bugle. Having a funnel-shaped bore, this feature resembles that of the euphonium and Flugelhorn. The mellophone is utilized as the center voice brass instrument in bands and drum and bugle corps.
Tuning is done exclusively by moving the tuning slide. Tuning for the mellophone is equivalent to the tuning for the trumpet, alto (tenor) horn, and most valved brass instruments. Because of its frequent utilization outside concert music, there isn’t enough document to track its usage and connotations with the use of this instrument in performances.
Euphonium is known for many names such as German baryton, a baritone, and a tenor tuba. It is a brass instrument that looks like a small tuba, and from its namesake ‘tenor tuba’, it sings an octave lower than the trumpet and a degree higher than a tuba—a middle voice, which is typically heard in brass and military groups.
What sets it differently from other brass instruments is its compensating mechanism for adjustments made that vary on models. It can be that three or four valves can be installed to create a more defined and differentiated intonation.
The trombone was known as sackbut until the 1700s. It is known in the brass family, particularly with a sliding tube and a cylindrical bore leading to a flared bell. It is also deemed as the easiest instrument to play among brass instruments.
Instead of valves, a sliding tube is controlled to change pitch and allows the instrument to draw basic tones but also intermediate ones. Its long structure is positioned by a cross stay, which is manipulated by the right hand, while the bell joint is supported by the player’s left shoulder.
Trombones vary in the bore. The older bores have the same width as the trumpet, followed by medium and large bores having wider bells. The trombone with the widest bore is made to play bass trombone parts. A tenor trombone which has a fundamental tone of B♭ is preferred to by most trombone players.
Famous for its loud and other-worldly sound, its name is a Latin word simply meaning ‘tube’, some people are convinced that the Tuba came from heaven above, which brings out an irony since its register ranges the lowest of the brass section. The Tuba has three to six valves and a wide-scale length and an even wider bore. It is played through a wide and deep cup- or bowl-shaped mouthpiece.
It has four main pitches—F, E♭, C, and B♭. The design of this instrument rangers from the Sousaphone for a marching tune to the contrabass tuba, which is an astounding 580cm in length (approximately six meters) and has an earth-shaking tone.
Learn more about different types of tubas.
11) Sousaphone Tuba
The Sousaphone is a brass instrument known for its presence in various music genres and marching bands. It was initially made out of brass until the 20th century, where fiberglass, lighter, and more durable material is being used.
Under the class of Tuba, Sousaphone is designed for ease of usage while standing or marching, having its sound resonate over the heads in a band. It has a large cupped mouthpiece, and, unlike most brass instruments, it is bent in a circle to fit around the musician’s body, and a flared bell facing forward. Because of its design and ease of usage, it is often employed in marching bands and also in other music genres.
Under the trombone family, Cimbasso is distinct for its range in sound from warm and bright to mellow and menacing. It makes use of three to six piston or rotary valves, a cylindrical bore, and at present, is often pitched in F, though E♭, C, and B♭ models are also made available. It employs the same range of pitch as the Tuba or the contrabass trombone, yet, the technique lies on the quickness with its use of valves in comparison to the contrabass trombone.
The modern Cimbasso is mainly used in opera scores. Outside of this context, some composers like Ottorino Respighi and Bian Ferneyhough utilizes the instrument in their symphonies and orchestral work. It can also be heard in some motion picture soundtracks.