The instruments of the brass family have a lot in common, but each one is also unique in one way or another. Todays post will introduce each instrument and give a brief description of how they are made. Prior to discussing each instrument I would like to give a little introduction to the brass family, focusing on the characteristics that brings them together. If you are unfamiliar with the brass family this is the post for you. The instruments of the brass family includes:
- The Trumpet/Cornet
- The Horn
- The Trombone
- The Baritone/Euphonium
- The Tuba
Introducing the Brass Family
There are several characteristics that are common among all brass instruments. These include:
- Brass instruments are defined as aerophones. This means that the musician must blow air through the instrument in order to make sound.
- The musician creates a tone by buzzing the lips into the mouthpiece. The size of the mouthpiece will vary depending on the instrument but the basic concept is the same for all of them.
- All brass instruments are based on the overtone series, which is a defined set of notes. With the absence of valves and slides brass instruments were only capable of producing the notes of the overtone series. There are many gaps in the overtone series thus valves and slides were invented to make it possible to produce all the of the notes of the chromatic scale.
The trumpet/cornet, the highest pitched instrument of the brass family, actually has a very long history. In the beginning they were often used for signalling during battle or hunting. The earliest known instruments to resemble the trumpet were found in writings that date back to 3000 B.C.E. Throughout history the trumpet has been considered an instrument of royalty. By the sixteenth century trumpet guilds that had been formed in the fourteenth century were considered the strongest unions of Europe. They were allowed to perform at a number of events including royal events.
Baroque composers, such and Handel and Bach, favoured the trumpet but classical composers did not like its shrill sound. It wasn’t until Beethoven used it in his Third Symphony that it became a part of the orchestra.
Today the trumpet can be found in a number of different ensembles and settings. It remains a standard in the orchestra, as well as, wind ensembles, jazz bands, and brass ensembles. Trumpets have also became popular solo instruments and are becoming more prominent in popular music.
Below you will find a beautiful solo played on the Trumpet.
Trumpet Concerto In E Flat – Iii Rondo,Hummel Played by Tine Thing Helseth with the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra
Here are some more articles related to the trumpet
The Horn has been around for a really long time. It is suggested that they have been in existence for about thirty centuries. It is called the horn because in the beginning it was actually animals horns. Up until the last three centuries the horn was primarily used in battle and hunting.
The horn never really appeared in the orchestra as a musical instrument until the 1700’s. Prior to this time, if used within music, their purpose was more for effect then to create a melodic line. A major issue that hindered the use of the horn in the orchestra was its inability to create all of the notes of the chromatic scale. The pitches available on the horn were greatly increased with the addition of crooks in the early 1700’s.
Another factor that helped improve the availability of pitches on the horn was the use of the hand in the bell. By placing the hand in the bell in a variety of positions the player could not only mute the horn, but also change the pitches that were being produced. In the 19th century the valved horn was introduced replacing the hand horn.
The horns played today are valved horns but the player still places their hand in the bell to manipulate the pitch and sound of the instrument. It is a beautiful instrument capable of executing the smoothest of melodic lines. The horn continues to be a standard instrument in the orchestra and can also be found in wind ensembles and brass ensembles.
A beautiful Horn Solo. Tchaikovsky’s 5th Symphony, Solo performed by Danilo Stagni
The trombone is the only instrument in the brass family that does not use valves to change the pitch. Instead of valves the trombone is equipped with a slide that moved to different positions to achieve different pitches. The earliest known instruments to resemble the trombone were used by the Roman armies. These instruments were know as buccina. The instrument was about 12 feet in length and was shaped like the letter “C”. The Romans seem to have discovered how to bend metal tubing. However, this skill was lost with the fall of the Roman empire and was not discovered again until the middle ages.
In the fourteenth century the sackbut was used. This instrument is a definite ancestor to the trombone. By the end of the sixteenth century the sackbut was available in several sizes and ranges.
Sackbuts were prominent in the tower music of Germany and church music of composers, such as Monteverdi, of the Venetian school. The trombone was seen as a sacred instrument within the church for many years. Although it was considered a sacred instrument it did eventually find its way into one of the first operas, Orfeo, by Monteverdi. Composers continued to use the trombone in operas and ensembles but more for colour effects then an actual contributor to the orchestra.
The musical potential of the trombone was discovered by Mozart, and later used by Beethoven in his Fifth Symphony. It seems that the trombone was better understood as a melodic instrument in Berlioz’ Treatise on Orchestration in 1844. Since then the trombone has become a standard member of the orchestra.
The trombone is still a popular instrument and can be found in many ensembles including the orchestra, wind ensembles and jazz bands.
Below you will find a video of a fantastic trombone solo by Christian Lindberg
The baritone and euphonium were a result of the search for tenor brass instruments that could match the tone quality of the higher brasses (trumpet, cornet, horn) in wind bands and ensembles during the 1800’s. By this time the valve had been invented, thus instrument maker experimented to develop these instruments.
Today the baritone is associated with the tenor voice and the euphonium is associated with the baritone voice. In brass literature a separate part is written for each instrument.
For many years the baritone and euphonium was played by players who had impairments that hindered their ability to play the trumpet. They were also given to musicians that just did’t practice. Of these two instruments the euphonium has been better known for its beautiful sound quality. A skilled musician with good listening skills can make the instrument sound as beautiful as any other brass instrument.
The baritone and euphonium can be found in wind ensembles, marching bands, and brass bands as a member of the low bass. Thy are also known to provide beautiful melodic lines within the ensemble.
David Child’s performing The Carnival Of Venice on the Euphonium with orchestral accompaniment.
The tuba is the lowest pitched and largest instrument of the brass family. Unlike the the trumpet, horn and trombone it has no known ancestors that resemble the same general characteristics and appearance. The tuba was invented in the mid nineteenth century, although no one is completely sure of who actually invented it. stolzel and Moritz have both been credited with its invention in 1835, but it was first used prior to 1835 by Wilhelm Wieprecht.
Adolf Sax also contributed to the invention of the tuba. The tubas used in bands and orchestras today are those invented by Sax. His BB flat tuba is most often found in the band, while the CC and F tuba is most often found in the orchestra. The CC tuba is most common is German and French Orchestras.
The sounds of the tuba can be heard mostly in brass ensembles, wind ensembles and orchestras. It is the lowest pitched instrument of the wind family (includes all wind instruments) and is commonly known for providing the bass line. It does, however, receive melodic lines from time to time.
A great tuba solo by Vaughn Williams. Tuba Concerto movement 1 played by Beth McDonald
My Final Thoughts on the Instruments of the Brass Family
As noted above the instruments of the brass family certainly do share a lot of common characteristics but they all have a unique history that is separate from one another. Their prominent sound quality and similar playing techniques have united them to become one family. With the exception of the trombone, the invention of valves in the late 1700’s really gave these instruments the ability to create melodic and virtuosic lines within the ensemble and as solo instruments. They continue to play significant roles in the orchestra, wind ensembles and marching bands. They also provide beautiful music within brass ensembles which can vary in size, from small ensembles containing one of each instrument to larger ensembles like those used by the Salvation Army. If you have any question or comments regarding brass instruments please leave a comment below. I would love to hear about your experiences and thoughts.
I would like to leave you today with a video displaying the beauty that can be created within the brass ensemble by brass instruments. Here is the Canadian Brass performing Quintet by Michael Kamen
**Some information within this post was found in The Teaching of Instrumental Music written by Richard J. Colwell and Thomas W. Goolsby
To read more about instrument families please visit my page about The Four Families of The Orchestra.