Discover all the different types of brass instruments in this post.
If you asked most people what brass instruments are, many would say that these are instruments made of brass. How would you answer? Well, saying brass instruments are those made of brass isn’t technically wrong and even sounds logical. However, a closer examination reveals that this is not absolutely true. After all, some woodwinds like the saxophone and clarinets are erroneously referred to as brass instruments.
In this post, we will discuss a selection of some of the most popular brass instruments that you should know about. Here we outline some of our thoughts and tips about these instruments.
Types of Brass Instruments
Let’s take a closer look at all the different types of brass instruments, from the well-known to the obscure:
The cornet is one of the most popular brass instruments that you will find all over the world. The build is very similar to the trumpet (more on that later), but it comes in a smaller size. It is often pitched to Bb during play and is a common fixture in brass bands.
The cornet might be the smallest of the typical brass instruments available, but it is also the most popular and most played – probably because of the size and sound. From observation, almost 30% of brass musicians play the cornet.
It is a beloved option because of the versatility, the round sound, and the ability to fit in seamlessly with the rest of the brass section. As we have pointed out, there are different types of cornets. These include the Eb cornet and the Bb cornet. If you are out to play high notes, the cornet reaches the high limits.
Although popular, many agree that it is one of the more difficult brass instruments to play.
Check out how the cornet sounds in this video:
Of course the trumpet makes an appearance on this list. It is undoubtedly the most popular out of all types of musical instruments, whether brass or not. This popularity is down to its presence in different situations ranging from jazz bands to brass bands and orchestras.
The ancestors of the modern trumpet have been a part of hum history for as long as can be remembered. Archaeologists have uncovered trumpet-like instruments of old, made out of different materials ranging from bones to metals and wood.
The trumpet has played an important role in human history, being used by armies, parades, alarms, and so on. The trumpet is one of the smallest members of the brass instruments but plays the highest pitches.
With the development is music, the trumpet as also undergone some evolution. Today, it is made of brass and has a trio of valves attached to it. These valves are bent into extended loops. When stretched, a trumpet can reach lengths of more than six feet.
For orchestras, there are at least two trumpets playing melody, harmony, and supporting the rhythm.
As indicated before, the trumpet is very similar to the cornet and features similar playing style. The difference between the two is that the trumpet is longer and clearer. That is why it is often used by soloists. It is also louder and dominates. The notes of the trumpet are colored, jazzy, and sweet to play.
3. French Horn
Up next is the French horn. This lives up to its name and originates from France. It is undisputedly a horn and comes from a rich history and culture. The French horn played a similar role to the trumpet in ancient times. Mostly, this instrument wasn’t used in music but for hunting. It originates from the French hunting horn of the 16th century.
Despite the ‘bloody’ history (we are sure boars and elk find the history bloody), this brass instrument is very versatile. It can give you different types of sounds, ranging from super loud to very mellow, and from a harsh call to a very soft call.
The construction of the French horn is similar to that of the trumpet in that it is also coiled and achieves great lengths when unfurled. The typical French horn can reach lengths of 18 feet when it is unfurled.
Aside from that length, the French horn also sports a bell at the end.
An orchestra usually has from 2 to 8 French horns. These horns are employed in playing melody, rhythm, and harmony. Playing this instrument is a tad more complicated than playing the cornet or trumpet. Both hands and mouth come into play as you alternate with either hand as you blow into the valves.
4. Flugel Horn
Like several of the brass instruments, the Flugel horn has a rich history. The modern flugel horn hails from the valved bugle.
This is another horn in the family of brass instruments. It is also referred to as the Flugelhorn, and other variations of the name. It is a small brass instrument that is quite similar in size and design to the trumpet. Although this instrument is quite similar to the trumpet, there are some differences. For one, it sports a smaller size.
Aside from that, this instrument also has a wider conical bore. Just like the trumpet, it has a similar pitch to the cornet.
For many folks, the playing style here is identical to that of the trumpet. However, while some hold this to be true, others are certainly not so sure. Aside from the smaller size, the mouthpiece of both instruments is certainly different. Although the mouthpiece of the Flugel horn has a large inner bore, the instrument itself is smaller.
Furthermore, playing the Flugel horn requires more air use and consumption. The benefit of this is a subjectively more pleasant, soft sound. It is pitched to Bb, just like the cornet.
5. Tenor Horn
The tenor horn is also called the alto. This brass instrument is fitted in a similar way to the baritone horn (we will discuss this later). Therefore, you will find that it sports a conical bore of similar dimensions. Unlike the others that we have reviewed and that have a pitch of Bb, this instrument is pitched to Eb. For most people, the tenor horn is found in a brass band.
Nonetheless, it can also be pitched to Bb as well. The sound is really nice, although it surprisingly doesn’t sound like the other brass instruments that lie in the foreground.
Instead of taking the lead, the alto is often employed as an accompanying instrument to the others. The type of pitch would determine the way the instrument is played. For instance, if the instrument is on the Eb pitch, the bell and mouthpiece are faced up. When in this pitch, the placement makes it pretty easy to play even when seated.
Overall, this instrument acts as a way of linking the different parts of the brass section. When properly used, it will increase the harmony of your composition.
The name trombone is derived from the Italian word Tromba, which when translated means large trumpets.
If you are looking for a markedly different member of the brass family, then the trombone qualifies as the ‘black sheep’ of the family. It is different from the others in the family, because unlike the others, you change the pitch of the instrument using a slide instead of valves. It is the only one in the family to use this method of playing.
The unique design of the trombone consists of long, thin brass pipes. A pair of these pipes are bent to form a U and are linked at the other ends to become an ‘S’. One of the pipes links to the other so that the overall length of the pipe can be retracted or extended.
Unlike some of the others in the family, this instrument is played while being held horizontally. Holding it in such a position, you blow into the mouthpiece and use the right hand to slide and adjust the pitch. There are up to seven positions, with each one giving you a unique pitch.
When completely extended, the trombone might reach lengths of up to 9 feet. Most orchestras have up to three trombones. The trombone is employed in playing in a similar range as the bassoon and the trio of trombones is used for harmonies.
This instrument is regarded as one of the easiest of all the instruments of the brass family.
However, whoever plays it must have a great ear for pitch.
The tuba is a unique part of the brass family. It holds a special place in the orchestra and is sometimes referred to as the ‘grandfather’ of the line of brass instruments. It is instantly recognizable as it is the biggest member of the brass family. Aside from the appearance, it also offers a unique sound, being the lowest out of all the instruments.
Just like the ‘children’ in the family, this instrument is also curved. It is made of a long metal tube that is bent into an oblong shape. The end of this long metal tube has a bell.
Because of the depth and the low pitch, most orchestras have just one tuba in the lineup. However, brass bands might use four tubas! As with other brass instruments, the dimensions are different. The length of the tubing is usually what is different, and this difference often depends on the pitch.
The standard models can have lengths of up to 16 feet, but generally, the tuba lies between 9 and 18 feet. One rule of thumb is that longer tubas have lower pitches and vice versa.
As this is a large instrument and is faced upwards, it is often played sitting. To play, you blow air into the huge mouthpiece and press on the valves to adjust the sound. As might be expected from such a large instrument, you need plenty of lung power to play the tuba.
This is another excellent member of this outstanding family of instruments. It shares similarities with some other members of the brass family, including the baritone horn. The Euphonium is designed with wider tubes and a bigger conical bore. When compared with several of the other options in the family, it gives you a mellow sound.
As it sings a lower octave than your trumpet, while not being as low as say, the tuba, the Euphonium is a special instrument that finds its place in the mid-tone section of an orchestra. One of the special features of this instrument is that it needs to be paired with a unique mouthpiece whose size is deeper and more conical.
Apart from all of these, perhaps the most distinguishing feature of the euphonium is its compensating mechanism. With this instrument, you have to fiddle with up to four valves. This in turn results in a unique sound and intonation that will elevate the composition.
We hope that this post on the 8 brass instruments has proven very informative and helpful.
Header image credit: Artem Maryshev