Deciding on a Brass Instrument

By Alexander Sutton

Brass instruments are both wonderful to hear and a joy to see. These instruments are used for a huge number of musical styles, so anyone interested in playing can, with a little practice, jump in and enjoy themselves in a large body of music, whether it's classical, jazz, or world music. Each type of instrument has its own unique sound, playing style, and music so picking which instrument best for you can be a tough choice as each offers its own special appeal to players. Deciding on instrument starts with being aware of the instruments available to you and the different pro's and con's of each.

One of the most popular instruments is the trumpet. This instrument is easy to play, compact, and has a lead place in many different musical compositions in a large number of genres. It's sound is very bright and loud with many pieces showing off the speed and complexity possible with this instrument. Many people are already familiar with the many famous players of the trumpet like Dizzy Gillespie and Louis Armstrong.

The trombone is a much simpler instrument in appearance, but like the trumpet it is used in an immense number of genres for a great number of purposes whether as the lead or as the back up. The trombone, unlike the trumpet, requires a larger amount of physical effort to play, which players either enjoy or dislike. It plays in the bass clef and so has a deep guttural sound, nonetheless it can be quite loud at the same time.

The French horn is a lot like the trumpet in many ways, but its sound is very refined. It is used most often in classical compositions and sometimes as back up in modern music. Its music is usually a lead part for a brass section. This instrument is quite expensive and difficult to maintain. With its limitations to orchestra music, only players interested in this type of music should purchase it.

The tuba is much like the French horn in terms of cost, maintenance, and musical style. It is, however, on the bass end rather than the high end. It is almost exclusively an instrument which backs up the lead sections of a bass, much like a bass guitar.

There are more specialized brass instruments, but these are the main types and other models are a variation of these main types. There's no reason to not play them all, however every person will find themselves drawn to one type.

Cornets & Trumpets

Cornets and trumpets are the highest of the brass family and these instruments are very popular to their wide use in all genres of music. Cornets are mainly found in the brass band scene. Although Bb cornets can also be found in wind orchestras and were used by romantic period composers in orchestral music.

Trumpets
 are found in many styles of music. This includes orchestras and jazz bands as well as appearing as backing instruments for many current pop artists.

Flugel Horns

Flugel Horns

  • Pitched the same as a cornet or trumpet in Bb

  • Much warmer and fatter sounding due to the larger conical bore and larger bell flare

  • Used mainly in jazz bands and brass bands

 

Tenor Horn & French Horn

The horn section is the alto voice of the brass instrument family. The tenor horn mainly plays the middle voices in band music (brass and concert bands) and bridges the gap fromÂtrumpets to trombones by being 5th lower in pitch. The sound of a tenor horn is quite bright sounding but mellower then a cornetdue to the number of curves in the instrument and be lower in pitch.

The French horn is a perfect 4th lower than the trumpet. This instrument is a large conical tube that is wrapped in a circle. French horn has a full, warm, intense and velvety and is homogenous throughout the range apart from the lowest notes are slightly muffled.

Baritone and Euphonium

Baritone

    Pitched in Bb (an octave lower than the trumpet) Mainly found in brass bands and some symphonic wind band music. Produces a tone with the brightness of the trombone but due to the more curves its mellower at the same time.

Euphonium

    Pitched in Bb an octave lower than the trumpet. Found in brass bands and wind bands with the occasional use in orchestras e.g. Mars from The Planets composed by Hosts Also known as a tenor tuba. Conical bore 3 valve and 4 valve combinations can be played.

Tennor & Bass Trombones

Trombones are the only brass instruments not to use Valves. Instead the performer changes the pitch using the slide. Extending the length of the slide by pushing it out gets a lower pitch. 

There are 7 positions on a tenor trombone.
Trombones produce a very bright direct sound being cylindrical in design and only having 2 curves they are very quick responsive instruments. The performer memorises where the slide needs to be put for each note.

Tuba & Eb Tuba

Tubas are the lowest instruments in the brass family. Tubas usually play the bass lines in the brass family. Tubas can be found in many different ensembles in classical music. Even though they are the lowest of the brass family, when played by a good tuba player they can be extremely romantic and full sound as well as nimble. With being a conical bore the tuba provides a lovely rich full warm sound. Tubas come in a range of different keys and this helps for the repertoire that is being played.

 

The most common tuba is the Eb tuba and is used in orchestras and wind bands; known as the Eb bass in brass bands.