Back To CourseMusic 101: Help and Review
11 chapters | 355 lessons
As a member, you'll also get unlimited access to over 75,000 lessons in math, English, science, history, and more. Plus, get practice tests, quizzes, and personalized coaching to help you succeed.Try it risk-free
Cathy has taught college courses and has a master's degree in music.
Families. We all have them! Did you know that instruments belong to families, too? Well, there are many families in the music world, including the string family, the percussion family, the woodwind family, and, of course, the brass family.
The word 'brass' sounds like the word, 'brash,' which means to be over-confident, even almost rude. That can describe brass instruments sometimes, as they are often used to make a strong musical statement. What instruments are in the brass family? Where did they come from? What do we know about them? That's what we'll be exploring in this lesson.
Brass is a yellowish metal that is a combination of copper and zinc. But some instruments that are made of brass, like the saxophone, are not considered brass instruments. So, what makes an instrument part of the brass family?
For any sound to be produced, something has to vibrate, such as a column of air, a string, a reed, or a drum head. In the case of brass instruments, it is actually the player's lips that vibrate. This happens in a mouthpiece that's attached to the instrument, causing the air in the instrument to vibrate. Any instrument that produces sound in this way is part of the brass family.
There are two ways to change pitch in a brass instrument. The first way is to make the tubing of the instrument shorter or longer. Valves redirect the air to shorter or longer routes to make the pitch go up or down. Slides can move in or out, making the tube shorter or longer and the pitch go up or down accordingly.
The second way to change pitch in a brass instrument is for the player to make their lips tighter or looser. Brass players have to learn how to change pitch using these techniques, and sometimes a combination of them.
By 1400 B.C., the Egyptians had made a trumpet out of bronze and silver for military use, replacing earlier versions made of animal horns. Valves were added to the trumpet in the 19th Century.
The trumpet has a cylindrical bore, meaning its tubing is the same size throughout the instrument, giving the trumpet its bright sound. The trumpet has six feet of tubing looped to make the instrument easy to hold. The end of the tubing is flared and is called a bell. The trumpet has three valves which are pressed in certain combinations to produce different pitches.
The trumpet is a transposing instrument, which means the written note it plays is not the note that is heard. When the most common type of trumpet plays the written note 'C,' the sound that is heard is a step lower, or 'B flat,' giving it the name of B-flat trumpet. In order to produce the correct pitch, the music must be written up a step; to hear a 'C,' the player must play a written 'D.'
The notes that an instrument can play are called its range. This is the range of the B flat trumpet:
The cornet and the flugelhorn are related to the trumpet, but they have a conical bore, which means that the tubing gets bigger as it goes through the instrument; this gives them a mellower sound. The bugle is also related to the trumpet, but has no valves; all pitch changes are made with the player's lips.
The trombone was first mentioned in the 15th Century, but it wasn't used in the orchestra until Beethoven's Fifth Symphony in the early 19th Century. The trombone's ancestor was called a sackbut from the French words sacquer and bouter, meaning to 'pull' and 'push.'
Instead of valves, the trombone has a slide with seven different positions allowing the player to change pitch. The trombone comes in three sizes: alto, tenor, and bass, with tenor being the most popular. The tenor trombone is a non-transposing instrument, meaning that the written note it plays is the note that is heard. The range of the tenor trombone is this:
The trombone has nine feet of cylindrical tubing. The trumpet and the trombone both use different kinds of mutes, which are stuck in the bell of the instrument to change their sound. The most recognizable example of a muted trombone is the sound used for the voice of Charlie Brown's teacher in the Peanuts cartoons.
The first horns were used for hunting calls and had no valves; like the trumpet, the valves were added in the 19th Century. The horn has a conical bore with the 12 feet of tubing getting bigger as it goes. This gives the horn a mellow sound, which is perfect for playing in both a brass quintet and a woodwind quintet. The horn is played left-handed with the bell facing backwards and the player's right hand in the bell.
The horn is a transposing instrument, and when it plays a written 'C,' it produces an 'F,' giving it the name of Horn in F. Horns can also be B flat instruments, like the trumpet, and some horns called double horns are made to be both a B-flat instrument and an F instrument. There are literally two sides of a double horn, and the player can switch between the two sides with a trigger. The horn has a range between the trombone and the trumpet.
The tuba as we know it today was developed in 19th Century Prussia. It comes in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, with three to five valves and a bell that ranges from small and upright to large and forward facing. Concert tubas are designed to sit on the player's lap, while the tuba made for marching bands wraps around the player's body. The tuba can be made of brass or a combination of materials, including fiberglass.
The tuba has a conical bore with over 16 feet of tubing, and it is the lowest in pitch of all the brass instruments. It is a non-transposing instrument, meaning the notes are played as read.
The euphonium, which is sometimes called the tenor tuba, is a smaller, transposing instrument in B flat. It is often confused with the baritone, which is also a B-flat instrument which is smaller with a more cylindrical bore. Both the euphonium and the baritone are popular in marching bands and concert bands. Both may look similar to the tuba, but they are actually more closely related to the trombone than the tuba.
The brass family has been used for centuries in the military, for hunting, and in orchestras. Brass players vibrate their lips into a mouthpiece attached to the instrument. The smallest in size and the highest pitched of the brass family is the trumpet, with its cylindrical bore and valves. The trombone is also cylindrical, but it has a slide instead of valves. The horn and the tuba both have a conical bore with a less pointed sound. The horn is played left-handed with the bell facing backwards. The tuba is the lowest in pitch of the brass instruments, and it can be built to sit on the player's lap or wrap around the player's body.
To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account
Already a member? Log InBack
Did you know… We have over 160 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.
To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page
Not sure what college you want to attend yet? Study.com has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.
Back To CourseMusic 101: Help and Review
11 chapters | 355 lessons
Next LessonCarmen the Opera: Synopsis, Music & Composer