Brass Family: Instruments, History & Facts

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  • 0:33 Characteristics
  • 1:38 The Trumpet
  • 2:58 The Trombone
  • 3:53 The Horn
  • 4:44 The Tuba
  • 5:44 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Cathy Neff

Cathy has taught college courses and has a master's degree in music.

In this lesson, you'll learn about the brass family, what instruments belong to it, their history, and some fun facts. Afterward, you can test your knowledge with a quiz.

What Is The Brass Family?

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.

Characteristics Of Brass Instruments

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.

The Trumpet: Instrument Facts and History

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:

B Flat Trumpet Range
B flat trumpet range

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: Instrument Facts and History

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:

Tenor Trombone Range
tenor trombone range

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