Explaining Brass Instruments - 1. The Basics

Tuesday, December 17, 2019 7:30 PM

This is the first in a planned series of brief articles explaining brass instruments.

Brass instruments are members of the Aerophone family. Wikipedia tells us:

An aerophone is a musical instrument that produces sound primarily by causing a body of air to vibrate, without the use of strings or membranes, and without the vibration of the instrument itself adding considerably to the sound.

Brass instruments consist of a length of tubing. One end of the tube goes on the player’s lips (the mouthpiece), the other end is flared out (the bell). The player activates the body of air inside the tubing so that it vibrates in resonance with the tubing length. The longer the length of tubing, the lower the note. This is why a tuba produces lower notes than a trumpet.

Here is a list of brass instruments in order of tubing length.

Brass instruments are descending instruments. They have a basic note dependent on their tubing length (more on this in later articles). Then, by adding extra lengths of tubing they are able to play down the scale. These extra lengths of tubing are added by either extending telescopic tubes (like a trombone) or adding fixed lengths of tubing by way of switches (valves).

Most brass instruments are made from one, or a mixture, of the common brass alloys; bronze, red brass, yellow brass, white brass (nickel silver). After the instrument is manufactured, it is polished and then either left uncoated, coated with lacquer, or electroplated in nickel, silver, or gold.