In today’s lesson we are going to look at the brass family of instruments, specifically the trumpet, French horn, trombone, and tuba.
The brass family are types of labrophones. The word labrophone comes from the Greek words ‘labro’ (lip) and ‘phone’ (sound). Sound is made by vibrating one’s lips into the mouthpiece. The air passes through the metal tubing to make a note. Different pitches (notes) are produced two ways: by changing the embouchure (shape of the mouth), and by changing the length of the tubing that the air passes through.
Changing the embouchure can make the lips vibrate faster or slower. Faster vibrations produce high pitches, slower vibrations produce low pitches. By controlling the lips, we can produce different notes along the harmonic series. Watch this video for a demonstration.
Just using the harmonic series isn’t enough to produce all the different notes we use in music. By changing the fundamental, we can fill in the gaps. On most brass instruments, we do this by pushing down valves (buttons), which changes the length of the tubing the air travels through.
Here you can see how trumpet valves work, and listen to how the instrument sounds:
The tuba works the same way as a trumpet, except due to its size it sounds much lower. As it works the same way as a trumpet you only need to watch the first 2-3 minutes.
The French horn also uses valves, although changes in pitch can also be produced by inserting the hand into the bell to change the airflow. You need only watch the first 6 minutes or so.
The odd-one-out of the brass family is the trombone. Instead of using valves, trombonists slide the tubing in and out to make it longer or shorter. You can find out about the trombone here. You can get trombones in all sorts of sizes, including very small ones called soprano trombones.
Videos and Exercises
Now you’ve been introduced to the brass family, let’s listen to some music. There are also some questions for you to answer as you go.
The first video is a swing band.
Which brass instrument plays the main melody during the introduction?
In jazz and swing there are moments where band members take it in turn to play solos. Which instrument does the lead singer play during his solo (beginning around 3 minutes)?
This next video features a very well-known piece of music by Rimsky-Korsakov that virtuosos (masters of their instrument) often use to show off their skill. It’s named after an insect. Can you guess which one?
Brass is also used in pop music, especially in Latin influenced pop. Just using your ears, can you tell which brass instrument features in the following song at 2:38?
Which instrument features in this next concerto (piece of music for soloist and orchestra) by Mozart?
Is this song in a major key or a minor key?
Can you name the genre (style) of music?
Now please click here to get the answers.