Modern Instruments – Brass

For a long time, instrument makers and musicians alike were rather frustrated with brass instruments. The frustration was due to the fact that the instruments were only able to play a certain number of pitches and in only one key. This meant that in order to play pieces of music in different keys, the musician would have to either have a completely different instrument or an instrument that had removable crooks that lengthened the instrument, thus changing the key of the instrument. It was not until 1814 that Heinrich Stolzel designed a piston valve that would allow the instrument to change pitches by using various valve combinations.

Piston Valve

Valves are used to change the length of tubing of a brass instrument allowing the musician to change pitch. When pressed, each valve changes the pitch by diverting the air stream through additional tubing, thus lengthening the instrument and lowering the harmonic series on which the instrument is vibrating.

TrumpetThe trumpet is a musical instrument with the highest register in the brass family, and produces a "bright" sound. The most common type is the Bflat trumpet, but C, D, Eflat, E, F, G, and A trumpets are also available. The most common use of the C trumpet is in American orchestral playing, where it is used alongside the Bflat trumpet. Its slightly smaller size gives it a brighter, livelier sound.

French HornThe modern french horn evolved from 16th century hunting horns. These instruments initially did not have valves, and changed notes by using various tuning slides. The modern instrument is the most outwardly complex, consisting of a basic tube, rounded into a compact shape culminating in a conical bore or bell, into which a series of valves are centrally set. Stolzel and Bluhmel added valves to the horn in 1818, which eliminated the need for crooks. Rotary valves, introduced in 1853 are commonly found on today’s horns. Horns provide an important, full middle voice in the concert band.

TromboneOf all the brass instruments used today, there is only one that is relatively unchanged since its initial design. That would be the trombone. There are several kinds of trombones, and the tenor and bass trombones are the most common. The trombone is easily recognizable by its extended elliptical shape culminating in a conical bore, and its distinctive use of a hand-operated slide held out in front, in order to change pitch. The slide can be moved to any one of seven main positions, each of which facilitates a different series of notes.

The baritone horn, also known as a tenor tuba, first appeared in Germany in the 1830s. The euphonium, closely related to the baritone, was also invented in the 1830s. The tubing of the euphonium is wider than the cylindrical tubing of the baritone. Both instruments have 3 or 4 valves and play the same pitches.

Baritone

Euphonium

Tuba

Baritone

Euphonium

Tuba Family

The tuba is the largest and lowest pitched brass instrument. For centuries, several attempts were made to invent a bass instrument for the brass family. These instruments included the serpent and the ophicleide. The modern tuba, featuring 3-5 valves, was developed in the 1820s. Tuba bells either point straight up or are curved forward.