Brass Instruments

What are Brass Instruments?

Brass instruments are wind instruments that are made of metal, and usually brass. They appear in many different shapes and sizes, all brass instruments have a mouthpiece, a length of hollow tube, and a flared bell. The mouthpiece of a brass instrument may be cup shaped, like a cornet, or a cone shaped, like the horn. The tube may be wide or narrow, mainly conical, as in the horn and tuba, or mainly cylindrical, as in the trumpet and trombone. The sound of a brass instrument in made by the player's lips vibrating against the mouthpiece, so that the air vibrates in the tube, causing the whole instrument to resonate. By changing lip tension, the player can vary the vibration and produce notes of different pitches. The range of notes produced by a brass instrument can be extended by means of a valve system. Most brass instruments, such as the trumpet, have piston valves that divert the air in the instrument along an extra piece of tubing (known as a valve slide) when pressed down. The total length of the tube is increased and the pitch of the note produced is lowered. Instead of valves, the trombone has a movable slide that can be pushed away from or drawn toward the player.

The sound of a brass instrument can also be changed by inserting a mute into the bell of the instrument. >>

The English word “trumpet” is derived from an Old French word, trompe, that refers to an elephant’s trunk. Evidently, primitive trumpets looked like the proboscis of an elephant. Greek dramatist Aeschylus (525-456 B.C.E.) called the sound of the trumpet “shattering.” Its use was restricted to war signals, funeral or festal occasions, athletic contests, and other public events.

Development of the Modern Trumpet

To increase the trumpet’s tonal range, its design had to be modified. First the length was extended. A longer instrument, it was reasoned, would have a larger repertoire of notes. A medieval trumpet (called the buisine) was actually six feet [1.8 m] long! As can be imagined, it was awkward to play. Thus, in the 14th century, the trumpet was bent into an S-shape for manageability. A century later, it had acquired an oblong loop with three parallel branches.

The new trumpet could sound more tones but only in a higher register. These notes were difficult to reach. Nonetheless, some began to write music for clarino, suitable for higher range parts. One famous composer of that era was Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750).

Eventually, extra coils of tubing called crooks were added to the trumpet. The idea was simple: Additional tubing increased the length of the main column of air, thereby producing a wider pitch range. The crooks lowered the common key of the trumpet from F down to as low as B flat.

Thus, by the time of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791), high-pitched clarino playing had disappeared. The clarinet came to handle the higher register with relative ease, while the trumpet now occupied the middle range.

This new trumpet was versatile. But it was still awkward to play, for adjusting the crooks demanded the use of both hands. Hence, further changes were in order.

A Trumpet With Keys

About 1760 a Russian musician named Kolbel made a breakthrough discovery. He placed a hole near the bell of the trumpet and covered it with a padded key that served as a stopper. Opening this key raised the tone of the trumpet one half-step at any note. In 1801, a trumpeter from Vienna named Anton Weidinger improved Kolbel’s design by producing a trumpet with five keys. Finally there existed a trumpet that could produce all the notes of the scale without being cumbersome to play.

Even Weidinger’s trumpet, however, had a grave limitation. The opening of the keys interfered with the instrument’s resonance, compromising the trumpet’s distinguishable sound. The keyed trumpet, therefore, did not last. It was soon abandoned in favor of a totally new approach to trumpet design.

The First Valve Trumpet

In 1815, Heinrich Stölzel of Silesia bought the patent for an invention that applied pistons, or valves, to the trumpet. By means of their strategically placed holes, each valve would divert the column of air from the main tube to an attached crook. Thus, several crooks of differing lengths could be employed simultaneously in any combination. Furthermore, because the valves were spring-loaded, instant reaction was possible.

At first this trumpet had problems with accurate intonation. As the years passed, however, these imperfections were corrected, and the valve trumpet has persisted to this day.

Renowned for Versatility

The trumpet has a place in virtually all types of music. It blends well with voice and with other instruments. Its heroic, martial tone makes it effective for fanfares and marches. At the same time, it has a brilliant, vibrant resonance that is well suited for concerti, operas, and modern jazz. Moreover, because of its rich, lyrical qualities, the trumpet admirably lends itself to ballads and is often featured in solo pieces.

Yes, the trumpet has traveled a long road. No longer is it simply a signal instrument in the hands of a soldier. Now it can produce genuine musical art—at least in the hands of a virtuoso. Undoubtedly it has brought you listening pleasure, regardless of your preference in music.

 
The Brass Family
 
Trumpet Picture   Video
   
       
Trombone Picture   Video
       
   
       
Flugelhorn Picture   Video
       
   
       
Cornet Picture   Video
       
   
       
Horn Picture   Video
       
   
       
Tuba Picture   Video
       
   
 
 

 

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