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Brass instruments are also known as labrosones or lip-vibrated instruments. The pitch of brass instruments is affected by the player's lip vibration, or embouchure, and the airflow. Other components of the instrument like crooks adjusted by slides or valves can change the length of the tubing and alter the harmonic series of some instruments. It is generally held that the classification of instruments should be decided based on how the sound is produced rather than the material of the instrument. For this reason some brass instruments may be made of wood like certain alp horns, cornets, and serpents. Additionally an instrument like the saxophone, while commonly constructed out of brass, is classified as a woodwind as its sound is produced by a vibrating reed rather than the vibration of the lips on the mouthpiece.
Early brass instruments include those in the natural or keyed families and are nearly obsolete. Natural instruments are without valves or slides to provide key changes, so they only play the notes in their harmonic series. There are natural versions of instruments like the bugle, trumpet, and horn which are typically only played in Baroque or Romantic concerts. There are few comparatively recent pieces written for natural instruments by composers such as Richard Wagner and Richard Strauss. Keyed, or fingered, brass makes up a family of instruments such as the ophicleide, cornet, keyed bugle, and keyed trumpet. The introduction of valves to instruments has caused these to be greatly outdated.
The two predominant contemporary families of brass instruments are valved brass and slide brass. Valves began to be used on instruments as early as the late 18th century but were first patented by Friedrich Bluhmel and Heinrich Stolzel in 1818. These early valves were manufactured by W. Schuster. It is common for an instrument to have three to four valves although there may be as many or more than seven. The three valve standard was published in Arban's Method in 1864 and remains predominate today. Valved instruments make up the majority of modern brass. There are some instruments like the trombone which more commonly falls into the slide brass family which utilize a slide to change the length of tubing and adjust the pitch rather than valves.
Brass instruments can also be classified as cylindrical bore or conical bore. Cylindrical instruments have tubing which maintains the same diameter like the trumpet, baritone horn, and trombone. These tend to have a brighter and more penetrating tone. Big Bands contain primarily cylindrical bore bass with trumpets and trombones. The tubing of conical instruments is constantly increasing in diameter allowing for a mellow, subdued sound as found in the cornet, tenor horn, euphonium, and tuba. British brass bands are composed entirely of conical brass instruments such as these.
The classical symphony orchestra generally possesses several trumpets, horns, tenor trombones, one bass trombone, and one tuba. Baroque or period orchestras may include natural trumpets or bugles in the arrangement. Marching bands make use of cornets, trumpets, tubas, and French horns. Woodwind & Brasswind carries the top brands of marching brass including Adams, Tama, Jupiter and King.
Woodwind and Brasswind has a wide selection of brass instruments from top brands such as Amati, XO, Antoine Courtois Paris, Blessing, Miraphone, Jo-Ral and more. For orchestras, marching bands, concert bands, or a brass quintet, purchase your instruments and the necessary mouthpieces, mutes, stands, cleaning and care kits and more at Woodwind & Brasswind.
Want to buy a brass instrument but don't know where to start? We have resources to help you, like our trumpet buying guide, trombone buying guide, French horn buying guide, euphonium buying guide and tuba buying guide. Or you can read informative articles such as Tips for Playing the Trombone and Keep Your Horn Looking Like New.
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