For centuries, brass instruments have played a huge role in music. Because they are so versatile, they are ideal for dozens of genres, from orchestral to free jazz. Learn about some of the standard brass instruments.
Like most brass instruments, the trombone evolved, and it developed from the medieval "sackbut." The most distinctive aspect of the trombone is the slide valve, which is used to change tone. Unlike the more common press valves, the slide valve allows players to hit any note within the length of tube. Although the trombone has been a staple of classical music since the 15th century, it became one of the main sounds in marching bands, jazz and particularly big band music.
The trumpet is one of the most commonly seen brass instruments. The modern trumpet has three valves and is relatively small and lightweight, which makes it popular among beginner musicians. Although descendants of the trumpet go back more than a millennium, the modern version has been used in numerous genres, including classical, jazz, Latin and ska music. Some of the most famous musicians of the 20th century, such as Louis Armstrong and Dizzy Gillespie, were trumpet players.
The tuba is both the largest and the lowest-pitched brass instrument. It is also one of the newest members of the brass family, first becoming popular in the 1800s. The tuba's construction is similar to that of a trumpet, with three valves and a mouthpiece, except on a much larger scale. Players generally either play while sitting or while standing, using a strap. Although popular in jazz bands, the tuba, because of its rich, deep tones, was particularly suited for romantic, classical operas, such Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen.
Although quite compact, the tangled tubing of the French horn makes it the second-longest brass instrument. Yet it is second only to the trumpet in its high-note register. The French horn become popular in the 18th century along with the rise of classical music. Like the trumpet, the French horn has three valves. However, because of its length, it tends to produce far richer harmonics and resonances. Nowadays, French horns can mostly be found in the brass section of large orchestras.
The bugle is perhaps the simplest of all brass instruments. Its tubing is of minimal length and the instrument is very lightweight. The bugle also has no valves, which means that any change in pitch must be controlled by the player's lips and breath. This makes the register of tones fairly limited, however. Although the bugle makes an appearances in entertainment-based music, ever since its creation in the 18th century, it has mainly been used for practical military purposes, such as notifying soldiers of daily routines.