Brass Instruments

Brass instruments, also known as labrosones, produce sounds by a vibration of air in a tubular resonator that is in sympathy with the vibration of the player’s lips. This means that they are lip-vibrated instruments, as well as aerophones, because the musician must blow air into them. There are a variety of involved in the brass instrument family to produce different pitches: valves, slides, crooks, and keys. These elements change the vibratory length of the tubes. In turn, the available harmonic series change, too. In brief, the musician’s embouchure, lip tension, and airflow choose the harmonics produced from the available series.

Brass Instruments: How They Work

Both design and manner of the tone production define the acoustical qualities of brass instruments. The design variables have a great impact on the overall tonal and response properties of the specific instrument. These variables include the type, weight, and thickness of the materials; the way the air column vibrates; the shape of the flare of the instrument’s tubing, its inner dimensions, and its looping; and the overall finish. Also, they have four main sections: a mouthpiece, a lead/pipe receiver, a valve or slide system and the flare instrument tubing.  

Some History

A long time ago, Pythagoras studied the first brass instruments. He concluded that the vibrating air column vibrates at frequencies based on the length of the tube. Undoubtedly, this exemplifies how they have been around for a long time and in various regions of the world. Some other instances are the salpinx from Greece; the tuba, lituus, and buccina from Rome; the lur from Scandinavia; the Roman cornu; and the Ancient Hebrew ram’s horn known as shofar.

These instruments evolved during the Renaissance: in the 17th century major design innovations ensued. In the 18th century, the horn began to develop and became an instrument capable of high musical expression. Afterwards, in the 19th century, there was a large amount of literature and design development for these instruments. Again, its design improved dramatically, as did its technical abilities. For this reason, many composers started writing pieces that involved more brass pieces, as well solo pieces exclusive for them.

Modern Brass Instruments

To conclude, we now turn to a list of modern brass instruments. They fall under two categories: valved and slided.


As its name indicates, valved ones use valves. The musician’s fingers play them: they introduce more tubing or crooks into the instrument to produce a change in its overall length. The valves can be piston or rotary ones. They include all the modern brass instruments, except the trombone.


Slide brass instruments use a slide to change the length of the tubing. Trombones are the most popular among these. (Although valve trombones are sometimes used in jazz.) The sackbut and the folk instrument bazooka are part this side of the family.