Today’s brass instruments include the trumpet, horn, euphonium, trombone, valve trombone, bass trombone and tuba. They take their name as brass instruments because they are commonly made of an alloy of copper and zinc which is often plated in lacquer or silver. They are, however, relatives of earlier instruments dating back to antiquity such as shells, animal horns, and wooden horns in that they require vibration of the player’s lips to produce a tone through a flared tube and share some similar qualities and functions.
Throughout time brass instruments have been used to perform ceremonial fanfares and signals due to their acoustical capabilities of producing loud sounds of great projection. In addition, brass instruments have been employed in more subtle musical styles in both sacred and secular settings. Before the invention of the slide, keys, and most importantly the valve (patented in 1818 by Stoelzel and Bluhmel), brass instruments were only capable of producing notes of the harmonic series corresponding to the length of the instrument, thus limiting melodic capabilities to the extreme upper register of the instruments. Modern brass instruments using slides and valves are capable of producing all twelve notes of the chromatic scale over several octaves and are used in many forms of music including folk, dance, classical, jazz and popular genres.
Although all brass instrument display some similar qualities, each type of instrument has unique properties and capabilities depending on the overall design of the mouthpiece (which allows for efficient transmission of lip vibrations throughout the instrument), means of adjusting the length of tubing for various pitches (via slide or valve),the overall length, width, shape and flare of tubing and bell (which serves to amplify the vibrations) and exact material composition of the instrument.
More detailed information regarding each instrument of the brass family including the trumpet, horn, euphonium, trombone, valve trombone, bass trombone and tuba, can be found under their respective entries.