Introductory Chapters

Introductory Chapters Sample

From Chapter 1A:

The primary instruments of the brass family are the trumpet, horn, trombone, euphonium and tuba. There are, of course, other brass instruments which will be discussed in the individual instrument chapters, but these are the main instruments with which we shall concern ourselves in chapters one through five. All brass instruments work on the same basic principles:

1. The player produces the sound by vibrating the lips, or “buzzing.”

2. There are 2 ways to change notes: change the tubing length or change the lip tension and air flow.

3. Brass instruments with primarily conical tubing (horn, euphonium and tuba) produce a dark, mellow tone quality and brass instruments with primarily cylindrical tubing (trumpet and trombone) produce a brighter tone quality.


1. The player produces the sound by vibrating the lips, or “buzzing.”

All brass instruments require the player to produce the tone by vibrating the lips. Brass players call this “buzzing” and sometimes a brass player will “buzz the mouthpiece” to warm up or work on various playing issues. Buzzing the mouthpiece simply means to buzz your lips through the mouthpiece alone, with no instrument. Buzzing the mouthpiece can be an effective diagnostic tool and practice strategy for a brass player.

When you buzz your lips into the mouthpiece of a brass instrument, the mouthpiece serves as a funnel to collect the buzz and send it through the tubing. When the buzz travels through the tubing and out the bell, the sound of the buzz gets amplified into a musical tone. This is the basic principle of sound production on any brass instrument.

Hose-o-Phone(1)Hose-o-Phone

Since it’s the buzzing of the lips which sets apart the brass family, a brass instrument doesn’t necessarily need to be made of brass. In fact, you can make your own brass instrument called a hose-o-phone with some plastic tubing, a funnel and a mouthpiece. The hose-o-phone is an excellent tool for teaching young students about basic brass instrument tone production.


2. There are 2 ways to change notes: change the tubing length or change the lip tension and air flow.

On any brass instrument, you change the pitches by changing the tubing length or changing the lip tension and air flow. By combining these two ways of changing notes, brass players can produce the full chromatic range of the instrument.

The basic principle of changing the tubing length is that as the tube gets longer the notes go lower and as the tube gets shorter the notes go higher. All the complicated-looking tubing and buttons on brass instruments are really just sophisticated ways of changing the tubing length. On the trumpet, horn, euphonium and tuba, as you press the buttons (or valves) in various combinations, you are adding tubing; therefore, the notes get lower. On the trombone, it’s very easy to see the trombone slide lengthen; as the slide gets longer, the notes get lower. That’s why the tuba plays low—it’s made of a really long tube compared to the trumpet, which plays high.

The second way to change notes involves changing the lip tension and air flow to raise or lower the pitch. Increased lip tension and faster air will produce a higher pitch, and looser lips and slower air will produce a lower pitch. When you change notes in this way, you must coordinate the lip tension with the air flow: to gradually play higher, your air must gradually speed up as your lip tension gradually increases, and vice-versa.

Playing a brass instrument requires you to combine these two ways of changing notes, but there is a third important consideration: if you lengthen the tube as you make your lips tighter and blow faster air, the pitch will actually go higher, in spite of the fact that the tubing is getting longer. All brass players are required to learn this technique, sometimes called “against the grain” playing because the lip tension and air flow prevail over the lengthening tube to make the pitch go up.


3. Brass instruments with primarily conical tubing (horn, euphonium and tuba) produce a dark, mellow tone quality and brass instruments with primarily cylindrical tubing (trumpet and trombone) produce a brighter tone quality.

Brass instruments can be divided into two broad categories: those with primarily conical tubing and those with primarily cylindrical tubing. Conical tubing is cone shaped from the mouthpiece all the way through the length of the instrument to the bell. This profile of tubing, used for the horn, euphonium and tuba, creates a mellow, dark tone quality. Cylindrical tubing is the same diameter for most of the instrument and becomes cone shaped for about the last third of its length, where it gradually flares into the bell. The trumpet and trombone are primarily cylindrical, creating a brighter tone quality.


From Chapter 2B:

As we have learned, when tubing is added to a brass instrument, the pitch gets lower. Consider the following graph in which the horizontal axis represents tubing length and the vertical axis represents pitch. The diagonal line represents what happens to the pitch as the tubing length increases. Since the horizontal axis is creating the change in pitch, we will consider this method of changing notes a horizontal note change.

Changing Notes Horizontally Graphic 1

Trombones have 7 slide positions which are numbered consecutively from the shortest tubing length to the longest. First position is all the way in, second is out about an inch, and so on. With each longer slide position, the pitch of the instrument goes down by ½ step, so first position is the shortest tube which produces the highest pitch horizontally and seventh position is the longest tube which produces the lowest pitch horizontally.

For each trombone slide position there is a corresponding valve combination on the valved brasses as follows:

Slide Position = Valve Combination

1 = 0

2 = 2

3 = 1

4 = 1-2

5 = 2-3

6 = 1-3

7 = 1-2-3

If we apply this information to the graph from above, we can begin to measure the horizontal axis in terms of valve combinations. Since each valve combination represents ½ step, sample pitches forming a chromatic scale have been installed along the diagonal line to demonstrate the relationship between the valve combinations and actual pitches.

Changing Notes Horizontally Graphic 2

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