Choosing a brass musical instrument to start playing may seem quite a daunting prospect. There are several factors to keep in mind such as cost, the player’s physical size and weight capabilities and availability of teachers of that instrument (there are some very good online databases to assist you in finding qualified teachers in your area). The key consideration to bear in mind when choosing a brass instrument is that playing it should be fun! It’s a good idea to choose your instrument according to which genre of music you like. For example, if you want to play jazz, there is no sense in learning the euphonium, whereas trumpets are popular in all genres. Some musicians get a kick from playing in an orchestra. Others opt to go solo. It’s a good idea for the budding musician to keep in mind at the outset an idea of the general direction he would like to go in. After all, what started out as a hobby may flourish to become a lucrative career, and what better than to be paid for playing the music you love!
A classical symphony orchestra will usually feature tenor trombones, a bass trombone, a tuba, trumpets and horns.
A traditional brass band will incorporate a soprano cornet, euphoniums, a bass trombone, a flugelhorn, baritones, tenor trombones, tubas, cornets and tenor horns.
Big bands used in swing and jazz will usually incorporate trumpets, tenor trombones and a bass trombone.
Solo instrumentalists are used in a variety of music genres, from pop to folk to blues.
Brass Instruments Types
There are two families of brass musical instrument in modern music: valved and slide.
As the name suggests, valved instruments use a set of valves which the player operates with his fingers. Valves are usually piston valves, but may be rotary valves as in the case of tubas and horns (rotary valves require special care, for example they must be cleaned by an expert – see the cleaning section for further details). Most modern brass instruments are valved instruments, including the flugelhorn, cornet, trumpet, euphonium, French horn, tuba and tenor horn.
Slide instruments incorporate a slide to change the length of tubing, and thus raising and lowering the note. Trombones are the main family of slide instruments (bar the valve trombone, which is mostly used in jazz pieces).
The bugle category of brass instruments incorporates bugles, trumpets, flugelhorns and cornets. There are subtle differences between these instruments in appearance, sound and playing technique. Buglists are sought after by brass bands, particularly military bands.
The trumpet is a popular choice of brass instrument. It is ideal for the beginner. Trumpets are used in a wide variety of music genres, which should help to keep learning interesting. Trumpets are convenient to transport and store and are relatively inexpensive.
Like the trumpet and cornet, the flugelhorn belongs to the bugle family of brass musical instruments. It is similar to the trumpet but its sound is slightly sweeter. Flugelhorns are widely used in a variety of music types, from classical to traditional brass band music, and are very popular in jazz.
The cornet is similar to the trumpet, but with a slightly more melodic sound. Cornets are ideal for beginners because they are more compact than trumpets, which makes them easier to hold. Cornets are a vital component of a traditional brass band but, like the trumpet, their musical range is extensive. Cornets are relatively inexpensive to buy.
Euphoniums and Tubas
These instruments can be enormous and tend to be quite expensive. However, euphoniumists and tubist are becoming few and far between and so are always in demand. Tubas can be so big that you may struggle fitting it into the boot. Euphoniums are smaller scaled and have a wonderful range. These instruments are elementary to the classical symphony orchestra and the traditional brass band.
A french horn is both a beauty to behold and a delight to the ear. A good French horn will be quite expensive and challenging to learn. French horn players quite a rarity. No classical orchestra would be complete without half a dozen, however, meaning that players are much in demand.
Despite this instrument’s impressive range, trombonists are becoming an endangered species! Though the trombone is a reasonably priced instrument, its slides are very delicate and must be handled with great care. The trombone is easy to learn and there is great demand for trombonists to play in classical, swing, jazz and traditional brass bands.