Brass instruments

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The Brass Instruments (commonly known solely as Brass)are a family of instruments where sound is produced by the player buzzing their lips against a mouthpiece. They are typically (although not always) made of brass. Members include the Horn, Trumpet, Trombone and Tuba.


Double- and Triple-tonguing

In order to play fast passages, brass players sometimes resort to using a "k" sound as well as the regular "t" or "d" sound. This allows fast repeated notes to be easily played; double-tonguing is used for regular quaver pairs while triplet-tonguing is used for triplets.


There are a wide variety of mutes for brass instruments, particularly trumpets and trombones. While they are common in jazz, they can also be used in a classical context for subtle colouring.

Straight Mute

This is the standard mute, and is used if no particular mute type is specified. While it is effective in quieter passages, it also makes the sound more nasal, and at fortissimo very piercing.

The Pixie Mute is a small version of the straight mute, in order to be used in conjunction with the plunger.

Cup Mute

This mute is so-called because of the cup on the end of it. The distance from the cup to the bell of the instrument can be adjusted in some brands such as Denis Wick (specify tight if you want it close to the bell). This sound blends well with other instruments, as well as being a good soloistic sound. It can also be used for a percussive sound.

Harmon Mute

This mute, while common for trumpets, is rarely used for trombones (almost never in big bands).

The mute comprises of not only the main body but also a stem which can be extended (specify 1/2 out) or removed. With the stem in, the hand can be waved in front of it, producing a "Wah-wah" sound (this is what is required when a Wah-wah mute is specified). For specific notation, a + indicates the hand in front while an O is used for the normal open sound.

The stem out sound is very typical of jazz artists such as Miles Davies (see All Blues for an example).

Plunger Mute

This mute is literally the head of a sink or toilet plunger which is waved in front of the bell. Unlike other mutes this one isn't attached to the instrument, meaning a hand always needs to be free to operate it (this is important for the trombone, where both hands are sometimes required simultaneously, e.g. to operate the trigger).

Opening and closing the plunger is notated in the same way as a harmon mute.

Scoring for Brass

Brass are typically called for in loud passages; being the loudest instruments in the orchestra they contribute much to an orchestral tutti. Brass 'stabs' (short staccato chords) are also common when a percussive element is desired.

Works for Further Listening/Study

  • Holst: The Planets: Mars
  • Shostakovich: Festive Overture
  • Jones, T.: Thunderball
  • Bublé, M.: Feeling Good

Instruments and Voices
Woodwinds Flute (Piccolo/Alto/Bass)RecorderOboe (Cor Anglais/Oboe D'amore/Heckelphone)Clarinet (E♭/Bass/Contrabass)

Bassoon (Contrabassoon)SaxophoneBagpipes

Brass HornCornetTrumpetTromboneEuphoniumTubaSaxhorns
Keyboards PianoOrganHarmoniumHarpsichordClavichordCelestaAccordion
Percussion Tuned: TimpaniGlockenspielChimesVibraphoneXylophoneMarimbaCrotalesMusical sawHammered Dulcimer

Untuned: Snare drumBass drumTriangleCymbalsGongsTom-tomsShakersDrumset

Electronic ThereminOndes MartenotSynthesizerElectronic Wind Instrument
Stringed Bowed: ViolinViolaVioloncelloContrabass

Plucked: HarpGuitarMandolinBanjo

Voices Female: SopranoMezzo-soprano (often mistaken with Alto)Contralto (often mistaken with Alto)

Male: TrebleCountertenorTenorBaritoneBass-baritoneBass