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Music and dance

Brass instruments

Playing the euphoniumPlaying the euphoniumA brass instrument makes its sounds when the player presses his or her lips against a cup-shaped mouthpiece and forces air through them, causing the lips to vibrate or “buzz”. The vibrations make the column of air inside the instrument (which is essentially a long tube) vibrate as well. Unlike the woodwind, brass players do not uncover sound holes to produce notes of a different pitch. Simply by varying the breath pressure and the tension of the lips (known as the embouchure), a player can produce different notes. The very simplest brass instrument, the bugle, is played in this way, although the range of notes achievable is limited. By changing the length of the tube, the brass player can produce a full range of notes. In modern versions of the horn, trumpet and and tuba, this is done by pressing valves; a slide is used for the trombone.

The embouchure of a trumpeter The embouchure of a trumpeter
Playing the hornPlaying the hornClick to play video


Sometimes known as the French horn, the horn was developed from a French hunting horn, the trompe de chasse, which first appeared in the late 17th century. It consisted of a thin, coiled tube with a wide bell, and it was carried on the huntsman’s shoulders. Later versions, coiled in a double hoop (the cor de chasse), were used in 18th century orchestras. However, different horns were needed for music written in different keys. Horn players found they could produce new notes by placing their clenched fists inside the instrument’s bell and bending them. This required holding the horn sideways to the body (rather than pointing the bell upwards), which is how it is played today.

The name of the forerunner of the trombone, the sackbut, comes from two French words: saquer, meaning “to pull”, and bouter, “to push”—which describes exactly how the instrument was played. The name trombone comes from the Italian word for the sackbut: trompone, meaning “large trumpet”.

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