Brass Instruments

Trevor Herbert

in Music

ISBN: 9780199757824
Published online June 2011 | | DOI:
Brass Instruments

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  • Applied Music
  • Ethnomusicology
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The general heading “brass instruments” is better, if less elegantly, described by the common organological definition “lip-vibrated” wind instruments or aerophones (in brass instruments, air is set in motion by the players lips vibrating in a cup-shaped mouthpiece). Not all instruments made of brass are members of the brass instrument, family (saxophones, for example), nor are all the instruments that fall into that family actually made of brass. This is particularly the case for non-Western cultures and earlier periods of modern Western history. For example, in Western music during the 15th, 16th, and 17th centuries, the cornett, an instrument made of wood and usually bound with leather, was one of the most common instruments within this classification. The history of brass instruments can be divided neatly, if a little broadly, into two phases, separated at about 1800. From this time, new mechanisms (first keys and then valves) were applied to facilitate easy access to a chromatic compass. Changes to the design of instruments were allied to a dramatic increase in their production and consumption, which in turn led to a widening of the franchise for their use. These factors and the development of new types of classical and popular music caused fundamental changes to performance idioms in both popular and art music. For this reason, much of the literature about brass instruments is devoted to one side or the other of this “moment” of change. Writings relevant to brass instruments have existed since the 16th century, including some directly aimed at explaining how brass instruments were or should be played. The corpus expanded in the 19th century due to a proliferation of didactic method books and a general trend towards the scholarship of music; but it was not until the 20th century that a more systematic, dispassionate, and discursive study of brass instruments developed. Initially this was caused almost entirely by organologists and antiquarians whose preoccupation was primarily with the nature and typology of instruments as material objects. It was not until the 1970s, in the wake of the “early music movement,” that attention shifted to the way instruments were played; this led to more specialized fields of inquiry, such as early performance techniques, jazz, and ensembles (such as various sorts of bands) in which brass instruments have been prominent. This pattern of development explains the shape of the generic bibliography of brass instruments, why its content seems to fall into relatively compact periods of activity, and why some of the standard works have been in place for so long. This article could have been organized in a number of ways, but what follows is an attempt to reveal the literature in a way that anticipates the most likely questions to which users will wish to find answers. One important caution should be emphasized, however: writings about all topics concerning brass instruments necessarily incorporate information about others. There are innumerable overlaps in the headings given in this bibliography, and the full value of this article will only be gained if users take this factor into account.

Article.  10587 words. 

Subjects: Music ; Applied Music ; Ethnomusicology ; Music Theory and Analysis ; Musicology and Music History ; Music Education and Pedagogy

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