Brass is a family of instruments known for a variety of styles and influences around the world. The bright, vibrant tone of the brass family lends itself to genres like classical, jazz, and marching band. That high note at the climax of a jazz piece sends shivers and goosebumps through the crowd, and takes skill of an experienced trumpet player. This group of instruments is a great pathway for an aspiring musician.
This variety might leave you wondering:
“What is the best brass instrument for beginners, and what is the easiest brass instrument for me?”
This depends on a variety of factors, including:
- Age and Skill Level
- Concentration and Level of Commitment
- Hand Size
- Player Size
For parents looking for the best student brass instrument, looking at everything from the trumpet to the trombone and others, read on to learn more about choosing the right fit for your child pertaining to both of your interests.
If you are an experienced musician, whether you have history with brass instruments or are looking at another family of instruments, this guide will help you understand the necessary changes you will have to undergo to learn another instrument.
We go into great detail below on the best brass instruments based on your needs, so just keep on reading!
- 1 Things To Consider When Choosing A Brass Instrument
- 2 Different Types of Brass Instruments
Things To Consider When Choosing A Brass Instrument
Age and Skill Level
The brass instrument is like a woodwind, where it is necessary to have your front teeth in in order to create a proper embouchure. The back pressure from your lips on your teeth is something to be careful of as it can cause damage to your gums, but the teeth are necessary in order to fully support a developing embouchure.
This is why it may be important for your child to at least have their front teeth in before learning a brass instrument.
Most middle school programs offer brass instruments as a viable option for a beginner instrument, such as a trumpet, trombone, or tuba. We recommend that if you’re looking for an easier brass instrument, stick to these: more advanced brass instruments such as the french horn are more finicky to alternating embouchure positions and can be harder to master early on.
If you have experience with a brass instrument already, understand that learning the french horn or other brass instruments will involve new fingerings and embouchure placement. For example: while the french horn and trumpet both have 3 finger spots, the fingerings are very different on both.
Coming from another instrument family can be especially tough. Going from a woodwind embouchure to a brass embouchure is night and day, where the buzzing of the lips is different than the tucked-under lip used for woodwinds. This will take great time and patience and we recommend that if you do switch over or want to learn how to, take your time and practice diligently.
Brass instruments use a metal mouthpiece that you stick into a leadpipe on the instrument. This mouthpiece varies in size depending on the brass instrument you decide to play, and each mouthpiece needs a different level of air and embouchure to play properly.
For example, a tuba mouthpiece is very different from a french horn mouthpiece. While they are both metal and look similar, the tuba mouthpiece is designed for much lower ranges and larger airflow, and is slightly rounded. Tubas are large instruments, and a larger buzzing embouchure will be needed. On the contrary, a french horn mouthpiece is narrow and conical, which makes it susceptible to variation in tone with little movement. This design also allows a more direct airflow through the instrument.
If you’re looking for a good instrument that has the combination of a more round mouthpiece and higher range, we recommend the trumpet. The trumpet is similar to the french horn in that it only has 3 valves (the F horn has 3 rotors; you can get a rotary trumpet too, check them out!)
Player Size and Hand Size
Smaller players may have trouble playing larger instruments, such as the tuba or sousaphone. For these players it may be necessary to go to a smaller instrument, such as the trumpet.
Hand size isn’t as important for brass instruments as it may be for woodwind instruments, but it definitely does play a role. Tubas have a wider grasp on the valves than that of a trumpet, so the distinction may make a different for those with smaller hands. Most players with larger hands will not have much difficulty playing any brass instrument they choose.
Arm reach, however, definitely makes a difference if you want to play an instrument like the trombone. For this instrument, or any slide instrument (we specifically reference the trombone, but a slide trumpet may apply here), having a long enough arms reach to hit the far positions is crucial. This is especially true if you plan to play the instrument you choose for the long run; later on, if you are in a more professional ensemble you may see notations that you can’t reach!
Concentration and Amount of Necessary Practice and Commitment
For all instruments in any family, you will have to practice. This is unavoidable, especially if you are out of school and you wish to hone in on an instrument. Students can get by with less practice, but it is still recommended that you practice every day for at least a half an hour.
With that being said, it will be more difficult to learn some brass instruments over others. This is because of the mentioned variables above, such as player size and mouthpiece size. These are huge factors that bear on how much commitment and concentration are required.
Let me give you an example: A trumpet will be far easier to learn for a beginner than a french horn. Here’s why:
- The french horn has a conical mouthpiece. This mouthpiece will be more responsive to tonal changes in the players embouchure, and for a beginner, an embouchure will need more time to develop with a conical shape than that of a round shape.
- The trumpet is more widely used than a french horn. The french horn is great for orchestra and symphony work, but the trumpet can be used for anything: jazz, symphony, orchestra, marching/pep band, you name it!
I use the trumpet as a primary example only because it pertains to my experience more than any other instrument, but I can say that I have tried to learn the french horn and it is very different from the trumpet. While these two are only examples, these principles apply to any brass instrument.
Different Types of Brass Instruments
At this point in the article, we want to transition into the different types of brass instruments and some info on them, so that you can have a well rounded understanding of each before making any decisions.
I have a love for the trumpet. I started in middle school and have been playing for the last 9 years. I can say that I have taken some breaks here and there, but life gets in the way sometimes. My love for music never died.
The trumpet is a classic example of a brass instrument. The iconic three valves, brass bell, and loud, boisterous tone of a trumpet rings any tune in any genre. From jazz ensembles to orchestral solos, the trumpet’s versatility in the band cannot be forgotten or downplayed (neither can their egos).
For all brass instruments, you will be buzzing an embouchure through a mouthpiece. This particular instrument uses a more rounded mouthpiece and a smaller embouchure, but you can get bigger or smaller mouthpieces depending on play style, desired sound, mouth size, and other variables.
All in all, this instrument would suit any beginner or experienced musician looking to learn a new one.
When you think of something embarrassing, you’ve probably heard the iconic three notes that play in pop culture references and entertainment all the time.
The trombone is known worldwide as a slide instrument. It utilizes different positions on a slide to create notes. This variation in how it creates sound compared to other brass instruments is important, as you can finesse with it more in jazz applications and such, create sound effects like the one above (we did that alot in marching and jazz band!), and more.
The trombone uses a rounded mouthpiece, but is larger than that of a trumpet and requires arms reach to get all the positions. However, the trombone is a great brass instrument to learn and the positions are relatively easy to get down. Like any instrument, however, it will take practice before you can master it.
The tuba is the king of the bass in the brass group. This heaping pile of metal can blow away any crowd in an orchestral setting, if the user has lungs of steel!
Seriously though, the tuba is a great brass instrument. While its uses may be limited, there are variations of the tuba such as the sousaphone that can be applied for different purposes. Don’t let that downplay this instrument though: for what it’s worth, the tuba is pretty difficult to learn, especially for a smaller player. Look at how big that thing is!
We would recommend starting on a trumpet or another brass instrument before learning the tuba.
I feel like the french horn is one of the more under-appreciated instruments of the brass family. This horn is known for many pieces, such as popular John Williams pieces and others. When you think of the french horn, envision the epic brass sound you hear on a variety of movie tracks.
This instrument, while it looks intricate, only has three valves and can be learned fairly easy by the experienced brass player. We say experienced for a reason; as mentioned earlier, the french horn has a conical mouthpiece and therefore has a more fluctuating tone than that of a trumpet or trombone.
We recommend experience with other brass instruments before taking on this instrument. If you decide to, however, do understand that it will take more patience, time, and energy to learn the french horn than other brass instruments. However, this really does depend on the person.
There are thousands of variations on all brass instruments, but we at Save The Orchestra highlight these ones for sake of simplicity.
Doubling Up On Brass Instruments
It is extremely common for brass players to know two or more different brass instruments; in fact, we encourage it! By doubling up, you get a wider array of knowledge on everything from different keys and tonalities to more applications. Many players I knew, including myself, would pick up the trumpet and play a different instrument in a different band such as the sousaphone, marching horn or others.
Doubling up may even be required by more advanced orchestras. For example, Christmas time is orchestra time. I played in Christmas concerts where I would have to play both the trumpet and piccolo trumpet for higher octave ranges.
If you’re looking at learning a new instrument, I would highly recommend picking one from the brass family. The versatility of being able to learn more than one and the variety of the many instruments shows the potential of the brass family.
Brass comes in all shapes and colors and there are thousands of examples of brass players and music all across the internet. These can help you determine what kind of instrument you want to get, and what sound to learn.
Go to your local coffee house on concert/open mic night. Look at local events. Get concert tickets to that symphony (and please, turn your phone off!)
No matter what you do, a path in music has a vast array of benefits and can greatly improve your life. Whether your just beginning and looking into what type of instrument you get, or you’ve been playing for a while and are looking for the best brass instrument, there is a brass instrument for you. So go out there, find yourself a brass instrument, and start playing!