Whether you’re new to playing music or not, you may have wondered why brass instruments have so many curves and twists.
In this article, we’ll explore a few reasons why and how each member of the brass family stacks up:
Here’s Why Brass Instruments are Curved:
Brass instruments have curves to make them easier to hold. If brass instruments were straight, they would be quite a bit longer than they are now. The difference is more apparent with lower brass, like the tuba and trombone, but the trumpet could still be unruly if it were straight.
Understanding Brass Curves:
Brass instruments have curves instead of sharp turns to help the air move smoothly.
Sharp turns might make the sound a little more crumby. The sound would bounce off the corners, which can make it hard to get a good tone.
Curves also allow brass players to change the pitch more easily. While all brass instruments use the harmonic series, that severely restricts the range a brass instrument can play.
For example, an instrument with a fundamental pitch of Bb would only be able to play:
- Bb and octave above
The notes get closer near the top of the range, but it can still be hard to play a lot of music.
Curling the instruments allows for the use of valves that make playing other notes possible.
How Does This Affect the Sound of the Horn?
Because of the curves, the air can still move freely and easily throughout a brass instrument.
That means the brass can still produce a good sound. Players use the same techniques, such as changing their embouchure, to adjust the pitch.
Most brass instruments can still have their bells face forward, with the French horn as the main exception.
Since the French horn’s bell points backward, the sound projection does differ. An audience may not hear the horn as clearly as the trumpets or other brass.
More important aspects that affect a brass instrument’s sound include the materials and manufacturing quality. Of course, practice can also help any player get a better sound on their horn.
Exactly How Many Curves and Twists Do Brass Instruments Have?
The number of curves and twists brass instruments has ranged from two to a dozen or more.
Trombones are the simplest, with one curve at the instrument’s back and another at the end of the slide. French horns, especially double and triple horns, have many more turns, including the tubing that reaches the valves.
Trumpets, euphoniums, and tubas have two main curves that are easy to see from far away. Each valve adds an extra twist to the instrument.
That means tubas with four or five valves will have more curves than those with three valves. Like the horn and tuba, some brass instruments have multiple twists in tubing going to one valve.
If you have a brass instrument on hand, you can look at it to see how many curves there are. The number might vary from another instrument you have if the number of valves is different.
Which Brass Instrument Has the MOST Curves?
The French horn typically has more curves than other brass instruments.
It has a big, circular turn around the body of the instrument. However, you can find about 10 more turns when looking at the tubing in and out of each valve. Double and triple horns can have even more twists.
French horns also have about 18 feet worth of tubing. To make the horn somewhat comfortable to hold, the instrument has to have the shape it does.
It would be almost impossible to manage and play if the tubing were spread out straight.
Some tubas with five valves also have many curves, and they can have as many curves as the French horn. Now, the curves on a tuba take on a different shape, but the curves are necessary for making the instrument playable.
Which Brass Instrument Has the LEAST Curves?
A simple tenor trombone has the fewest number of curves out of all of the brass instruments.
Instead of valves, it uses a slide that players move between different positions to change notes. To make those switches easier, the instrument curves at the end of the slide and just before the tubing tapers out to form the bell.
Bass trombones usually have more curves because they aren’t any bigger than tenor trombones. Adding extra tubing near the back of the instrument allows players to reach the lower notes.
To keep the horn from getting too cumbersome, the bass trombone uses rotors to access the curves of the extra tubing.
Some tenor trombones with F attachments can also have an extra couple of curves. They can’t play as low as the bass trombone, and the tubing isn’t any thicker than a tenor trombone.
How Long Would a Tuba Be If It Was Straight?
A tuba would be 12 to 18 feet long if the tubing were straight.
The difference in length is due to the different types of tubas, with the F tuba being 12 feet long. A tuba in Eb has roughly 13 feet long, and a CC tuba measures about 16 feet. Tubas in BBb are the biggest, with 18 feet of tubing.
As mentioned, the French horn is very long, at 18 feet. Euphoniums have about 9 feet of tubing, and trombones aren’t too far behind at 8.8 feet.
The standard trumpet in Bb measures 4 feet 10 inches long, and cornets have about the same amount of tubing. Pocket trumpets have the same amount of tubing, but they have more curves than a regular trumpet.
Piccolo trumpets have about two feet and three inches of tubing.
Twists and Turns
Brass instruments cover every range from high to low, but they all have one thing in common: curves.
Most brass instruments would be impossible to play without the curves, and smooth twists make getting a consistent tone easier than sharp turns.
Whether you play the trumpet or a tuba, you can be thankful for the curves. They make playing fun, and they add some visual appeal to the instrument.
Oregon Symphony: The Brass Family