Why Are Brass Instruments Made of Brass? (Explained)

Although “brass” is the name of the instrument family, there’s more to it than that.

Consider some of the most significant benefits of using brass in more detail. Whether you want to play a small or large instrument, these benefits still apply.

Let’s learn why brass instruments are made of brass:

Here’s Why Brass Instruments are Made of Brass:

Using brass for instruments offers quite a few benefits, which is why brass instruments aren’t the only instruments that use the material. Saxophones use brass, even though they’re part of the woodwind family. The material is durable, and it looks and sounds good.

What are the Benefits of Using Brass to Make Instruments?

Aesthetics:

One of the most visible benefits is the aesthetics of brass.

It has a similar appearance to gold, but it’s not as expensive. You can easily see brass from the audience, and new brass is shiny and can stay that way for a while.

Even as the instrument loses its shine, the brass still looks good. As a brass instrument ages, it can develop a unique appearance and character.

Plus, the aesthetics of brass can help make instruments sound as good as they do.

As your air moves through the brass tubing, it can do so smoothly. Then, you can get a warm, rich tone, or you can make the instrument sound more brilliant.

Plus, there are a few different types of brass. If you don’t like the look or sound of yellow brass, you can choose from gold brass and red brass.

Anti-Microbial:

Brass uses copper along with zinc, and copper has natural anti-microbial properties.

That means the copper can kill over 99% of bacteria and microbes within a couple of hours.

If bacteria gets on your instrument, the copper can kill it. Then, you won’t have to worry about picking up germs when you pick up your brass instrument to practice.

This can be an excellent benefit if you need to borrow or share an instrument with someone. As long as you can let the instrument sit for a while before playing, you might have a lower risk of getting sick from playing.

Durable:

While brass can tarnish like silver and other materials, brass won’t corrode as easily.

That means you can use your brass instrument for years or even decades. You can find some used instruments from almost a century ago that are still in excellent condition.

When the brass does tarnish, all it will change is the appearance of the instrument. It can make your trumpet or trombone look unique, but it won’t worsen the sound.

Having a durable instrument is perfect for students who don’t always handle instruments super carefully, but it’s also useful for advanced players who need to perform outside in different climates.

Unlike wood, brass won’t crack when the instrument experiences extreme temperature changes.

Now, you still need to take good care of your instrument. Then, you can make the most of its durability, aesthetics, and anti-microbial properties.

Are All Brass Instruments Made of Brass?

All modern brass instruments are made of brass.

However, the brass isn’t what makes them all part of the same instrument family. Brass instruments all have long pipes that flare at the end into a bell, and they curve around to make the horns easier to hold.

Most have valves, with the trombone as the major exception.

Members of the brass family also require a similar embouchure. When playing a brass instrument, you’ll put your lips together and buzz into a mouthpiece. Instruments outside of the brass family can use brass, so the material isn’t enough to classify an instrument.

Another factor is that brass instruments used to be made from other materials.

Wood was a common choice, along with tusks, horns, and shells from various animals. In the past, some of these materials may have been easier to use to produce an instrument than manufacturing instruments with brass.

Today, brass is relatively easy to produce, and instrument makers have found ways to create good instruments. While some brass instruments feature silver plating, most still use brass as the main component.

What Are the Different Types of Brass Used for Instruments?

Most brass instruments use one or more of a few types of brass.

Yellow brass is the most common type, but other options include gold brass, red brass, and rose brass. All brass alloys use copper and zinc, but the ratios of each material change with the alloys.

Yellow brass contains 70% copper and 30% zinc, and any instrument spec list that doesn’t state the type is probably yellow brass. It offers a bright yet resonant tone that can cut through large ensembles.

Red brass has the highest amount of copper at 90% and only 10% zinc. You can use it to get a mellow and warm tone, but it won’t project as well as some other brass alloys.

Many instruments use red brass lead pipes, even if the body is another type of brass.

In the middle, you can find gold brass, with 85% copper and 15% zinc. This alloy offers a round tone with a decent projection, but it’s a bit darker than yellow brass. Some people also call this alloy rose brass.

In some cases, rose brass is the only name, while gold brass refers to an alloy with 80% copper and 20% zinc.

When Were the First Brass Instruments Made?

The first brass instruments were made in the Renaissance era, between 1400 and 1413.

While brass instruments existed earlier than that, this was the time when they started to look like modern brass instruments. First was the S-shaped trumpet, and the slide trumpet soon developed into the modern trombone.

In the 1500s, horns existed, but people didn’t commonly use them for music. At the time, people used them for hunting.

Also, in that era, brass instruments typically played in the highest range, where the overtone series made it easier to play more notes close together.

Brass instruments really began to develop in the Baroque era. People started adding features that made the instruments easier to play in different keys.

Development of brass instruments has continued to this day, and people are still working on new designs to help players perform new music.

What’s In a Name?

Brass instruments are made of brass because the material looks and sounds good.

It’s also durable and anti-microbial, so it’s a fantastic option for playing indoors and outdoors. Players can choose from yellow, gold, and red brass, depending on their preference of sound and appearance.

That way, you can play the notes and music you want.

Sources:

Rotax Metals: What Are the Advantages of Brass?

Oregon Symphony: Brass Family of Instruments

Normans Musical Instruments: Yellow, Red, or Gold Brass: What’s the difference?

Trombone Chat: What is rose brass?

Wilktone: A Brief History of Brass Instruments