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Chapter 4 Contents


The brass choir is dynamic, powerful, warm or bright, and a builder of climaxes.  It is homogenous in color and can blend well with and strengthen winds.  Instruments in the brass family can be muted using cups, straight mutes, plungers, hats among others, for coloristic effects.  They are very versatile and can be used for harmonic support or counterpoint.  Brass instruments can present the melody and can execute attacks better than any other instrument of the orchestra.  They have a dynamic envelope allowing them to build and change tone trough a phrase.  They can articulate both slow and fast passages and can perform trills, slurs, flutters and triple tonguing.  They are ideal to use as alternating colors with other sections of the orchestra.


Historically, brass instruments were used for military and hunting purposes.  Consider how brass instruments can be used to create a psychology of patriotism or used as a call to muster.


They are divided into two groups:

• The horns, as altos and trumpets as sopranos are transposing.

• Trombones as tenors and tubas basses are non-transposing instruments.


Brass Instrument Ranges

Illustration 4.9 Brass Ranges


B Flat trumpets


Three valves produce tone using the overtone series.  The low register is dark, the middle is brighter with good projection while the high is brilliant and penetrating.  They have great power and agility and are great for crescendos and climaxes.  Step wise writing is best; avoid large skips and arpeggios.  Trumpets when muted can present a very subtle motif.


Horns in F


Three valves are used to create pitches that tend to speak slowly.  Their color is warm and deep and can present a wide range of emotions form tender to heroic.  They do not have the same agility as other brass instruments.  However, they blend especially well with the wind section.




Trombones use a slide to produce pitch by extending or reducing the length of the pipe.  Their low register is full and dark while the middle to upper are rich and sonorous.  In softer passages it is much like the horn and in louder passages it is bright and strong.  Solo passages should be articulated in the higher range.  When doubled, their powerful sound increases.






Their low register is dark, the middle is smooth and mellow, and the high register is powerful and full bodied.  They can easily blend with other instruments.  Write shorter phrases when in low range to sound more realistic since they need more air in that range.


Scoring for Brass

The arrangement for the brass choir in the orchestra is:

• Four horns on two staves–1 and 3 on the first and 2 and 4 on the second

• Three trumpets–Trps 1 and 2 on the first and Trp 3 on the second stave

• Three trombones–two tenor trbs on one stave and bass on a separate stave

• Tuba


They are voiced using the SATB method (S-trps, A-hrns, T-trbs, B-trb and tuba) or they can be juxtaposed, interlocked, enclosed or overlapped in the same way these voicings are used within the wind section.


Instrument doublings with other sections are very common with brass.  For example:  trumpets doubling oboes, horns doubling pedal points in cello, tuba doubling bass clarinets or bassoons and tubas and or trombones doubling cellos and double basses.


MIDI Tip 4.4


Use a breath controller or assigned breath control wheel to create a realistic sounding dynamic envelope.


Exercise 4.3

Compose an eight-measure harmonization (tonal or atonal chord progression) using at least 8 notes per chord per measure.  Create eight tracks and assign appropriate brass sounds to utilize either method of voicing for brass.  Share with the class and have them identify which instruments and voicings were used.

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