Fun facts about our favorite brass instruments

This month we’re delighted to welcome the incredibly talented Barclay Brass. This ensemble features the trumpet, trombone, French horn, euphonium and tuba. How much do you know about these classic instruments? Read on and get to know them in anticipation of a great performance!


Trumpets have been around for quite a while, although they haven’t always been made of brass. The oldest playable trumpets, found in the Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamun’s tomb, are over 3,000 years old! One is made of bronze and the other of sterling silver. Believe it or not, they were played on the radio back in 1939, and you can listen to the recording.

Today’s trumpet is a versatile instrument that has been embraced for many different types of music, most notably classical and jazz. There’s not just one trumpet, however. You’ll actually find eight members of the modern trumpet group, ranging from the piccolo trumpet on the high end of the scale to the bass trumpet, which is at the same pitch as a trombone.


Most brass instruments sport valves, but the trombone uses a slide mechanism that sets it apart, musically and visually. For many instruments, the musicians rely on their finger positions to find the right note. But trombonists must instead learn arm positions, which can be more difficult to master. This is especially true when you consider the other aspects of playing, such as breath control. In fact, the trombone is considered the most difficult brass instrument to play in tune due to the difference in tone that a tiny change in arm position can make.

Listen here to a master trombonist playing a solo from Bolero that demonstrates the distinctive “sliding” sound of this instrument. Or check out the U.S. Naval Academy Band’s trombone quartet performing the Toccata in D Minor.

French horn

The French horn has certainly come a long way since humans first blew into hollow animal horns. Horns were first used formally as musical instruments in the 16th century. These instruments were made from brass and still mimicked the structure of an animal horn.

The instrument was refined bit by bit until something more closely resembling today’s French horns emerged in the 17th century. Two centuries later, great minds added pistons and valves, which enabled players to create a more complex sound with a wider range of tones. By the way, French horns were actually invented by Germans.

Listen here to the winner of the 2019 Tchaikovsky competition playing a French horn solo.

Euphonium and Tuba

Easily confused with one another, the euphonium and tuba are both very large instruments that look similar — and both require the player to have strong lungs to move the air through nine to eighteen feet of tubing! With its shorter length and smaller size overall, the euphonium has a higher pitch. You might be familiar with the tuba’s “oom-pa” tones, but both instruments actually have a rich, warm sound that can carry a melody beautifully. Check out this charming duet between a euphonium and tuba to get a feel for these instruments.