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PNG images: Brass instruments

A brass instrument is a musical instrument that produces sound by sympathetic vibration of air in a tubular resonator in sympathy with the vibration of the player's lips. Brass instruments are also called labrosones, literally meaning "lip-vibrated instruments".

Brass instrument PNG images

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There are several factors involved in producing different pitches on a brass instrument. Slides, valves, crooks (though they are rarely used today), or keys are used to change vibratory length of tubing, thus changing the available harmonic series, while the player's embouchure, lip tension and air flow serve to select the specific harmonic produced from the available series.

The view of most scholars (see organology) is that the term "brass instrument" should be defined by the way the sound is made, as above, and not by whether the instrument is actually made of brass. Thus one finds brass instruments made of wood, like the alphorn, the cornett, the serpent and the didgeridoo, while some woodwind instruments are made of brass, like the saxophone.

Valves are used to change the length of tubing of a brass instrument allowing the player to reach the notes of various harmonic series. Each valve pressed diverts the air stream through additional tubing, individually or in conjunction with other valves. This lengthens the vibrating air column thus lowering the fundamental tone and associated harmonic series produced by the instrument. Designs exist, although rare, in which this behaviour is reversed, i.e., pressing a valve removes a length of tubing rather than adding one. One modern example of such an ascending valve is the Yamaha YSL-350C trombone, in which the extra valve tubing is normally engaged to pitch the instrument in ♭, and pressing the thumb lever removes a whole step to pitch the instrument in C. Valves require regular lubrication.

A core standard valve layout based on the action of three valves had become almost universal by (at latest) 1864 as witnessed by Arban's Method published in that year. The effect of a particular combination of valves may be seen in the table below. This table is correct for the core 3-valve layout on almost any modern valved brass instrument. The most common four-valve layout is a superset of the well-established 3-valve layout and is noted in the table, despite the exposition of four-valve and also five-valve systems (the latter used on the tuba) being incomplete in this article.