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What Is Embouchure? Common Brass Terms Explained

October 10th, 2022 | 3 min read

By Ewan Moore

Learning a new instrument can be tough. Not only do you need to get to grips with the actual instrument itself, but you've also got a whole new language to learn!

That's why we've put together this quick and easy guide for beginners to refer to whenever they see a term or word they may not recognise during the first few months or so of their musical journey. 

Read on for definitions of the following terms: 

Common Brass Terms Explained

What Is Embouchure? 

Embouchure is an incredibly important term in brass playing, and one you'll also find in woodwind. It means the shape and position of the player's mouth on the mouthpiece while playing. A good sound is entirely dependant on a strong embouchure, so be sure to practice your technique.

What Is The Bell?

The bell is, in the most simple terms, the bit at the end of the brass instrument where the sound comes out. You can't really miss it! The size of the bell can affect the sound of the instrument, too. A larger bell would offer a darker, softer sound, while a smaller bell can producer brighter, sharper sounds. 

What Is The Bore?

The bore is just the hole that runs through the centre of the instrument. Like the bell, the size and shape of the bore can have an impact on how the instrument sounds. A straight bore, typically found a trumpet, produces a more piercing sound. Conical bores, which you'd typically find on a cornet or french horn, deliver a warmer tone. 

What Are Mutes?

Mutes are simply attachments you can buy for your instrument that reduce the noise they produce. They're ideal for practicing if you don't want to bother the neighbours! You can buy mutes for various brass instruments online for anywhere between £25 to £100 depending on the level of quality and sound you’re after. No matter which mute you choose, it will quieten your instrument. Just remember that some mutes require extra pressure to play, which could affect your technique once removed. 

What Are Slides?

Slides appear on all brass instruments, and change the length of the pipework. This in turn, will affect the tuning of the instrument. The main slide of a trombone is a vital part of playing, as it is used to create different pitches in the absence of valves.  

What Are Piston Valves?

You'll find piston valves on most brass instruments. These move up and down inside the valve casing as players press the buttons on the top of the instrument. This changes the pitch as the valves line up with the pipe work of the instrument. 

What Are Rotary Valves?

Rotary valves are a lot like piston valves, in that they change the pitch of the instrument by affecting the airflow. Rotary valves spin, and are commonly found on the french horn.

What Are Water Keys?

Also referred to as spit valves, water keys are a gross necessity of playing a brass instrument.  You simply open it up to drain away any excess moisture that has been collected in the instrument as a result of the player's condensed breath.  

General Music Terms Explained

What Is Pitch? 

How high or low a sound is. Usually shown as a letter: A-G and by where the written note is placed: higher or lower on the music stave or staff.

What Is Duration?

How long or short a sound is. Measured in beats and shown by the shape of a written note.

What Is Beat?

How to measure and describe the passing of time in music, the heartbeat or pulse of the music, what you tap your toe, march or dance to. Measured in beats per minute (BPM) or expressed in an Italian term such as, Presto (fast), Andante (walking pace) or Largo (slow).

What Is Stave/Staff?

the familiar horizontal lines that written music is placed on. Think of this like a ladder: the higher the note has climbed the higher the pitch it represents.

What Is Clef?

A symbol at the beginning of the music that tells us which pitch belongs on which line of the staff or stave. On trumpet we use the treble or G clef which means the second line is where the note G lives.

What Are Bars And Bar Lines?

Vertical lines on the staff or stave, bar lines help us organise time by dividing the horizontal format of the music into bars.

What Are Time Signatures? 

These numbers at the beginning of a piece of music tell us how many beats in each bar (top number) and what type of note each beat is made from (bottom number). i.e. 44 – four crotchet beats per bar.

Find Out More

Feel free to browse through our comprehensive learning guide, or take a look at the full range of pInstruments to see if there might be a better fit for you. And if you still feel you need to do a little more research, check out the following articles:

The Easiest Instruments To Learn

How Long Does It Take To Learn A Brass Instrument?

pBone Review Roundup: Is It Any Good?

Music Education Resources 

Ewan Moore

After seven years writing about video games, Ewan made the jump to the music instrument industry to stop his family asking when he was going to get a real job. Mostly, though, he adores music and is passionate about its vital role throughout life - especially in education. He also played guitar in several bands with deeply embarrassing names that won't be revealed here. With a degree in journalism from an NCTJ-accredited university under his belt, Ewan uses everything he learned as a writer over the last decade to help answer any questions you might have about pBone Music in an accessible (and hopefully entertaining) way. Because if you can write 1,000 words on SSDs and ray-tracing, you can explain why plastic instruments are accessible, sustainable, and fun.