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What is the Best Brass Instrument to Play? With 10 Areas of Consideration.


Mark teaching

As a brass player and brass teacher, I often get asked this question. Especially by younger students wanting to start learning but also by parents or curious people who wonder about the relationship between the brass instruments. Some people also have no idea what any brass instruments are, as they are not as well known as the guitar or piano for example.


As a euphonium player (I love the euphonium!), my answer to the question may well be a very obvious one but you will have to read on to find out!



I am going to break this post down into 9 different areas and then sum up at the end with my thoughts on what the best brass instrument to play is.


These are the different areas of consideration, in no particular order, and you can skip directly to one of them if you like, just click the one you want.



What is the Best Brass Instrument to Play? - 1. Ease of Playing


Out of all the students I have taught to play a brass instrument, I have never encountered anyone that cannot make a sound. Some have found it easier to do than others but with a bit of experimentation, different explanations and demonstrations, anyone will be able to do it. To read my extensive article on teaching beginner brass follow this link.


From a teaching point of view it is important to be flexible. Not all students will respond to a 'one method only' approach. Likewise, as a student, remember that your lips were not designed to play a brass instrument. It requires patience but you will get there.


Although some people might struggle on one brass instrument and not another, in general, I find that the bigger the instrument is, the easier it is to make a sound. Some of my areas for consideration will inevitably overlap, because a bigger instrument might not be easier to play, just because of its size. For now, we will save that discussion for that area.


Having a bigger brass instrument means you will have a bigger mouthpiece. This means there is much more flexibility of movement of your lips inside the mouthpiece. Meaning, an easier and wider variety of sounds will be produced.


So, for this section, I am going to select the euphonium or trombone to be the easiest brass instrument to play.


What is the Best Brass Instrument to Play? - 2. Cost to Buy


If you are a child or your child has started learning at school or through a music service. I hope you will have been given a free instrument to borrow. For some, you might decide to buy an instrument as a gift for yourself or someone else and the cost of purchase might be a factor in which instrument you choose. Is bigger just more expensive I hear you asking, well let's find out.


Whenever you are considering buying anything, always think of the phrase, "buy cheap, buy twice". So, even though you might be able to find a cheap tuba, which is cheaper than a decent trumpet, it isn't a good reason to go for the tuba. In fact, if you are planning on buying cheap, then the smaller instruments will offer you better value for money because you will have a whole lot less cheap material to deal with than if you buy a cheap tuba that has bigger parts and is probably the instrument where corners are cut the most in cheap manufacture.


Shanghai

Some years ago, I attended the Musikmesse instrument fair in Shanghai, China (I can still remember the taste of stinky tofu!). This was a big eye opener to the quality (and massive lack of it) in the musical instruments market around the world. People are making instruments and claiming they are professional grade. If this is happening to the top end instruments then imagine how poor the quality is at the student or beginner level. New gimmicks, shiny bling and clever marketing can easily fool the customer. Like this terrible to play, rotary valve euphonium.


Rotary euphonium

It is true, it could take a professional to tell the real quality of any instrument but when it comes to brass instruments, I would personally try and find a bit of a bigger budget before shopping around. Ask a professional for advice.


If we look at average quality instruments, yes, bigger will cost more. This area, even though for some it might be the main decision maker, I would argue that it is one of the least important factors. However, due to the fact that you can get much more quality for your money buying a smaller brass instrument, I am going to select the cornet or trumpet as a winner in this category.


What is the Best Brass Instrument to Play? - 3. Weight


When I teach in schools, I avoid any stereotypes about which instruments are for boys or girls. Have a look at my recent post about inclusion for more on this. I find that girls make especially brilliant trombone players in a sense that they are often capable of sensitivity when needed and aggression when required much more than boys seem to manage, meaning from a style point of view they play more musically and with more emotion.


Weight is going to have an impact though on many people interested in brass instruments. Brass instruments are heavier than strings or woodwind. Electric guitars in cases look very cool, so most people would suffer the weight there I think. At least I did when I was younger. Drummers 100% have to have someone with a car to drive them around. Brass instrument cases make you look a little bit like you are going on holiday.


When I started secondary school, I used to carry my euphonium in a hard case for about a 25 minute walk. As soon as I got closer to school it was inevitable that I would hear comments like, "you need a taxi to the airport?". Yes, very funny but nowadays, sorry to say it, on average, youngsters are NOT as resilient.


The whole idea that you need to be a larger person to play a bigger instrument is nonsense as well. Yes, larger brass requires some good air support but it is nothing that cannot be learnt and developed with practice. The smaller, lighter instruments in any family tend to play the melody more and have far more complex parts to learn but it doesn't mean that a tuba player cannot play violin music, because the best players can.


Lets face it though, for most people, holding a larger brass instrument is going to be more problematic than a lighter, small one. At least the large heavy brass instruments like the tuba are difficult to lose or misplace! So again, in this area, the cornet or trumpet gets my vote as it will be most practical to everyone.


What is the Best Brass Instrument to Play? - 4. Performance Opportunities


Now we are getting into the more important areas. If you are thinking about performance opportunities right from the start it shows you are more serious about learning, which is great!


As a brass player you have three main sources of opportunity. Brass bands, orchestral or soloist. You might only like to do some graded exams to start but inevitably at some point you will have the opportunity to perform to others or play in an ensemble with others.


Brass bands use cornets, tenor horns, flugel, baritones, euphoniums, trombones and tubas (or basses). Out of all these instruments, only trombones and tubas are also used in the orchestra. Doubling on instruments like cornet/trumpet or tenor horn/French horn could be a great way to get more performance opportunities but it presents more challenges with practice and having more than one instrument.


In a school band or orchestra, any instruments could get involved. In school, the conductor used to give me bass clarinet parts, or even trumpet parts so it really doesn't matter what you play, in schools there are lots of opportunities. You could even get involved with a jazz band or rock band as a trumpet or trombone player but it is less common for the other brass instruments to be used in the popular music genre.


As an adult, in the UK for example, finding a brass band to join would be the best. Check out this website for brass band news and vacancies. There are amateur orchestras around and also wind bands but playing in a brass band will give you the most opportunities. They do competitions and lots of concerts and events throughout the year (like remembrance day) and they generally have a strong social side (pub after rehearsal). So for performance opportunities cornet or trumpet come out on top. They are very easy to swap between meaning you could potential perform in any genre you want.


What is the Best Brass Instrument to Play? - 5. Enjoyment


This has to be the most important part, why else would anyone ever want to play a musical instrument? Brass instruments are one of the most fun to play to do require extra patience. Some instruments make the sound for you (piano, drums, guitar for example). With brass, it is more personal, you have to make the sound and that sound is in some way unique to you, I find this one of the best reasons for playing a brass instrument.


For enjoyment, I think that the sound you make, the effect it has on other people and the type of music you are likely to play, are all big factors. The sound of the euphonium is a stand out sound for me. Yes, I am biased slightly but when I have performed to people who might never have heard the euphonium before, they do fall in love with it. No other brass instrument does this to the extent the euphonium can.


It can sound like a trombone, it can play as low as a tuba, it's high register has an amazing singing quality, it is simply the best. If you haven't heard the euphonium before, check out my media page.


The best thing about playing the euphonium is that it gets some really fun parts. Composers use it for solo work, basslines, counter melodies and everything. It has crazy virtuosic potential but is also a master of slow melodies due to its glorious tone. The euphonium is my winner in this section.


What is the Best Brass Instrument to Play? - 6. Health Benefits


Playing any musical instrument has massive benefits to health, both physically and mentally. Check out my blog post all about the health benefits of playing a brass instrument by clicking here.


Some benefits of playing a brass instrument include, coordination skills, respiratory improvement, physical exercise, cognitive development, and social interaction. To select one single instrument from the brass family is tricky, so I am going to keep it simple and base it on the movement required and air power required. With this in mind, my vote goes to the trombone. Out of all the brass instruments, the trombone is probably the most cool and a player is most likely to need to dance while playing it which only adds to its health benefits.


What is the Best Brass Instrument to Play? - 7. Career Opportunities


For this one, I am going to list the instruments in a table and list what career opportunities there are for each, this should easily point to the best brass instrument to play with a career in mind. Some careers will be available to all but it is the ones which are more unique to an individual instrument that I am most interested in. I am going to leave out any more obscure brass instruments like the bugle, natural trumpet, sousaphone etc because they can fall under one of the other instruments and I will also combine euphonium and baritone.


I am looking for jobs that are mainly focussed on playing the instrument. Some jobs might be debateable as to how much you can really earn and there are many many jobs out there that any musician could do regardless of which instrument they play. This is the least important of all the areas for consideration in my opinion.


Table brass jobs

The trumpet or trombone is my pick from this. The fact that they can slot into jazz, popular and orchestral music just means there are many more playing as a career opportunities out there.


What is the Best Brass Instrument to Play? - 8. Maintenance


This is a very easy topic to discuss. Playing a smaller instrument makes maintenance far easier. For my euphonium, I have to put it in the bath and soak it. I am not sure how tuba players cope but for cornet or trumpet players it must be super simple. They get my vote in this area.


What is the Best Brass Instrument to Play? - 9. Related Instruments to Try.


I think that this is a bigger area of consideration than you might first think. I know a lot of students who like the idea of playing more than one instrument. People often get bored as well, so having skills that you have learnt which are transferable to other instruments can be really handy.


Think about musical notation. If you learn the trombone, and read bass clef then moving onto something like the cello might be easier from a notation point of view. Likewise, having learnt the trombone, which requires movement of the right arm could be seen to have links with all string instruments that require the use of a bow to play.


Playing the tuba and understanding the role of a bass instrument could well be very valuable should someone want to have a go at the double bass or bass guitar. The music they play will have similar characteristics.


Let's face it though. Once you have developed any skill as a musician on any instrument, the world of music is open for you to take it in any direction. I learnt the euphonium as a child but soon taught myself (without the internet) how to play the guitar and the drum kit. Anything is possible if you put your mind to it.


Because of the ideas I shared above, the trombone is the winner in this area.


What is the Best Brass Instrument to Play? - 10. Final Verdict


How dare you skip straight to the end! I know some of you will have. For those who haven't I hope you enjoyed reading my post. Or click here to return to the top.


Here are the scores on the doors:


  1. Euphonium or trombone

  2. Cornet or trumpet

  3. Cornet or trumpet

  4. Cornet or trumpet

  5. Euphonium

  6. Trombone

  7. Trumpet or trombone

  8. Cornet or trumpet

  9. Trombone

  10. THE WINNER IS = TRUMPET (Trombone in 2nd place)


Final important thing to consider, is that you should just play whatever instrument you want. This article doesn't do much for promoting the tenor horn or the tuba but I know many fantastic players who love those instruments. Try things out as much as possible and have an open mind. If you ever wanted help, just drop me a message or an email.


Thanks for reading my blog. If you want to be informed of new content and get a free pdf about performing from memory, sign up.


Mark Glover

25/11/23


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