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The brass valve, unlike the woodwind key, works more along the lines of the early experiments with making horns that could change their length, and thus their harmonic series, relatively quickly. The early experimental horns still required time to change keys, usually requiring the player to replace one section of the instrument's tubing with a shorter or longer section. The modern brass valve made it possible to instantly change the length of the instrument by opening an extra length of tubing using the valve. (So that a valve effectively makes the instrument longer, and slightly lower, rather than shorter and higher as opening keyholes does in woodwinds.) Most brass instruments have three valves, as three harmonic series are enough to play a fully chromatic scale in tune in the full range of the instrument, but some low brass have more valves. In fact, one of the important effects of the valve instrument was to make low-range brass instruments practical. Tubas were first built in the 1830's and were quickly adopted by brass bands. The serpent and ophicleid persisted in the orchestra through the 1800's, but were eventually completely replaced by the tuba and its slightly-higher-voiced relatives, the baritone and euphonium. Prussian bandmaster Wilhelm Wieprecht was a major force both in actually improving valved instruments and in encouraging bands to adopt them. (It is unclear which of several instrument makers actually invented the first brass valve.)

Another important influence in the nineteenth century was the instrument maker and prolific inventor Adolphe Sax. Although never adopted by orchestras, the four types of saxophone that are still in use - the soprano, alto, tenor, and baritone saxophones - have had a tremendous influence on marching, concert, and particularly jazz bands. These are not the only instruments that Sax invented, however, and many of the bands of the nineteenth century included a wide variety of saxhorns and saxtrombas, as well as saxophones.

The percussion section of the ensemble also grew, with composers experimenting in the nineteenth century with such sounds as bells, whip, anvil, jingles, gong, castanets, glockenspiel, and xylophone. The twentieth century saw the addition of many percussion instruments from the Latin tradtion, such as marimba, maracas, claves, bongos, conga, and guiro.

Jazz bands

The traditional American jazz band is also closely related to the military and community band traditions, and is often included as part of educational band programs in U.S. schools. The roots of jazz came from African-American traditions; field calls and work songs, spirituals, blues, and ragtime all played a part in the early development of the genre, and the earliest jazz did not have a standard instrumentation.

The earliest standard jazz band that did emerge was the New Orleans "Dixieland" style band. Typical instrumentation for this group was a front line of trumpet or cornet , clarinet , and trombone , backed up by a rhythm section of drums, piano, double bass or tuba, and banjo (or guitar).

This instrumentation was influenced by two types of groups that were thriving in New Orleans at the time: dance bands and military-style brass bands. Both played at social events, with the brass bands particularly popular for outdoor events such as street parades (including funeral parades) and carnivals. These brass bands began in the traditional military style, playing marches from written music. In the early 1900's, however, a tradition developed of playing the marches with a ragtime beat, and many of the band musicians who had not had formal training also developed a distinctive style of improvisation. New-Orleans-style bands quickly spread across the country and began developing into the jazz tradition. By the big-band era of the 1930's, the typical jazz band featured an entire section of each of the front-line instruments (trumpets, trombones, and reeds, which were now mostly saxophones but still included clarinets). The typical rhythm section had become drums, piano, double bass, and guitar.

An explosion of jazz styles in the 1950's included the proliferation of smaller "combo" ensembles. The typical combo still echoes the original jazz instrumentation, featuring trumpet, saxophone, trombone, piano, drums, and bass; but bandleaders handpick their instrumentalists for a particular ensemble sound, and a quartet of piano, drums, double bass, and vibraphone, a quartet of electric guitar, electric bass, drums, and electric organ, or a nonet that includes a tuba and French horn are all perfectly acceptable jazz ensembles. Today, the jazz scene consists of both large and small groups of widely varying instrumentation.


  • Farmer, Henry George. The Rise and Development of Military Music. Freeport, New York: Books for Libraries Press, 1912.
  • Goldman, Richard Franko. The Concert Band. New York: Rinehart and Company, Inc., 1946.
  • Martin, Henry, and Keith Waters. Jazz: The First 100 Years. Belmont CA: Thomson Schirmer, 2006.
  • White, William Carter. A History of Military Music in America. New York: The Exposition Press, 1944.

Questions & Answers

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s. Reply
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Source:  OpenStax, A parent's guide to band. OpenStax CNX. Jun 25, 2007 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col10428/1.1
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