Editors: Trevor Herbert, Arnold Myers, and John Wallace
Publisher: Cambridge University Press – 612 pages
Book Review by: Sonu Chandiram

This encyclopedia has been written for those who want to learn about new aspects of brass instruments. It is for those who have very little knowledge about the instruments and also for those who already have a lot of knowledge about them, but want to fill in gaps in some aspects of their current information on particular musical instruments.

Thirty-five music specialists including the three editors named above, from all over the United States and 14 other countries – Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China, Finland, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, India, Italy, New Zealand, Scotland, Sweden, and the United Kingdom – authored or coauthored the content in this encyclopedia, which is organized in the Guide to Using the Encyclopedia under  the following topics:

  • Introduction: Understanding Brass Instruments
  • Selection of Entries
  • Instruments
  • Topics and Themes
  • Biographical Entries and Works of Music
  • Musical Instrument Makers
  • Early Literature
  • Navigating the Book
  • Alphabetical Listings and Cross-Referencing by Alternative Descriptions
  • Referencing and the Bibliography
  • Audio Recordings
  • Scientific Terms and Measures
  • Note Pitches
  • Musical Terms and Conventions
  • Instrument Names and Abbreviations
  • Biographical Entries
  • Dates and Matters of Accuracy
  • Illustration of Instruments

Music instruments are generally classified not by the materials they are made of, but by the process of how sounds are generated. Sound is made with brass instruments by the vibration of the player’s lips and blowing of air into a tubular resonator. Such instruments are known as ‘labrosones’(lip-vibrated instruments).

The first labrosones on earth were not made of brass or other metals but of prevalent items such as animal tusks and horns. These were followed by the use of wood and leather such as for the cornet. Other metals besides brass have also been used to create such music instruments. In modern times, man-made materials such as plastic has been used extensively to create lip-vibrated sound. Sea shells were also (and still are being) used to create sound.

Common families of brass instruments are:

  • Valved brass instruments – typically with three or four valves, but up to seven or more
  • Slide brass instruments – use a slide to change the length of tubing
  • Natural brass instruments – only notes in the instrument’s harmonic series are available
  • Keyed or fingered – having holes in the body of the instruments that can be covered

Some common brass instruments in the modern world are: bugle, clarinet, cornet, horn, saxophone, trombone, trumpet, and tuba

Among its other important features, this encyclopedia:

  • Contains contributions from brass instrument specialists in 15 countries
  • Covers all regions of the world
  • Describes methods used to study and understand brass instruments
  • Introduces new and unfamiliar material drawing on the latest research
  • Is the first major encyclopedia on brass instruments
  • Presents 100+ illustrations of various kinds – diagrams, drawings, photographs, etc.
  • Shows ranges of performance contexts and playing techniques
  • Spans centuries: from antiquity to the present

Let’s get a brief overview of what is presented and discussed in this book by going over the Introduction: Understanding Brass Instruments authored by Trevor Herbert.

After introductory paragraphs on what differentiates brass instruments from other classes  of music makers, he lays out and discusses these topics:

  • Studying Brass Instruments
  • Cultures and Audiences
  • Histories and People

On studying brass instruments, Herbert states that researchers in the twenty-first century have been concerned with three closely-related channels of inquiry: repertoires – the music that performers played; performance – the range of issues that impinge on the way music is played: and reception – the way brass playing has been heard, the expectations that audiences had of performers in different times and places, and the flow of continuities and changes that have occurred in musical tastes.

On cultures and audiences, he points to “two basic changes that prompted a revision of the way  we think about and understand music, including the role of brass instruments” The first is the development of styles and methods of playing that embrace musical languages that previously resided in separate and discrete places. The second has been a change in public attitude, mainly in the second half of the twentieth century: that ownership of all music from whatever time and place is fully at their disposal – that music of their time is music of all time.

This enlightening book on brass instruments can play a part in our lives that has become so important in today’s stressful world of mass shootings: music that enables us to unwind and to relieve that stress.



Trevor Herbert is Emeritus Professor of Music at the Open University and Professor of Music at the Royal College of Music. He was introduced to music in a brass band and went on to be a trombone player with major London orchestras and period instrument groups. He has written prolifically on the history of brass instruments, their music and players and is regarded one of the   world’s leading experts on the subject.

Arnold Myers is Professor Emeritus at the University of Edinburgh and Senior research Fellow at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. He has worked in parallel as an information scientist and as Curator and Director of Edinburgh University Collection of History Music Instruments. His research is at the interface of musical acoustics and the history of brass instruments.

John Wallace was Principal of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland from 2002 to 2014. He began playing cornet aged seven in the Tullis Russell Mills Brass Band in Fife, Scotland, and went on to become Principal Trumpet of the Philharmonia Orchestra and leader of his own internationally-renowned brass ensemble, the Wallace Collection. His musical career has spanned performance, composition and education.