This post is written as a playlist for my younger students, especially those with little or no background in classical music or jazz. The tone’s a little lighter as a result, but hopefully no less informative!
Welcome to the world of brass music! If you’re here, that probably means you’re learning a brass instrument (and most likely trumpet!), but might not know what the trumpet actually DOES in real life. Well, have I got a list for you. We do all kinds of things!
This collection has examples from all sorts of different genres, from things you might play in school band, to jazz, to very old and very new classical music, to modern film and rock music, and to concert solos. There’s music for huge orchestras, and for very small ensembles too (often called combos, or chamber ensembles, depending on the genre). Let’s start with some things you’ll recognize and go from there:
Concert Band / Wind Ensemble
Though we usually associate wind bands with school, there’s a great tradition of high level wind music in this part of the world. Much of it is maintained through military bands, but those bands have some of the best players you’ve heard in them. Wind music has been more important to the development of a musical identity in North America than orchestra music is, and it’s a shame that we don’t have more similarly supported professional concert bands, along the line of our orchestras.
Large Brass Ensemble
One thing you can say about brass players: they absolutely love brass music! Brass on its own has such a glowing, warm sound that other instrumental groups can only dream of. Many of my students play in a junior brass ensemble, and I want to say: keep at it, because look at what you can accomplish one day!
British-style Brass Band
Believe it or not, there’s actually a difference between brass ensemble and brass band! The British-style brass band replaces trumpets with cornets, and horns in F with alto horns in E-flat (like a tiny euphonium), and usually divides each section into more parts than a brass ensemble does. British brass band fans are very passionate about getting that instrumentation correct! It requires a very delicate approach, but suits the music very well.
Big Band Music
It sounds like a silly name, but big band is what we call the largest level of jazz ensemble. Using lots of trumpets, trombones, and saxophones, big band lead players are known for their impeccable high register that sets them apart from other trumpet players.
So we had big band, does that mean we also have small band? Jazz combos usually only have one of each instrument, and can even be as small as three or four people. It really lets each individual shine, and leads to really long, organic performances of their repertoire.
Brass Music Meets Funk and Rock Music
Of course as musical styles change, the players change with them! Groups of young musicians lead the charge as brass and wind (especially saxophone) players explore genres like rock, punk, hip hop, and fusion. If you want to be successful as a breakout musician, find something you love that no one else is doing, and do that!
Brass Chamber Music
Chamber music literally means music that fits in your living room. They can be any size, but the brass quintet is our standard chamber ensemble, our answer to the string quartet. There’s two approaches to brass chamber music: stick to the standard, brass-original repertoire, or play arrangements of other pieces. One of my former teachers used to play in a professional quintet that prided themselves in only playing brass originals, though they would occasionally play music that was written for any/unspecified instruments!
Popular Music for Brass Quintet
On the other hand, groups like the Canadian Brass made themselves famous for playing brass versions of songs people know and love. And there’s nothing wrong with that! Each group has a niche to fill, and thanks to the Canadian Brass, lots of people love the style and want brass groups to fill that niche.
Trumpets in Orchestra Music
Many classical musicians make playing in a major orchestra one of their goals, and while spots for trumpets in orchestras are far fewer than in concert bands or big bands, many cities have multiple levels of orchestra in them, meaning even community-level musicians can join up for an enriching experience! Though the trumpet was relegated to a more support role in the music of Mozart and Haydn, it really shines in music starting around the mid 1800s and later.
Trumpets in Baroque Music
Before the invention of valves, there was a golden age of virtuoso trumpet playing, from roughly 1650-1750. This sits in what we call the Baroque era, where composers like Bach and Vivaldi come from. Nowadays, baroque trumpet playing is a very specialized field, requiring very specific skills, but the results are some incredible music!
Contemporary and Avant-Garde Trumpet Music
Avant-garde is a term for art that is unusual, experimental, unorthodox, cutting edge, and at times difficult to understand. As the trumpet can make some pretty fun sounds, it ends up being a good instrument to experiment on! Sometimes the fun of the music is just that: exactly how many different sounds can you make?
Music for Film
Of course, most of us get our first exposure to trumpet music through film, and most of us fall in love with the instrument because of these film scores. And why shouldn’t we? Film music is some of the most well-known and well-loved music without words that exists, and film composers are some of the greatest artists of the current era.
Modern Classical and Orchestral Music
Classical music doesn’t just refer to music that people in the 1700s and 1800s wrote! There are classical composers from the 1900s and 2000s too, many of whom are still alive and still working! Getting to hear their music is such a treat, as most groups tend to stick with what they know, but branching out is 100% worth it.
Solo Classical Repertoire for Trumpet
When you go to school for classical music, you’re expected to learn the standard sonatas and solos for your instrument. Once you get out, it can be hard to figure out where to play them, unless you’re programming your own concerts. Putting on your own recitals is fun! And these pieces are a joy as well, there’s a deep catalogue of works worth exploring.
Music That Isn’t Trumpet Music
I recently watched a video lecture with trumpeter Jens Lindemann, who told a great story about his first lesson with Mark Gould. Gould asked what music he listened to, and Lindemann instantly listed off his ten favourite trumpet players. Gould’s response? “Oh, so you’re a meathead!” You can’t live on a diet of just trumpet. Listen to string music! Listen to opera! Listen to metal! Listen to woodwinds! Listen to hip hop! Listen to alt rock! Listen to popular stuff too, there’s no sense in having pride in being a musician who doesn’t know what the average person actually likes!
There’s a whole lot of music out there in the world, just waiting for you to hear. Remember to keep a good healthy diet of lots of music from different genres. When we learn an instrument, we always want to try and sound just like ourselves, and some people are afraid of imitating others too closely, thinking it makes them less individual. The truth is, there’s far more sounds and styles than one person on their own could possibly imagine, so you should listen to as much of it as you can! Only when we have a broad understanding of the limitless possibilities, can we begin to craft something unique and special that we call our own. So get lost in the music today, and find something new! It’s a wonderful world that awaits you.