An Introduction to British Brass Band Instruments

Here’s the St Albans City Band guide to British Brass Band instruments which can help you choose which instrument to play.

Did you know?

  1. The fingering for valved brass instruments is the same throughout the band. This means that you can start on a Cornet and very easily (should you wish to), move to a Horn or a Flugelhorn or even a Tuba. Though there will be an adjustment to your embouchure (what you do with your mouth and lips), the fingering will be exactly the same. The exception is the Trombone which has a slide and no valves.
  2. Nearly all brass band instruments read music in treble clef. The only exception is the Bass Trombone (which has music in Bass Clef).
  3. Most brass band instruments are ‘in Bb’ which means that when you play a C from your part, you will produce a Bb. The exceptions are Soprano Cornet, Tenor Horn and the Eb Bass which are Eb instruments. Parts are transposed for each instrument so you do not need to worry about this as a beginner!

Soprano Cornet

This is the smallest instrument in the band and can play the highest pitch. There is only one in each brass band and their part is often decorative, floating above the main tune in the Cornets.


The Cornet has a similar range to a Trumpet but has a conical bore (the trumpet has straight tubing apart from the horn) and a warmer ‘rounder’ sound. In a typical brass band there will be 9 Cornet players. 4 Solo Cornets (aka ‘front row’) who will typically play the tune. 1 Repiano Cornet (aka ‘rep’) who will often have a counter-melody, 2 Second Cornets and 2 Third Cornets who will play tune and harmonies. The Principal Cornet (one of the 4 front row) leads the band in a similar way to the Principal Violin in an orchestra. Louis Armstrong played Cornet (as well as Trumpet). Lots of brass players start out on a Cornet, it’s a good choice for a beginner.


The Flugel is a member of the Horn section. There is only one Flugel in each band. It is shaped with a forward facing bell (like a Cornet), but is larger and more conical. The sound is very warm and distinctive. The flugel is often used in Jazz (famous players include Chet Baker and Miles Davis).

Tenor Horn

This is a very different instrument to the French Horn used in Orchestral music. It has an upward facing bell. There are three Horn players in a Brass band – Solo Horn, 1st Horn and 2nd Horn. It’s another popular instrument for beginners. The Solo Horn part can often have the tune, the 1st and 2nd Horns will often play accompanying harmonies.


The Baritone is a similar shape to the Tenor Horn, but slightly larger. There are two Bari players in a brass band. It’s an interesting part sometimes supporting a tune on Euphonium, sometimes filling out the harmony parts with the Horns. The first Bari may have solos, the 2nd Bari will fill out the harmonies in the chord.


The Solo Euphonium is the leader of the Bass part of the band and sits opposite the principal cornet. A brass band will also have a second ‘section’ player who mostly plays the same part. The Euphonium has a beautiful rich sound and an enormous range. Euphonium mouthpieces are very similar to Trombone mouthpieces and it’s not unusual for players to be proficient in both.


Trombones have no valves and instead use a slide to adjust the pitch of the note along with adjustments to the player’s embouchure. One slide position can produce several notes. There are three Trombones in a Brass Band, two Tenor Trombone (treble clef parts) and one Bass Trombone (who reads in bass clef). Trombones are an important and powerful voice at the bass end of the band. The 1st Tenor Trombone will often have the tune. Again trombones are a popular beginner instrument. In the past few years reasonably decent plastic models have been produced which make the instrument more accessible to younger players.

Bass (aka Tuba)

There are two types of Bass in a Brass Band, an Eb instrument and a Bb instrument. The Bb is the largest and lowest instrument in the band. The Bass section will carry the bassline which as extremely important part in any ensemble. The bassline can be relatively easy to play in terms of the notes, but it plays a vital part in holding together the ensemble and providing a rhythmic drive for the music. Every ensemble needs a Bass!


Virtuoso Brass band music can require a team of percussionists, more straightforward pieces might only need a drum kit or a set of timps or a Glockenspiel. Parts are written in the same way as Orchestral percussion music.

P.S. Brass bands do not include Trumpets, instead we have Cornets which have a similar range, but a warmer, rounder sound. Brass bands do not include Saxophones or Flutes, really sorry but those instruments are outside the scope of what we can offer.