Making the Case for Brass in General Music

"Why isn't brass traditionally taught in general music?"

Three basic reasons:

  1. Learning a brass instrument is complicated and challenging compared to traditional classroom instruments:
    • Basic sound production on a brass instrument requires significant embouchure and respiratory system development (especially in comparison to the recorder).
    • Unlike woodwinds, strings, and Orff instruments, where you can see the position of each note and how they relate to each other, brass instruments operate on the harmonic series (hidden from view) which requires development of aural skills and more precise pitch production.
    • Adding valves, slides, and reading music notation to the above points creates layers of variables that can make teaching beginning brass in a whole-class setting extremely challenging.
  2. Most teachers assume that they cannot teach brass unless they have a brass background - that teaching brass requires specialized knowledge and training. It creates a self-perpetuating cycle: Since few teachers are exposed to brass in their formative years, few would feel capable of teaching it.
  3. Cost & upkeep: Brass instruments are expensive to purchase, costly to repair, and the regular maintenance to keep valves and slides in good working order can be significant, often eating up valuable instructional time.

"Why expand access to learning brass?"

In short, equity and access:

The 2015 U.S. Federal K-12 Legislation, Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), stipulates that music and the arts are a necessary part of a well-rounded education. Although specific requirements are left to the states, and there are enduring problems with overall access and equity across the U.S., over 90% of elementary school students have access to a general music education, but less than 4% of students end up learning a brass instrument.

According to the National Association for Music Education (NAfME), general music curriculum should include singing, moving, listening, composing/improvising, performing, and reading/writing music. Playing musical instruments is a core element of this education. Students commonly have experience with percussion (hand drums, bells, shakers), woodwind (recorder), string (guitar or ukulele), and Orff instruments, but not brass.

Currently, brass is taught primarily in the context of band programs, which are widely accessible, but there are still significant hurdles for students wanting to learn brass:

  1. The student must be attending a school with a band program and choose to join it (band is typically an elective course).
  2. A student wanting to play brass is often pushed onto another instrument in the case that they aren't successful at the first attempt.
  3. Students must have the resources to rent or buy an instrument in the case that the school cannot provide them.

Simply put, brass is a foundational pillar of the instrumental music world, and music and the arts are deemed a necessary part of a well-rounded education, yet brass is notably absent from general music.  

"How does Brass for Beginners® expand access to learning brass?"

A winning formula:

1. An effective and efficient teaching tool

The natural trumpet, a historical instrument without valves, offers a simplified and accessible brass experience much in the same way that the recorder does for woodwinds.

The natural trumpet is an ideal pedagogical tool for both teaching and learning brass because it limits the variables. It puts the focus on the development of fundamental techniques and aural skills, which are critical for success on all modern brass instruments. Furthermore, its simplicity and approachability makes it an ideal teaching/learning tool for brass players and non-brass players alike. Learn More

2. Interdisciplinary learning

The Brass for Beginners® curriculum uses a story-driven interdisciplinary approach that traces the development of lip-blown instruments from prehistory through the ancient world. It is perhaps the only general music method that explores the origins and development of music itself, and it offers a treasure trove of supplementary learning activities including cross-curricular, student-centered, collaborative, and social and emotional learning (SEL).
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3. Playing by-ear: making music right away!

The BfB Method uses a learn-by-ear approach to jump-start the development of aural skills and to facilitate music making. Learning-by-ear using the harmonic series of the natural trumpet is an extremely effective way to develop the connection between sound production and pitch or interval awareness, which is critical for success on all brass instruments. Students learn either by listening to their classroom teacher and/or by playing along with online sound files. All musical exercises and pieces also appear in musical notation for students who are visual learners.

One of the greatest benefits of using a learn-by-ear approach for beginners is that students are not limited by what they can read in notation. Instead of holding a whole note (sustaining sound while counting four beats), students can play more complex rhythmic patterns right away, such as for marching or dancing.

4. A chance to learn and succeed

Various aspects of brass pedagogy are addressed in the student book as well as throughout the online teacher resources. BfB students are given an opportunity to work out how to do things, whereas students trying out for band are often assigned instruments based an what they can do at the first try.
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