In metallurgy, brass pertains to the alloy of copper and zinc. In music, it refers to aerophones, or instruments that require the blowing of air to play. However, because many metallic musical instruments are made of the metal brass, brass instruments are often misconstrued as all being made of its namesake metal.
Brass is used in many musical instruments, even outside the brass family, due to its unique properties. Compared to other metals, brass’s malleability makes it resistant to tension; and high-quality brass tube products are tough raw materials used in many other industrial and commercial applications.
There’s an ongoing debate on whether other metals can outperform brass in producing a good sound. In fact, several tests and experiments have been made to see if the type of metal used in a musical instrument has any effect on the quality of the sound it produces, as discussed in an article by Kelly Roncome Zappas in TMS.org.
“In some instances, the material is directly involved in sound generation, while in other instruments, this is not the case,” said Gregor Widholm of the University of Music and Performing Arts in Vienna.
Gregor Widholm, the leader of one of these experiments, concluded that the sound that comes out from a musical instrument is primarily affected by the size and structure of the tubes and mouthpiece, but the instrument’s composition has minimal to no effect. He made a comparison between silver and gold musical instruments.
“Silver, 24 kt gold, and platinum all have different vibrating properties, of course, but the musician can mask all these properties by generating the sound,” said Widholm. “That’s the reason why there’s really no difference between the $3,500 flute and the $150,000 flute.
Acoustics experts and brass instruments manufacturer Richard Smith agrees, but says further:
“It’s all about what material is easiest to work with,” said Smith. “Brass is ideal because it’s malleable.”
Even in manufacturing musical instruments, efficiency is a top consideration. Brass’ properties make the metal preferable to other kinds, and has the added bonus of being cheaper. This is also a reason why brass is a good choice for many other manufacturing applications.
Users of brass, however, have to consider the quality of the raw materials they get, including round or square brass tubing products. Not all brass pieces are alloyed to standards, which can have a huge effect on the quality of the finished product, including musical instruments. To ensure they get materials that conform to the specs they need, manufacturers should rely on suppliers like Rotax Metals, which has built a solid reputation over several decades, and put a premium on integrity.
(Source: The Science of Sound: Examining the Role of Materials in Musical Instruments, TMS.org)