If you think the brass family got its name because the instruments are made of brass, you're right! This family of instruments can play louder than any other in the orchestra and can also be heard from far away. Although their early ancestors are known to have been made of wood, tusks, animal horns or shells, today's modern instruments are made entirely of brass. Brass instruments are essentially very long pipes that widen at their ends into a bell-like shape. The pipes have been curved and twisted into different shapes to make them easier to hold and play.
Like the woodwind family, brass players use their breath to produce sound, but instead of blowing into a reed, you vibrate your own lips by buzzing them against a metal cup-shaped mouthpiece. The mouthpiece helps to amplify the buzzing of the lips, which creates the sound. Most brass instruments have valves attached to their long pipes; the valves look like buttons. When you press down on the valves, they open and close different parts of the pipe. You change the pitch and sound by pressing different valves and buzzing your lips harder or softer. The brass family members that are most commonly used in the orchestra include the trumpet, French horn, trombone, and the tuba.