ARTSEDGE Lessons for Elementary School

Brass Instruments and Pitch

Slides, valves, buttons – what do all those things on the brass instruments really do?


Key Staff

  • Classroom teacher
  • Assistance of music teacher could be helpful

Key Skills

Developing Arts Literacies: Analyzing and Evaluating - Critique, Applying Vocabulary


This lesson introduces students to the instruments of the brass family. Students learn the types and parts of brass instruments and then create their own "brass" instrument. They will make predictions and explore how pitch changes based on the length of the air pipe.

Learning Objectives

Students Will:

  • Design investigations that determine factors that affect the pitch of brass instruments based on the length of the tubes or crooks.
  • Explore the factors that determine pitch fluctuation of brass instruments.

Teaching Approach

Arts Integration

Teaching Methods

  • Large or Small Group Instruction
  • Cooperative Learning
  • Hands-On Learning
  • Guided Listening

Assessment Type

Informal Assessment


Lesson Setup

Teacher Background

General understanding of acoustics:

General understanding of brass instruments:

Prior Student Knowledge

  • A basic understanding of sound as waves and as energy.
  • Some familiarity with orchestral instruments.
  • Prior experience with science experiments.


  • Large Group Instruction
  • Small Group Instruction


  • Cue up listening passage(s).
  • Cut garden hose to these lengths, providing one piece of each length for each group: 6", 9", 12", 15", 18", 21", 24"

Accessibility Notes

Students with physical disabilities may need modified movements.



1. Review the members of the brass instrument family. Distribute and review the Instrument Families of the Orchestra handout located within the Resource Carousel.

2. Play instrument listening clips for the brass family from Perfect Pitch. Have students discuss what they hear and compare the sounds of the brass instruments to those of other instruments.

Build Knowledge

1. Have students explore the following sites to learn more about brass instruments, individually or in groups as availability of computers allows:

  • ArtsAlive.ca Music: Instrument Lab: Brass
    here, students can learn more about string instruments and play clips
  • ArtsAlive.ca Music: Brass Interviews
    students can read interviews with musicians and view demonstration videos
  • DSO Kids: Families of the Orchestra
    students can hear a variety of instruments played in isolation, performing familiar tunes, and playing with the full orchestra
  • Playmusic: Brass
    students can learn about the instruments, play clips, and play a matching game (requires Shockwave)
  • Perfect Pitch
    students can learn about the instruments and try out different combinations of instruments and music styles.

2. Refer back to the Instrument Families of the Orchestra handout located within the Resource Carousel. As a class, share any information discovered in the course of the research, and review the relevant information in the "Brass" column of the handout.


1. Review the Scientific Process Guidelines For Brass Instruments and the Vocabulary handouts, both of which are available within the Resource Carousel, adding the following terms to the discussion:

  • Air column: space within the air pipe of a brass instrument that experiences vibrations created by the player’s breath and lips. The tubing of the instrument is lengthened or shortened by pressing or releasing its valves. The speed of vibration, combined with length of tubing, determines the pitch of the note.
  • Mouthpiece: a cup-shaped attachment used on brass instruments. The player’s lips act as a reed within the mouthpiece. Vibration occurs between the player’s lips and the mouth piece.

2. Review the process of forming a hypothesis and making a prediction.

3. Have students individually create a hypothesis relating the length of the air column to the pitch the instrument will create when played. Have students create a prediction based on this hypothesis, using the following format: “If our hypothesis is true, then the pitch created should be higher /lower when the air column is longer /shorter.”

4. Divide students into cooperative groups of four. Assign one student to each of the following duties:

  1. Recorder: note taker
  2. Group leader: decision maker, dispute settler, teacher liaison
  3. Equipment adjuster: makes adjustments to test equipment
  4. Tester: performs the tests (mouthpieces should be sanitized before and after use)

5. Test the hypotheses within the groups. Groups should discuss the hypotheses and predictions students have developed individually and choose one of each to use as they proceed with the experiment. Students will work in small groups completing the experiment, following the Procedural Guidelines for Creating A Brass Instrument handout. Have students fill in the data section of the Scientific Process Guidelines for Brass Instruments handout based on their experiments. Both handouts are available to you in the Resource Carousel.

6. Monitor student participation and accuracy in achieving results. When necessary, remind students of their roles within the cooperative group. Have students record their experimental data onto their own Scientific Process Guidelines for Brass Instruments handouts. Each student must complete the analysis section and the conclusion section independently.


1. Discuss the following questions:

  • What is the relationship between pitch, frequency, hertz, and the length of the air column?
    We measure frequency, or speed of vibrations in the air, in hertz. A high frequency (fast movement) makes a high pitch, and a low frequency makes a low pitch. Since a longer air column takes longer for the air to travel through and thus slows vibration, a longer air column makes a lower pitch.
  • We changed the length of the air column by making the trombone longer. How do players of other brass instruments change the length of their air columns?
    By pressing valves which shorten or lengthen the air column in the instrument.
  • What is the name of the branch of science that we have studied?


1. Assess the students' work using the Assessment Rubric located within the Resource Carousel.


Throughout the nation, standards of learning are being revised, published and adopted. During this time of transition, ARTSEDGE will continually add connections to the Common Core, Next Generation Science standards and other standards to our existing lessons, in addition to the previous versions of the National Standards across the subject areas.

The Arts Standards used in ARTSEDGE Lessons are the 1994 voluntary national arts standards. The Arts learning standards were revised in 2014; please visit the National Core Arts Standards (http://nationalartsstandards.org) for more. The Kennedy Center is working on developing new lessons to connect to these standards, while maintaining the existing lesson library aligned to the Common Core, other state standards, and the 1994 National Standards for Arts Education.

ArtsEdge Lessons connect to the National Standards for Arts Education, the Common Core Standards, and a range of other subject area standards.

Common Core/State Standards

Select state and grade(s) below, then click "Find" to display Common Core and state standards.

National Standards For Arts Education

Grade K-4 Music Standard 6: Listening to, analyzing, and describing music

Grade K-4 Music Standard 8: Understanding relationships between music, the other arts, and disciplines outside the arts

National Standards in Other Subjects
Language Arts

Language Arts Standard 4: Gathers and uses information for research purposes

Language Arts Standard 9: Uses viewing skills and strategies to understand and interpret visual media


Science Standard 9: Understands the sources and properties of energy

Science Standard 11: Understands the nature of scientific knowledge

Science Standard 12: Understands the nature of scientific inquiry



Rebecca Haden

Leslie A. Thomas
Original Writer


  • Adler, Naomi. Play Me a Story: Nine Tales About Musical Instruments. Brookfield, Conn.: Millbrook Press, 1998.
  • Helsby, Genevieve. Those Amazing Musical Instruments! Naperville, Ill.: Sourcebooks, 2007.
  • Kalman, Bobbie. Musical Instruments from A to Z. New York: Crabtree Press, 1998.
  • Levine, Robert. The Story of the Orchestra. New York: Black Dog and Leventhal, 2001
  • Lithgow, John. The Remarkable Farkle McBride. New York: Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2000

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Use this collection of resources and articles to devise an approach for supporting individual needs in the classroom: from English Language Learners or students with disabilities, to conflict resolution and giving feedback.



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