Trumpets belong to the brass family of musical instruments. You will often see trumpets in jazz and classical musical groups. They also come in different types. You will get hold, for example, of a piccolo trumpet—the highest register of all trumpets. You will also see bass trumpets whose range of pitch is one octave lower than the standard C or B♭ trumpet.
You can change the pitch of the trumpet by simply changing how you position and tension your lips on the trumpet’s mouthpiece. You can also change its pitch by working on its valves, by pushing one or more valves at the same time. When you push down on one valve, for example, you elongate the air channel inside the trumpet, making it sound longer. In turn, this changes the pitch.
Brief History of Trumpet
The history of trumpets had been associated with battles and wars. Long ago, trumpets were used in battles to signal an attack or a victory. Royalties also enjoyed listening to trumpets during royal celebrations. Yet, the ancient trumpets were not specialized instruments, without valves and pistons.
However, during the time of Bach, trumpets had become long, spanning up to 8 feet long. Yet, they still did not have the present-day valves for changing notes and pitches. Valves were only appended during the 1820s. With the addition of valves, the length of the trumpet was greatly shortened down to around 4 1/2 feet.
The Different Parts of Modern Trumpets
The trumpet, as compared to the saxophone, for example, doesn’t have a mouthpiece reed. Upon closer scrutiny, you will see that the trumpet has three basic components, namely: the mouthpiece, the main pipe, and three valves. The mouthpiece is metallic. The trumpeter buzzes his lips on this metallic mouthpiece.
The mouthpiece comes in various shapes. It can have a deep cup that can create a mellower sound. It can also have a shallower cup for producing a piercing bright sound. Mouthpieces are commonly wrought in silver or brass. Trumpeters generally have preferences when it comes to choosing a mouthpiece. They may even have various mouthpieces in their arsenal, depending on which quality of pitch and timbre they would want to produce.
The trumpet’s main pipe is another major component of the trumpet. It is partly conical and cylindrical. The pipe has an acoustic length that is a bit longer than its actual physical length. The far end of the trumpet is open and has almost the same pressure as that of the atmosphere. So, the acoustic pressure at the far side is zero. On the other end, the air is sealed by the pursed lips of the trumpeter. So, the pressure at this end is at its maximum.
The contemporary trumpets also have three valves. These three valves add extra lengths to the trumpet’s tubing for lowering the pitch.
- The first valve, for example, lowers the pitch of the trumpet by a tone. The second valve, on the other hand, lowers it by a halftone, while the 3rd valve by 1 1/2 tone. The first valve adds around 17.9 cm length to the trumpet.
- The second valve adds around 8.6cm,
- While the third valve adds 27.8 cm. You can use one or a combination of these valves to turn the trumpet into a chromatic instrument.
How Does a Trumpet Produce Sound?
The trumpeter sounds the trumpet by buzzing his lips on the mouthpiece. As mentioned above, a trumpeter may possess different mouthpieces for producing specific timbre. Once the trumpeter buzzes his lips on the mouthpiece, the vibrating air column within the instrument produces sound. The way the trumpeter buzzes his lips makes the air column inside to vibrate in a specific way. The trumpeter also adjusts his lip’s opening to produce lower or higher pitches.
The mouthpiece is connected to the brass tubing that ends in a bell. The length of the tubing determines the length of the instrument and its sound. The shorter the length of the tubing, the higher the pitch of the sound created by the instrument and vice versa. We will not go into the mechanics and physics behind how trumpet produces sound, yet, it suffices to say that the sound variations in the air pressure produce the sound of the trumpet.
Yet, if you want to know the acoustic performance of a trumpet, it would be good to know about acoustic input impedance. The acoustical input impedance tells the amount of sound pressure needed to produce air vibration to create sound. It also indicates the instrument’s acoustic performance.
The bell also plays a crucial role in the kind of sound created by the trumpet. it forms a gradual impedance transition from the high acoustic impedance inside the tube and the low air impedance outside. The bell amplifies the lower frequencies sound produced within the tubing of the trumpet.
The bell’s other effects on the trumpet’s sound include raising the lower modes frequencies by making the vibrating column of air shorter when at longer wavelengths. The shape of the bell also is specifically designed for transmitting as much input energy into the air. Moreover, it makes the trumpet easier to play.
The volume of air that is vibrating inside the tubing, as well as the player’s vibrations of lips, is also crucial to the pitch of the trumpet’s sound. The length of the tubing determines the volume of air inside the tubing. The longer the tubing, the lower the pitch, and the shorter the tubing length, the higher the pitch. Additionally, how the player buzzes his lips also determines the harmonics of the sound. The speed of the buzzing of the lips makes the air to resonate inside the tube at different harmonics.
How Does a Trumpeter Play Music?
The trumpet, as a distinct musical instrument, has its way of creating sound. You can play music using its control valves by knowing the different fingering combinations of the valves. You should also know how to control the pitch of the sound that you create. Here are the different factors that you need to be cognizant to play music using the trumpet:
The trumpeter creates a harmonious sound that we call music by controlling the valves. When he pushes down the valve, for example, he diverts the air column to the adjacent space of the pipe before this air column gets out of the bell. This makes the air channel inside the trumpet longer. In turn, the pitch goes a bit lower.
The second valve is the shortest. So, when the trumpeter pushes on this valve, the pitch is lowered by a semitone. The first valve is longer than the second valve, and when it is pushed down, it lowers the pitch by a tone. The third valve is longer than the first and second, and it renders the pitch one-and-a-half tone lower. The third valve is equal to the combined length of the first and second valves. Moreover, it is seldom used alone.
You can depress the three valves using seven combinations. These combinations are called “fingerings.” You should memorize these fingering combinations to lengthen by one half-step the horn at a time to cover half an octave. Each of these fingering combinations produces its specific harmonic series relative to the lowered note. You can work your way through each valve combination to cover the whole chromatic scale just like those of the black and white keys of the keyboard of the piano.
Pitch Control Using Slides
The trumpeter usually hooks his fingers to the triggers. These triggers are not only designed for the convenience of handling the trumpet. These triggers are designed for controlling the pitch. The trumpet player gets control of his note’s pitch by sliding his left thumb to slide the first slide.
He also uses his left ring finger to move the third slide. You need to use the triggers to create the right pitch because pressing the valves does not generally produce the right note. With the use of the valves, you can only approximate the note. Nevertheless, the trumpeter still has to use the slides or his mouth for adjusting the pitch of the note.
Generating Sound Using Lips
Other wind instruments make use of a vibrating valve to generate airflow and produce acoustic power. Yet, in the case of the trumpet, it is the lips of the player that function as the vibrating valve. The lips vibrate when air passes between them. As it vibrates, it modulates the airflow into the mouthpiece. The mouthpiece is also called the “embouchure.” The trumpeter then allows his lips to vibrate according to the fundamental frequency for producing the needed note.
How the trumpeter moves his lips involves the most complicated aspect of playing this brass instrument. Moreover, lips movements are also difficult to master and study. The lips’ motions, of course, are not unidimensional but is three-dimensional. The master trumpeter, of course, moves the different parts of his lips in different directions simultaneously.
You may be hearing a note when a trumpeter plays a given note. Yet, your ear doesn’t hear the upper notes that are also vibrating in the air column, though they are not sounding. These upper notes, we refer to as “overtones.” In the case, for example, of two trumpets playing side by side, they create a bunch of overtones that overlap. Hence, both trumpets generate almost the same overtones as they play different notes.
Yet, if you want to produce a resultant tone, those overtones should be in tune with each other. As you play trumpet with your friend, for example, and hear this resultant tone, you can be very sure that you and your friend are in tune. Overtones may overlap and may also create dissonances. These dissonances should also be in tune.
As you blow through the mouthpiece without pressing any valve, you force air through the horn. This produces a series of notes referred to as harmonic series. The fundamental is considered the lowest notes of the harmonic series. It carries a particular frequency. Each note above the fundamental is referred to as a “partial.” Each of these partials increases exponentially in frequency relative to the fundamental.
You will discover that the notes are relatively far apart at the series’ far lower end. Yet, at the far higher end of the series, the notes become tightly positioned. In fact, you don’t need to use the valves to play the scale if you go high enough in the series. To sum it up, the series of notes carry a mathematical relationship relative to the fundamental notes.
The Bell and Its Effects
The bell functions to create a gradual transition from the impedance of the higher inner tube to that of the low outside air. This transition kills more the long wavelengths sounds than those of the short wavelengths. The bell slowly changes its impedance relative to the higher frequencies. Thus, it doesn’t reflect much the higher frequencies as compared to low-frequency waves. Thus, it amplifies more the lower frequency than the higher frequencies. The other function of the bell includes raising the lower modes’ frequencies by making shorter the vibrating air column.