In general, there are seven pitches that trumpet can play. And we will explore more in detail in this article. With only three valves of the trumpet, the general question of most beginners is how many notes this instrument can play. Out of all the brass instruments in an orchestra, the trumpet is one of the most popular instruments among children and adults alike. Due to its availability and affordable price tag as compared to other orchestral instruments, it has the most number of students in most music classes among the brass family.
How Does a Trumpet Work?
Before we explore the actual notes that it can play, let us first examine how a trumpet works to get a general understanding of its mechanism. Its origin can be traced back from the time a similar instrument made of silver and gold was discovered in 1500BC in Tutankhamun’s burial tomb in Egypt. From this artifact, we learned that it has always been used for generating sounds for entertainment and warning purposes.
The instrument has evolved from the valve-less huge bulges that were used during the Baroque Period of the 1600s to the trumpet with valves that used either rotary or piston mechanism. Basically, it generates sound by the buzzing of the trumpeter’s lips to the mouthpiece of the trumpet, which travels inside the instrument. Blowing of air through the trumpet without pressing the valves would still generate notes which musicians call “harmonic series.”
How Do Notes & Pitches Been Played On Trumpet?
A trumpet has many different types, but generally, the most popular is a Bb trumpet with three valves. Using the trumpet’s valve mechanism would help the trumpeter alter the sounds coming out from the instrument. Each of the three valves is connected to each tube. Pressing a valve while blowing air would automatically change the tone. In most brass instruments, the longer the tube, the lower and deeper the tone, and the shorter the tube, the higher and brighter the tone would be
Beginners would normally ask how many notes a trumpet can play. The general answer would be all notes. Changing the pitch would entail pressing certain valves, and about eight combinations of the three valves can be made with the third valve becoming the alternate fingering of the 1-2 combination. For some, there are about 53 notes that the instrument can play, but it would depend on the trumpeter’s playing skills.
Basic Changing of Pitches and Notes on the Trumpet
The harmonic series are sounds that you can do without pressing any of the valves as it can be done by just buzzing into the mouthpiece. Changing the pressure of the lips when buzzing into the trumpet can produce different sounds. To play notes in different pitches would mean pressing a valve or a combination of a couple of valves. Each time a valve is pressed, it changes the tone that would emanate from the trumpet as the air passes through its corresponding valve slide with different lengths of the tube. The change occurs if the following is made:
- If the first valve is pressed, it decreases the pitch by two half steps making a full tone.
- If the second valve is pressed, it decreases the pitch by a one-half step making a halftone.
- If the third valve is pressed, it decreases the pitch by three half steps making a full tone and a half.
Different Valve Fingering Notes & Pitches
Obviously, a fingering practice along with lip buzzing techniques and memorization is needed to properly play the trumpet. Here are the basic fingering drills that a trumpet beginner player must do regularly until it becomes second nature:
- A#/Bb: Press the 1st valve only
- B: Press the 2nd valve
- C: No Pressing of the valves. Zero valves.
- C#/Db: Press the 1st and 2nd valves at the same time
- D: Press the 1st and 3rd valves at the same time
- D#/Eb: Press the 2nd and 3rd valves at the same time
- E: Press the 1st and the 2nd valves
- F: Press the 1st valve only
- F#/Gb: Press the 2nd valve
- G: No pressing of the valves. Zero valves.
- G#/Ab: Press the 2nd and 3rd valves
- A: Press the 1st and 2nd valves at the same time.
Notice that certain notes are similar in having the same valve fingering instruction, which is not a mistake. For instance, with C and G, both notes do not require pressing of any valves. The difference of the tone will rely on the trumpeter’s buzzing on the mouthpiece. To achieve the G, the corner of the lips must be tightened to make the note a bit higher than the C. The same goes for all notes with similar valve fingering instructions.
Pitch Control of The Valve Slides
Those valve slides on the trumpet are not there for aesthetic purposes, but it helps control the pitch of the sound, particularly the intonation. Most band directors should more often teach the trumpet players how to use them properly as they are essential to solving intonation problems. When certain keys are played, using the valve slide can help with pitch adjustment and have a better result with the sound you are making. Slide it in or out to a specific point to ensure that the instrument is in tune so that the notes will harmonize properly and avoid sounding off-key.
Highest and Lowest Note That Can Be Played by a Trumpet
- Trumpet Highest Note: An octave higher than Bb.
- Trumpet Lowest Note: As low as F#.
Trumpet players would often try their best to hit the highest note consistently during a performance. Some skilled players would be able to do it, but for others, it would be an epic failure. With the various types of trumpets out there that vary in range, it would be hard to pick what the highest note that a trumpet can generate mainly when it relies heavily on the trumpeter’s skills. However, from the accepted teachings from reference/orchestration books, the B-flat trumpet has been said to produce a note that is an octave higher than the Bb, which is just a little over the middle line of the treble clef.
The trumpet can go as low as F# below the musical staff with all three valves down, and below that is called the “pedal tone” used explicitly for sound effects according to orchestration books. However, extending it to two more octaves below the F# can be achieved, but they often result in off-key sound and are mostly not used in a musical context.
Understanding the basics and learning the right way of playing the trumpet would help in the long run. Whether you enroll in a trumpet-playing course class or doing it by yourself with video tutorials, it is recommended that you start with beginner lessons and avoid the temptation of doing advanced classes even if you know a bit about playing the instrument. It can be frustrating to keep learning the basics and doing lip buzzing/slurs exercises along with the fingering practice. Still, it can help a beginner trumpeter or trumpet player to avoid developing bad habits.