What Are the Different Types of Trumpets?
The trumpet is not one singular instrument but rather it represents a family of instruments to include:
- The Bb Trumpet
- The C Trumpet
- The D/Eb Trumpet
- The Pocket Trumpet
- The Slide Trumpet
- The Bugle Trumpet
- The Natural Trumpet
- The Piccolo Trumpet
- The Cornet
- The Flugelhorn
The rest of this article continues to explore different types of trumpets, near relatives, their history, and what makes each instrument unique from its counterparts.
Why so many trumpets?
Each trumpet makes its own unique sound and key. If you enjoy the sound of soulful jazz music – a sweet combination of brass, timber, and blues – you’ll most likely recognize the distinctive sound of each major instrument. But did you know some of the sounds you hear originate from more than one type of trumpet? That’s because each trumpet makes its own unique sound and key.
What is a Bb trumpet?
The most common of trumpets, the Bb trumpet (pronounced b flat), is the trumpet many musicians begin learning first. It is aptly named because Bb is the lowest open note that can be played on this specific trumpet.
How does a Bb trumpet sound?
When playing a C note on this trumpet you will hear a B-flat note. This slightly lower sound allows trumpet players to accompany other instruments without a shrill or overwhelming tone. The Bb trumpet has become the standard compared to its counterparts because of these low tones and is especially prevalent within an orchestra or marching band.
If you’re a student picking up a trumpet for the first time or a seasoned performer, the Bb trumpet offers a wide range of selection. Bb trumpets are made from various metals and hit all price ranges.
What is a C trumpet?
If the Bb trumpet plays in Bb, then the C trumpet most certainly plays in the key of C. When playing a C note on this trumpet you will hear a straight C pitch rather than the low tones of the Bb trumpet.
How does a C trumpet sound?
With a strong dynamic sound, C trumpets are most often used for solo pieces rather than accompaniment. The C trumpet can also be played in an ensemble if a specific piece of music emphasizes brighter sounds.
Why not just play different notes on the Bb trumpet? Using a C trumpet when playing music in the C key allows for simple fingering for the trumpet player. If a Bb trumpet is used, the musician must transpose the music and use more complicated finger patterns. Even with these extra steps, the sound of the Bb trumpet may not prove as vibrant as using a C trumpet.
What is a D/Eb trumpet?
Even brighter and more vibrant than the C trumpet is the D/ Eb trumpet. This trumpet is smaller and thus creates a higher pitch than other trumpets.
Unlike the Bb trumpet, the D/Eb trumpet is far less common. In fact, most pieces composed for this trumpet are traced to only one time in music history, the Baroque period. Even then, according to Richard Burian – a trumpet player and scholar- the Baroque repertoire for the solo D/Eb trumpet pales in comparison to other families of instruments.
What is a pocket trumpet?
A pocket trumpet is exactly as it sounds, a compact standard trumpet. Even though the trumpet is short it maintains a Bb pitch. This is possible because it tightly winds the brass so that it becomes “pocket size” without actually adjusting the length.
This trumpet can serve the same purpose as the standard Bb trumpet but with the added benefit of a convenient travel size.
What is a slide trumpet?
The slide trumpet is named because of the physical mechanism used to play the instrument. The player holds the mouthpiece in place while moving the body of the trumpet back and forth.
Due to the tedious nature of playing such an instrument, this trumpet is more of a novelty instrument. Consider this trumpet the “party trick” for a well seasoned musician.
Who was a good slide trumpet player?
One such musician is Thomas Harper. In 19th century England, he nearly single handedly kept the slide trumpet relevant with his talent. He is also responsible for a modernized slide mechanism which you can see demonstrated here.
What is a piccolo trumpet?
The smallest trumpet in the family, the Piccolo, has sharp tones and a wide range.
The piccolo plays in the key of Bb, an entire octave above the standard Bb trumpet. Similar in purpose to the D trumpet, the piccolo trumpet proves far more prevalent.
Most trumpets have three valves to play notes. However, the piccolo has a fourth valve which expands its capabilities to play in the key of A.
What is a natural trumpet ?
A predecessor of the bugle and any valved trumpet, the natural trumpet relies on the natural talent of the musician. Players changed notes entirely through their manipulation of their mouth and mouthpiece.
The natural trumpet is most often the largest of trumpets. While a Bb trumpet uncoiled is around 4 feet long the natural trumpet is about 8 feet long. As a result of its length and size the natural trumpet has a deep and full sound when played by a skilled musician.
What is a bugle?
Originating in the early 1800s, the bugle is a simple coiled horn (one or two loops of brass). Most bugles lack valves and are held overhand.
Without valves, these straightforward instruments amplify the sounds the musician can make with their lips alone. They are almost exclusively used by the military. An extension of the bugle would include valves for added capabilities and notes
What is a cornet?
A cornet is not a trumpet. Although the cornet is not a trumpet it’s closely related as the instrument shares many similar characteristics and serves as a predecessor. For this reason, it’s helpful to compare the instruments.
The cornet plays in the same key of B flat. The cornet has the same length of tubing as the standard Bb trumpet. They both have three valves to alter the pitch of a note.
How is a cornet different from a trumpet?
The main difference is in the cornet’s physical shape. The cornet has a cone like shape while the trumpet remains a cylinder consistent in shape until the end. This shape results in a subtle change in tone. The Cornet is less piercing and overall has a lower level of sound.
What is a flugelhorn?
The flugelhorn is known as the valved bugle. In fact, many believe Germany, inspired by the English valveless bugle, developed the horn in 1828. Similar in shape, the flugelhorn has the added benefit of valves for varied pitch.
This horn also produces the same B-flat tones as the standard Bb trumpet and cornet. Similar to the cornet, this horn has its own family of brass and is merely closely related.
The evolution of the trumpet?
Before melodies and solos, the trumpet played a role in history. Bugles, horns, and trumpets are referenced in some of our oldest historical documents. Some form of the trumpet has been used in military and ceremonial events for thousands of years.
In fact, two natural trumpets were found in King Tut’s tomb. Listen to the 3,000 year old trumpets being played here.
What began as a simple bugle or natural trumpet has evolved to become the modern day three valve Bb trumpet. Artists and musicians have contributed to the design of these trumpets and expanded the pitch and range capabilities.
Now that you are in tune with the many types of trumpets and their near relatives, you can listen carefully next time you hear a jazzy tune or a bugle call.
Perhaps, like myself, you’ll notice when the trumpet player at the next jazz gig reaches down to switch out his trumpets for the upcoming song and what was once a mellow low tone turns into a sharp and vivid melody.