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B flat cornet
B flat cornet

The cornet is a brass instrument that closely resembles the trumpet. It is not to be confused with the Medieval instrument, the cornett.

The cornet is a standard brass band instrument, which was derived from the bugle family. However, lately it has been gradually replaced by the trumpet in the United States. The trumpet is also used more often than the cornet in orchestral, small ensemble, and solo performances. The cornet is the main high voice of the brass band in the UK and other countries that have British-style brass bands.

Relationship to trumpet

Cornets were invented by adding valves to the post horn in the 1820s. The valves allowed for melodic playing throughout the register of the cornet. Trumpets were slower to adopt the new valve technology, so composers for the next 100 years or more, often wrote separate parts for trumpet and cornet. The trumpet would play fanfare-like passages, while the cornet played more melodic passages. The modern trumpet has valves (or a similar mechanism) that allow it to play the same notes and fingerings as the cornet.

Cornets and trumpets made in a given key (usually the key of B flat) play at the same pitch, and the technique for playing the instruments is very similar. However, cornets and trumpets are not entirely interchangeable because the timbre (or tone quality) of their sound differs. Also available, but usually seen only in the brass band, is an E flat soprano model (often shortened to just "sop"), pitched a fourth above the standard B flat. This instrument, with usually just one in a band, adds an extreme high register to the brass band sound and can be most effective in cutting through even the biggest climax.

Unlike the trumpet, most of the tubing of which has a cylindrical bore, the tubing of the cornet has a mostly conical bore, starting very narrow at the mouthpiece and gradually widening towards the bell. The conical bore of the cornet is primarily responsible for its characteristic warm, mellow tone, which can be distinguished from the more penetrating sound of the trumpet. The conical bore of the cornet also makes it more agile than the trumpet when playing fast passages. The cornet is often preferred for young beginners as it is easier to hold, with its centre of gravity much closer to the player.

This drawing of a cornet is a public domain image from Webster's Dictionary 1911
This drawing of a cornet is a public domain image from Webster's Dictionary 1911

The cornet in the illustration is a short model traditional cornet, also known as a "Shepherd's crook" shaped model. There also exists a long-model cornet which looks about half-way between the short instrument and a trumpet. This instrument is frowned upon by cornet traditionalists and it is not clear what its intended role is. However the common opinion is that it has a more musical sound than the short model or trumpet.


Like the trumpet and all other modern brasswind instruments, the cornet makes a sound when the player vibrates ("buzzes") his lips in the mouthpiece, creating a vibrating column of air in the tubing of the cornet that generates a musical sound. When the column of air is lengthened, the pitch of the note is lowered.

From the basic length tube of the cornet the player can produce a series of notes, like those played by the bugle, which has gaps in so that true melodic playing is impossible except in the extreme high register. So, to change the length of the vibrating column and provide the cornet with the ability to play chromatic scales, the cornet is equipped with three (or very rarely, four) valves. The action of each valve is to add a length of tubing (and thus vibrating air column) between mouthpiece and bell. As the player presses the valves, they lower the pitch of the cornet and can thus play complete chromatic scales.

Lists of important players

Today's premiere players

These are some of the most universally respected and influential cornet players in the world today.

  • Richard Marshall, current Principal Cornet player of Black Dyke Band.
  • Roger Webster, current Principal Cornet player of Grimethorpe Colliery Band and formerly Black Dyke Band.
  • David Daws, a Salvation Army cornet player who is renowned for his lyrical style of playing and effortless technique.
  • Russell Gray, played with the Black Dyke Mills Band, now a respected international soloist and conductor.
  • Alan Morrison, current Principal Cornet player of Brighouse and Rastrick Band.
  • Kevin Ashman, current Principal Cornet player of The International Staff Band of The Salvation Army.
  • Philip Cobb, current Principal Cornet player of Hendon Salvation Army band, second solo cornet of The International Staff Band of The Salvation Army, ex-Principal Cornet player of the National Youth Brass Band of Great Britain.

The cornet was also often played as an alternate instrument by many jazz trumpet soloists, such as Louis Armstrong and King Oliver. Notable performances on cornet by players generally associated with the trumpet include Freddie Hubbard's on Empyrean Isles by Herbie Hancock, and Don Cherry's on The Shape of Jazz to Come by Ornette Coleman.

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Document License
It uses material from the Wikipedia article - Cornet