DDV Music - Music Information and Education


The trumpet is the highest brass instrument in register, above the horn, trombone, euphonium, and tuba. A musician who plays the trumpet is called a trumpet player or trumpeter.

The most common trumpet by far is a transposing instrument pitched in Bf - the note read as middle C sounds as the Bf a whole step below - but there are several other trumpets in this family of instruments.


The trumpet is made of brass tubing bent into a rough spiral. The bore is, roughly speaking, cylindrical, but more precisely a complex series of tapers, smaller at the mouthpiece receiver and larger just before the flare of the bell begins. Careful design of these tapers is critical to the intonation of the instrument. Sound is produced by blowing air through closed lips, producing a "buzzing" sound into the mouthpiece and starting a standing wave vibration in the air column inside the trumpet. The trumpet player can select the pitch from a range of overtones or harmonics by changing the lip aperture. There are three piston valves, each of which increases the length of tubing when engaged, thereby lowering the pitch. The first valve lowers the instrument's pitch by a whole step, second valve by a half step, and third valve by one-and-a-half steps. These valves alone and in combination make the instrument fully chromatic, i.e., able to play all twelve pitches of Western music. The sound is projected outward by the bell.

The mouthpiece has a circular rim which provides a comfortable environment for the lips' vibration. Directly behind the rim is the cup, which channels the air into a much smaller opening (the backbore or shank) which tapers out slightly to match the diameter of the trumpet's lead pipe. The dimensions of these parts of the mouthpiece affect the timbre or quality of sound, the ease of playability, and player comfort. A wider and deeper cup are often best suited for a fuller, more expansive sound, while shallow-cupped "pea-shooter" mouthpieces can facilitate execution in the extreme high register (e.g. double high c). A larger rim allows for more assured striking of the notes, making it less likely for the player to split the note. A smaller rim improves endurance but decreases flexibility.

Types of trumpets

trumpet in C with rotary valves
Trumpet in C with rotary valves

Trumpets are pitched in several keys relative to concert pitch, which makes them (except for the trumpet in C) transposing instruments. The most common is the Bb trumpet, but C, D, Eb, E, F, G and A trumpets are also available. The C trumpet is most commonly used in orchestral playing, where its slightly smaller size gives it a brighter, more lively sound than the Bb trumpet. Because music written for early trumpets required the use of a different trumpet for every key (they did not have valves and were therefore not chromatic), and also because a player may choose to play a particular passage on a different trumpet from the one indicated on the written music, orchestra trumpet players are generally adept at transposing music at sight. Being able to play music written for the Bf trumpet on the C trumpet, and vice-versa, is fairly common. Each trumpet's range extends from the written F# immediately below middle C, up to about three octaves higher. Standard repertoire rarely calls for notes beyond this range, and the fingering tables of most method books peak at the C (high C) two octaves above middle C. Fingerings above this are generally the same as those for the notes an octave lower. Several trumpeters have achieved fame for their proficiency in the extreme high register, among them Arturo Sandoval, Dizzy Gillespie, Bill Chase and Maynard Ferguson, who helped make well- known the term double high C to describe the next octave above high C. It is also possible to produce pedal tones below the low F#, although this technique is more often encountered as a sound-production exercise rather than as a written trumpet part. It is possible to play up to 3 octaves below middle C. Trumpets equipped with a fourth valve (which lowers the pitch by a perfect fourth) can produce these notes 'normally', i.e, not as pedal tones.

Piccolo trumpet in Bb;, with swappable leadpipes to tune the instrument to Bf (shorter) or A (longer)
Piccolo trumpet in Bb;, with swappable leadpipes to tune the instrument to Bb (shorter) or A (longer)

The smallest trumpets are referred to as piccolo trumpets. The most common of these are built to play in both Bf and A, with separate leadpipes for each key. The tubing in the Bb piccolo trumpet is exactly one-half the length of that in a standard Bf trumpet. Piccolo trumpets in G, F and even high C are also manufactured, but are more rare. Many players use a smaller mouthpiece on the piccolo trumpet. The tone is metallic and clean. Because of the smaller mouthpiece size, the player's embouchure is affected much more severely than when playing a regular trumpet; endurance is often limited to very short periods of playing per day. Many piccolo trumpets have four valves instead of the usual three: the fourth valve takes the instrument down in pitch, usually but not always by a fourth, to allow the playing of lower notes which are otherwise hard to obtain on a three-valve instrument. Among its best-known proponents are Maurice Andre, Wynton Marsalis and Hakan Hardenberger.

The bass trumpet is usually played by a trombone player, being at the same pitch and using a similar mouthpiece.

The slide trumpet is a Bb trumpet that has a slide instead of valves. It is very similar to a soprano trombone.

The pocket trumpet is a compact Bb trumpet. The bell is usually smaller than a standard trumpet, and the tubing is more tightly wound, to reduce the instrument size without reducing the total tube length. Unfortunately, since a major part of pocket trumpet models suffer from poor design as well as cheap and sloppy manufacturing, the intonation, tone color and dynamic range of such instruments are severely hindered.

There are also rotary-valve, or German, trumpets, as well as alto and Baroque trumpets.

The trumpet is often confused with its close relative, the cornet, which has a more conical tubing shape compared to the trumpet's more cylindrical tube. This, along with additional bends in the cornet's tubing, gives the cornet a slightly mellower tone, but the instruments are otherwise nearly identical. They have the same length of tubing and, therefore, the same pitch, so music written for cornet and trumpet is interchangeable. Another relative, the flugelhorn, has tubing that is even more conical than that of the cornet, and an even richer tone. It is sometimes augmented with a fourth valve to extend the lower range of the instrument.


The first trumpets reputedly came from Egypt, and were primarily used for military purposes (Joshua's shofar, blown at the battle of Jericho, came from this tradition) like the bugle as we still know it, with different tunes corresponding to different instructions. In medieval times, trumpet playing was a guarded craft, its instruction occurring only within highly selective guilds. The trumpet players were often among the most heavily guarded members of a troop, as they were relied upon to relay instructions to other sections of the army. Eventually the trumpet's value for musical production was seen, particularly after the addition of valves around the mid 1830s, and its use and instruction became much more widespread. The Arabic word for trumpet was naffir. The Spanish used the Arabic name al naffir and changed it into anafil, while the French gave the trumpet its own name, buisine, derived from the Latin word buccina. (Trompet.nl, 2005)

Today, the trumpet is used in nearly all forms of music, including classical, jazz, rock, blues, pop, ska, polka and funk. Among the great modern trumpet players are Maurice Andre, Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, Jon Faddis, Maynard Ferguson, Adolph "Bud" Herseth, Wynton Marsalis, Philip Smith, Doc Severinsen, Herb Alpert and James Morrison.

Reproduction Baroque trumpet by Michael Laird
Reproduction Baroque trumpet by Michael Laird

Instruction and method books

Perhaps the most well-known trumpet method is Jean-Baptiste Arban's Complete Conservatory Method for Trumpet (Cornet Or E-flat Alto, B-flat Tenor, Baritone, Euphonium and B-flat Bass in Treble Clef). Copies of the text can be purchased new (copyright 1982 by Carl Fisher, Inc.) but include much of the unmodified original text from the 1894 edition.

Other well-known method books include those written by Herbert L. Clarke, Saint-Jacome, Claude Gordon, and Colin. A common method book for beginners is the "Walter Beeler Method", and there have been several fine instruction books written by virtuoso Allen Vizzutti. In many schools, the Breeze Eazy method is used to teach younger students, as it includes lots of musical background information as well as trumpet related info.

Selected instruction Books

  • Arban, Jean-Baptiste (1894, 1936, 1982). Arban's Complete Conservatory Method for TRUMPET. Carl Fischer, Inc. ISBN 0-8258-0385-3.
  • Callet, Jerome, and Civiletti, Bahb (2002). Trumpet Secrets: The Secrets of the Tongue-Controlled Embouchure. New York: Royal Press Printing Company.
  • H.L Clarke (1984). TECHNICAL STUDIES FOR THE CORNET. Carl Fischer, Inc. ISBN 0-8258-0158-3.
  • Colin, Charles. Advanced Lip Flexibilities.
  • Schlossberg, Max. Daily Drills & Technical Studies.


Trumpeter performing with the United States Air Forces in Europe Band
Trumpeter performing with the United States Air Forces in Europe Band

As with all musical instruments, there are physical challenges to playing the trumpet. The knowledge of operating the instrument is called technique. Almost all aspects of technique are controversial, since different people have different problems to overcome, and different successes to celebrate.

Several important aspects of technique:

  1. Breathing properly (abdominal support of air). "This is one of the areas of brass playing that causes a great deal of confusion. Much discussion about the importance of the diaphragm has sent many a player down the road to confusion, inability, and bleeding lips. The upper part of the torso contains a large family of muscles that all have been designed to function in a teamwork fashion specially when we do something requiring forced exhalation, eg. blowing out candles, spitting something out of our mouth, or blowing into a wind instrument.

    "There are 3 layers of abdominal muscles from the groin to the sternum (breastplate); there are 2 layers of muscles (inner and outer) in between the ribs; there are back muscles from the lumbar region upward to the shoulders; there is the diaphragm just below the lung sacs; and there are muscles coming-down diagonally from behind the ear which connect to the top of the rib cage. When a person does a "forced exhalation", the entire family is activated as a "one- family" movement. They ALL simultaneously increase their tension levels in order to raise the internal compression level (PSI) in the lung chambers. This moves the air FASTER which is one of the first necessary things that must occur when a player moves "upward" in the register.

    The area that the player needs to become aware of is NOT in the diaphragm but in the center of the abdominal muscles, approximately near the navel. The body has a natural way of centering itself if you only just try to blow suddenly as if spitting a piece of rice or blowing out a candle. By learning to control the variance of tension, either isometric for holding a compression level or by tightening and relaxing the degrees of tension based upon what you are playing, one discovers that it is really the abdominal support that controls the air. This ab support certainly influences the diaphragm but it is NOT the diaphragm alone that moves the air. It is the FAMILY of muscles, all guided by the abdominal centering." (Bobby Shew)

As the lower abdominal muscles pull up and in; the internal organs are all slightly moved the same direction. These push against the diaphragm and pressurize the air by making the chest cavity smaller. The farther you move the abdominal muscles and the faster that you do it; then the stronger the air support is.

  1. Strengthening the embouchure (muscles of the face, sometimes "chops" in common slang). Some commonly accepted ways to do this are:
    1. Lip slurs: playing exercises that change notes without changing the fingering. This forces all of the work to come from the facial and tongue muscles as well as changes in breathing.
    2. Tonguing exercises: playing exercises that have many notes started with a sharp definition produced by the tongue.
    3. Practicing on the mouthpiece: playing exercises on the mouthpiece only, without the trumpet. Without the resonating chamber of the rest of the instrument, the pitch may vary much more freely. To be able to play something requires development of control. Also, this may reduce the amount of pressure one can apply. This was a favorite exercise of the famous Rafael Mendez.
    4. Playing high: playing in the upper register, at the top of the player's comfortable range. This is an excellent way to increase one's range, as eventually the higher notes will become easier and the player can move on to progressively higher top notes.
    5. Reducing pressure. To play higher notes on the trumpet requires compression of the embouchure (the muscles of the face and lips), as well as air pressure to provide the energy for the vibration of the lips. One way to compress the lips is to press the mouthpiece firmly onto them, however this is counterproductive in the long run and is not an effective way of playing in the upper register. Blood cannot flow into the lips, so they become stiff and swollen, unable to vibrate. Also, the other muscles necessary to play without pressure are not sufficiently developed.
    6. Soft Playing. Another aspect is playing really, really softly. Herbert L. Clarke was the first person to really teach soft playing. In his first exercise in the Clarke Technical Studies, he recommends starting pianissimo and decrescendoing until you can barely hear it. When you play it really softly, it teaches you how to focus your lip aperture to a fine point so there's just a thread of air coming through.
  1. Avoiding bad habits. There are many bad habits that can develop while learning trumpet that can ultimately lead to slower improvement, a poorly developed sound, lessened endurance, or even pain. Common bad habits include pressing the mouthpiece to the lips (as explained above), uneven pressure, inflating cheeks when blowing (although this is debated - some of the greatest jazz trumpeters such as Dizzy Gillespie, Harry James, and Charlie Shavers were known for it and it is essential to circular breathing, a technique necessary to play continuously for any significant period of time), playing with poor posture, and closing the throat (tensing of the throat muscles, resulting in partially choking the air flow.).
  2. Having too tense a posture is another bad habit. Producing notes becomes easier when the body, especially the embouchure and shoulders, are relaxed. Try not to extend the arms more than 90 degrees from the elbows.
  3. Keeping neutral corners. Keep the corners of the mouth in a neutral position to avoid stretching or compressing the aperture too much. Pulling the corners back too much (into a smile) pushes the lips together thereby restricting vibration. Pushing them front too much pulls the lips apart too much, also restricting vibration.
  4. Not resting the pressure of the mouthpiece evenly on both lips. One wants to find the ideal mouthpiece placement that allows maximum vibration. Experiment with different angles and positions until the best possible one for vibration is found. This position may vary in extreme registers.


On any trumpet, cornet, or flugelhorn, pressing the valves indicated by the numbers below will produce the written notes shown - "OPEN" means all valves up, "1" means first valve, "1-2" means first and second valve simultaneously and so on. The concert pitch which sounds depends on the transposition of the instrument. Engaging the fourth valve, if present, drops any of these pitches by a perfect fourth as well. Within each overtone series, the different pitches are attained by changing the embouchure, or lip position and tightness, along with increasing air velocity. Standard fingerings above high C are the same as for the notes an octave below (C# is 1-2, D is 1, etc.).

Note that the fundamental of each overtone series does not exist - the series begins with the first overtone. Notes in parentheses are the sixth overtone, representing a pitch with a frequency of seven times that of the fundamental; while this pitch is close to the note shown, it is slightly flat and use of those fingerings is therefore discouraged.

The fingering schema arises from the length of each valve's tubing (air passing through longer lengths of tubing produces a lower pitch). Valve "1" increases the tubing length enough to lower the pitch by one whole step, valve "2" by one half step, and valve "3" by one and a half steps. This schema and the nature of the overtone series create the possibility of alternate fingerings for certain notes. For example, third-space "C" can be produced with no valves engaged (standard fingering) or with valves 2-3. Also, any note produced with 1-2 as its standard fingering can also be produced with valve 3 - each drops the pitch by 1-1/2 steps. Alternate fingerings may be used to improve facility in certain passages. Extending the third valve slide when using the fingerings 1-3 or 1-2-3 further lowers the pitch slightly to improve intonation.

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