9 Different Types of Trumpets (Plus Interesting Facts)

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The world’s oldest pair of trumpets were found in the tomb of the Ancient Egyptian Pharaoh Tutankhamun. Superstitious beliefs surround this pair of trumpets as they are believed to have the magical powers to summon war. The first time they were played after they were taken from the tomb was in 1939 before the World War II.

The second time was before the 1967 Six-Day War. The third time they were played was before the 1990 Persian Gulf War, and the most recent was before the Egyptian Revolution of 2011.

Types

Bass Trumpet

Jazz player playing a bass trumpet.

Developed in Germany in the early 1800s, this is a low-sound trumpet that is usually pitched in either Bb or C, although it can also be found in the pitch of Eb. A bass trumpet has valves and tubing and is similar to a valve trombone, although its sound is harsher and more metallic in nature.

Often, the companies that make “valve trombones” and “bass trumpets” consider them to be the same instrument, because they both contain valves, tubing, and a bell. However, because the sizes and configurations of these items are somewhat different, they really are two different types of instruments.

Bb Pocket Trumpet

Pocket trumpet isolated on brown background.

This is a replica of a Bb trumpet but is much smaller. Although some musicians do not take the pocket trumpet seriously as an instrument, it has a very bold sound and can be just as loud as a regular trumpet. Its sound is warm and unique, and even though it is compressed and very small, the chances are good that those who listen to its sound won’t be able to tell the difference between the pocket trumpet’s sound and the sound of a regular Bb trumpet.

A pocket trumpet always has the same playing range as a regular trumpet, even though the bell part is generally a little smaller in diameter. It has three valves just like a Bb trumpet does, and the notes are played with the same fingerings.

You usually will not find this instrument in most orchestras or concert bands, although it is often used by jazz musicians and musicians in various ensembles. Like a regular trumpet, pocket trumpets can be made of brass or a nickel-plated silver. If you’re a trumpet player and you want to play while you’re on the road, the pocket trumpet is a great choice because it easily fits inside of a suitcase, which is something you cannot say for a regular trumpet.

In addition, nowadays pocket trumpets have a lot of variety when it comes to their tone, range, and overall sound. This has resulted in a non-standardized look and sound, which means pocket trumpets can vary greatly among themselves. In fact, many of them are poorly made and therefore, they are often used only for practice and as a novelty item.

Bb Trumpet

Musician playing a trumpet on black background.

The Bb trumpet is the trumpet people think of when think of the word “trumpet.” It is the type of trumpet that most musicians start out playing and learn on, and it has a bright, loud sound. The C trumpet is very similar, and, in fact, most people would never be able to tell the difference between these two trumpets if they heard either of them being played.

Nowadays, the Bb trumpet is the most commonly found trumpet in orchestras and symphonies, and the differences between the C and Bb trumpets are very subtle. Some Bb trumpets have a fourth valve, but these are not commonly found in orchestras or symphonies.

Bugle

Old man using a bugle at a farm.

Bugles are similar to trumpets, yet there are no valves on them. Because every note is a result of the player’s mouth and lip position only, these instruments don’t play as many notes as a regular trumpet does. Bugles have been used for centuries by the military and can be found on the racetrack as well. There are now trumpets pitched in the low G key, usually called soprano bugles or sopranos, that are variations of the early bugle.

These instruments are most often used in drum and bugle corps bands and other musical groups. Soprano bugles can have either piston valves or rotary valves, so they are not completely valve-less like regular bugles are. However, traditional bugles have no valves at all, which is the one characteristic that helps people recognize them.

Cornet

Cornet with chandelier as background.

The cornet is a smaller version of the Bb trumpet, yet not nearly as small as the pocket trumpet. Its sound is lighter and more mellow, but the instrument is played just like a regular trumpet. Some beginning musicians like it because it is easily held, due mostly to the fact that it is slightly compressed.

Cornets and trumpets cannot be used interchangeably because their two sounds are completely different. Cornets have flared bells and narrow tubes, resulting in the sound that you hear when the instrument is played.

Flugelhorn

Flugelhorn by the window.

A flugelhorn is a bigger version of the Bb trumpet, but it has a very mellow sound, not at all the loud, blaring sound usually associated with regular trumpets. Because of this, the flugelhorn is often used in jazz music because even though you play this instrument just like you would a regular trumpet, the sound is very different, being very subtle and relaxing. The flugelhorn has a “puffed-up” look, a very rich sound, and tubing that is more conical in shape than other types of trumpets.

Miscellaneous Trumpets

In addition to Bb, regular trumpets can be made in various other pitches. This includes:

  • C trumpet: a little shorter than the Bb trumpet, the C trumpet has a bright sound and is found in many orchestras.
  • D trumpet: this trumpet became popular in the 1800s, but it was eventually replaced by the Bb trumpet. In fact, the only time you hear this instrument played is in Baroque music.
  • Eb trumpet: the Eb trumpet is rarely found in ensembles or orchestras, but it was used extensively at one time to play concertos.
  • E trumpet: like its name suggests, this is a trumpet made in the key of E, but it is rarely used today, although at one time it was used to play concertos.
  • F trumpet: the F trumpet has a high pitch but was eventually replaced by the Bb trumpet. It is rarely used today.
  • G trumpet: not only is the G trumpet rarely, if ever, used today, it is also very rare and difficult to find.

Piccolo Trumpet

Piccolo trumpet on white background.

The main characteristic that sets the piccolo trumpet apart from other types of trumpets is the fact that is has four valves, not three. It is also the smallest type of trumpet and has far less tubing that the other types, which means that its sound is more shrill and higher.

In a piccolo trumpet, the fourth valve is usually used to lower the pitch of the sound it produces, as the instrument is pitched to play an octave higher than a regular trumpet. Heard a lot in religious music and in churches, most of today’s piccolo trumpets play in the key of either Bb or A, although there are rare ones that play in keys such as G, F, and high C.

Piccolo trumpets have smaller mouthpieces than Bb trumpets and have separate lead pipes for each of the valves, which are located underneath the valves. They require a different technique in order to play them right, and they are a little tougher on the player’s endurance.

Slide Trumpet

Slide trumpet on white background.

Originating in the Renaissance period, the slide trumpet is more like a trombone than a trumpet. When it was first invented, the musician had to hold the mouthpiece in place and move the body of the instrument back and forth, which was quite cumbersome. Even as early as the 1800s, this instrument was still being used in certain countries, including England.

The slide trumpet is no longer used and was a predecessor of the modern-day trombone, with the main difference being that the slide trumpet has one single-slide joint and the trombone has a double-slide joint. Slide trumpets were also the first trumpets to be allowed in churches and for religious music.

Soprano Trumpet

Soprano trumpet on white background.

This type of trumpet is not the same thing as a soprano bugle because the soprano trumpet contains valves, and bugles do not. The bell on this type of trumpet is a little longer than the bell on a regular Bb trumpet, and the valves are usually either rotary or piston valves. The valves also come in two distinct sizes, large and extra-large. The soprano trumpet is a common sight in a drum-and-bugle-corps band.

There is also a soprano cornet, and the main characteristic on both of them, and the feature that sets them apart from other types of trumpets, is the length of the tubing attached to the bell. It is usually quite a bit longer than other trumpets, and, in fact, it sticks out in front of the instrument. It has both a distinct look and a distinct sound, being longer than almost any other type of trumpet.

Materials Used to Manufacture Trumpets

Musician using a trumpet on black background.

Although some trumpets are made of silver or even solid gold, most of them, in fact, most brass instruments in general, are made almost entirely of brass. Yellow brass is the most common, and it is made up of 30 percent zinc and 70 percent copper. Other types can also be found, including gold brass, which is 80 percent copper and 20 percent zinc, and silver brass, which is made with a combination of zinc, copper, and nickel.

The zinc used in these alloys is usually a very small amount, but it is necessary because without it, the brass may not operate properly when the instrument gets cold. Some trumpets are silver- or gold-plated, while in other trumpets, the bell is made out of a material that is 85 percent copper, 13 percent zinc, and 2 percent tin. Alloys such as these are used because they result in a ringing sound when the horn is struck.

Nowadays, almost the entire trumpet is made of brass. The screws are made of steel, the valves are sometimes lined with felt, the valve keys can be decorated with a mother-of-pearl material, and the water key is often lined with cork. In addition, the rubbing surfaces in the slides and valves are sometimes electroplated with a stainless nickel alloy like Monel or even with chromium, but otherwise, the entire trumpet is made of brass.

Glossary of Musical Terms for Brass Instruments

Fragment of a brass trumpet.

Bell: The bell is at the end of a trumpet or trombone, as well as other brass instruments, and it is an important part of the instrument. Bells come in various materials and sizes, which directly affects the sound of the instrument when it is played. For example, yellow brass bells have tones that are brighter, while rose brass bells have tones that are much warmer and more subtle. Moreover, it is possible for the bell of an instrument to be made of different materials from the rest of it.

Bore: The bore describes the hollow space that runs through the center of the tubing of a brass instrument. Bores come in many different shapes and sizes, which, of course, affects how they sound when they are played.

Embouchure: The embouchure refers to the way the lips and mouth are positioned on the mouthpiece of the instrument while the musician is playing. The embouchure for all brass instruments must include great control over your facial muscles, and your lips have to be centered on the mouthpiece. If these two instructions are followed, the horn is guaranteed to produce a nice, full sound.

Finish: This term refers to the final layer of materials placed on the instrument when it’s made, and it usually consists of two different types, lacquer or silver. Once again, the sound the horn makes is directly affected by this material. For instance, silver finishes usually result in a bright, vivid tone, while lacquer finishes produce tones that are warmer and more subtle.

Finger Ring and Thumb Hook: These are either round rings or hooks that hold the player’s little finger when playing. They make sure that the hand position you’re using is accurate, but they also help you balance the instrument while you’re playing so that playing it is a little more comfortable.

Hand-Hammered Bell: These bells are made by hand and have a very accurate and symmetrical shape. They are mostly found in the pricier instruments, including French horns, cornets, and trumpets. They work the way other bells work, but they are made by hand and are therefore more valuable.

Lead Pipe and Receiver: The lead pipe, or receiver, is the end of the first section of tubing; it is the part of the tubing closest to the player’s mouth and is where the mouthpiece fits in.

Monel Valves: Monel is a very sturdy type of metal alloy that can handle a lot of abuse. The valves made of this metal are mostly found on the instruments used by intermediate and professional musicians. Other valves are made of a weaker type of metal, but the Monel valves last longer and produce a very robust and full sound when the horn is played.

Mutes: Mutes are solid, cone-shaped items that fit inside the bell of a brass instrument to produce a more muted, muffled sound. They can be used for a variety of purposes, one of which is to allow the musician to practice the instrument without it being too loud and bothering those around it. There are also different types of mutes, and each of them creates a special effect by altering the tone and the overall sound of the instrument.

Piston Valves: Most brass instruments that have valves contain piston valves, with the exception of French horns. Buttons are found at the tops of the valves, and when they are pressed, holes found on the inside let air pass through so that the pitch of the instrument can be changed and altered.

Reversed Lead Pipes: In some trumpets, the lead pipe is actually reversed, which means that one end of the pipe is longer than the other, surrounding the outside of the tubing of the body of the instrument. In these trumpets, the air flow is a little different, and, therefore, you often get a sound that is both brighter and smoother.

Rotary Valves: These are very common in French horns. They are valves that turn in a clockwise direction and are not pressed down as you do with the more-common piston valves.

Slides: Slides are found in all brass instruments. They are mostly found alongside the valves and are used to tune the instrument. On a trombone, the slide is actually moved in and out because there are no valves found on that instrument.

Trigger: An item only used by experienced musicians, the trigger is a mechanical lever that allows for a temporary tuning of certain notes. The notes are tuned by adjusting the main valve slide or the tuning slide. They are mostly found on advanced cornets and trumpets, as well as the occasional euphonium, but they are not found on a beginners’ instrument since the technique is only used by more advanced players.

Water Keys: Water keys are mostly found on the lowest section of the instrument. They are spring-loaded with either a cork or rubber bung, and when they are opened, excess moisture from the inside of the instrument is released. Also called a spit valve, it is very useful in long playing sessions because too much moisture inside of the instrument can alter its sound or its tuning capabilities.

Interesting Facts about Trumpets

They Have Been Around for a Very Long Time

Old trumpet leaning against distressed-looking dirty white brick wall.

The first trumpet dates back to about 1,500 BC, which means that it’s been around for a very long time. There is even artwork found dating to roughly 300 BC that shows pictures of instruments that resemble trumpets, so we know that they have been around for awhile.

Their Materials are Unique

Most of today’s trumpets are made of brass, which is a combination of copper and zinc alloys. However, in the past trumpets were made out of materials that include wood and conch shells, among others. The materials used to make trumpets have varied throughout the years to include some pretty interesting items.

The Shape Gives Them Their Unique Sound

Closeup on brass trumpet.

The basic type of trumpet has a bore that is cylindrical in shape, which means that with the exception of the bell flare at the end, its diameter remains consistent throughout the entire length of the instrument. This fact is also responsible for its characteristic sound, which is loud and very focused. There are other types of trumpets which have bores that are conical in shape and therefore have a more mellow sound.

A Lot of Tubing is Included

The average trumpet consists of over six feet of tubing, which is taller than most human beings. Despite this, it can be seen as compact and small compared to other brass instruments, and it is one of the reasons you can carry the instrument with one hand easily.

Three Valves That Do a Lot

Three valves of a trumpet.

Although earlier trumpets did not have valves similar to today’s trumpets, they are now made with three valves that can produce a total of 45 different notes, mostly through using your lips to manipulate those three valves.

All Types of Music are Accommodated

Although many people think trumpets are just for orchestras, they are actually used in a variety of musical genres, including rock, classical, jazz, and even country. Trumpets are truly very diverse instruments, in other words.

An Interesting Beginning

Outline of trees and a soldier blowing a trumpet against a sunny blue sky.

Trumpets have been used by numerous armies as signaling devices, starting in medieval times and going up to the Civil War.

Very Prevalent

Trumpets are found in every inhabited continent on the planet, and, in fact, two trumpets were found in King Tut’s tomb, which dates back to 1,500 BC.