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Trumpeter performing with the United States Air Forces in Europe Band

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



A standard B♭ trumpet
A standard B♭ trumpet

The trumpet is made of brass tubing bent into a rough spiral. Although the bore of the trumpet is said to be mostly cylindrical, it is formed from a complex series of tapers, the smallest being at the mouthpiece receiver, and the largest being at the throat of the bell, before the flare for 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 so as to produce a "buzzing" effect through vibration, which creates a standing wave of vibrating air and metal in the trumpet. The trumpet player can select the pitch from a range of overtones or harmonics by changing the air speed and lip tension. Valves change the length of the tubing, lowering the pitch of the instrument. Three valves make the trumpet fully chromatic, allowing the player to play in all keys. The sound is projected outward by the bell.

The mouthpiece provides a comfortable receiver to allow the lips to play without touching the sharp and restricting edge of the trumpet's tube itself. The shape of the mouthpiece affects the timbre or quality of sound and the ease with which it can be played. Deeper cupped mothpieces are best suited for expansive, lower-register orchestral performance, while shallow-cupped "pea-shooter" mouthpieces are used to ease playing of extremely high register passages. Mouthpieces also vary with regard to rim diameter and shape.

Relationship to other brass instruments

The trumpet is often confused with its similar-looking relative, the cornet, which like another relative, the flugelhorn, is more conical rather than cylindrical in the shape of the bore of the tubing. Cornets and flugelhorns have more mellow tones but are in the same pitch range as the trumpet. There are also piccolo trumpets, which are usually also pitched in B♭, one octave higher than a regular trumpet. There are also rotary-valve, or German, trumpets, as well as bass, alto and Baroque trumpets. The modern trumpet evolved from earlier non-valved instruments, such as the Baroque trumpet now used by original instruments ensembles, the cornett or cornetto (not to be confused with the modern cornet), and the Scandinavian lur.

Types of trumpets

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trumpet in C with rotary valves

The trumpet is by convention a transposing instrument, pitched in several keys relative to concert pitch. The most common is the B♭ trumpet, but C, D, E♭, E, F, G and A trumpets are also available. The C trumpet is most common in orchestral playing because it often does not need to transpose and produces a brighter, more lively sound than its cousin keyed in B♭. The B♭ trumpet's typical range extends from the written F♯ (concert E) immediately below middle C, up to about three octaves higher. Standard repetoire 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. This is partly because notes in the higher register may be achieved with almost any fingering, as with so-called pedal tones in the octaves below the standard F♯. Several trumpeters have achieved fame for their proficiency in the extreme higher register of the instrument, among them Arturo Sandoval, Dizzy Gillespie & Maynard Ferguson, who helped make well-known the term double high C to describe the next octave above high C. Trumpeters with great endurance and/or range are said to have impressive chops.

Piccolo trumpet in B♭ - note the swappable leadpipes for B♭ and (longer) A
Piccolo trumpet in B♭ - note the swappable leadpipes for B♭ and (longer) A

The piccolo trumpet is built usually in B♭ and A with leadpipes for each key. G, F and even high C piccolo trumpets exist but are much less common. A smaller mouthpiece is used on a 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 B♭ trumpet that has a slide instead of valves. It is very similar to a soprano trombone.

The pocket trumpet is a compact B♭ trumpet. The bell is usually smaller than a standard B♭ trumpet, and the tubing is more tightly wound, to reduce the instrument size without reducing the total tube length.


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 (after about 1800), and its use and instruction became much more widespread.

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

See 20th century brass instrumentalists for a more comprehensive list.

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

Instruction and method books

A highly praised and often-used method of introductory instruction is found in 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 now (copyright 1982 by Carl Fisher, Inc.) but include much of the unmodified original text from the 1894 edition.

Other well-known method books have been authored by Clarke, Saint-Jacome, and Colin.


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. Breathe from the diaphragm. That is, use the muscles in your lower abdomen to push a steady, full column of air up through the mouthpiece. There does not have to be a huge volume of air (which might make a very loud sound), but it has to be full so that the lips vibrate constantly.
  2. Strengthening the embouchure (muscles of the face). 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. Tonguing a note is a large change in the embouchure and air, which requires the development of control to execute properly.
    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 (again) development of control. Also, this may reduce the amount of pressure one can apply.
  3. 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. This pressure usually has bad long-term consequences. 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.
  4. 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 (see Double buzz), inflating cheeks when blowing (although this is debatably a bad habit considering jazz trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie was known for it), playing with poor posture, and closing the throat (tensing of the throat muscles, resulting in partially choking the air flow.).
  5. 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.


Table of valves to press down to play various notes, from low to high. "0" means all valves up, "1" means first valve, "1-3" means first and third valve simultaneously. If the valve says 0, no valves are pressed, and different pitches and notes are attained by changing the embouchure, or lip position and tightness The standard fingering of notes after double high C maintains the same pattern established in the octave leading up to it. Virtually any fingering combination may be successfully used as an alternate in the register above high C, hence alternate fingerings are left undefined after "E above the staff."

Note that the fingering schema arises from the lengths of each valve's tubing. 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. Extending the third valve slide when the third valve is in use further lowers the pitch slightly. Air passing through longer lengths of tubing produces a lower pitch.

Musical note B♭ trumpet fingering Piccolo trumpet fingering (4 valve) Alternate B♭ trumpet fingering
F♯ 1-2-3 N/A N/A
G 1-3 N/A N/A
G♯ 2-3 N/A N/A
A 1-2 N/A N/A
B♭ 1 N/A N/A
B 2 N/A N/A
Middle C 0 (pedal tone) 0 N/A
D♭ 1-2-3 1-2-3-4 Note: Because this note is often sharp, many trumpeters extend the 3rd valve slide when it is played
D 1-3 1-3-4 Note: Because this note is often sharp, many trumpeters extend the 3rd valve slide when it is played
E♭ 2-3 2-3-4 N/A
E 1-2 1-2-4 3
F 1 1-4 N/A
F♯ 2 2-4 1-2-3
G 0 4 1-3
G♯ 2-3 2-3 N/A
A 1-2 1-2 3
B♭ 1 1 1-2-3
B 2 2 1-3
C 0 0 2-3
C♯ 1-2 1-2 1-2-3
D 1 1-3 1-3
E♭ 2 2-3 2-3
E 0 1-2 1-2
F 1 1 N/A
F♯ 2 2 1-2-3
G 0 0 1-3
G♯ 2-3 2-3 1
A 1-2 1-2 3
B♭ 1 1 1-2-3, also 0
B 2 2 1-3
High C 0 0 1
C♯ 1-2 1-2 2
D 1 1 0
E♭ 2 2 2-3
E 0 0 1-2
F 1 1
F♯ 2 2
G 0 0
G♯ 2-3 2-3
A 1-2 1-2
B♭ 1 1
B 2 2
Double High C 0 0

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