In my recent post, I discussed the bore of an instrument. In brass instruments, the bore of an instrument can be described simply as the diameter of the piping. For example, the trumpet is cylindrical bore instrument. The fact that the diameter of the tubing neither increases nor decreases until it reaches the bell gives the instrument what is perceived by the human ear as a harsher and brighter sound.
A conical instrument’s tubing gradually increases in diameter up to the bell. This creates what is perceived by the human ear as a mellower sound and can be found in cornets, flugelhorns, and other instruments not related to the trumpet.
Another instrument very similar to the trumpet is the flugelhorn. Originally from Germany, the flugelhorn resembles a trumpet with its valves, bell, mouthpiece and slides, but it more conical and has a wider bore, giving it a darker sound. The flugelhorn easy for trumpet players to switch to, as its length is the same as the trumpet, making it a Bb instrument with the same key series as the common Bb trumpet. In pieces where the range of a trumpet is required, but the composer would prefer a less strident sound, the flugelhorn often replaces the trumpet or is added in as a separate part altogether.
The cornet is a sort of middle point between the trumpet and the flugelhorn. Its bore is entirely conical, which accounts for the mellow sound as opposed to the cylindrical-bored, which has a more penetrating sound. The cornet is most commonly used in European brass bands and concert bands. Its use in jazz has declined in favor of the trumpet.
This picture shows how the trumpet was shortened and compacted into the familiar shape we know today, using valves instead of embouchure to play distinct pitches. The valved trumpet still retains some embouchure movement, but the extra slides and valves allow for less profound changes in the mouth.
The valved trumpet was invented by Heinrich Stoelzel and Friedrich Bluhmeh. It was the predecessor of the modern trumpet we know today, and is important in the development of the musical trumpet and the use of the trumpet in musical pieces. The valves allowed trumpet players to have more flexibility in each partial of their instrument and in so doing, it helped trumpet players play in different keys than their instrument was built in. The addition of valves to trumpets also kick-started the standardization of the trumpet into the different categories ( C trumpet, Bb trumpet, piccolo trumpet, etc.) that we know today. All the variants of the trumpet (with the exception of the slide trumpet, also referred to as the Bb trombone) are derived from the original valved trumpet.
Possibly one of the most important times for trumpet, the Baroque era gave rise to a new way to use the once-crude trumpet that most disregarded as sounding harsh and unmusical. Baroque soloists made beautiful music on the trumpet for the first time on a massive scale. Trumpet players were lauded and revered by the public, and a guild was founded to keep the secrets of playing trumpet only for the elite. Composers often wrote solos specifically for an individual player, such as Bach writing solos for Gottfried Reiche. Composers did this because the secret was so heavily guarded that only a few possessed the technique necessary to reach the baroque trumpets full potential, including range, tone, and accuracy on pitches. Without a doubt, the hardest part about playing the baroque (or “natural”) trumpet was the difficulty of accurately producing pitches in the upper range of the instrument. Those few who could do this reliably and still produce a great tone were as famous as pop stars are today for their beautiful and powerful playing.
The principle mechanic of the trumpet, as with all brass instruments, is the pushing of air through the lips (referred to as the embouchure) in order to make them vibrate and create sound. Professional trumpet players are experts at manipulating airspeed and volume of air to vibrate their lips at the correct frequency.
While air flow is the most important part of playing the trumpet, the pitches must be decided by an outside factor. Simply buzzing the lips through the end of the trumpet does not produce a scale or etude. In ancient times, buglers or trumpet players manipulated pitches by increasing or decreasing their airspeed. This alone created the pitches that were so vital to the army, or that entertained royalty in the court. In the modern era, trumpet players still use air flow, but in a different way.
The modern valved trumpet has a harmonic series, which means that with every valve combination there is a set of pitches that can be played. As mentioned before, this is how modern trumpet players use airflow. They change between “partials” (pitches in a harmonic series) and use valve combinations in different partials to reach all the notes that can be played with that valve combination.
The modern trumpet also has a valve series. Each valve pressed down on the trumpet extends its length by a set amount. The 2nd valve is the shortest, 1st is the middle, and 3rd is the longest. Therefore, the valve series from highest to lowest can be written as such, with numbers signifying which valve is to be pressed down: 0, 2, 1, 3, 23, 13, 123. Most trumpet players substitute 12 for 3 in the series because the third valve can create tuning issues.
For its entire history, the trumpet has been the herald of kings and war alike. However, he actual sound that an army or a court would have heard has only recently been homogenized into a standard “trumpet” sound. It is important to note that until recently, a “trumpet” was an instrument that you could buzz into in order to make a loud sound, which was generally pitched a certain way for different messages. There were trumpets made out of horns from animals, such as the ram’s, and more common ones made out of bronze and silver. These trumpets were not made in the fashion we know today:
They were much more simplistic in nature and used mostly to communicate on the battlefield or announce important events. These kinds of uses only needed a few pitches, so the older trumpets looked something like this:
The Egyptians primarily used trumpets to intimidate the enemy, raise morale, and possibly direct troop movements. As is evidenced by the shape and craftsmanship of the trumpets, they did not serve well as musical instruments, and the trumpet only much later came to be recognized as a source of music.
McCloskey, Sean. “History Heard Through a Trumpet.” – TopTenREVIEWS. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 Dec. 2013.