Instrument Profile: The Trumpet\

Classic Arts Features   Instrument Profile: The Trumpet\
The trumpet is one of the oldest and most familiar instruments in music, its versatility lending it to all genres of music, most notably classical and jazz. Pamela Holloway asks Ryan Anthony, principal trumpet for the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, to explain it in detail, offering up interesting facts you may not know.


Q: What is the origin of the trumpet?

A: While the trumpet we know today is relatively new compared to other instruments in the orchestra, its history is one of the oldest. Its origins can be seen before the age of metal, in the use of conch shells and animal horns. A recognizable instrument called 'trumpet' was used for signaling as early as 2000 B.C., and the earliest drawings of a trumpet were found in Egypt in the tomb of King Tutankhamen. The trumpet at that time was long, with no valves. By Roman times, it was used in both military and civilian ceremonies.

Q: How has the trumpet evolved through the centuries?

A: During the 14th and 15th centuries, the trumpet acquired its folded form, the beginning of the traditional instrument we see today. It was referred to as a natural trumpet and produced 'harmonic' tones like a bugle. But it was only recognized as an instrument used to signal and announce, not a musical instrument.

The 16th-century trumpet was used for both courtly and military purposes and was first introduced to musical compositions. In the 17th and 18th centuries the trumpet reached its prime and was frequently used in music. The addition of a few holes, opened and closed by the fingers, extended its range, allowing it to play simple melodies and key roles in orchestration.

Finally, it was during the 19th century that the trumpet was recognized as an orchestral instrument. The crooks were replaced by valves in the early 1800s and changes in the size of the instrument also occurred, evolving the instrument into the modern trumpet. Because of the improvements made, the instrument is now louder and easier to play.

Q: What is the octave range?

A: The lowest note the trumpet can play, due to its size, is F-sharp below middle C. The instrument's high range is only limited by the player; however, most repertoire rarely goes above E over high C, giving it close to three octaves.

Q: If you were to uncoil your trumpet and stretch it out, how long would it be?

A: It's four and a half feet long, making it the shortest of the brass family and therefore the highest pitched brass instrument.

Q: Why are trumpets made of brass and not another material?

A: Metal helps create purer sound quality while helping with the projection of sound. The horn can be lacquered in brass or silver and even 24-karat gold.

Q: Sound is created when vibrations are transmitted through the air or some other medium. How are these necessary vibrations created on the trumpet to produce its characteristic sound, and how is the sound manipulated to play so many notes on an instrument with only three valves?

A: The vibrations happen at the mouthpiece of the trumpet by buzzing the lips together. The instrument at that point basically acts as an amplifier. You learn to manipulate the buzzing sound to create good tone and intonation. Since the valve combinations are limited, the range of the instrument is created by changing the buzzing of the lips. By making higher and lower buzzing sounds, you can move the notes up or down and continue to use the same valve combinations.

Q: The trumpet is a transposing instrument. What does it mean to transpose in music?

A: Most of our music does not contain sharps or flats in the key signature, making it look like it's always in the key of C. The top of the page will say which key it's in and we have to make the adjustment to play higher or lower than the printed music to match the rest of the orchestra. For example, if the music is in the key of D, one step higher than C, a trumpeter will have to play one note higher than what's printed on the music. This came from the early trumpets before valves were invented when you had extra tubing to insert, making the trumpet longer and, therefore, sounding lower. When the music changed key, you would simply insert or take out the tubes needed to make the trumpet sound in the new key. Even with valves, this tradition of writing for the trumpet has continued.

Q: There are many different types of trumpet. Which of them is most commonly used today?

A: There are two common trumpets: B-flat and C. The trumpet in the key of B-flat is the most common outside of an orchestra, and traditionally played in school bands and jazz groups. The C trumpet became popular with orchestral musicians and is most common in symphony halls worldwide; the key of C not only makes it easier to transpose, but the higher pitch can make it easier to project through the orchestra and stay in the upper range.

Although seldom seen and heard, trumpets are also made in the keys of D, E-flat, E, F, G, A, and high B-flat (known as a piccolo trumpet). You also have cornets, fl‹gelhorns, and rotary trumpets, which we use in the orchestra. Rotary trumpets, often called German trumpets, are played sideways because they use rotary valves like a French horn, and are often heard in works by Beethoven, Brahms, Mozart, Schumann, and Schubert. The piccolo trumpet, mostly used in Baroque repertoire, is exactly half the size of the normal B-flat trumpet; therefore it sounds one octave higher. The cornet has a darker sound because it is conical like a French horn; the trumpet, by contrast, is cylindrical and only flares out at the bell. While it was once common for composers to write that cornet and trumpet be played at the same time, the cornet is no longer a common instrument and seldom used in modern compositions. The fl‹gelhorn, although in the key of B-flat, is the largest trumpet and has the darkest sound. It is most commonly used in jazz repertoire.

Q: How many trumpets are in a typical orchestra section and why?

A: The ideal trumpet section has four trumpets, as we have in the DSO. Many large orchestral works will use up to four trumpets and since most repertoire can be demanding physically, this allows us to stay strong and healthy.

Q: What is the role of the trumpet within an orchestra?

A: Because of the sound and ability to project, it is mainly used for the climaxes of a piece or to emphasize a musical note, rhythm, or phrase.

Q: What are some of the extended techniques on the trumpet and how are they used?

A: The biggest technique for any wind instrument is articulation, or tonguing. For brass instruments, this includes single, double, triple, and flutter tonguing. Double and triple tonguing are used for fast articulations like in the famous William Tell Overture. You need to time the tongue and fingers precisely so that the changes happen simultaneously. Flutter tonguing is used primarily in contemporary or jazz repertoire and is created by 'rolling' or gurgling your tongue while playing, like when you say the letter 'R' in Spanish.

Q: What is one interesting fact that not many people know about the trumpet?

A: It is one of the only instruments used in every style and genre of music: classical, jazz, pop, salsa, Dixieland, rock 'n' roll, soul, and just about every other style you can think of.

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