In Depth

The Evolution of Trumpet

Up to the instrument of our days, the trumpet has had many forms throughout its history.
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Trumpet Evolution

The natural trumpet (XVth to XIXth Century)

What we call the natural trumpet came to be during the Renaissance (XVth and XVIth Centuries), which was the first time that composers wrote specifically for the trumpet.

The natural or baroque trumpet had its peak during the Baroque period (XVIIth and XVIIIth Centuries), when the art of the clarino player developed (to play in the upper register) and acquired a soloist role and the trumpet was considered an equal to the violin and the flute.

The greatest composers of the period, such as Bach, wrote abundant literature for the trumpet. In the Trumpet Magazine School you can learn to play the natural trumpet from your home.

Without a doubt, during the Classical period (the end of the XVIIIth Century) the clarino style of trumpet playing fell out of favor and the trumpet was relegated to a secondary role in the orchestra as a mere supporter of the harmony along with the tympani.

The actual physical natural trumpet was used until the beginnings of the Romantic period (XIXth Century), when the first attempts to convert it into a chromatic instrument, better adapted to the times, appeared.
So, first we have the birth of the keyed trumpet (invented by Anton Weidinger around 1793, which never really caught on) and then shortly thereafter, with the invention of the valve, we have the modern trumpet.

Parts of the natural trumpet

The natural trumpet consists of¬†two lengths of tubing, known as¬†yards, the bell and two¬†bows, which are the bends between these segments. These parts weren’t soldered; rather they were fit one inside of the other and held together with resin or bees wax.

The first yard was separated from the bell by a wooden block which was wound with string made of wool to strengthen it.

It also had five ferrules used to strengthen it where it came together.

Natural Trumpet.

The bell section was the same length of the other two yards and ended in a flared bell, reinforced at the open end with a decorative garland due to the thinness of the hammered metal. It was usually here that the maker would engrave his name and sometimes the name of the player was also included along with the city and year of construction.

In the middle of the bell section a ball, also known as a pommel or knob, can be found. Its function was purely ornamental.

The arch next to the bell and the crown are held together by a small wire.

Finally there are two metal rings soldered to the inner arches where a lanyard (banderole) was strung to hang over the players shoulder.

The harmonic series of the natural trumpet

Through small adjustments of the tension in the lips, a trumpet player can play a series of set notes on the natural trumpet called the harmonic series.

Serie armónica

The lowest note of the¬†harmonic series¬†(the¬†fundamental) is produced by using the least amount of tension of the lips, this is a C. The next sound (harmonic) is an octave higher; it’s also a C. These two notes are the only notes that can be produced in the first octave of the¬†harmonic series. Within what would be the second octave of the¬†harmonic series¬†the third¬†harmonic¬†is produced: G. This is the¬†fundamental principal of the construction of the¬†harmonic series: Each new octave contains the same notes as the previous but with additional new notes.

If we apply this principal to the next octave of the¬†harmonic series, first let’s transpose the notes from the second octave, (C,G and C), and then let’s add the new ones, which in this case would be E and B flat (the latter is represented by a¬†black note accompanied by an arrow pointing down, indicating that, in its natural state, is out of tune ‚ÄĒ in other words, it is an¬†impure harmonic¬†‚ÄĒ, specifically its tuning is flat).

As we ascend in this manner, we can see that the intervals between the harmonics are getting smaller.

Baroque trumpet players¬†corrected the imperfections of the¬†impure harmonics¬†with their lips (tensing or relaxing them depending on the situation). The musician and treatise writer of the time Michael Praetorius wrote in 1619:¬†“The trumpet is a magnificent instrument when it is played by a fine master that can control it and exercise artistic control over it”.

The¬†harmonic series¬†can continue until infinity. However, there are very few examples of the extreme high harmonics due to the difficulty in playing them. In fact, the 24th¬†harmonic¬†has only been present, that we know about, in two concertos for trumpet composed by Michael Haydn and Georg von Reutter, which were probably written during 1750 or 1760 for the Austrian virtuoso of his time, J.B. Resenberger ‚ÄĒ¬†“a magnificent trumpet player that was quite famous, particularly in the high register”¬†according to Leopold Mozart and Johann Heinisch.
The trumpet parts written by Johan Sebastian Bach, though not the most difficult, often required the 16th and 18th harmonic. Only once, in the final chorus of Cantata 31 Der Himmel lacht! Die Erde jubilieret, is the 20th harmonic required.

Trumpets are named after the fundamental of their harmonic series. A natural trumpet in C plays the C harmonic series, as previously indicated. A natural trumpet in D (whose length is shorter) plays the same series, but one tone higher. This continues successively upwards.

The keyed trumpet (XIXth Century)

During the classical period (the end of the XVIIIth Century),¬†the trumpet lost its protagonist role which it had enjoyed during the Baroque period. The¬†clarino¬†style (playing in the high register) became unfashionable and due to the physical limitations of the natural trumpet, it couldn’t be played in the middle register.

There were then several attempts to add chromaticism to the trumpet, to return its previous importance. One of these attempts was performed by Anton Weidinger of Vienna (Austria), who began to build the first keyed trumpet around 1793. It was debuted in public in 1798.

In spite of its success, the invention of Weidinger’s keyed trumpet failed to gain popularity and rapidly fell into disuse. In fact¬†its repertoire is quite limited:

  1. Concerto per il clarino¬†(Franz Joseph Haydn) composed in 1796 wasn’t premiered until 1800 due to its difficulty. Weidinger tried the instrument out prior to performing Haydn’s¬†Concerto¬†on two pieces by the composers Kozeluch and Weigl.
  2. Sinfonia concertante (Leopold Kozeluch) in 1798.
  3. Opus symphonicum (Joseph Weigl) in 1799.
  4. Unnamed aria for female voice and keyed trumpet (Franz Xaver Sussmayr) in 1800.
  5. Sextet (Ferdinand Kauer) in 1800.
  6. Trio (Johann Nepomuk Hummel) in 1802.
  7. Concerto a tromba principale (Johann Nepomuk Hummel) in 1803, premiered January 1st, 1804.
  8. Polonaise (Antonio Casimir Cartellieri) around 1807.
  9. Requiem (Sigismund Neukomm) in 1815.

After this, it seems that Weidinger collaborated with the Viennese instrument maker Joseph Riedl in the invention of the rotary valve.

Parts of the keyed trumpet

The keyed trumpet is comprised of a cylindrical tube that becomes conical in the bell section.

The keys are arranged so that they can be played by the left hand and have leather pads which cover the holes throughout the length of the tubing.

Keyed Trumpet.

Harmonic principle of the keyed trumpet

The principle of the keyed trumpet is similar to that of the modern flute and saxophone.

It has various holes bored at specific points of the tubing where nodes occur in the sound waves produced by playing.

When the key is lifted, uncovering the hole, the air escapes through this hole, cutting the air column inside the tube and raising the tone of the resulting note.

Each hole allows for a specific harmonic series, and combining them, all the notes of the harmonic scale can be produced.

Needless to say, the holes are not completely capable of providing a uniform sound through all registers and for certain notes a more precise adjustment by the lips is required (the well known technique of lip correction used frequently by Baroque trumpeters).

The modern trumpet (XIXth Century until today)

The modern trumpet has a valve mechanism that converts it into a chromatic instrument.

The valve was invented in the beginning of the XIXth Century, two types of trumpets are currently in use, defined by their corresponding valve mechanism.

One type is the rotary valve, patented in 1835 by Josef Kail (Czech trumpet player and inventor) and Joseph Riedl (Viennese instrument maker). These trumpets, known as rotary trumpets, are very common in Germany, Austria and other eastern European countries (they are also known as German trumpets). The technique employed to play them is a little bit different from that of the piston trumpet.

The other type of valve is the piston valve. It was patented in 1839 by the Parisian François Perinet. This valve system is by far the most popular.

In the Trumpet Magazine School there are videolessons to help you learn how to play the many different styles of music. There you will not only find videolessons on classical trumpet but also many other styles such as jazz, pop, salsa, modern music, mariachi and many other relevant styles.

Parts of the modern trumpet

The form of the modern trumpet is basically the same as that of the natural trumpet, with two main differences:

  1. First of all there are obviously the valves (or pistons), which convert it into a chromatic instrument.
  2. The length of its tubing is approximately half of that of the natural trumpet, which would make its harmonic series start one octave higher than the natural trumpets.

Other parts of the trumpet are: The main tuning slide, the individual valve tuning slides, the water key, (invented around 1830), and finger rings used to help the fingers hold the instrument.

The harmonic series of the modern trumpet

First of all,¬†the length of the tubing of the modern trumpet is approximately half of that of the natural trumpet, which places the start of the harmonic series one octave higher than the natural trumpet’s harmonic series.

How do we produce chromatic notes?

The tuning slides that correspond to each valve are extra tubes that when opened by the pressing of the valve cause the air to travel through them.

So, the range of the sounds that come out of the bell are modified, the fact that the air has more length of tubing to travel through lowers the pitch, or in other words, with longer tubing we get a lower sound:

  1. The second valve of a trumpet (the shortest) lowers the pitch a semitone.
  2. The first valve (the second longest) lowers the pitch a whole tone.
  3. The third valve (the longest) lowers the pitch a tone and a half.

All combinations are possible:

  1. Pressing the first and second valve at the same time lowers the pitch a tone and a half.
  2. Pressing the second and third valves lowers it two tones.
  3. Pressing the first and third lowers it two and a half tones.
  4. Pressing all three at the same time lowers it three whole tones.

What we are doing by pressing the valves or pistons is lowering the starting point of the harmonic series. Chromaticism is made possible by using a combination of all of the previous combinations.

Trumpets in other keys

Although the B flat piston trumpet is the one used the most in conservatories, bands and in jazz, the rediscovery of Baroque works and contemporary vanguard music has resulted in the construction and use of other modern trumpets in other keys.

As the length of the tube is made shorter the tuning of the trumpet rises and results in a higher pitched instrument.

C Trumpet

In symphony orchestras the most popular trumpet is the C trumpet, possibly due to its increased sound projection and the security of the attack in the high register.

Eb/D Trumpet

The D trumpet was frequently used for Baroque works, but is now rarely used. It was around 1861 when the Frenchman Hippolyte Duhem ordered the first trumpet of this kind, which spread progressively to Belgium (1870), Germany (1885), and England (1892).

However, today the E flat/D trumpet, used principally for the Haydn and Hummel concertos and also various orchestral excerpts, is used more than just the D trumpet.

F/G Trumpet

The F trumpet was mainly used to play Bach’s¬†Brandenburg Concerto no. 2. The first person to discover that this piece could be played more comfortably with an F trumpet was the Polish trumpet player Adolf Scholz around 1850.

The G trumpet was also frequently used to play Bach’s works. The first one was made in Paris in 1885 for Sylvain Teste, who played Bach’s¬†Magnificat¬†on the 21st of April of that year.

Nowadays there are trumpets with interchangeable tuning slides, which can modify the key of the instrument between F and G depending on the needs of the player.

Bb/A Piccolo Trumpet

Last but not least we have the A and B flat high trumpet, known as the piccolo trumpet made popular by the German trumpet player Adolf Scherbaum and the French trumpet player Maurice Andre, which is the currently the trumpet used the most for Baroque music and for some contemporary compositions. In the same way that the F/G trumpet’s tuning could be changed by different tuning slides, the same occurs with the Bb/A piccolo.

There are also C piccolo trumpets.

Due to the different construction from that of a normal trumpet, the piccolo trumpet shouldn’t be played using the same technique as that of a normal B flat or C trumpet. In the Trumpetland School there are specific videolessons to help you learn how to play the piccolo trumpet.

Other instruments in the trumpet family


The cornet was invented in 1814 with the invention of pistons. The trumpet took longer to adapt to this new technology. The conical tubing of the cornet produced a warm and velvety sound, in contrast to the penetrating sound of the trumpet.

The combination of these factors resulted in composers writing separate parts for trumpets and cornets: the trumpet was relegated to fanfare passages while the cornet enjoyed the more agile and expressive ones.

Some famous Cornet virtuosos of the time were Jean-Baptiste Arban, Jules Levy and Herbert Lincoln Clarke.


The flugelhorn came from the German bugle, it was similar to a natural trumpet but with a conical section and was used by the infantry. Around 1840, Adolph Sax added keys (keyed bugle).

The current flugelhorn is a bugle with pistons. It is generally used in bands and jazz groups and is tuned in B flat.

Some masters of the flugelhorn are Clark Terry, Chuck Mangione and Paolo Fresu.

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