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What Is a Natural Trumpet?

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  • Written By: B. Koch
  • Edited By: Susan Barwick
  • Last Modified Date: 16 September 2014
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The natural trumpet is an instrument that usually resembles the modern trumpet but is an earlier form of this instrument. Natural trumpets have no keys or valves that allow a player to manually change the pitch. Instead, the player relies solely on his breathing and embouchure to produce new notes. This ancient instrument has been used throughout history and was produced in a great number of styles and forms.

This type of trumpet differs from modern concert trumpets in having no keys or other movable parts that are used to change the pitch of the instrument. Instead, the musician plays different notes on the natural trumpet by changing his or her playing style. For example, blowing into the natural trumpet faster can produce a different tone. The player may change their embouchure, or position of his facial muscles, to produce a different note.

Throughout history the trumpet has been an important instrument. The natural trumpet was used by ancient Greeks and Romans as a signaling device rather than used musically. It was not until the 14th century that the trumpet was used in concerts and musical compositions. The natural trumpet was most popular during the Baroque period of the 17th and 18th centuries and was often featured by popular composers. The keyed, concert trumpets that are known today were developed in the late 1700s but were not especially popular until modern times.

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Since the natural trumpet has been used throughout history by many different cultures and in many geographic regions, it is not unusual to find these instruments made in a number of different styles. They may be made of wood, ivory, or sea shells but most often are made from metal. Ivory trumpets were typically made from an elephant tusk while conch shells were used with little to no modification of their shape. Wood and metal trumpets could resemble long, thin tubes ranging from 2 to 6 feet (0.5 to 2 meters) long, with the end of the instrument flaring out into a bell shape. Natural trumpets made of metal may feature a curve in the tube.

The natural trumpet is no longer commonly played. Concert trumpets with keys and valves are used instead. Sometimes, natural trumpets can still be seen in productions when the conductor wants the orchestra to achieve an authentic sound for older compositions that were written especially for the natural trumpet.

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