What is a Trumpet?

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  • Written By: Mary Elizabeth
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 11 November 2018
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The trumpet is a member of the brass family of instruments. The brass family is often divided into four groups: the horns, trumpets, trombones, and tubas. Most of the time, when people refer to this instrument, they mean the B♭ (B-flat) version, one particular member of the group. The group also includes E♭ and B♭ bass trumpets; trumpets in the keys of B♭, C, D, and E♭; the A and B♭ piccolo trumpet; cornets in B♭ and E♭; and the B♭ flugelhorn.

As a group, these instruments form the soprano voice of the brass family. B♭ trumpets are the best known instrument of the group. Originally confined to military settings, today they are used in both orchestral and band settings, including concert and marching bands, and jazz groups.

In the history of the instrument, there are three major types: the natural (valveless) trumpet, which resembles a modern bugle and was popular during the Baroque period; the valve trumpet, based on the instrument in F and first used in the mid 1800s; and the modern trumpet, which is in a higher register. Though someone who says that they play the instrument without specifying which type probably is referring to the B♭, professionals often have a C or D trumpet as well, and choose between the two to suit the work they are performing.


The instrument has a brilliant sound, typified for many by its role in fanfares and battle calls. It is used in music as diverse as ragtime, big band, and mariachi bands. The sound may be shaped by the use of a mute, such as the straight mute, cup mute, or harmon mute, which covers the bell of the instrument. Effects similar to that of a mute are created by using the hand over or in the bell or by using a plunger, a felt hat, or by playing into the stand.

Specialized information written in the music can call also tell the performer to create special effects. These are most common in jazz, and include the smear, the doit, the fall off, the plop, and the turn.

Famous pieces include Johann Sebastian Bach’s Brandenberg Concerto No. 2, Georg Telemann’s Concerto in D Major for trumpet, and Joseph Haydn Trumpet Concerto in Eb Major. There have been many famous players, including Maurice André, Louis Armstrong, Herb Alpert, Dizzy Gillepsie, Miles Davis, and Wynton Marsalis.


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Post 7

My younger brother used to think it was funny to wake me up in the morning by playing his trumpet. He would play music that sounded like a call into battle, and he would do so right in my room. It was never funny, and it put me in a bad mood for the rest of the morning.

Post 6

I associate trumpet music with mariachi bands. My favorite Mexican restaurant has one of these bands playing every Saturday night, and there are several trumpets.

What I like about the trumpets in the mariachi band is that they harmonize. The musicians all play different yet complementary trumpet notes, and their parts come together to make a lovely sound.

Post 5

@orangey03 – In the hands of a talented musician, the trumpet is cool. However, it is no fun living in a house with someone who is trying to learn to play it.

My husband decided that the trumpet was the instrument that he wanted to learn, so he borrowed one from a friend who had been in the high school band. He figured it would be easy, since all you had to do was blow into the mouthpiece.

He figured wrong. He made warbling sounds that pierced my ears in the next room. I begged him to wait until I left for work to play it.

Post 4

The trumpet is a surprisingly versatile instrument. The sound it makes is only limited by the person playing it. I've heard some trumpet music that would make a dog howl, but I've heard some that is much softer and beautiful, as well.

Post 3

Once a month, at our church service, a brass ensemble plays one or two hymns. In the ensemble, there are two trumpets, a saxophone,and a tuba. One of the trumpet players always uses a mute.

They don't use a piano accompaniment. Using these instruments to play hymns sounds surprisingly good. A tiny lady plays the tuba. I'm always amazed she can do it. Anyway, they are a very good group.

Post 2

Trumpet music has come a long ways from battle calls and songs to use in jazz bands, ragtime,and classical music. Now it is being offered as an alternative to traditional wedding music.

Not long ago, I went to the wedding of my niece. The couple had hired two trumpeters and a piano accompanist to play at the wedding. Then for the reception, there was a small brass band. They played big band songs from the 1940s, ragtime, and a few jazz songs. Everyone, young and old, loved the music and danced up a storm.

Post 1

Are Brazilian-made trumpets and Flugelhorns of "decent" quality closer to the Chinese and Taiwanese?

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