Bb Trumpet: If you are in middle or high school, studying music in college, playing professionally, or are simply a trumpet enthusiast, you likely have a Bb trumpet. It uses piston valves, which reroute the air through an additional length of tubing by moving a cylindrical block inside a cylindrical casing. The air rerouted through the additional length of tubing causes the pitch to change.
C Trumpet: C trumpets are generally used by advanced players and professionals. As you might expect, they are tuned a whole step higher than a Bb trumpet. This means they have a slightly smaller body. They generally sound slightly brighter than a Bb trumpet. As an added bonus, C trumpets also make transposition in orchestra simpler. Many orchestral trumpet players opt to use a C trumpet, as it can blend better with the strings, yet also projects brilliantly.
Rotary Valve Trumpet: Simply referred to as rotary trumpets, these instruments utilize rotary valves that rotate 90 degrees to divert the airflow. Rotary trumpets typically have a larger bore, shorter valve movement, and a larger bell with a wider flare. In North America, they are often used in Germanic literature, as they produce a warm, full, and powerful sound. In Germany and Austria, rotary trumpets are used regularly for most repertoire. The rotary valve was invented before the piston valve, and requires higher maintenance.
Piccolo Trumpet: The piccolo trumpet is pitched one octave higher than the standard Bb trumpet. They are usually pitched in Bb or A, using a separate leadpipe for each key. The airflow on the piccolo trumpet is more compressed, and the instrument requires less air than a Bb trumpet. Piccolo trumpets are used by advanced players and professionals for high trumpet repertoire, ranging from Handel’s ‘Messiah’ to the Beatles’ ‘Penny Lane’.
Cornet: The cornet has a conical shaped bore, while the trumpet has a cylindrical shaped bore. Generally, cornets have a deeper, broader sound than the trumpet. They are more compact than a trumpet, and some people find it easier for beginners to learn on a cornet. The cornet is a relatively new instrument, as it was invented in the late 1820’s by adding valves to a post horn. It is used in British-style brass bands.
See Below for a detailed description and analysis of piston and rotary valves:
–Dr. Sally Podrebarac
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