Also:       trompette      Trompete      tromba      B-flat trumpet      D trumpet      E-flat trumpet      

Title: Trumpet Concertos: Marsalis—Concerto in D Major for Trumpet and Orchestra, by Johann Nepomuk Hummel; Wynton Marsalis, trumpet with National Philharmonic Orchestra, Raymond Leppard, conductor. Label: CBS Masterworks. Format: CD. Catalogue#: MK 37846. Track: 6.

Title: Gillespie Y Machito: Afro-Cuban Moods—Pensativo; Dizzy Gillespie, trumpet. Label: Pablo. Format: CD. Catalogue#: OJCCD-447-2. Track: 3.

Title: Trumpet Concertos: Marsalis—Concerto in D Major for Trumpet and Orchestra, by Franz Joseph Haydn; Wynton Marsalis, trumpet with National Philharmonic Orchestra, Raymond Leppard, conductor. Label: CBS Masterworks. Format: CD. Catalogue#: MK 37846. Track: 1.

Contextual Associations

The trumpet is an end-blown lip-reed aerophone outfitted with valves (either piston or rotary) that make it fully chromatic. Originating in Europe, the trumpet today (usually pitched in B-flat) can be found throughout the world wherever Western cosmopolitanism has taken root. It is played both by professionals and amateurs, males and females. Its contexts of use are numerous: it is a standard instrument in the symphony orchestra, in military, marching, and concert bands and wind ensembles, and in various chamber brass ensemble configurations; it can be used as either a solo or section instrument in jazz bands and combos; and it has been incorporated in various folk and popular music idioms throughout the world (for example, Mexican mariachi music and local adaptations of the European military or brass band model). There exists a considerable classical solo repertoire of original pieces and transcribed works for the trumpet, both unaccompanied and accompanied (by a keyboard instrument or an orchestra, i.e., concertos), dating from the Baroque era to the present. The performance of this solo repertoire is today most concentrated in university music departments and conservatories around the world, which typically include in their faculty a professor of trumpet and offer degrees in trumpet performance at both the undergraduate and graduate levels; some of this repertoire is also heard in the domain of secondary school music programs where it is utilized for solo competitions. Professionals operate in one or both of two general spheres: the classical/educational domain, centered in professional orchestras and academic institutions where performers teach, present formal solo recitals, perform in faculty chamber ensembles, solo with school ensembles, and direct student ensembles; and the jazz/commercial domain, where they perform at concert and club venues as members of established bands/combos or as back-up musicians for other performers, produce commercial recordings, do studio session work (recording for movies, television, and commercials), and free-lance as teachers and clinicians. Amateur trumpet players find performance opportunities in school (secondary and tertiary) and municipal bands, orchestras, and jazz bands and combos. The modern D/E-flat trumpet seen in the second gallery image is an auxiliary instrument used almost exclusively by symphony orchestra players and classical music trumpet soloists.


The shared features of all three trumpets pictured in the gallery are: a length of predominantly cylindrical brass tubing with a cup mouthpiece inserted at one end and a flared bell at the other; and three piston valves that, when depressed individually or in combination, add varying lengths of tubing to the instrument’s basic length. The trumpets differ in the length of their tubes, and whether or not they include an additional length of tubing for the purpose of transposition. The first and third trumpets have a basic tube length of approximately 4.5 feet (producing a fundamental pitch of B-flat2), the second trumpet of either 3.5 feet (producing a fundamental pitch of D3) or 3.1 feet (E-flat3) depending on with which of its two sets of slides (1st, 3rd and main tuning slides) it is outfitted. The final trumpet has a rotary valve, located after the piston valves, by which a small amount of extra tubing can be added to convert it into a trumpet in A (fundamental pitch of A2)(see detail image). Each trumpet includes three side-by-side spring-loaded piston valves. When a valve piston is unengaged (at the top of its casing) the air column passes directly through a channel bored into the piston; when the valve is engaged by pressing the piston down to the bottom of its casing two different channels come into alignment, one directing the air column out of the valve and through an additional length of tubing, and a second one allowing the air column back into and through the piston. The amount of tubing that is added is different with each valve: the first valve, closest to the mouthpiece end, adds enough tubing to lower the pitch of the instrument by a whole step (M2); the second valve by a half step (m2); and the third valve by a minor third (m3). Each additional length of tubing has its own tuning slide, and there is also a main tuning slide for the basic length of the tube located at the first U-bend after the mouthpiece.   

Player - Instrument Interface and Sound Production

The player, either seated or standing, grasps the three valve casings with his or her left hand and positions the trumpet so that the mouthpiece touches their lips, the valve buttons point upwards, and the bell faces forwards. The first three fingers of the right hand operate the three valves. With any given length of tubing (of which there are seven--the basic length and six combinations of additional tubing), the performer may produce a fundamental pitch (called a pedal tone) and the notes in the natural harmonic series above it by controlling the force of the airstream (with their diaphragm muscles) and its modulation (with their embouchure muscles adjusting lip tension). The fundamental of the first trumpet is B-flat2, that of the second either D3 or E-flat3 (depending on which slides are installed), and that of the third B-flat2 without the supplemental tubing and A2 with it. The fundamental is difficult to sound and is therefore seldom used; the practical range of the most widely used trumpet in B-flat is E3 to B-flat 5, though some amateur and most professional trumpeters can extend the upper end of this range considerably. The B-flat trumpet is a transposing instrument written in C but sounding a major second (M2) below. Orchestral players in particular must learn how to transpose at sight parts written at pitch for trumpets in a number of different keys, including D and E-flat. The trumpet has a wide dynamic range and, especially when played loud, a clear and penetrating sound. Variation in the timbre of the instrument is achieved through the use of mutes placed in or held in front of the bell of the instrument (in the first gallery photo, four mutes are seen--from left to right, plunger, Harmon, cup and straight). For a video illustrating the player-instrument interface for this instrument, view the Philharmonia Orchestra website chapter on the trumpet.


The modern trumpets pictured here are the products of an early 19th century invention--the valve (invented in around 1815 and modified throughout the century)--and the increasingly sophisticated mass production manufacturing techniques of the Industrial Revolution. These innovations forever changed all sorts of musical and social practices (such as guilds) associated with its predecessor, the natural trumpet (see Then and Now: Trumpet). Now fully chromatic, the trumpet’s contexts of usage were expanded and composers started writing for it in new ways. Roughly by the third quarter of the 19th century trumpets similar in design and appearance to the modern instrument were being manufactured in Europe and the U.S.A.

Bibliographic Citations

Baines, Anthony. 1976. Brass Instruments: Their History and Development. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.

Bate, Philip. 1966. The Trumpet and Trombone: An Outline of their History, Development and Construction. London: Ernest Benn Limited.

Campbell, Murray, Clive Greated, and Arnold Meyers. 2004. Musical Instruments: History, Technology, and Performance of Instruments of Western Music. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Carse, Adam. 1975 (1965). Musical Wind Instruments. New York: Da Capo Paperback.

“Instruments.”  Philharmonia Orchestra website, accessed September 14, 2015:

Tarr, Edward. 1984. “Trumpet.” NGDMI v.3: 639-654.

________. 1988.The Trumpet. Portland, Oregon: Amadeus Press.


Instrument Information


Continent: Europe

Region: Western Europe

Formation: European

Classification (Sachs-Von Hornbostel revised by MIMO)

423.233.1 aerophone--chromatic labrosone valve trumpet with short air column (less than 2m); the tube is predominantly cylindrical

Design and Playing Features

Category: aerophone

Air cavity design: tubular - cylindrical with flaring open distal end

Source and direction of airstream: player exhalation through mouth into air cavity; unidirectional

Energy transducer that activates sound: lip reed (player’s lips) placed over cup mouthpiece at end of tube

Means of modifying shape and dimensions of standing wave in air cavity: incremental lengthening with valve mechanism of air cavity in which the standing wave is active

Overblowing utilization: overblowing at consecutive partials

Pitch production: multiple - changing length of standing wave by adding tube length with valves or slide and by selecting partials through overblowing


21.5 in. length (first trumpet) 17.9 in. length (second trumpet) 23 in. length (third trumpet)

Primary Materials

metal - sheet
spring - spiral




Stradivarius 180S37

Entry Author

Roger Vetter