natural trumpet

Also:       trompette      Trompete      tromba      

Title: Music for Trumpet and Orchestra--Duets for Two Trumpets, by Heinrich Biber; Crispian Steele-Perkins, natural trumpets, with Tafelmusik. Label: Sony Classical. Format: CD. Catalogue#: SK 53365. Track: 4.

Contextual Associations

The natural trumpet is a lip-reed aerophone of Europe. These natural trumpets (i.e., without valves) are modern-day replicas of instruments that were used in Europe during the 16th - 18th centuries, from the late Renaissance through the Classic eras. During the early part of this period trumpets were strongly associated with the military and ceremonial facets of European court life. Specialists on this instrument were allowed by their sovereigns to form professional guilds that controlled the training of new members and the transmission of often un-notated repertoire. Even after the instrument came to be used outside of the court setting, its incorporation into art and liturgical music strongly indexed the court context with its military and ceremonial associations. By the early 17th century two distinct context-defined styles emerged: a military, outdoor ensemble one specializing in signaling, and an art-music, soloist, indoor one featuring the high register of the instrument (clarino). The zenith of writing in the clarino style was between 1730-1770, but by the end of this period changing musical tastes and the fast developing interest in the orchestra as an independent ensemble idiom radically altered how composers wrote for the instrument. By the early 19th century the invention of valves heralded the demise of the natural trumpet. With the interest in informed performance of early music in the latter half of the 20th century a small group of virtuoso performers of the natural trumpet has been sustained.


A natural trumpet consists of a single long cylindrical-bore tube that is turned back on itself twice to produce an elongated loop terminating in a flaring bell. The bulge in the tubing about a foot before the bell is strictly ornamental. The two instruments pictured here are identical to one another except for the addition of extra tubing in the form of an optional crook added just below the cup mouthpiece on the instrument to the right. The fundamental pitch of the trumpet on the left is D3, while the one on the right with the added crook produces a fundamental pitch of C3. The vent hole located just past the second bend in the tube is not found on period instruments. It is an innovation by a German maker of replica instruments introduced around 1960. When left open, it eliminates every other partial in the overtone series. A removable cup mouthpiece is inserted into the playing end of the instrument.

Player - Instrument Interface and Sound Production

The performer of the natural trumpet is limited in his/her pitch choice to the instrument's fundamental pitch and the notes in the harmonic series above it.  The lower, more widely spaced partials (second to sixth) are particularly useful for playing fanfares. Players of this instrument who specialize in its clarino register must be able to play up to the 20th partial or higher. Therefore, the range of this instrument is from C3 to G6 (for a trumpet with a fundamental of C) and a whole step higher for a D trumpet. The instrument is typically played at a high volume in its low register but at a softer dynamic in the clarino register.


The earliest illustration of a long natural trumpet with two bends is from 1413 (Tarr 1984, p. 643), but it wasn't until the 16th century that the instrument took on a fairly standardized form similar to the instruments pictured here. Nuremburg, Germany, was an important center of trumpet manufacture in the 16th century and beyond, but trumpet makers were also found in many other European cities. With the development of keyed and eventually valve trumpets in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the natural trumpet fell into disuse.

Bibliographic Citations

Tarr, Edward H. 1984. "Trumpet." NGDMI v.3: 639-654.

________. 1997.  "The trumpet before 1800," In The Cambridge Companion to Brass Instruments. ed. Trevor Herbert and John Wallace. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 84-102.


Instrument Information


Continent: Europe

Formation: European

Classification (Sachs-Von Hornbostel revised by MIMO)

423.121.22-4 aerophone--end-blown natural labrosone with curved or folded tube; with mouthpiece (material has been added to the tube to form a mouthpiece); with lengths of tube to set nominal pitches preparatory to playing

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: none

Overblowing utilization: overblowing at consecutive partials

Pitch production: multiple pitches - selecting partials of a single cavity’s fundamental through overblowing


28.8 in. height without mouthpiece and crook

Primary Materials



Meinl and Laub



Entry Author

Roger Vetter