For some reason, when choosing an instrument, the trumpet is rarely among the first choices.
In fact, many people don’t even consider it as much as other wind instrument such as, say, the saxophone.
And that’s a real shame since the trumpet is a seriously cool instrument.
Think about it, the trumpet brings many benefits, such as:
- Learning to control your breathing
- Developing your hearing abilities
- Learning how to become a better musician overall
It’s true, the trumpet’s sound makes it — at least most of the time — a lead instrument in many bands and as such it forces you to play flawlessly.
Funnily, it’s also the reason that gave birth to the urban legend that “trumpet players have an oversized ego”.
But whatever your reason for playing the trumpet is, you’ve come to the right place as I have in today’s article everything you need to know in order to get started.
Sounds good? Then let’s start.
A Little Background
The trumpet finds its root as far as around 1500 BC, though at that time they weren’t used to play music, but rather as signaling devices for wars, battles and hunting.
In fact, it is known that wind instruments are among the very first musical instruments ever made by man.
It wasn’t until the late 14th century (during the renaissance) that the trumpet started being used in music in Europe though.
But the BIG turning point in terms of popularity happened during the first part of the 20th century with the advent of jazz and more specifically big bands.
To have an idea of the influence of the trumpet in the world of modern music, Louis Armstrong is considered the father of jazz improvisation, and guess what, he played the trumpet.
Coincidence? Maybe, but there are some more famous facts about the trumpet:
- It is particularly hard to play – a little bit like the violin family, you have to produce the right pitch almost completely by yourself
- It is loud – well, yes, it’s a brass instrument, and as all brass instrument it’s loud.
- Because it is loud, trumpet players have a reputation for having big egos.
Ok so obviously this last point is nothing “official” but the truth is…
If you’re gonna play an instrument that stands above the others (at least in terms of volume), you better be pretty sure of what you’re doing — or rather, playing.
Agreed? Anyway, Let’s now check how the trumpet is made, and how it works.
And so next up…
Anatomy of the Trumpet
The trumpet belongs to the brass instruments family. As such, it doesn’t use any reed on the mouthpiece, unlike the saxophone for example.
The trumpet is made of 3 main components:
- A Main Pipe
- A Mouthpiece
- 3 Valves
Take a look at the image on the right for a more detailed breakdown of the different elements of the trumpet.
Now, once you know the basics of trumpet construction, learning how the instrument ACTUALLY WORKS is what will really help you select the right model, but more importantly…
It will help you actually LEARN to play it in a much more effective way.
Ok so let’s dig in a little bit on each of these parts, shall we?
The Main Pipe
This main pipe is made out of brass and is basically a tube bended twice.
There’s not much more to add other than brass is the most used material, though silver or gold may be used on some (more expensive) models.
The mouthpiece is the part of the trumpet you blow into. Its goal is to create a bowl that will help you make your lip vibrate one against the other.
And let’s be clear, there are hundreds of variations of shape.
In fact many trumpet players each own dozens of different models which they use according to the sound they want to achieve.
A mouthpiece essentially has 3 components, that all vary in shape and size:
- The cup – it’s the part that directly touches your mouth
- The throat – it’s the smallest and tightest part of the mouthpiece
- The backbore – it’s the longest part of the mouthpiece
Mouthpieces are identified by 2 elements:
- A number – the bigger, the smaller the rim diameter
- A letter – the further in the alphabet, the shallower the cup
So for example. a 3C mouthpiece will have a higher cup diameter and will be deeper than a 5E mouthpiece.
And how does that translate in terms of sound? Well, generally, bigger mouthpieces (both in diameter AND depth) will get you a warmer tone…
Whereas smaller mouthpieces will get you a brighter tone. Makes sense?
Now, although there are hundreds of different combinations of cup diameter and depth, in practice, only a select bunch of models are used by most trumpet players.
These are good “all around mouthpieces” and are generally recommended for beginners:
- 7C – by far the most popular model, most teachers recommend it to beginners since you can basically play anything with it. From classical to jazz, pop or even solos, and its size allows for an easy embouchure.
- 5C – Many players switch to this size a little bit after they’ve started playing, when they’re more comfortable with their embouchure. This size allows for a warmer sound a lot of trumpet players prefer over the 7C’s, although it is a bit harder to play since it’s slightly bigger than the 7C.
So that’s for the general information.
Now there is one more variable that comes into play when choosing a mouthpiece:
The shape of the cup
There are 6 different shapes that all belong to 2 main shapes: U and V:
- Straight (V)
- Convex (V)
- Bowl (U)
- Drop (V)
- Double cup (U)
U shaped bowls project more sound and are generally brighter, because the air travels round the bowl, back towards the lips and in between creates a sort of “turbulence” near the throat of the mouthpiece.
The shallower the bowl, the brighter and louder the sound.
The trade off here is that the player might get tired quicker because the effort required in order to send the air towards the throat is greater than with a V shaped bowl.
V shaped bowls on the other hand don’t have much “turbulence” near the throat, because the air is able to move quickly into the throat.
Shallow V cups for example are great for playing in the upper register, where a lot of air is needed for creating a loud, high pitched sound.
The trade off is that you’ll get a not-so-warm sound in the lower register.
The trumpet has 3 valves and 3 valve slides.
One way of modifying the pitch when playing is to press the valves.
As I explained earlier, when a valve is pressed down, air goes through the holes drilled in this very valve…
Eventually increasing the length of the tube the air goes through and therefore also changing the pitch of the sound.
Take a look at the image on the right to get a better idea of how this all works.
Now, for certain notes, you’ll need to use the valve slides that allow for a much more subtle change in pitch…
The trumpet has 4 slides:
- 1 “tuning slide” – to tune the trumpet before playing
- 3 valve slides – to make very slight changes in intonation while playing
So each valve has its own slide, which is used to control the respective intonation, because some notes just naturally fall slightly out of tune.
Here’s a cool video showing how to use the valve slides while playing:
So as you can hear it’s not really a whole semitone difference but rather a quarter tone or such.
Rotary valve trumpets
Now, although the most common type of trumpets are piston trumpets, there is another kind of mechanism used for the valves:
Rotary valves, which give their name to the Rotarytrumpet.
These trumpets are mostly used in certain European countries, more specifically Germany and Austria and are used in classical music orchestras mainly.
Differences with piston valve trumpets include:
- A different playing position – you hold the trumpet as if you were biting on a hamburger
- A different sound – rotary valve trumpets create a mellower sound
- A different mechanism – as their name suggests, rotary valve trumpets work by rotating the valve 90° so as to increase the tube length and eventually change the pitch of the sound.
Many trumpet players admit they prefer using a rotary valve trumpet when playing in a classical orchestra
The reason rotary valve trumpets are mainly used in orchestras because their sound is mellower than piston valve trumpets and tend to blend in better with the strings of the orchestra.
The playing position is different than the one with a tradition piston trumpet and is similar to how you would hold a sandwich.
So that’s what you should know about rotary valves.
A Transposing Instrument
The trumpet is a transposing instrument.
This means that when you play a C on a regular B♭ trumpet, you’ll actually hear, well, a B♭.
So if you ever find yourself in need of writing for a regular B♭trumpet, mind the transposition and write everything one semitone above. Got it?
Now that we’ve learned pretty much all there is to know about the trumpet, let’s check out some good options, shall we?
Best trumpets UNDER $500
Best trumpets ABOVE $500
- Bach Stradivarius Series – (Amazon/Thomann)
- Yamaha YTR 2330 – (Amazon/Thomann)
- Yamaha YTR 2330S – (Amazon/Thomann)
- Jupiter Standard Series – (Amazon)
- Getzen Eterna – (Amazon)
- Bach TR200 Series – (Amazon/Thomann)
- Bach Stradivarius Mariachi Series – (Amazon/Thomann)
Among “other trumpets” we find the non-standard Bb trumpets. The most common one is the C tuned trumpet, which has the advantage of playing in concert pitch, without having to transpose.
On the downside, if you’re already used to play on a Bb trumpet, you’ll find that the note you are reading and playing on the score…
Is actually not the one you expect to hear out of your trumpet.
Other tunings exist, such as A, D Eb, E, low F and G, though these trumpets are pretty rare.
Anyway, if you’re curious about different tunings, check out these models:
Yamaha EZ TP
Truly an alien looking instrument, the EZ TP from Yamaha is a midi instruments that you play JUST LIKE a trumpet.
So you do need to know how to play the trumpet to play it.
As a MIDI instrument it offers a wide range of sonic possibilities and effects. Check out this video to hear it in action:
Sounds fun, doesn’t it? Check it out:
- Click here to see prices: (Amazon)
The pTrumpet is a plastic trumpet developed by British company pBone with the intent of creating a light and affordable trumpet.
And it looks like they succeeded, at least partially because many renowned trumpet players endorse the brand and say how surprised they were when playing this trumpet.
On the other hands, many reviews actually say how bad this instrument is and could potentially ruin a young aspiring trumpet player.
But if you’re interested in this trumpet, check it out:
Some of the reviewers have actually pointed to another plastic trumpet, saying it is better. Check it out:
- Click here to compare prices: (Amazon)
Now keep in mind both these models use standard, metal mouthpieces… which is pretty cool if you want to experiment with different mouthpieces.
Ok so although there aren’t a ton of vital accessories for the trumpet, there are a still a few you should really know about.
These are, ordered by importance:
- The mute
- The case
- The stand
- Mouthpiece boosters
And so, first off…
Probably the most famous — and useful accessory, the mute has shaped trumpet players’ signature sounds throughout the history of music…
From Miles Davis famous sustained notes, to various contemporary players, the mute serves various purposes:
- Reduce the sound of the trumpet
- Change the sound of the trumpet
- Allow the player to practice silently
And the truth is that there are actually a bunch of different trumpet mutes. See for yourself:
- Straight – The most common mute, it is mainly used in
- Harmon – Very popular in jazz, its most famous user is probably Miles Davis.
- Plunger Mute – Made out of, well, a plunger, it is the signature sound of New Orleans jazz. You can literally buy one at the hardware store.
- Harmon w/stem – Produces a very “cartoony” sound
- Practice – Sometimes called silencers, these mutes are designed to dampen the sound to the maximum so as to allow the player to practice quietly.
Of course since a video speaks more than a thousand words, check out this one to hear all these different mutes for yourself:
Check out the models I recommend:
- Denis Wick Straight Mute – (Amazon/Thomann)
- Pampet Light Practice Mute – (Amazon)
- Harmon “B” Wow Wow Mute – (Amazon)
- LotFancy Adjustable Cup Mute – (Amazon)
- Denis Wick Plunger Mute – (Amazon/Thomann)
Yamaha Silent Brass System
For a few years now, Yamaha have been kind of revolutionizing the way we play trumpet — and brass instruments in general — thanks to a different kind of mute…
The “Silent Brass System“.
The main feature of this mute is that it reduces the sound for others but NOT for the musician themselves.
Now, you might be thinking:
What’s the point? And why should I pay 10x the price of a regular mute for this one?
Here’s the thing: you should only use practice mutes when you don’t have ANY OTHER CHOICE.
Precisely because they alter the sound, you won’t be able to improve, or practice your sound as efficiently as when playing normally, at full volume…
Which is why you should ONLY use them when you really can’t make noise.
And that is why the Yamaha Silent Brass System is a game changer, since it allows you to play muted, but still lets you hear your sound fully.
Check it out:
It might seem obvious, but a good case is crucial, both for carrying your horn around and for protecting it.
And there are 2 types of cases:
- Soft cases – also called gig bags, they offer a lightweight protection at low prices as well as extra storage
- Hard Cases – which offer the best protection available with materials such as ABS plastic or wood.
Check out the models I recommend:
- Gator Lightweight Polyfoam – (Amazon/B&H/Thomann)
- Crossrock Molded Case – (Amazon)
- Protec PRO PAC – (Amazon/Thomann)
- Protec Triple Horn Case (triple case) – (Amazon/Thomann)
- SKY ABS Case – (Amazon)
While stands are definitely not one of the “must-have” trumpet accessories, they become pretty essential once you start hittin’ the stage, especially when using several trumpets.
Being able to safely put your horn down without damaging it will grant you unvaluable piece of mind.
Here are the models I recommend:
- K&M Portable Trumpet Stand Holder – (Amazon/K&M/Thomann)
- Andoer Trumpet Holder Tripod – (Amazon)
- Eastar EST-001 Portable Trumpet Stand Holder – (Amazon)
How to Take Care of your Trumpet
Trumpets mainly require 2 types of maintenance:
- Cleaning – which requiires taking the horn apart
- Oiling – which means applying some special oil to the valves
And here’s a short video explaing how to do both of these:
Now, the easiest is to just get a full trumpet cleaning kit which includes oil, a snake brush and a cleaning cloth, and other extras depending on the model. Here are a few good options:
And if you’re only looking for greasing oil, check out these options:
- Blue Juice Valve Oil – (Amazon)
- Ultra Pure Professional Oil – (Amazon/Thomann)
- Monster Oil – (Amazon/Thomann)
And That’s it
Alright, so that’s a wrap guys! Hopefully you now know enough about the trumpet to make an informed decision when buying your horn!
“Til next time.