My last post that shone a spotlight on one of the instruments of the orchestra was all about the saxophone, invented by Adolphe Sax, an instrument that bridges a gap between woodwind and brass instruments. If you want to learn more about the saxophone, you can read my post about it here.
So, following on from this post, I thought I would move on to shining a spotlight on the brass family of instruments. My eldest is learning to play trombone using a pBone and so I have already written about this fantastic and fun instrument and you can click here to read that post, but for today I would like to turn my and your attention to probably the oldest of the brass instruments, the trumpet.
What Is A Trumpet and How Do You Play It?
- The trumpet is probably the oldest of the instruments in the brass family, so called because it is a set of instruments that are all made out of, well, brass. It is the smallest of the brass instruments and so the highest pitched.
- The trumpet is made with a length of tubing that ends in a flared bell. The trumpet has 3 valves along the tubing, and a mouthpiece at the other end of the tubing.
- To play the trumpet a player will place their lips against the mouthpiece and, holding their lips taut, will blow air down the tubing, vibrating their lips as they do so. The air will travel along the tubing and come out of the bell at the end of the instrument to make a sound.
- To change the pitch (how high or low the note produced sounds) of the note on a trumpet the player can change the shape of their mouth on the mouthpiece, so changing how much air is pushed through the tubing, or they can press down on the keys that work the instrument’s valves.
- When air has a short distance to travel before it can escape the instrument then it will produce a higher pitch, and when it has a longer distance to travel it will produce a lower note. Opening the valves on the trumpet will change the length of tubing that air will need to travel along, changing the pitch produced by a trumpeter.
- There are different sizes of trumpet and you will not be surprised, having read the point above, that the smaller trumpets are higher pitched, and the larger trumpets are lower pitched. The most commonly played trumpet in the UK and USA is the B-flat trumpet.
- Did you know that if you stretched out the tubing of the trumpet out it would be about 4 ft 10 in long (that is around 147cm)?
- Seeing an instrument with only 3 keys to press, you would expect that the trumpet has just a few possible notes you can play, but in fact there are 45 different pitches that can be played on this musical instrument.
- The trumpet, for what looks like a relatively small instrument, is surprisingly loud. At its loudest it can reach volumes of 110 decibels – which is as loud as a power saw, or even a whole symphony orchestra!
- Someone who plays the trumpet is called a trumpet player (of course) or trumpeter.
- The trumpet is a member of the brass family of instruments in the orchestra. Named because the instruments in this family are made of, well, brass!
History of The Trumpet
- I mentioned above that the trumpet was the oldest brass instrument, in fact there was a pair of trumpets that was discovered in the tomb of Ancient Egyptian Pharaoh Tutankhamun when it was opened up in 1922. This pair of trumpets, one made from silver and one from bronze and both of which had images of Egyptian gods engraved on them, were still playable. At a concert broadcast on the BBC World Service in April 1939, musicians played these Ancient trumpets. Given superstition about how bad it was to open up a Pharoah’s tomb, this led to some people suggesting that this caused the British to become involved in World War II. I have heard many people talk about the power of music, but usually as a force for good!
- Some of the oldest trumpets that have been found were made from seashells or wood. These seashells or pieces of wood had been holed out by insects, creating the tubing needed to make a sound!
- Given that the trumpet can be a very loud instrument, it is perhaps not surprising that it has been used for communicating across long distances. The trumpet, and related instrument the Bugle (a small trumpet without any valves) has a long history of being used by the military to send signals. Different bugle calls exist to send different messages – from telling troops that it is sunrise or sunset, to calling them in for meal times. Famously, the bugle is used to play the Last Post, a very famous bugle call used in military commemorations of the dead. If you want to hear more about the history of The Last Post, there was a programme about it on BBC radio 4 that you can listen to on BBC Sounds, or by clicking here.
- I am posting this post on Wednesday 21 September 2022, and in the UK in the past week or so with the passing away of Queen Elizabeth II and accession of King Charles III, the trumpet, or rather the bugle, has had a very prominent role. The instrument had a very large role firstly in announcing the Proclamation of King Charles III becoming the new King and also playing The Last Post at the funeral of the late Queen Elizabeth II.
- On a related note, trumpet fanfares have a long association with royalty, with announcing the arrival of royalty, and indeed with celebrations in general.
- Composers have been writing music for the trumpet for many, many years, and the concertos for this bright sounding instrument have been written as far back as the Baroque period in music history.
- The first trumpet manufacturing factory was opened in Paris, France, by inventor of the saxophone Adolphe Sax in 1842. (You can read about the saxophone, including about Adolphe Sax’s very accident prone youth here)
Famous Trumpet Players
- Famous trumpet players include jazz trumpeters Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis.
- Trumpeter Wynton Marsalis is a jazz and classical trumpeter, as well as a composer, who is Artistic Director of Jazz at the Lincoln Center. He won Grammy Awards for both his jazz and classical performances in the same year.
- Famous classical trumpeters include Alison Balsom, Tine Thing Helseth, Rafael Méndez and of course Wynton Marsalis.
- People who are famous for other things but also play the trumpet include singer Kesha, Samuel L. Jackson
Trumpet World Records
- The longest, playable, trumpet every made was built in Indonesia in 2009. It was 105 feet long and had 17 foot diameter bell.
- The world’s most expensive trumpet was made by Yamaha out of platinum and sold for an astounding $125,000.
- Dizzy Gillespie owned a silver-plated trumpet that was engraved with his name, and the words The Martin Committee, Elkhart, Ind, USA on the body. The tubing of this trumpet, near the bell, was accidentally bent. However, Gillespie loved the way it made the trumpet sound, so kept it and continued playing this trumpet. After Gillespie’s death, the Martin Committee trumpet was sold at auction for $55,000 making it one of the most expensive trumpets ever sold.
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