Many of the differences between the cornet and the trumpet have disappeared throughout the years. The modern cornet functions in much the same way as a modern trumpet. There are some structural, performance and timbral differences between the two instruments. Composers will typically use a cornet when a subdued passage is needed and a trumpet when the orchestration calls for a powerful sound.
The trumpet mouthpiece slants inward from the rim to the throat. The throat is the small hole just inside the mouthpiece that flares outward toward the mouthpiece shank, which fits inside the leadpipe. This gives the trumpet a direct, focused sound. The cornet, on the other hand, uses a mouthpiece with a cup-shaped interior. This smooths out the sound and creates a darker, less focused timbre. Cornets also have a conical bore, which means that the bore flares slowly outward from the leadpipe to the bell. Trumpets have a cylindrical bore that remains constant throughout, until reaching the bell of the horn, which then flares outward.
The trumpet and cornet can be made to sound very similar if the right mouthpiece and playing technique are employed. However, when the instruments are played in their intended manner and there is not an attempt to disguise their true sounds, the trumpet and the cornet will produce different timbres. The trumpet has a bright, brilliant sound capable of penetrating the orchestra. The cornet has a mellow, dark sound suitable for lyrical and melodic playing.
One of the big differences relevant for trumpet and cornet players is the varying level of resistance between the two instruments. A trumpet blows less freely than a cornet. This makes it more difficult to play a trumpet since there is more pressure directed back at the performer. On the other hand, due to the lack of resistance with the cornet, the cornet player will find it more difficult to play in the higher range, since a certain amount of resistance helps to play higher.
The dynamic range of the cornet and trumpet vary due to their differences in structure. Dynamics refer to the overall volume that an instrument produces. There can be soft and loud dynamics, and anything in between. Since the trumpet has a more focused sound, it is capable of sounding much louder than the cornet. The cornet, with its round, full sound, tends to be softer and unable to achieve the same dynamic level as a trumpet.
- "Bandworld Magazine"; Cornet vs. Trumpet; Richard Strange; May-July 1993
- "The Study of Orchestration"; Samuel Adler; 2002
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