The two most common types of trumpets are Bb and C trumpets. Each trumpet has characteristics that make it useful in different contexts. The C trumpet has a bright and penetrating sound, while the Bb trumpet has a mellow, relaxed sound. The more commonly used instrument is the Bb trumpet, but all professional trumpet players play the C trumpet as well. Changing between instruments poses nominal problems since the basic finger combinations stay the same.
The C trumpet has a brighter sound and is more agile than the Bb trumpet. The Bb trumpet, characterized by its mellow sound, provides a darker pitch. Fanfares more commonly use Bb trumpets, while slow lyrical passages fit the C trumpet. The Bb trumpet plays with better intonation, but this minor issue will not deter a professional trumpet player; any professional player can easily adjust intonation with the lips.
The fingerings on both trumpets are the same; the difference is in how the player thinks about the fingerings. Since trumpets often have to transpose into many different keys many players prefer to use a C trumpet since it is already in concert pitch and transpositions only become necessary with music not in concert pitch. With a Bb trumpet, it can be more difficult, since most Bb trumpet players first transpose to C and then transpose to the required key of the music.
The Bb trumpet sound is best for jazz bands and popular music where the trumpet doesn't have to cut through a large orchestra. Jazz bands may employ as many as eight trumpet players, while orchestras frequently only have four trumpets. Because the orchestra trumpet player has to cut through the entire orchestra, most orchestras will use the more penetrating C trumpet. It is common for a trumpet player to carry both horns to rehearsals to be ready for any piece.
The C trumpet is significantly smaller than the Bb trumpet. Its size makes it possible for the trumpet to play in C and provide a brighter sound. A basic property of acoustics is that if the medium for creating the sound is smaller, the pitch will be higher. This concept helped to create a trumpet in C that allowed trumpeters to play any music written in that key without transposing.
- CSU Pomona: Trumpet Lecture
- "The Study of Orchestration"; Samuel Adler; 2002
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