There are four basic types of trumpets that the average trumpet player will encounter at some point in his playing career: the B-flat, C, soprano and piccolo trumpets. Each of these trumpets has a slightly different range and designated ensemble for playing in. Learning about these differences and how each trumpet relates to other trumpets will make you a better informed, more professional player.
The B-flat trumpet appears in orchestras and bands throughout the world. Trumpet players will choose a B-flat trumpet when they want a metallic, brassy sound. The B-flat trumpet has the most amount of tubing of any of the other trumpets, giving it the lowest pitch. The lowest pitch on the instrument that can be played without using any valves is a pedal B-flat. The pedal indicates that the pitch occurs below the typical playing range. This trumpet also transposes all of its written pitches. When a trumpet player plays a written C, he is actually playing a B-flat.
The C trumpet has a softer, mellower sound than the other trumpets. A C trumpet has less tubing than a B-flat trumpet, but more tubing than a soprano or piccolo trumpet. Orchestral trumpet parts typically prefer to use the C trumpet because of the mellow sound. However, wind bands will typically choose the B-flat trumpet for the majestic and powerful sound characteristic of the wind band. The lowest pitch on a C trumpet consists of a pedal C. It plays and sounds on the same pitch, which means when a player plays a written C, the instrument will sound a C.
Soprano trumpets are sometimes incorrectly referred to as soprano bugles. A bugle, however, does not have any valves, and therefore cannot be considered a trumpet. The soprano trumpet's design was based off the military bugle, and it plays in the same key of G, which is a fifth higher than the C trumpet. As expected, the G bugle has less tubing than a C and B-flat trumpet, but more tubing than a piccolo trumpet. Most commonly, these trumpets are used in drum and bugle corps, rarely finding themselves in concert settings.
PIccolo trumpets are the smallest of all the trumpets and contain half the tubing of a B-flat trumpet. An interesting characteristic of the piccolo trumpet is its ability to play in more than one key. The piccolo trumpet has two leadpipes that enable it to play in the key of B-flat and A. This makes it possible for the piccolo trumpet to play a pedal B-flat and A. The instrument, like the B-flat and soprano trumpet, qualifies as a transposing instrument because the written pitch sounds different from the sounding pitch. Piccolo trumpets have the same range as a B-flat trumpet, except they can play an octave higher.
- "The Study of Orchestration"; Samuel Adler; 2002
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