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The Trumpet

The trumpet is the highest-pitched member of the brass family. These instruments create sound when air passes through the player’s lips, causing the air column inside the instrument to vibrate.

The Western trumpet can be traced back to the medieval period, when it did not have valves, slides or finger holes. The trumpet of that time, also called a buisine or herald trumpet, was up to two metres long and restricted to playing notes within one harmonic series. Since the mid-19th century, the trumpet has been fitted with valves and additional tubing, which has expanded the pitches available to a full chromatic scale. The modern trumpet has three valves which allow the player to alter the length of the tubing, lowering the pitch of open notes by a tone, semitone, or minor third respectively.

Trumpet players have developed a number of techniques to enhance the capabilities of their instrument. Mutes may be placed in the bell of the instrument to change the timbre of its sound. Double tonguing (articulating du-ku-du-ku with the tongue) and triple tonguing (du-du-ku) is applied when playing quick passages of duplets and triplets.

Vibrato creates a pulsating change in pitch to add expression to the music, and trumpet players produce it with their chin, diaphragm, or the motion of their right hand. High-note specialists such as Maynard Ferguson have explored the extremes of the register of the trumpet, while Miles Davis exploited its more subdued timbres.

Composers in a variety of genres have capitalised on the versatility of the trumpet, with some notable compositions including Haydn’s Trumpet Concerto in E flat, Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man, Mahler’s Symphony No.5, Arban’s setting of ‘The Carnival of Venice’, and the Beatles’ ‘Penny Lane’, which features a piccolo trumpet solo.


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