There are many variations of the trumpet, or horn, in today’s musical culture. B♭ trumpets are the most common type and the one most people refer to as simply “the trumpet”. But specialists use many different trumpet types for their music. These variations are used to achieve specific sounds in different genres.
I’ve played the B♭ (b-flat) trumpet in marching bands, jazz bands and classical orchestras for over a decade. The range of tones for this key of horn is F♯ (f-sharp) below Middle C to three octaves higher (F♯3-F♯6). This range is ideally suited to most mainstream music.
Here we’ll look at the different types of trumpets you’ll hear appearing in music today. If you’re considering the trumpet as a hobby or a career, explore how the variety of different horns sound. I’d encourage you to listen to music where these sounds are dominant to see whether they resonate with you.
1. B♭ trumpet
The B♭ trumpet is the most common type played today and traces back to antiquity. Early cultures used ram or ox horns, or even seashells, to communicate across large distances. As civilizations developed, horns become ceremonial and eventually musical.
Trumpets grew more versatile with this transition and the introduction of air holes and eventually valves. Trumpets have been further specialized into subgenres, such as the high-pitched piccolo, which has a more “pompous” trumpet sound. No matter which variation, the trumpet is a popular choice in every orchestral ensemble.
You’re most likely to see the horn featured in marching bands and orchestras. But its popularity is evident in today’s culture permeates many genres, from jazz, rock and electronic to religious music.
How difficult is B♭ trumpet to play?
The B♭ trumpet is suitable for any beginner musician and most professional requirements. You should have no problem finding a tutor or learning to play B♭ trumpet due to its popularity.
Other instruments like the trumpet, such as the flugelhorn or cornet, require specific mentoring, which can be harder to find. Students of the trumpet typically explore other derivative styles of trumpets after years of first playing the B♭ trumpet. That’s how I transitioned to playing the French horn.
What’s the typical price range for a B♭ trumpet?
Trumpets can range widely in price from beginner to professional instruments. You can typically find a new student trumpet, like the popular Jean Paul USA TR-330, selling for around $200 or even less at a secondhand store. Professional trumpets start around $1,000 but can fetch tens of thousands of dollars.
2. C trumpet
C trumpets are designed for professional concert orchestras because they’re written at concert pitch. Although B♭ instruments can play both marching and classical music, some trumpeters prefer the sounds of a C trumpet for specific passages. C trumpets are also known to have a brighter and clearer sound.
The design of the C trumpet is very similar to the more popular B♭ horn. C trumpets have slightly shorter tubing to create a higher pitch. This shortened tubing is also responsible for the “brighter” sound of the smooth C trumpet.
Because the difference between B♭ and C trumpets is so slight, there is are no famous trumpeters who specialize in the C trumpet. Trumpeters who play the C trumpet also likely use its more mainstream cousin, the B♭. Some orchestras may even play arrangements with both horns at the same time.
How difficult is C trumpet to play?
C trumpets are so much like B♭ horns that the basics of playing the trumpets are the same. Learning to play either horn will give you the experience necessary to play the other. Finding a C trumpet specialist will likely be more difficult than finding a regular trumpet tutor.
Luckily, most public-school systems provide a free opportunity for trumpet education. This makes the trumpet a relatively easy instrument for children to pursue. Adults will more likely need private lessons to learn the trumpet.
What’s the typical price range for a C trumpet?
The price range of C trumpets closely mirrors the price of B♭ horns. You can find them selling for about $300 for beginner models. C trumpets will tend to cost significantly more as you move into more professional instruments, often $3,500 to $6,000.
3. E♭ and D trumpets
E♭ and D trumpets are significantly rarer than their popular B♭ or C cousins. They’re part of the piccolo trumpet family because they produce higher pitches than other trumpets. They’re also smaller than most other trumpets, which helps them produce their unique sound.
Although not used much by marching bands, orchestras sometimes include E♭ and D trumpets in classical music. Wynton Marsalis is perhaps the most famous user of this specialized style of trumpet.
Despite their versatility, E♭ and D horns are not overly popular among trumpeters. Their unique sound gives them a solid but niche place in contemporary compositions.
How difficult are E♭ and D trumpets to play?
E♭/D trumpets aren’t any more difficult to play than other trumpets. They do have their own niche in music. But trumpeters playing E♭ and D typically play the more popular versions of the horn as well. Rarely will a trumpeter play only the E♭ or D trumpet.
What’s the typical price range for a E♭ or D trumpet?
E♭ and D horns are generally pricier than other types of trumpets because of their rarity. They start around $2,500 for the beginner-level horns and can quickly get more expensive. Secondhand horns may be a viable option for experienced B♭ trumpeters who want to learn these types of trumpet.
4. Pocket trumpet
Pocket trumpets are truly unique in the brass family. They have the pitch of B♭ horns but with much shorter tubing.
These horns are widely regarded as a novelty in music. The reduced bell and bore size give the horns a comical look. Pocket trumpets are most commonly used for practice while their larger counterparts are used for performances.
But playing a pocket trumpet can also help beginning players stand out from their peers. Their unique appearance can draw positive attention to the player and their music. And despite the horn’s reputation, there are some trumpeters who have made the pocket trumpet part of their act.
Since the horn’s creation in the 1870s, it has been used in several recordings and shows. The pocket trumpet’s unique presentation and character have ensured its place in brass instrument history.
How difficult is pocket trumpet to play?
Because the pocket trumpet produces the same sound as the B♭, it is similarly easy to play. You can generally find teachers and tutors for this trumpet without difficulty. The pocket trumpet’s small size also makes it easier to transport to and from practices or performances.
Finding opportunities to play the pocket trumpet is easy because it has a mainstream (B♭) sound.
What’s the typical price range for a pocket trumpet?
Pocket trumpets are typically less expensive than other trumpets. Expect to find a new pocket trumpet selling for around $100. High-end pocket trumpets are correspondingly less expensive than their full-size B♭ counterparts and typically run about $1,000.
5. Piccolo trumpet
Piccolo trumpets are a class of horns typically built in A or B♭. The trumpeter can switch between the two keys by changing the leadpipe. They also typically feature four valves instead of the usual three. Their short tubing and extra valve give piccolo trumpets one of the most unique sounds in the entire brass family.
This smaller trumpet has found its way into history with its high-pitched sound and unique appearance. Examples of modern appearances of the piccolo trumpet include Penny Lane and All You Need is Love by the Beatles. This trumpet is also prominent in certain classical pieces where higher pitches are appropriate.
How difficult is piccolo trumpet to play?
The piccolo trumpet is harder to play than the normal B♭ trumpet. Its shorter piping lends to much more back pressure, which makes it harder to blow into. The piccolo trumpet also requires special training, which is harder to find.
Starting with a more mainstream trumpet like B♭ and then considering the piccolo trumpet from an advanced level is best.
What’s the typical price range for a piccolo trumpet?
Piccolo trumpets can be both cheaper and more expensive than regular horns. They’re made in different tones, each with varying popularity, and thus varying cost. New starter piccolo trumpets can run from anywhere between $100 and $350. More professional varieties tend to cost $2,000 to $5,000 or more.
The pTrumpet is the newest member of the brass family and is made with a fully plastic valve system. Its durable and lightweight plastic make the pTrumpet an affordable and practical alternative for beginning trumpeters. You can find pTrumpets in different pitches, such as B♭ or C—the “p” in pTrumpet simply denotes its plastic material.
A company called Warwick first invented the pTrombone in 2011 and shortly followed with the pTrumpet. This lightweight design was aimed at children who may have trouble holding a heavier metal instrument. The instrument is also less expensive to manufacture than the original brass variations.
How difficult is pTrumpet to play?
pTrumpets are just as easy to play as their brass counterparts. The difference in the makeup of their construction materials makes little difference in play. Trumpeters can take the same lessons for both brass and pTrumpets because both trumpet types play in the same key.
What’s the typical price range for a pTrumpet?
pTrumpets are typically much less expensive than brass trumpets. You should be able to find them selling for under $100 online or in your local instrument store. C pTrumpets can also be found for slightly more than B♭ pTrumpets—about $150.
7. Fanfare trumpet
Fanfare trumpets, sometimes called FF or herald trumpets, are a unique instrument in the brass family. The fanfare trumpet may have originated from similar instruments in ancient Rome, such as the Roman tuba.
The fanfare trumpet’s extra tubing allows for specialized sounds meant for heralding entrances or blaring commands to charge a battlefield. The trumpets were also traditionally used to hang banners from as part of a ceremony or battle during which the instruments were played.
Fanfare trumpets have grown more complex with time. Natural chromatic fanfare trumpets are widely used around the globe. But valved fanfare trumpets are also popular. Both styles have had their time and place in ceremonies for different cultures.
How difficult is fanfare trumpet to play?
Fanfare trumpets are more difficult to play than the average horn. Their unique sound requires one-on-one tutelage that will be difficult to find. The relatively heavy weight of these horns is another challenge for beginning, and especially younger, players.
What’s the typical price range for a fanfare trumpet?
Fanfare trumpets have a wide price range that depends on the quality and sound of the horn. They can start around $100 for models without valves, which becomes more expensive for quality models. Fanfare trumpets with valves can cost a few hundred dollars for beginning models up to $2,000 or more.
8. Bass trumpet
The bass trumpet is a trumpet set a sixth, ninth or an octave below the B♭ trumpet. The C bass trumpet typically has four valves instead of the B♭ bass trumpet’s three. It sounds very similar to the valve trombone, and in some cases, these trombones are passed off as bass trumpets.
Early bass trumpets were likely invented in Germany in the 1820s. Prussian cavalry regiments and military bands supposedly used 13-foot long, B♭ bass trumpets. The valved bass trumpet grew in popularity among orchestras in the mid-19th century.
Musician Cy Touff is often credited with popularizing the bass trumpet in jazz music. Other performers famous for playing the bass trumpet include British trumpeter Philip Jones and salsa trombonist Willie Colón.
How difficult is bass trumpet to play?
The bass trumpet is slightly different from but not harder to play than the normal trumpet. For instance, bass trumpet may require reading bass clef, instead of treble clef, music. The sound of a bass trumpet also requires a steadier stream of air to produce quality sounds, which can be tough for beginners.
Like some of the other types of trumpets mentioned here, bass trumpets are a niche instrument. And bass trumpet instructors are less common than typical trumpet instructors.
What’s the typical price range for a bass trumpet?
Bass trumpets are about twice the price of normal trumpets, typically around $300 to $600 new from your local music store or online. Some of the more expensive professional models can cost around $5,000.
9. Contrabass trumpet
The contrabass trumpet is the lowest-sound member of the trumpet family. It’s so large and low-sounding that it can be played with a tuba mouthpiece. Although less popular than the woodwind versions of contrabass, the contrabass trumpet has its place in orchestra history.
The modern contrabass trumpet is believed to originate from an early prototype developed by musician Roger Bobo in 1967. Bobo’s dissatisfaction with the sound of the contrabass trombone apparently drove him to create the new instrument.
One writer accurately compared the contrabass trumpet to a “pocket tuba”, due to its size and sound profile. These traits make the contrabass trumpet especially suited to marching music or situations where mobility is key.
How difficult is contrabass trumpet to play?
The contrabass trumpet is more complicated than a normal trumpet to play. Contrabass trumpets require more air to fill the large mouthpiece and tubing to create its characteristically deep sound. The fingerings are different from typical trumpet fingerings but no more difficult to play.
What’s the typical price range for a contrabass trumpet?
Contrabass trumpets are among the rarest and most difficult to find of the trumpet family. Due to their rarity, contrabass trumpets are significantly more expensive than typical trumpets. Players can expect to pay $2,000 or more for a base model contrabass trumpet.
I hope this was enlightening for aspiring trumpet players who are finding their place in music. The trumpet is unique among the brass family for its ability to play a wide range of different pitches. This diversity and flexibility, combined with the instrument’s sound, make it a great first choice for novice musicians.
I’d encourage you to start with a standard B♭ or C trumpet and work your way through different sounds. By playing different music and mastering instruments, your aptitude and personal style will grow. And with enough practice you could become the next Louis Armstrong!