Trumpets – Introduction



Imagine a band without trumpets.  Can’t do it?  Not surprised.  Our modern thoughts on band are so trumpet-centered that it is difficult to imagine the group without them.  Yet, we need to think in these terms sometimes.

We all know the trumpet in its many forms.  By definition it is a brass instrument, typically in the soprano range that has a nearly completely cylindrical bore.  The normal formula given is 2/3 cylindrical and 1/3 conical.  The final conical section accounts only for the flare of the bell.  These numbers do not represent reality as roughly 2/3 of the bore is actually conical, though most of flare is very gradual.

Trumpets have been part of wind bands since their inception.  We need only look at Handel’s Music for the Royal Fireworks to see early band trumpet parts.  With the rise of the cornets, which were fully chromatic long before trumpets ever were, the role of trumpets in the band declined.  Throughout most of the Twentieth Century, cornets, not trumpets, were the main soprano brass instruments.  There were typically three or four cornet parts and only two trumpet parts.  Today, the cornet has been all but abandoned (wrongly in my opinion), and we have nothing but B-flat Trumpets for the high brass.  I have been in bands where the largest section of instruments was the trumpets.

To trumpet something means to proclaim it, to shout it out, to declare it, and this is the role of the trumpet.  Think of long fanfare instruments on the ramparts of a castle sounding a call across the king’s country.

We need to seriously rethink the role of the trumpet in the band.  We also need to open our tonal palates up to the various members of the trumpet family.  We can no longer be as bland as B-flat.


Piccolo Trumpets (B-flat and A)

Sopranino Trumpets (G, F, E, E-flat, and D)

Soprano Trumpets (C and B-flat)

G Trumpet

Alto Trumpet

Bass Trumpet

Contrabass Trumpets

Cornets Part 2 – Cornets in the Band

Cornets in the Band

            Look at any old band score and you will see how to traditionally write for B-flat Cornets.  They are the main melody section of the brass section (and more often than not, of the whole band).  I’m not going to go down that route for this section, as it has been thoroughly covered.  Since the cornets have become extinct in our bands, I am going to resurrect them, and christen them anew.  Think of the possibilities of adding a whole new brass section to our bands!

First, I will start with a simple four-person section.  Were I to only have four players, my first choice would be two B-flat Cornets, and one each of Alto and Baritone Horns.  We have a nice and well-balanced quartet, capable of most SATB arrangements.

Going to six players, I see two interesting ways of expanding.  We could have a group of two, two, and two.  That is two B-flat Cornets, two Alto Horns, and two Baritone Horns.  Or we could have one E-flat Cornet, three B-flat Cornets, one Alto Horn, and one Baritone Horn.

If we fully expand out to eight instruments, then we can combine the two groups of six players and come up with one E-flat Cornet, three B-flat Cornets, two Alto Horns, and two Baritone Horns.  This section looks almost identical to that of a British brass band (less one Alto Horn part).

Note, no doubling can take place except between the E-flat and B-flat Cornets.  Brass doubling, if we remember, takes place between pitch-classes and not between members of the same family.

As this is the technically most flexible family of brass, it is the one section that can keep up with woodwind flourishes and runs.  Here alone is a solid reason for their inclusion.  Unlike the other heave brass, they can blend more seamlessly into the woodwinds.

Their uniform warm sound is perfect for chorales and sustained harmonies.  I can just imagine a chorale from the Alto and Baritone Horns soaring above the rest of the band.

For examples, I look no further than traditional British brass bands.  Roughly 60% of a British brass band are cornets.  The rest of the band is 1 Flügelhorn, 2 Euphoniums, 2 Bass Tubas, 2 Contrabass Tubas, and 3 trombones.

This piece has some fantastic bandestration.  Look and listen for all the different muting possibilities.  This is the first time I’ve ever heard cup mutes for tubas of any size.