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

10 thoughts on “Trumpets – Introduction

  1. The example from Mahler 5 shows Gabor Tarkövi with a rotary c trumpet. The principal players from the Berlin Philharmonics play 95% c trumpet whilst the section players use c and b flat trumpets. It’s the same in all german major orchestras.
    Greets from Germany, Martin

  2. Fantastic website! I have used Bass Trumpet in my cantata for wind band and choir, Night Journey. Lots of solos (but is cross-cued for safety). I also have parts for Bass Sax, Tubax in E flat (or Contrabass Sax) and an ad lib part for SubContrabass Sax (Tubax in B flat). Listen here:

    The pages on Cimbasso, Contrabass Trombone and the low Flutes are invaluable! Thanks for such a comprehensive blog.

    1. What a fantastic work! I’m listening to it now. I looked at the sample score on your publisher’s website trying to figure out how you are using the Contrabass and Subcontrabass Saxophones, but as they’re put on the same line as the Bass Sax, it’s hard to tell. Did you have those instruments available at the performance?

    2. Ok, wow. All I have to say is WOW! That is by far the best work for concert band I have heard in years! My theory about the use of the low saxophones was correct. What a glorious sound, and one that is much needed. Bravo!

  3. Hi Bret.

    To save space in the score – the Bass Sax and Tubax (or Contrabass Sax, either can be used for this part) share a stave. The Bass sax is written in its normal B flat transposition. The Tubax/Contrabass Sax is written ALSO in B flat, i.e. like a Contrabass Clarinet. There is a note in the introduction to the published score which explains this. The parts are, however, separated and in their correct transpositions, i.e. the Tubax/Contrabass Sax in in E flat as it should be and the bass sax is again its normal B flat transposition.

    For the premiere (which is the recording on YouTube, the publisher’s website and my website), we had a Bass Sax and a Tubax in E flat, played by two professional sax players from London. They were fantastic! They were positioned near the contrabassoon and contrabass clarinet so we had a great low woodwind sound.

    The Subcontrabass Sax part ( = Tubax in B flat) was added by me prior to publication, “just because I could” !!. Whilst I appreciate the majority of performances will never use it, it’s nice to have a part there just in case.

    We also did have a Bass Trumpet, although it was played by a student who – due to poor organisation on part of the people who commissioned me – didn’t let him have it for long to get used to it. He did a very good job though.

    My first Symphony for band uses a bass sax – indeed it starts with a long bass sax solo. This has been professionally recorded (see my website for details). We also used Bell Plates in very deep pitches (1st and last movements).

    I’m glad you enjoyed the piece. Thank you for such kind comments. The piece had its USA premiere in 2012. I intend to write more cantatas for band and choir; it’s a great medium I feel.

    Thanks again

    1. Yours does seem to be the first ever work that uses the Contrabass Saxophones in an orchestral/band work. Would make for a good study for my blog series on the first uses of new instruments. I would make an assumption that the players were the same as those in the National Saxophone Choir.

  4. Yes, by all means analyse the piece as much as you like!

    These low instruments are so useful. Wherever possible I always include parts for them, even if they are ad lib and on small ‘ossia’-style staves in the score.

    I’ve yet to write for Cimbasso, though I have written for Contrabass Trombone (Night Journey has an ad lib Contra Trombone part, though I make no specification as to which type of Contra Trombone should be used).

    I would love to write for a brass section in a wind band of:
    8 Horns (5-8 also Wagner Tuben)
    4 Trumpets, with various doublings of Piccolo Trumpet, Flugel etc.
    Bass Trumpet
    4 Trombones – 2 tenor, 1 bass, 1 contra
    2 Euphoniums

    I think a choral-band piece would be fantastic with this powerful section.

  5. Pingback: Trumpet vs. Cornet vs. Flugelhorn | Bandestration

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