C and B-flat Trumpets

C and B-flat Trumpets

The B-flat and C Trumpets are the standard trumpets seen.  In bands, the B-flat Trumpet is king, whereas the C Trumpet is much more common in the orchestra.  The C Trumpet is written at concert pitch, while the B-flat sounds a second lower than written.  In professional circles, the choice of B-flat versus C is completely dependent on the player.  If a player feels that the sound of a particular passage is better played on the C when it is written for the B-flat, then they play it upon the C.  In some regards, trumpet players completely disregard a composer’s intentions when it comes to instrument choice.  They have completely abandoned the old F Trumpet in favor of the smaller instruments, irrespective of the composers’ wishes for the bolder sound of the old instrument.

With all this in mind, I generally only write for the C Trumpet nowadays, unless I know I am writing for a younger ensemble (who only use B-flat instruments).  This allows the players to see the notes in concert pitch and to use whatever instrument they feel appropriate.  The only time I would write for a B-flat in a professional setting is if I needed a low concert E or F which the C Trumpet cannot play.

In a perfect world, the C Trumpet sounds slightly brighter and clearer than does the B-flat.  This is another reason why I prefer to use the C Trumpet.  When using it, and its brighter sound, we can hear a clearer distinction between the trumpet sound and the cornet or Flügelhorn sound.

So much has been written about the B-flat/C Trumpet, that I can hardly expound any further.  But, what I can say is less is more.  We hear a constant drone from the Trumpets in our bands.  They never rest.  They are never silent.  They lose their power.  To preserve their voice, I find it a good solution to have the Trumpets playing no more than roughly 25% of the time.

However, everything I have said concerning use is changed when we mute this trumpet.  When muted, the sound of the trumpet is so changed that it becomes a completely different instrument in sound.  The mute (any of the various varieties) make the trumpet much more like a woodwind.  For instance, a B-flat Trumpet with a straight mute is often compared to an Oboe, while with a cup mute it is more like a clarinet, while with a harmon mute it is closer to a saxophone or English Horn.

Opening to Mahler’s 5th Symphony. (C Trumpet, rotary valve – scored for B-flat Trumpet)

Copland’s Quiet City.  Even when quiet, the trumpet is loud. (C Trumpet, piston valve)

Artiunian’s Concerto for Trumpet and Orchestra (B-flat Trumpet, piston valve)

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9 thoughts on “C and B-flat Trumpets

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  8. Jason Donnelly

    So, as you said, C trumpets are most common in (professional) orchestras. If I were to, for instance, write a piece for orchestra that included a “jazz” segment (for lack of a better term), would it make sense to indicate a change to Bb trumpet, since that is what most (if not all) players use for jazz?

    1. I would write the jazz passage for B-flat. It might be best to have the whole piece on B-flat unless you want the slightly clearer sound of the C. All that said, the player will more than likely choose the instrument regardless of your indications.

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