The Different Types of Trumpets

Posted in Trumpets | Last Updated on June 3, 2019

painting of two hands holding a trumpet

From orchestral playing, to jazz and anywhere in between there are numerous types of trumpets, each one playing its own special part in one of the most iconic sounding instruments.  The trumpet is a remarkably versatile instrument, and that versatility has led to a rather large roster of trumpets one can choose from to craft the perfect sound for every situation. Below we explore the various different trumpets and each one’s specific place in the trumpet player’s arsenal.

Bb trumpet

In 1839 the piston valve was invented by Francois Perinet, this invention lead to the creation of the piston valved trumpet. This trumpet existed alongside the rotary trumpet with different regions gravitating towards each one.

The Bb trumpet is the most common trumpet that is encountered today. This is the trumpet that most beginners will get a start on, and is most common in wind ensemble music and very common for orchestral playing. It is just over four feet long and comes with three piston valves to allow the player to change pitches.

The Bb trumpet has a very unique sound, at its softer dynamics it can be warm and blend rather well with other instruments. Where the Bb trumpet starts to shine is at the louder dynamics where its construction and design allows it to project over other instruments clearly with an intense sound.

C trumpet

The C trumpet was developed alongside the Bb trumpet sharing a similar story in design and adoption. The difference in sound quality and projection is where these instruments differ from each other.

The C trumpet is a very common trumpet to see in American orchestras. It is slightly shorter than the Bb trumpet at approximately 4 feet and has a shorter lead pipe than that of the Bb trumpet. It has a brighter sound and allows the trumpet’s sound to carry slightly more than the Bb. These are a few reasons that has led to it becoming more common in an orchestral setting than the slightly longer Bb trumpet. Like the Bb trumpet it has three piston valves.

D trumpet

The D trumpet arrived into the trumpet world around 1861 when the first of its kind was ordered. It took some time for the D trumpet to spread across the trumpet community but it managed to make a place for itself in certain types of music.

If you listen to Baroque music and some music by composers such as Ravel and Stravinsky, or perhaps most famously Bach’s B minor mass you will hear the D trumpet.  The D trumpet is even shorter than the C trumpet giving it a bright sound and clarity in the higher part of the range. Those tonal properties are why you can continue to hear it played in specific situations still today.

Eb trumpet

The Eb trumpet’s appearance shares the same story as that of the D trumpet as they both share a similar lineage, with the main difference being the key of the trumpet. This relationship is similar to that between the Bb and the C trumpet.

We can consider the Eb and the D trumpet as being very similar to each other in sound and projection. For a great deal of time it was the trumpet of choice for soloists, especially on the Hummel or the Haydn concerto. You will hear the Eb in some bigger works for wind ensemble and various orchestral works as well.

Piccolo trumpet

The next trumpet to talk about as we ascend higher and higher in range is the piccolo trumpet. The piccolo trumpet comes keyed in either Bb or A, and is half the length of a standard Bb trumpet. This size gives it a brilliant and light sound with the ability to project through the thickest textures. The piccolo trumpet has quickly replaced the D trumpet in many settings for these reasons.

Another key difference is that piccolo trumpets have four valves, compared to three in most other trumpets. This fourth valve gives the piccolo trumpet the ability to descend an additional fourth in range compared to a D trumpet.

With its small size and unique lead pipe setup the piccolo trumpet requires a much smaller mouthpiece and modified playing technique from the player to play it well.


Pitched in Bb the cornet, in many regards is a smaller version of the Bb trumpet.  The cornet was introduced around 1830, when it emerged into the musical community it allowed a greater level of virtuosity and technical playing my musicians.

It does have a few key differences, the most prominent is that it has a conical bore and is quite compact in construction. It has a distinct sound as well when compared to the Bb trumpet; the sound of the cornet could be described as being warmer than that of the Bb trumpet. It is often heard in wind ensemble music providing more complexity to the trumpet section sound. It also has a very special and prominent role in brass band settings as a soloistic instrument.

Rotary trumpet

The rotary trumpet is similar to the Bb and C trumpets but due to its construction and notably the use of rotary valves it has a unique use for a trumpet player. Taking advantage of the invention of the rotary valve as patented by Josef Kail in 1835 and Joseph Riedl construction of rotary trumpets entered into the mainstream. The rotary valves and the overall construction of the rotary trumpet creates a sound which blends better with other instruments.

It gained popularity in Austria and Germany and has been adopted by most orchestras in works by German and Austrian composers extensively in orchestral situation. The ability of the trumpet to blend more at extreme dynamics compared to the piston valved counterparts is a major reason for this adoption.


The flugelhorn is pitched in Bb and is seen often in jazz situations. Much like the cornet, the flugelhorn has conical section which mellows out the sound. The flugelhorn is related to the infantry bugles used by the Germans. In 1840 Adolph Sax added valves to it making it a keyed bugle allowing for more pitches to be played than a standard bugle.

Though you can hear the flugelhorn in wind ensemble music the real place the flugelhorn has found home is with jazz music and British brass bands. In jazz certain soloists such as Joe Bishop brought the flugelhorn into the spotlight as a soloisitic instrument.


The bugle has been around for a very long time, they date back to the mid-18th century where their use was used for signaling hunts. Most everyone has heard a bugle at some point in their lives. Bugles were heavily used by the military as signaling instruments for various calls, this adoption led to them becoming common place for regular people to hear them. The bugle is a trumpet with no valves relying only on the player and the overtone series to change pitch.

Less Common trumpets

There are a few trumpets that are less common than those above. They have very unique uses and don’t have the same level of adoption as the trumpets already discussed. Below we will look briefly at these lesser known trumpets that still have a very special and iconic place in the trumpet family.

The slide trumpet

Pitched in Bb like the standard trumpet, but in place of valves this trumpet has a slide, similar to that of a trombone. These trumpets are considered to be “soprano trombones” though there is a strong historical place for slide trumpets there has been adoption and adaptation by jazz players that have led to some presence of the slide trumpet (or trumpets based off them).

Maynard Ferguson designed a trumpet called the “firebird trumpet” which has the three standard valves but also features the addition of a trombone like slide. Finally, Wycliffe Gordon has made the soprano trombone a common instrument in his performances.

Pocket trumpet

Often confused as a piccolo trumpet the pocket trumpet is distinctly different than the piccolo. It is pitched in Bb like the standard trumpet it is also the same length of tubing as the Bb trumpet but is more compressed. The pocket trumpet is often considered to be a novelty, but players such as jazz legend Don Cherry performed frequently on the pocket trumpet.

Bass trumpet

Thought it is called a trumpet it is played with a trombone mouthpiece by trombone players. It comes in C or Bb and is the same length as a trombone. Used by composers such as Richard Wagner, the bass trumpet adds a very rich and round sound to the trumpet section when used.


As we can see above there are many trumpets, for many situations. Each situation is unique and has led to developments of the instrument over time, these developments have led to a range of instruments that have a tremendous amount of resources on hand to create colors and sounds for every possible situation.