How Do Trumpet Players make and Change Notes?

An expert brass player makes changing notes sound and look so simple but when you pick up your instrument as a beginner things can feel very different and quite confusing...so how do trumpet players do it?

What is a brass instrument any way?

Basically all brass instruments, trumpets included, are just a simple empty pipe. There is nothing in the pipe, mouthpiece or tubing to make any sound.

Where does the sound come from?

Sound is simply vibrations travelling though the air, like waves traveling through the ocean. In order to create these waves brass players vibrate their lips against each other by blowing air through them, in the brass playing world we call this buzzing. To change pitch of our buzz we adjust the speed that we blow the air through our lips and the size of the hole or aperture between our lips that the air passes through. Watch Anthony demonstrate the whole process from buzz to sound on his pBugle...

 

Once we have a buzz then the instrument will try to vibrate as close to the pitch (how high or low) of the buzz as it can. However a brass instrument can only play notes from a fixed pattern of pitches on any given length of tubing, this pattern of notes is called the "Harmonic Series" and simply follows the laws of physics.

In the harmonic series the higher up the pattern we play the closer together the pitches are, listen to Anthony play the harmonic series on his pBugle.

 

Great! now we have loads of notes and can play bugle calls, like this...

 

This might seem a bit limiting but before valves were invented it was the only way to play trumpet (or Horn).

If you remember that the notes get closer together as the player plays higher you can imagine that if you play high enough you can play scales and tunes. This is how trumpet and horn parts were played right up until the 1900's.

These days we call this old fashioned instrument the "natural" trumpet and it comes in all sorts of lengths, usually quite long, to help fit with the music and make the notes as low and manageable as possible for playing tunes or scales!

 

 

So imagine how many different notes we could play on trumpets and horns if we could change the length of our instrument's piping whilst we were playing?

Around the 1890's...Ta Da!! the valve was invented!

By using valves to add specific, extra lengths of pipe to our instrument we can pick and choose from all the different sets of harmonics to play almost any note we choose. Listen to Grant play the first, easy notes we can play on all the different combinations of tube length.

 

 

So by learning about buzzing and the harmonic series for a length of piping a trumpet player can really, deeply understand how his or her instrument works and master the skill of getting different pitches reliably and easily!

So now you can see that, no matter how complicated the music is, every note on the trumpet comes from a buzz!