The trumpet is perhaps the most well-known brass instrument and its roots can be traced back in ancient times. The trumpet’s tubing is predominantly cylindrical and is folded  into an oblong shape. It has a small bell compared to other brass instruments which points to the front. The modern instrument has three valves . These valves enable the performer to use additional tubing that extends the instrument’s compass , namely the notes that the performer can play.

The trumpet did not always have valves . In the very beginning the trumpet had no valves and today these instruments are called “natural.”  Natural trumpets could only play a limited number of notes.  Even in this form the instrument enjoyed a very long period of popularity during which it served an essential role in important ceremonies and was used in orchestral music. You can see many examples of natural trumpets in our collection.

A slide, similar to the one used on a trombone, was added to the trumpet to make it easier for the player to play more note.  There are slide trumpets that date back to the and they continued to be used even as late as the .

During the nineteenth century a strange type of instrument was used. Can you see this trumpet that looks as if it is melting? This trumpet was bent in this shape on purpose and is called a demilune trumpet. The instrument was bent so that the player could insert his hand into the bell and more notes could be produced. This special technique was also used for playing the horn.

Pictured below is a Trompette demilune. Early 19th century.

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Another strange looking instrument is this keyed trumpet.

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Instrument makers experimented with many different devices in order to make the trumpet able to produce more notes. At some point even keys were added to the trumpet. Keys are principally used in woodwind instruments today, although in the past many brass instruments were also made with keys. However, in the beginning of the nineteenth century, valves were eventually added to the trumpet, resulting in the trumpet we all know today. Trumpets are widely used in  orchestra, band, jazz,  and many other genres of music.

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Audio: Valved trumpet in F. Mahillon, Brussels, c 1885 (2321).