The trumpet is a brass instrument which dates back to at least 1500 BC. Early trumpets were used mainly as signaling instruments for military and religious purposes. They could be straight or coiled and had no valves, slides, or finger holes. As a result, these trumpets could only play the natural notes of the harmonic series above the instrument’s fundamental note (the lowest sounding pitch).
Medieval trumpets were known as buisine, with a shorter type called a claro or clarino. In the renaissance, new methods of metalworking greatly improved the quality of the sound which made the trumpet a much more versatile instrument for music making than it had been previously. In the mid 19th century, trumpets were fitted with a set of three valves allowing it to play a greater number of notes. The valves on the trumpet are usually piston valves, unlike the rotary valves of the horn, but trumpets with rotary valves also exist.
Trumpets are often played using specially shaped objects called ‘mutes’ which are inserted into the bell while playing. Depending on the shape of the mute and the material it is made of, the sound of the trumpet can be altered from its normally very bright tone to a more mellow one. Special effects can also be created with the mute such as the famous wah-wah sound of the wah-wah or harmon mute.
The trumpet comes in several sizes including the bass trumpet, the standard size trumpet, the piccolo trumpet and the Bach trumpet. There are several different keys available for each of the sizes. The most common trumpet used today is the B flat and C trumpet. The B flat trumpet is a transposing instrument, which means it sounds at a different pitch to the pitch written in its notation. The standard trumpet has a range of nearly three octaves. The Bach trumpet is in D and was developed in the 19th century especially to play the high trumpet parts in works from the baroque period.
The trumpet is a standard instrument in the orchestra, military and brass bands, and is also a popular instrument in Jazz. Notable Jazz trumpeters include Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, and Louis Armstrong.