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How A Trumpet Works

The trumpet is a very complex and difficult instrument to understand. The horns are brass and usually coated in a lacquer or silver plated finish. The horns are plated like this for one reason, sound. A trumpet that is lacquer finished has a dark, deep, and mellow sound. However, the trumpet that has a silver plated finish is bright, vibrant, and sharp sounding. Trumpets can also be made with green, blue, red, yellow, black, white, and various other colored lacquers. The lacquer on these trumpets sound almost identical to the regular gold lacquer plated horns.

The horn has a mouthpiece that the player blows and vibrates their lips through to make a sound. The mouthpiece is nickel plated for a smooth playing surface. This is illustrated in letter A on the diagram. Connected to the mouthpiece there is a mouthpiece receiver (letter B). The mouthpiece receiver allows the mouthpiece to make a sealed connection so that no air escapes when it passes through. Mouthpieces are placed in the mouthpiece receiver, then twisted and pushed down at the same time to make the seal.

Connected to the mouthpiece receiver is the lead pipe, or sometimes called the mouth pipe (letter C). This pipe is just for tuning purposes. If the pipe were shortened the trumpet would make higher sounds. If the pipe were lengthened, it would make the pitch of the horn lower. The inventor of this modern horn, who is unknown, made a way to tune the horn without having to make different lead pipes for it. The Main tuning slide, (letter L), was made to fix the problems on intonation. The tuning slide can move out of the horn five inches. This distance can make the horn drop one whole step, a distance of pitches in music, if the tuning slide was pushed all the way in. From the tuning slide there is another small pipe which leads into the valves. This pipe does not have any formal name but it is considered to be part of the tuning mechanism.

The valves are three pistons that control the flow of air in different directions. Looking at the diagram on page one shows the basic structure of the valve. The valves are very important to the way the trumpet plays. Without the valves the trumpet can only play limited tones. The valves allow the trumpet to get closer intervals. When the modern trumpet was first invented there was no valves. It was the trumpet that they played for royalty. Then in the late seventeen hundreds a composer by the name of Franz Joseph Haydn composed a concerto for a new trumpet that had valves. This trumpet had four valves that were more like saxophone keys. His concerto made the valve trumpet accepted and very popular. In the middle eighteen hundreds the trumpet that is know today was invented. The valves lower the pitches by different intervals depending on which one or combinations are pushed down. When the second or center valve is pressed down it lowers the pitch one half step. When the first valve is pressed it lowers the pitch one whole step. The combination of first and second valves lower the pitch a step and a half. Second and third valves lower the pitch second steps. First and third valves lower the pitch two and a half steps. First, second, and third valves lower the pitch three whole steps. These are the choice valve positions, besides open, for playing the trumpet. When third valve is played it lowers it one and a half steps, but it is extremely out of tune.

Off the valves are three different slides in which the air runs through to change pitch (P, S, and U). This is how the pitch is lowered when certain valves are pressed down. The extra tubing adds enough length to lower the pitch by its certain length. The second valve lowers the pitch by a half step as stated earlier. When the first valve is pressed down it adds one more half step. It lowers by that much because it is twice as long. The third valve lowers the pitch by a step and a half because it is three times longer then the second valve tubing. The first valve tubing and the third valve tubing are moveable while playing. They have to be moved if the correct pitches are desired. The trumpet does not have absolute pitch, which is like a piano. When a piano key is pressed it makes one sound all the time. A trumpetís intonation can alter depending on how the trumpet player has their air and lips placed. The trumpet is also sharp and flat on some notes, so the valve slides are used to tune player imperfections as well as nature intonation problems.

Once it leaves the valve area it travels through a pipe that leads to the bell. The pipe before the end of the bell is considered to apart of the overall bell but does have its own name. It is called the bore. Different sizes of bores make the horns sound different. If a large bore were compared to a small bore trumpet the sound of the large bore would be much bigger not in volume but in texture. It would be something like listening to a CD on a ten thousand dollar stereo system, compared to being played on a mini boom box. The difference of the two bores would not be as obvious as the example, but they definitely is a difference. The sound of the trumpet is complete at the bore, however the rest of the bell amplifies the sound and lowers the pitch.

The bell is the section of the horn where the sound finally exits. The bell is where the sound is refined and produces the sound that the trumpet makes. They bell does not make the trumpet sound like it does but helps sound like it does.

Musicians have to go through a cycle before they play to make the sounds that they do. Before playing a passage of music, the musician has to think about how they what it to sound. This is what it takes to have the ability to make music. Then, when the notes are actually played the musician has to listen very closely to what is happening so they can compare what they have listened to what they thought it should sound like. That is the cycle that all musicians must go through to create good music. If any part of the cycle is weak the music will suffer.

When the trumpet player goes to make a sound there are a number of things to think about. The first is air stream. There is no way to make a sound on the instrument without blowing through the instrument. Second are the lips. The lips have to form a circular position and vibrate very quickly. The third is lip positioning. The lips have to be placed tighter or looser to create different pitches.

The air stream is the most important part of playing the instrument because without it there is no sound at all. When inhaling air the average person takes quite a shallow breath compared to that of wind musicians while playing. The idea behind taking a breath is making the visera push down allowing the diaphragm to pull down the lungs. When the lungs are pulled down as far as they can be the chest then expands outward allowing the lungs to fill up to full capacity. When pushing the air out of the lungs it is important to expand the abdomen muscles and the chest up so the air is moved out with great control. Keeping the chest up increases the amount of air that the abdomen pushes out of the lungs. This is very important especially when the trumpet player goes to change notes. The air has to be accelerated by a considerable amount. Moving the air at a greater speed also gives the trumpet player range. When a need to play a high note occurs, the trumpet player has to move the air much faster. This will be explained in greater detail later with the topic of lips. The air also has to be a continuous stream and the only thing that can interrupt its flow is the tongue. This is how the trumpet player articulates. The only way to experience this, other then playing the trumpet, is by taking a huge breath and then blowing through a straw as hard, fast, and long as possible.

The next thing to think about which is of great importance also is the vibration of the lips. The lips have to vibrate very rapidly or a sound of air moving through the horn is all that comes out. The lips are placed in a frown fashion. The lips are placed together, then the corners of the mouth push down and in to create a small soft cushion of lip to vibrate. This makes the corners very tight and strong, leaving the lips themselves fairly loose and free to move. When higher notes are desired, the trumpet player has to move the corners in farther and make a smaller opening with the lips. When a lower note is desired the lips have to relax and create a large opening for the lips to vibrate more slowly.

The difficult part of playing the trumpet is getting the lips to move to the right place in the mouthpiece to make the right notes. When hitting high notes the trumpet player has to make the hole in the lips extremely small and move the lips to the upper portion of the mouthpiece. By doing this the trumpet player creates a pressure system that allows the air to move faster then it actually is moving. However, where the lips move inside the mouthpiece is a very personal thing. It is different for everyone because not all lips and mouths are shaped exactly alike. When hitting a low note the lips move down in the mouthpiece and the lips are spread farther apart. This allows the lips to make slow vibrations naturally making the instrument go lower. When the lips are put together loosely and blown a low sound comes out that most people who have not played trumpet have not heard before. Those low notes are below the range of the trumpet. However, they are ways of making the lips gain a larger flexibility. However, no mater what range of the horn a person is playing in the air is one of the most important things. The air pressure is always at a great level because it takes lots of air to play the trumpet.

Overall a short explanation of how a sound is produced from a trumpet. However, it does take years upon years to make the sounds come out the right way. Many people start playing the trumpet only to quite because they can not handle the demanding attention the trumpet takes to become an accomplished musician upon the instrument.

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