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The Trumpet

The trumpet is the highest member of the brass family. It has a cultural association with nobility and ceremony. As a result, it is not uncommon to write short fanfares within pieces.

It is a transposing instrument, with the most commonly used trumpet pitched in B-flat. Other trumpets exist, notably the C trumpet (used in orchestras), but exceed the scope of this paper.

The practical range of the trumpet for ensembles begins just below the staff (middle C) and ascends above the staff. Higher pitches will present balancing issues within an ensemble. Do not write above the staff unless you intend for the passage to be loud. As indicated, the middle register is softer than the lower and upper registers. It is difficult to project in this register. Therefore, writing in this register may be preferable when the intent is to blend with other instruments.

The trumpet has a large dynamic range, and can easily play over an entire orchestra in its upper register. This can be used to great effect to allow the brass to emerge from the rest of the orchestra.  Conversely, the trumpet can also overpower other instruments, obscuring a melody in another instrument.  Use care when writing above the staff.

Multiple-tonguing uses the consonants T and K to rapidly articulate notes. By alternating these two consonants, a player can rapidly repeat the same pitch. It is advisable not to change pitches for this technique, to ensure clarity (exception: solo works)

Trumpets, and to a lesser extent trombones, also make use of mutes (the first known instance was by Monteverdi), which are used to change the timbre of the instrument, not the volume. Although some modification of volume is done by a mute, this is not the primary purpose of a mute.

To indicate the use of a mute, the composer will mark a phrase with the word "mute" (con sordino in Italian). When the mute is to be removed, the composer will write "open" (senza sordino). It is important to allow players time before and after a mute change.

The most common mutes are the straight mute, the cup mute, the harmon (wah-wah) mute, and the plunger mute. Each mute has a unique timbre. Unless otherwise indicated, a player will use the straight mute for all passages marked "mute". To indicate a different mute, simply identify the type of mute used, such as "cup mute" or "harmon mute", or "plunger".

As with any effect, mutes should be used sparingly.

The straight mute is the primary mute used by all brass players. It adds a bright "buzz" to the timbre and is used to great effect for simulating playing from a distance at softer dynamics (mp and p).

The harmon mute, along with the plunger, are best known for their use in jazz music. The harmon has a very "buzzy" timbre to it, and it severely limits the use of the lower register. By marking a "+" and "o", a player will cover and uncover the bell of the instrument, producing a "wah-wah" effect. Charlie Brown's teacher's voice is actually a trombonist with a plunger mute.

The cup mute has a darker timbre, and will blend well with the darker timbres of other instruments, such as the lower register of the clarinet. It is not as commonly used in music.

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