How Do Trumpets Work?

How Do Trumpets Work?

The beautiful sounds of your favorite jazz songs almost definitely have a trumpet as they take the melody and deliver sweet tunes, but how do those brass instruments work?

We’ve all heard the high-pitch tone of a trumpet, whether it is being played by a fifth grader who has just picked up their first-ever trumpet, or an expert trumpet player like Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, Freddie Hubbard, Donald Byrd, and many others. They press their lips, blow air, and using three fingers, are able to control the tone of each note. But, you may wonder, how are they able to create such a wide range of sound? For that, we have to look inside of the brass instrument and see its relationship with vibrating air.

It all starts with the lips. A trumpet player creates a “buzzing” noise with their lips, by blowing into the mouth piece, which creates a standing sound wave inside the trumpet and creates a pitch. Much like your wind pipe that gives you your voice. Depending on the player’s taste in noise, they are able to modify their tones by switching their trumpet mouth piece, also known as an embouchure.

As we look at or imagine a trumpet, we see that there are tubes that coil around the trumpet. Air does not pass through every inch of the tube all at once, but instead the air flow is controlled by the three valves on top. By pressing down on these valves, the player changes the length of the tube through which air must pass, thus changing the standing wave and creating a new pitch. The first valve lowers the instrument’s pitch by a whole step, the second valve by a half step, and the third valve by one-and-a-half steps.

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