The trumpet is a musical instrument in the brass family. It has the highest register in the brass section. A musician who plays the trumpet is called a trumpet player or trumpeter. The most common trumpet by far is a transposing instrument pitched in B flat - the note read as middle C sounds as the B flat 2 semitones below - but there are many other trumpets in this family of instruments.
The oldest trumpets date back to 1500 BC and earlier. The bronze and silver trumpets from Tutankhamun's grave in Egypt, bronze lurs from Scandinavia, and metal trumpets from China date back to this period.Trumpet from the Oxus civilization (3rd millennium BC) of Central Asia have decorated swellings in the middle, yet are made out of one sheet of metal, which is considered a technical wonder.
The Moche people of ancient Peru depicted trumpets in their art dating back to 300 AD. The earliest trumpets were signaling instruments used for military or religious purposes, rather than music in the modern sense. "The sound of these instruments was described as terrible, that is, producing terror, and was compared to the braying of an ass."
The modern bugle continues the signaling tradition, with different tunes corresponding to different instructions, but the advent of radio made its use more ceremonial.
In medieval times, trumpet playing was a guarded craft, its instruction occurring only within highly selective guilds. The trumpet players were often among the most heavily guarded members of a troop, as they were relied upon to relay instructions to other sections of the army. Improvements to instrument design and metal making in the late Middle Ages and Renaissance led to an increased usefulness of the trumpet as a musical instrument.
The development of the upper, "clarino" register, by specialist trumpeters, would lend itself well to the Baroque era, also known as the "Golden Age of the natural trumpet." The melody-dominated homophony of the classical and romantic periods relegated the trumpet to a secondary role by most major composers.
The trumpet was slow to adopt the modern valves (invented around the mid 1830s), and its cousin, the cornet would take the spotlight as solo instrument for the next hundred years. Crooks and shanks (removable tubing of various lengths) as opposed to keys or valves were standard, notably in France, into the first part of the 20th century.
The trumpet is constructed of brass tubing bent into a rough spiral. The trumpet and trombone share a roughly cylindrical bore which results in a bright, loud sound. The bore is actually a complex series of tapers, smaller at the mouthpiece receiver and larger just before the flare of the bell begins; careful design of these tapers is critical to the intonation of the instrument.
By comparison, the cornet and flugelhorn have conical bores and produce a more mellow tone.
As with all brass instruments, sound is produced by blowing air through closed lips, producing a "buzzing" sound into the mouthpiece and starting a standing wave vibration in the air column inside the trumpet. The player can select the pitch from a range of overtones or harmonics by changing the lip aperture and tension (known as the embouchure).
Modern trumpets also have three piston valves, each of which increases the length of tubing when engaged, thereby lowering the pitch. The first valve lowers the instrument's pitch by a whole step (2 semitones), the second valve by a half step (1 semitone), and the third valve by one-and-a-half steps (3 semitones).
When a fourth valve is present, as with some piccolo trumpets, it lowers the pitch a perfect fourth (5 semitones). Used singly and in combination these valves make the instrument fully chromatic, i.e., able to play all twelve pitches of Western music. The sound is projected outward by the bell.
The trumpet's harmonic series is closely matched to the musical scale, but there are some notes in the series which are a compromise and thus slightly off key; these are known as wolf tones. Some trumpets have a slide mechanism built in to compensate for this.
The mouthpiece has a circular rim which provides a comfortable environment for the lips' vibration. Directly behind the rim is the cup, which channels the air into a much smaller opening (the back bore or shank) which tapers out slightly to match the diameter of the trumpet's lead pipe. The dimensions of these parts of the mouthpiece affect the timbre or quality of sound, the ease of playability, and player comfort. Generally, the wider and deeper the cup, the darker the sound and timbre.