Where Does your Trumpet Come From?

Are you a trumpet player? Good for you! I’m not, but I have tried to play the trumpet. It is a great instrument! My brother played trumpet when we were growing up, and one of my sons plays trumpet. So I have learned some things about the trumpet from them. Do you know anything about the instrument’s history? You should.

Did You Know?

If you stretched out all the tubing of a trumpet it would be almost 5 feet long.

A pair of ancient trumpets was found in the tomb of King Tutankhamun (King Tut) of Ancient Egypt.

Toyota built a trumpet-playing robot. Check it out!

The largest playable trumpet ever built is about 105 feet long! If you are traveling to Indonesia, you should look it up. But don’t think about trying to play it! It can only be played with an air compressor.

Cornets and trumpets are similar instruments. They are played the same way and use the same fingerings, but they are not exactly alike. Cornets are somewhat smaller than trumpets and have conical bores. The sound of a cornet is a bit more mellow than the sound of a trumpet. Trumpets are larger, have cylindrical bores, and have a brighter sound.

Where Did Trumpets Come From?

Trumpets have been around in one form or another for a long time – maybe about 3000 years. But those early instruments looked nothing like a trumpet of today. Historians believe the earliest trumpets were hollow pieces of wood, maybe hollowed out by insects. In time people began making some trumpets out of bronze or silver.

Move to Metal

By the 1500s trumpets were being made from metal. But there were problems with these trumpets. They were not able to play all the notes musicians and composers wanted to use. Basically, these instruments were just straight tubes with no holes or valves, no way to change notes, except by changing the embouchure and air speed. How could they make the trumpet so it would be able to play more notes?

People started thinking about solutions to the problem. The first idea they tried was to have the musicians use two or more trumpets of different lengths. When they needed to play notes that one horn couldn’t play, they would switch to a different horn. This allowed them to play more notes, but it was a rather awkward method. It also wasn’t so easy to carry around two or three long horns at a time. Time to try a new idea.

Slides on a Trumpet? Hands in the Bell?

So, they tried adding slides to the trumpet. Well, that allowed the instrument to play more notes, but it made the horn awkward to play. Scratch that idea.

Someone suggested that if a trumpet player put his hand in the bell, he could adjust his hand to produce different notes. But wait! Those trumpets were still really long! It was hard to reach the bell!

In 1777 they decided to bend the instrument to make it easier to reach the bell. This may have helped a little bit, but it caused more problems than it solved. Back to the drawing board.

In 1839 someone decided to include some valves and extra tubing on the trumpet. And the rest, as they say, is history.

What does a Valve Do?

A valve makes a way to redirect the air through different bits of tubing to produce different sets of notes. When you blow through a trumpet you can get several notes without pushing down any valves. You can get C, G, C, E, G, all without using any valves. When you use the first valve you can get B♭, F, B♭, D, F, etc. When you push down the second valve you can get a different set of notes. The valve you push down directs the air through a different piece of tubing to produce the different notes. By using different combinations of the three valves, a trumpet player can produce all the notes he needs to play his music.

What are Trumpets Made Of?

Most trumpets today are made of brass. Brass is an alloy (a combination of metals) made of copper and zinc. Sometimes the brass is either silver or gold-plated. That is how you see silver trumpets in band or orchestra. The horn itself is not made of silver, just covered in a silver coating. Many valves are now made of Monel. Monel is a very specialized alloy – it is very hard, and very resistant to corrosion and acid. The Monel alloy was patented in 1906.

The Sound of the Trumpet

How would you describe the sound of a trumpet? Your sister probably just says it is loud! Or maybe annoying. But in the music world, the trumpet sound is called high and brilliant. The sound can carry over a long distance. It is easily heard – which explains why it was often used in battles as signals for the soldiers.

Piccolo Trumpet

Have you ever heard a piccolo trumpet? Piccolo trumpets are cool! They look like a trumpet, but are smaller, and play higher than a regular trumpet. The tubing of a piccolo trumpet is half as long as the tubing of a regular trumpet. And the piccolo trumpet sounds an octave higher than a regular trumpet. The Beatles even used a piccolo trumpet in one of their songs.

Here is an example of what a piccolo trumpet sounds like. Listen Here

I hope you learned something new about your instrument. Share this with your trumpet friends!

Check out some of our other instrument history posts:

Trumpet History - What Do You Know?

Help Your Child Excel at Music Competitions and Auditions

Music competitions and auditions – the dreaded events of the music world. But are they really so dreadful? Do they have to be? Are these events important? Is there a way we can help take some of the stress and pressure off our kids before these events? Let me show you how to help your child prepare for and excel at competitions and auditions.

Participation Benefits

First of all, consider the benefits of competitions and auditions. Obviously, one of the benefits is the opportunities provided by doing well at these events. Doing well at an audition might allow your child to participate in a band or orchestra outside their school group.

Another benefit for your child is learning to deal with stress and pressure. Life is full of challenging events – learning how to cope with pressure while young will definitely be helpful to your child in the future.

Receiving comments and viewpoints from people other than their music teacher is a great help to music students. Sometimes this is in the form of a reality check – maybe they aren’t as good as you think they are. (Parental bias, anyone?)

A competition judge might hear things differently than a teacher or have a different perspective on interpretation. Comments from “outsiders” can really help a student’s musical development.

And sometimes, comments from a judge just reinforce something the teacher has been saying all along. But coming from a different source, the comments might just “stick” this time.

How Can You Help your Child?

So, how can you help your child get ready for these events? Here are some ideas for you.

Know the Requirements

All competitions and auditions have certain requirements. Perhaps your child’s teacher has outlined them for you. But it is always a good idea to read the rules for yourself and be sure you aren’t missing anything.

Is the your child required to have the music memorized? Be sure you know and be sure your child knows – well in advance of the event!  Being disqualified because you didn’t follow the instructions is heartbreaking!

How many copies of the music are required for the judges? Is an original required? Be sure you check for this and have at least one original copy of the music (if required). Be sure to have marked anything in the music that you child is changing from the original – things like pedaling, phrasing, bow markings, articulation, breath marks, etc. Be sure the music is marked the way it will be played. And played the way it is marked! Judges look for that.

Also, do the rules require the measures to be numbered? And where/how should they be numbered? Often competitions require measures to be numbered. This makes it easy for the judges to refer to specific places in their comments. Follow the rules!

Will your child be required to state his name, the name of the piece he is playing, and the composer’s name? It is a good idea if he knows this in advance so he can be prepared.

Does Your Child Know the Music?

Can your child play the music well? Encourage him to practice. Suggest that he mark and practice just the problem areas.

Have your child practice stage etiquette. For some, this is harder than playing the music! Can she correctly pronounce the name of her music and the name of the composer? Have her practice introducing herself and her music. What about after the performance? Does your child know how to react to any applause? Have him practice a bow and a smile. Or at least a smile!

Have a practice performance (or more than one). Let your child perform for grandparents or neighbors. He can practice announcing himself and the music and acknowledging applause.

Keep a Proper Perspective

Whether your child is in a competition or doing an audition, it is good for both of you to keep things in proper perspective. Look at the big picture. In 10 years, how important will this event be? Will this event determine your child’s future? If not, relax!

“There will always be someone better than you, either now or in the future.”

“It isn’t important to be THE best; it is just important that you do YOUR best.”

Consider every competition, every audition as a learning opportunity. What should your child learn? How to deal with stress and pressure. How to deal with disappointment. How to deal with success. Learning empathy – feeling for the other person. Importance of proper preparation. How to handle constructive criticism. Life goes on – learn what you can from the experience and move on. Go forward!

Keep Yourself and Your Speech under Control

Help your child by keeping yourself under control. Keep your temper, your emotions, your stress under control so you don’t negatively affect your child and his performance.

Please don’t ask your child if she is nervous. You can be nervous for her, but don’t let your nervousness be contagious. I think I get more nervous when my kids perform than they do, even still! But I try to not let them know that.

Be careful about what you say. Remember, you can’t take back what you have said, and your child will remember what you said. If they make mistakes in their performance, they know it. They don’t need you to list every one of them.

Be honest in your comments but encouraging at the same time. Sympathize with your child but help them move on.

And please, don’t play the blame game. If your child doesn’t win the competition, or get the coveted spot through an audition, don’t blame the judges. Don’t blame the room, the instrument, or anything else. What will that teach your child? Life doesn’t always go your way. Accept it and move forward. And help your child do that as well.

Know Where You are Going

Prepare in advance – know the time your child is scheduled to play, know the location of the event, and know the room your child will play in. Decide in advance how long it will take you to get there and leave in plenty of time!

It is always best to get to the event early. That will give your child time to warmup, time to get oriented, time to get mentally settled, time to breathe.

And give yourself time for the unexpected. We were driving to church one Sunday morning and were hit from behind by another vehicle. We had to stop, deal with the police, insurance, and all that. It messed up our schedule a bit, but it was far more stressful for the driver who hit us. He was taking his son to a chess tournament. Both father and son were very stressed about the event. The son was sick, the father was distracted, they ran into us. Don’t think that helped the son deal with his stress at all! Hopefully they had enough time to get to the tournament before it started!

Recognize and Celebrate Hard Work

Even though your child may not have won, or may not have done as well as he hoped, recognize that he worked hard and survived! Celebrate that she learned a difficult piece of music and faced a challenge. Go out for dinner. Or have an ice cream cone. Or just make a special cake at home to celebrate. Let your child know that you are proud of his efforts, even if he didn’t win.

Remember, parent, your goal in all this is to be a help and a support for your child. Be the one to encourage them to keep on learning and practicing!

Here are some ideas for preparing for recitals

Like these ideas? Please save and share!

Competition or Audition Stress? How to help your child.
Competition or Audition Stress? How to help your child.

Where did your Flute Come From?

Are you a flute player? (I am!) Do you know anything about the flute’s history? Where it came from? The flute certainly didn’t start out looking like it does today! Let’s explore a little bit about where your instrument came from – the history of the flute.

Names to know:

There are a few names that stand out in the history of the flute. Here are four of these important names:

  •         Hotteterre
  •         Quantz
  •         Tomlitz
  •         Boehm

Ever heard of any of them? If you keep studying you will probably play some music written by Johann Quantz (1697–1773) . He was a flute player, a flute maker, and a flute composer. Quantz also wrote some important ideas about playing the instrument and using different fingerings for making the flutes of his time sound better. He even gave flute lessons to Frederick the Great of Prussia!

You also need to know the name of Theobald Boehm. Your flute is patterned after his design ideas. You can be very thankful for Boehm’s brilliant ideas about making this instrument easier to finger, easier to keep in tune, and easier to play.

Facts to know:

What should you call a person who plays the flute? Flute player, flutist, flautist, flutenist – they all work. Although I have never heard anyone use the term flutenist before.

The flute is the oldest kind of wind instrument. Historians say a form of flute easily dates back 40,000 years. But I’m not sure we would enjoy playing the flutes from that era!

It takes more air to play a flute than any other instrument. There is some debate about whether a tuba might require more air for some notes. How can such a small instrument require more air than a tuba? Easy – all the air for playing a tuba goes right into the instrument. When you blow air to play a flute the air is split – only some of it goes into the instrument to produce sound. The rest just blows over the embouchure plate.

Flutes are woodwind instruments. Even though it is made of metal. And even though it is the only woodwind instrument that does not use a reed.

There are twelve instruments in the flute family. The most common ones are the flute and the piccolo. The lowest and most massive member of the family is the hyperbass flute. It sounds four octaves lower than a regular flute. Its lowest note is a C that is one octave lower than the lowest C on a piano! And the hyperbass flute is over 8 meters long – that’s over 25 feet long!

Now for some history:

An Old Instrument

The flute is the oldest wind instrument that historians have found evidence for. Originally the word flute referred to instruments that were either blown from the end (like a recorder) or blown across (like today’s flutes). The first evidence for blown-across flutes, or side-blown flutes, comes from the 1st to 4th centuries B. C. Blown-across is a bit awkward to say, so these flutes became known as transverse flutes.

By the Middle Ages these early flutes were often made of wood, were made with just one piece, and had 6 finger holes. Traveling minstrels carried and used them throughout Europe. By the 1500s groups of players with different-sized flutes often played together in ensembles called consorts.

Problems. Solutions?

But there were problems with these flutes. Most of the flutes were made to play in the key of D major. The main problem these flutes had? Intonation! They did not play in tune very well. Not in tune with themselves, and not in tune with others. And there wasn’t really any way to fix the problem.

By the 1600s people were trying to find ways to solve the problems. One of the first changes was to separate the instrument into three different pieces – like your instrument today. They made a head joint, a body piece, and a foot joint. That may not have solved any sound or intonation problems, but it made it easier to pack and carry the instrument!

The flute made its first appearance in an opera orchestra in the 1600s. That was a big deal because it showed that composers were willing to write parts for the flute. The flute was competing with the recorder for acceptance and importance. The main problems for the flute were intonation (still!) and consistent sound. Do you ever hear those things talked about by your teacher? I think the problems were much worse back then.


Another solution people tried was to make interchangeable body parts. So, if your flute was built in the key of D, and the music was in the key of F, you would exchange the body part of your instrument for a shorter one, in order to get a higher sound. Interesting idea. But people didn’t think this through well enough. No one adjusted the key holes on the longer or shorter parts for more accurate sounds. Intonation was still a problem.

People and Potential Solutions

Along came some key people trying to make improvements. The Jean Hotteterre family, Pierre Gabriel Buffardin, Johann Quantz, Johann Tromlitz, and Theobald Boehm. Many of these were accomplished flutists themselves, and understood the problems with their instruments. They were looking to solve the problems.

Jean Hotteterre and his family were the ones responsible for redesigning the flute from 1 piece to three. They also made the tone holes of the instrument smaller and added a key for E♭(D♯).

Pierre Gabriel Buffardin introduced the concept of interchangeable body parts.

Johann Quantz adjusted the shape and size of the tone holes and introduced a tuning slide. He wrote a long explanation about playing and teaching the flute, “An Essay on Instruction in the Art of Playing the Transverse Flute.” Doesn’t that sound impressive? He also wrote about 400 pieces of music for the flute. That did a lot to boost the instrument’s popularity.

One Step Forward, Another Step Back

By this time the flute was pretty well established as a part of the orchestra but was losing on the solo scene. There were still intonation problems. And the sound of the instrument was not powerful enough for the larger concert halls in use. More work needed for the flute.

Sometimes it seemed that the more people tried to improve the flute, the more problems it had. By the 1800s it was standard for a flute to have 8 keys, thanks to Johann Tromlitz. But more keys didn’t solve all the problems. And more keys made the fingering more complicated. Who wants to deal with that?

The Beginning of the End (of the Problems)

Finally, by the 1830s we get to the beginning of the end of the flute problems. Theobald Boehm, a flute player and a flute maker, started to study all the problems of the instrument and all the things people had done to try and solve the problems. He started to collect and implement the ideas of others. He added ring keys to the instrument – idea of Frederick Nolan. And he studied the idea of larger tone holes for a more powerful sound and added that to his flutes. (Idea compliments of Tromlitz.)

Boehm decided to arrange the tone holes for the best sound, not for the easiest fingering. This did a lot to help with intonation problems. He also added new key works, linking keys together with moveable rods. And he developed new fingering, which was less complicated than the old fingerings. Many people were impressed with his new ideas. But he kept studying, looking for ways to make the flute even better.

Hello, Modern Flute!

In 1847 he presented a new instrument to the world. The New and Improved Boehm Flute. This instrument had cylindrical tubing, an evolutionary new design for the head joint, improved key mechanisms.  He used pin springs (idea of Louis-Auguste Buffet), felt pads for the key cups to prevent air from escaping, changed the shape of the embouchure hole, and added a slightly raised lip plate to make the instrument easier to play. All these ideas are still part of your instrument today. In fact, very little has been changed on the flute since Boehm introduced his new design.

How was this instrument received? How well did people like it? Most people were quite enthusiastic about this new flute. But, of course, not all. Boehm’s new flute required players to learn new fingerings. There were some people who just didn’t want to do that. (Stubborn?) After 20 years or so, Boehm’s new design was the standard in the flute world.

From D to C

At some point in the redesign process, flutes were built to play in the key of C. That means that when you play a C, it matches the C on a piano. Flutes have a range of three octaves – from middle C up to the C above the 5th leger line above the treble staff. If you get really, really good, you can get a couple notes higher than that. And some flutes are made so you can get a note below middle C. But most music does not require those notes.

Now you know a little bit more about your flute. Be thankful for all the design modifications! You have a wonderful instrument. Where are you in your flute-playing life? Book 1? Advanced? I would love to hear your flute stories! Tell me one of your stories, and I will tell you one of mine. Leave your story in the comments!

If you are interested in more about the history of the flute you can read more information here:

Interested in the history of the violin? Check out this post!

Where did your flute come from?