The family of Trumpets has many members, from the tiny piccolo trumpet to the gigantic bass trumpet used in the operas of Wagner. But what is it that makes a trumpet a trumpet?

There are three things that affect the sound that brass instruments make:

1. The shape of the mouthpiece - the mouthpiece of the trumpet, trombone and tuba are cup shaped, while the french horn is cone shaped (1).

2. The shape of the tubing - trumpet and trombone tubing stays about the same size most of the length of the instrument. Only toward the very end does it widen out into a cone. French horn and tuba start with small tubes and gradually widen out throughout the length of the instrument. The difference is in the sound - the trumpet and trombone have a bright, penetrating sound, while the french horn and tuba have a fuller, mellower sound.

3. The size of the tubing - one of the things that changes the sound is how wide the tubing is. A thinner tube tends to have a brighter sound while a wider tube tends to have a mellower sound.

Here are a few highlights:

These are instrument like bugles (2), that have no valves to change the pitches. They are limited in terms of the musical notes that they can play, and are only used for very specific kinds of music like military bugle calls.

From the 15th to the 19th centuries, many experiments were made with slides similar to trombone slides. While the instrument could play more notes than the Natural Trumpets, they were still somewhat awkward to use.

In 1813 valves (the piston thingies you see on modern trumpets) were invented (3). With the valves' ability to open and close easily, forcing the air through alternate tubes that instantly changed the length of the tubing, the trumpet was able to join the orchestra in playing the entire range of musical notes.

of trumpet-type tubing and french-horn type tubing because they are cone-shaped through about half the length of the instrument. A prominent member of this group is the Cornet (4).

(5) is perhaps one of the most distant members of the trumpet family. While it looks very much like a really big round trumpet, it is actually related to the tuba in the width of the tubing and in the way the tubing gets gradually larger throughout the length of the instrument (kind of like the way that a rhinoceros' closest relative is the horse!).

1. Get an adult to help you with this step! Using the sharp knife, carefully cut off the spout of the soda bottle. You want the cut part of the bottle to match up to be slightly larger than the width of the cardboard tube. This will be your mouthpiece.

2. Tape the mouthpiece to the cardboard tube as shown

3. Form the construction paper into a funnel shape. The smallest part of the funnel should be able to fit over the non-mouthpiece end of the cardboard tube. Tape the construction paper so that the funnel keeps its shape.

4. Tape the funnel to the tube

1. First, practice making your lips buzz. You might consider the way a horse does it.

2. Press your lips inside the tube and buzz away!

3. Try making your lips buzz faster and slower. You'll soon discover that if you buzz your lips just right, you'll get the best sound from the horn. This is because of an effect of sound waves. When the length of the sound wave you create matches up well with the length of the tube, the sound gets stronger.


Just like the different members of the trumpet family listed above, you can change the sound of your trumpet by using tubes that are thicker and thinner. You can also change the sound if you manage to find tubes that are conical - that is, they get bigger throughout the length of the tube. Mix and match the tubes and experiment to discover your own Experimental Trumpet!