BrassHero is reader-supported. We may earn commissions if you buy through our links.

How Do Trumpets Change Notes? (Explained)

Do you want to learn more about how a trumpet works?

It would be best to understand how trumpets change notes and what you need to do as a player to make that happen.

Here’s How Trumpets Change Notes:

Trumpets change notes as players open or close valves. Players also have to use their airstream and lips to produce different pitches that use the same combination of valves. Some trumpets even come with a second tuning slide to make it easier to play in certain keys.

How Do the Valves on a Trumpet Change the Note?

The valves on a trumpet change the note by lengthening or shortening the tubing.

As you press a valve down, it directs the air through additional tubing. When the air has to travel farther, you’ll get to play a lower pitch than if you left a valve open.

This lets you play different notes without changing how you direct your air or how much air pressure you use. You can use different combinations of valves to adjust the length of the tubing to meet your needs.

Most trumpets have three valves, though some have four valves. It depends on the maker and model level, but three valves are plenty to play most notes you’d need to play.

Do All Trumpets Change Notes This Way?

Many trumpets use piston valves, which go up and down.

However, some trumpets use rotary valves, similar to those on a French horn. When you trigger a rotary valve, you get the valve to turn to the right or left, which helps direct the air into additional tubing.

Depending on the model, you’ll still have the same three or four valves, but you may need to hold a rotary trumpet slightly differently so that the valves will be more comfortable to press.

There were natural trumpets in the past, which didn’t have any valves. Players had to use their air and lips to produce different notes, so the range of those instruments was much smaller.

What Role Do Lips Play When Changing Notes on Trumpets?

The lips are just as important as the valves when changing notes on your trumpet.

Even with a four-valve trumpet, you can only get 16 valve combinations. If you have a trumpet with three valves, the number of combinations drops to eight, so your lips need to play more pitches.

Your lips work together with the interior of your mouth to help produce various notes.

Here are a few mechanisms that come into play:

Aperture Size

The most significant way your lips affect the pitch is the size of your aperture hole between the lips.

Making a smaller hole can help you play higher notes, while a larger hole will help in the low register. When making your aperture small, don’t tighten it too much because that can lead to unnecessary tension.

Even the smallest change in your aperture size can make a massive difference to your sound. This is particularly true when playing notes in the high register.

You can use the same fingerings for more notes, and the partials are closer together.

Choosing the right mouthpiece can help you form a good embouchure and have the right amount of space between your lips. Then, you can get a good sound throughout the range.

Aperture Location

Most players center the trumpet mouthpiece on their lips both up and down and side to side.

However, you may choose to raise or lower the mouthpiece based on the notes you need to play. Sometimes, the mouthpiece itself necessitates a different position for you to get a good sound.

The shape and size of the mouthpiece may require you to experiment with where to place it. That way, you can get a better tone and change notes easier.

Depending on your lips, you may need to place the mouthpiece off to the left or right. If you have a large cupid’s bow, you might not get the clearest tone if you put your mouthpiece right in the center.

Lip Muscles

You’ll use many of your small lip muscles to help adjust the aperture.

Of course, this will help you get the right size and location for your embouchure hole.

However, your lip muscles can also work with your cheek and jaw muscles. Those muscle groups work together to help form your embouchure to give you a clear sound on the note you need to play.

Air Speed

While this doesn’t just relate to your lips, you need to have a good air speed.

Slower air will help you play a lower note, while faster air is important for playing high.

Your air speed will come from your lungs and diaphragm. However, your lips need to be strong enough to let the air through without sacrificing your embouchure.

Practicing buzzing exercises can help you strengthen your lips and get used to using fast air. When you add the trumpet, changing notes won’t be as difficult.

Tongue Position

The right tongue position can help facilitate air movement through your lips.

Of course, you use your tongue to articulate notes, but you need to know where to keep the tongue during slurs. Moving it up can cut off the air stream while keeping it low offers more space for your air.

As you move your tongue, you need to be able to move it quickly. That can help your tongue more quickly and efficiently, so you can maintain your tone when switching notes.

The Harmonic Series

When learning how trumpets change notes, you should understand the harmonic series.

This is what the trumpets and brass instruments are based on, and it refers to the series of notes you can play using one fingering.

Take the series where you leave all three fingers off the valves. The lowest note you can play with this fingering is a written C4 (middle C). Other notes in the series include G4, C5, E5, G5, and C6.

You can play each of those notes (partials) without moving your fingers. Instead, your lips and air will do most of the work to get the correct pitch.

Since there are eight possible fingerings, there are that many harmonic series. You may not be able to play a full series on each fingering, but you should practice harmonics to get used to how you need to adjust your air for higher notes.

How Many Notes Can a Trumpet Play?

The standard range of a trumpet is from a written F#3 to a D6, which is almost three octaves.

If you count half steps, that adds up to 32 different pitches using western notation.

Advanced trumpet players may play more notes above the high D. Players have been able to play as high as a written C8, which is four octaves above the middle C.

As a beginner, you can stick to about 12 notes to learn one octave. You can slowly learn more notes to increase your range and play higher and lower pitches.

How Do You Change Key on a Trumpet?

Depending on what you mean, you can change the key on a trumpet in several ways. One way refers to being able to play music in different keys.

However, some trumpets can play in multiple transpositions.

Here’s how the two compare:

Change the Written Key:

The modern trumpet has a fully chromatic range, so you don’t need to do much to play in a different key. You can make it happen by pressing different valves and adjusting your embouchure.

Practice your scales regularly if you want to play well in all keys. Then, you’ll know which fingerings to use to hit the correct notes when you have a solo or ensemble piece.

Fortunately, most trumpet players don’t have to do anything with the written key in music. Composers will write the part for a trumpet in Bb, so it will sound in the correct key when you play with others.

Change the Transposition:

Some trumpets, such as the piccolo trumpet, come with a second tuning slide.

That slide lets you adjust the actual transposition and key of the instrument up or down a half step. Using the piccolo trumpet as an example, some will come with slides to play in Bb and A.

You can also find trumpets that you can play in D and Eb. You’ll need to buy a trumpet with the right tuning slide to do this.

Don’t pull your slide-out to try and bring the pitch down because that may not help you play in tune, and it probably won’t sound very good.

Instead, shop around for a trumpet that you can play in different keys. Then, you’ll be able to play any trumpet part regardless of its current transposition.


Tongue, Teeth, and Lips: Embouchure for Brass Instruments