How Do Trumpets Play So Many Notes? (Explained)

From looking at a trumpet, you might think that it can only play a few tones. After all, there are only three buttons (valves).

Let’s dive into how the trumpet can play chromatically over several octaves!

Here’s Why The Trumpet Can Play Many Notes

We have 7 finger combinations on the trumpet, and each combination allows the trumpeter to play a set of natural tones (typically 6 tones). The tonal range starts at F# below middle C, and the highest note is the high C, which is 2 octaves above middle C. A total of 26 different tones.

This tonal range not unique to the trumpet. Most brass instruments will have a similar range, or close to it.

How Can The 3-Valve System Play So Many Notes?

Each valve on the trumpet is connected to a set of tubes of a different length.

The longer the length of the valve’s tube, the lower the note that is played.

When you press down a certain valve, the pitch of the note that you are playing on your trumpet will change. You can press as many of the three valves at once as you wish.

Most of these combinations will allow your trumpet to play a different note.

Here are the seven finger combinations on the trumpet:

  • 0 (no valves pressed down)
  • 1 (first valve pressed down)
  • 2 (second valve pressed down)
  • 12 (first and second valve pressed down)
  • 13 (first and third valve pressed down)
  • 23 (second and third valve pressed down)
  • 123 (first, second, and third valve pressed down)

However, in many cases, you can play many notes with the same combination of pressed down and unpressed valves.

Also, you can play the same note in a variety of different fingering combinations of pressed down and unpressed valves.

How Many Notes Can A Trumpet Play?

The professional trumpeter can play a total of 26 notes. Most beginners will only be able to play closer to 18-20 notes. The upper range takes a lot of practice but can be achieved with the bi-weekly practice for several months.

This might come as a surprise, but it makes complete sense when you look at the total combination of finger positions (7) and how many natural tones each finger position can play.

Let’s dive more into the natural tones and how they affect the tonal range of the trumpet.

How Do Trumpet Players Shift Between The Natural Tones?

Although the valves are important, the reason why the trumpet can make many different notes in many different fingering combinations is due to how you blow into your trumpet.

A bugle has not valves and that means we only have one length of the tubing. That also means that a bugle will only play a set of natural tones that fits the length of the tube.

By adjusting the tension of your lip muscles, you can make the blowing hole smaller or bigger and tighter and more loose.

This determines which note you play.

The natural tones in music refer to a specific scale that you find many places in nature as well:

C – G – C – E – C – C

For trumpet players to shift between natural tones, they must do so by controlling their lip tension.

How Hard Is It To Learn The Full Range Of A Trumpet?

As the trumpet only has three valves, it must be pretty easy to learn, right? Wrong! This is a common misconception and mistake that many aspiring trumpet players make when choosing to learn how to play the trumpet because they underestimate the effort that is needed.

I won’t lie, it can be hard to learn to play the full range of the trumpet, though the trumpet is not the hardest instrument to learn.

First off, you must shape your mouth according to the mouthpiece of your trumpet which will feel foreign at first. Also, you will have to control your breath as you try to play certain notes on the trumpet as this is how you will control what sounds you make.

Using the right combination of pressed down and unpressed fingering on the valves also takes a little practice getting used to, like with any other instrument.

In this other article, we discuss how hard or easy the trumpet is to master.

What Are The Lowest And Highest Notes On A Trumpet?

As previously mentioned, when compared to other brass instruments, and actually many instruments in general terms, the trumpet has a pretty standard range.

The trumpet’s highest note is the high C, which is 2 octaves above middle C. The lowest note that can be played on the trumpet is the F# below middle C.

However, there are many different trumpets that exist today. Therefore, it must be taken into consideration that some of these trumpets can have different ranges & thus, play different lowest and highest notes.

Some different types of trumpets include trumpets that are made in a different pitch, such as C, D and Bb to name a few. However, different types of trumpets can also include instruments that don’t take the standard appearance of a regular trumpet such as bugles, cornets, and flugelhorns.

The small Eb cornet can play quite a lot higher than your standard trumpet and the bass trumpet will go lower.

All of these different trumpets will result in different ranges. For example, the Eb cornet also referred to commonly as the soprano cornet, has a different range than a standard trumpet. The highest note that can be played on an Eb cornet is the high F, which is two octaves above middle C. Adding on, the lowest note that can be played on an Eb cornet is the A below middle C.

How Many Notes Can A Trumpet Play Per Minute?

Most professional trumpeters will be able to play around 9-10 notes per second. That’s a total of up to 600 tones per minute. This requires the trumpeter to move the tongue forth and back so it touches the upper front teeth. This allows the trumpeter to break each tone in two and play much faster.

This is something that you have to practice and it can be practiced with the mouthpiece alone.

Here’s an example of a trumpeter playing 9 tones per second:

How Do Trumpets Change Pitch?

Although the valves are important, the reason why the trumpet can make many different notes in many different fingering combinations is due to how you control the lip muscles.

When you need to just slightly adjust the tone of the trumpet to get it in tune, you simply pull or push the tuning slide that you find at the bottom of the front on the trumpet. When you pull the tuning slide out you lower the pitch slightly (and vice versa).

It must also be mentioned that you can change the tune of a note that you are playing (bending) by using your lips only. This takes more practice and is commonly used among jazz players.

What Key Do Trumpets Play In?

As mentioned before, some different types of trumpets include trumpets that are made in a different pitch. The standard trumpet is tuned in Bb.

In our article here, you can read more about how trumpets are tuned.