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What Key Trumpet Should I Get? (Read This First!)

Imagine you’re ready for your first gig as principal trumpet in an orchestra. You start playing but realize your music sounds a whole step off because it’s for a C trumpet.

So do you need to get a whole new instrument?

Here’s What Key Trumpet You Should Get:

Trumpets come in various keys, from Bb to C to Eb. Consider the music you play and your skill level to determine what key trumpet you should buy next. Then, you can perform music to the best of your ability.

What Is the Most Popular Key for Trumpets?

The most popular key for trumpets by far is the key of Bb. This means that the trumpet sounds a major second lower than the note written, so Bb trumpets have to use a major second higher than the concert key.

As the name suggests, these trumpets will sound the note Bb when playing a written C. Bb trumpets are the most popular because they’re affordable, and there are plenty of models in that key.

Trumpets in this key also have just enough tubing to help get the instrument’s characteristic sound. You can find trumpets in other keys, but they aren’t as common as Bb trumpets.

Their higher ranges offer a more brilliant tone if you play smaller trumpets. It’s easier to get the desired sound when you have enough tubing.

What Key Trumpet Do Professional Trumpeters Use?

Professional trumpeters can use trumpets in a variety of keys. Since they already have played a Bb trumpet, most professionals will continue to play instruments in that key.

However, many orchestral trumpet players may also play a C trumpet. The trumpet has a significant orchestral repertoire written for a trumpet in C.

When you encounter a trumpet in a different key, it’s often easier to transpose and play on a C trumpet than a Bb trumpet. A soloist might also have an Eb trumpet to perform the Haydn Trumpet Concerto.

Meanwhile, professional jazz trumpeters tend to stick to the Bb trumpet. Much jazz music is for that trumpet key, so it does not make sense to change instruments.

When Should I Consider a Trumpet in Keys Other Than Bb?

You can consider getting a trumpet in a key other than Bb at almost any time.

You may want to stick to a Bb trumpet while learning the basics as a beginner. Some trumpets in other keys can get expensive, and they may be hard to find.

It makes sense to branch out once you have some trumpet playing experience. Then, you can more easily play almost any trumpet part that comes your way.

Here are a few factors that might make you consider a trumpet in another key.

Your Music:

Whether you play in an orchestra or some other ensemble, you may encounter trumpet parts in other keys.

You can transpose many of those parts to play them on your Bb trumpet. However, that takes a lot of work, especially if you write out the transpositions rather than playing them by sight.

It can also be hard to transpose music by sight when playing keys with multiple sharps or flats. If you find you get a lot of C trumpet parts, that’s a good sign it’s time to look for a C trumpet.

You might also want to get a trumpet in a different key if you encounter trumpets with more sharps or flats. For example, if you have a Bb trumpet with many parts in B major, a C trumpet would let you play those parts in A major.

You’ll still need to transpose the part, but doing so might make playing easier.

The Range:

As you look at your trumpet music, consider the range of the notes.

Pitches that modern trumpet players find difficult weren’t all that uncommon in earlier eras of music. If you struggle to play high notes on your Bb trumpet, a smaller instrument may help.

You’ll be able to transpose the music down a second, third, or even more. While you will still have to transpose and play higher pitches, the written notes will be lower. That can be nice if you don’t have much practice reading ledger lines above the staff.

Consider if you tend to play higher trumpet parts and get a smaller instrument. Then, you won’t have to play as high as written notes.

Plus, you can learn those higher notes, which may help you play the top octave when you return to your Bb trumpet.

Your Skills:

Another good reason to look for a trumpet in a key other than Bb is to expand your skills.

You can enjoy more trumpet music when you know the basics of playing the trumpet. If you get bored with Bb trumpet parts, you might want to get a new instrument.

You’ll be able to transfer the fundamental skills, such as forming an embouchure. Then, you can start to play trumpet in C or D much sooner than you could get a sound on the Bb trumpet.

Plus, you’ll have the instrument and the ability to play it whenever a teacher or orchestra director needs you to play a different trumpet key.

Even if you don’t play with others, you can still learn more trumpet skills on your own. You can practice switching between trumpets to work on your transposition skills and other things.

Your Budget

Of course, you also have to think about how much a trumpet in C, D, or Eb costs.

If you have some extra money that you’re willing to spend on an instrument, you can look at smaller trumpets. Depending on where you look, you may find trumpets in other keys for around $100 or less.

Meanwhile, other trumpets in various keys can cost over $3,500. So be sure to consider how much you can afford to spend on a different trumpet right now. Then, you’ll get to look at options in your budget to find the best one for you.

If you don’t find a new trumpet you like, you can look at used ones. Alternatively, you might choose to wait and save up a bit more money to buy your perfect trumpet in C or some other key.

The more you shop around, the easier it will be to find a trumpet that meets your needs.

Your Desire:

Even if you have the money for a trumpet in a different key, you should be interested in learning to play it.

Engaging with a C or Eb trumpet will make it easier to master the smaller model. Then, you’ll get more use out of the instrument and, therefore, more bang for your buck.

Now, you don’t have to give up your Bb trumpet, and you may not want to. However, playing trumpets in different keys will help you when shopping around. If you force yourself to buy a trumpet in another key, you might waste your money by letting the trumpet sit in the closet.

You can find trumpet music to learn that will work well on your new, smaller instrument. Before you make an impulse purchase, consider if you want to get a new trumpet or if you feel like you should.

Not only will that help you decide if you should buy a trumpet, but it can also help you select the right trumpet key.

Why Are Trumpets Made in So Many Keys?

Trumpets are made in so many keys for a few reasons.

First, smaller trumpets help extend the range of trumpeters’ notes. While the trumpet can play over two octaves, adding a trumpet in Eb to your collection means you can play closer to three octaves or more.

Adding a Bb piccolo trumpet to your playing extends your range even further. Yes, it’s in the same key as the standard Bb trumpet, but it sounds an octave higher.

When it comes to the C trumpet specifically, it came along to make playing with other non-transposing instruments easier. You can read the melody from a flute, violin, or piano part and play it as written.

The various trumpets can also help with music with many sharps or flats. You can choose a trumpet in a key with an easier key signature to read.

What Happens If a Trumpet Is in the Wrong Key?

Fortunately, most modern trumpets have a fully chromatic range so that you can play in any key on any trumpet.

If you accidentally buy a C trumpet instead of a Bb, you can compensate by playing everything a major second lower, for example.

Now, buying a trumpet in the wrong key can make it hard if you’re new to reading music. However, transposing isn’t too difficult when you have some practice. You can easily accommodate the wrong key if you know a few transposition tricks.

One example is buying a C trumpet, but you need an Eb trumpet. You can read the Eb trumpet part as if it’s in bass clef instead of the treble clef. Then, take away three sharps and add three flats to get the correct key.

If you can read tenor clef, you can use a similar process when you have a C trumpet but need to cover a Bb trumpet part. Then, you add two flats or take away two sharps. Of course, you can also read the treble clef as normal and play the notes a second higher.

How Many Different Keys Do Trumpets Come In?

Most trumpets come in one of seven keys. Of course, Bb is the most common key, but others include C, D, Eb, and F. The trumpet in G is a little less popular, but it still exists.

Once you reach trumpets in the key of A, you’re looking at piccolo trumpets. These instruments come in either the key of A or Bb.

Some trumpets and piccolo trumpets come with different slides that let you play them in multiple keys. Examples include the A/Bb piccolo trumpet, D/Eb trumpet, and Eb/F trumpet.

That’s nice if you need to play in different keys but can’t afford multiple trumpets.

Final Thoughts

Shopping for a trumpet can be hard, even when you don’t consider the instrument key, but if you only ever look at Bb trumpets, you can limit yourself, so consider various keys.


Musika Lessons: Types of Trumpets: Keys, Size, History, and Performance Practice