History And Anatomy Of The Trumpet

A history of the trumpet in jazz, as well as its inner workings.

The trumpet has been around for hundreds of years, its history woven into the pages of our past. It has been an instrument of the battleground, sounding the way for troops from the Civil War to WWII. The have been featured in bands ranging from marching bands, funeral bands, dance bands, the big band sound of the forties, to the modern ska bands; but perhaps the trumpet has made the biggest impact on the jazz band.

The versatile and unique sound of the trumpet lends itself perfectly to the unorthodox and inventive improvisational sounds of jazz, as powerful as Louis Armstrong and as poignant as Miles Davis. Pre-dating recording, Charles "Buddy" Bolden and Joe "King" Oliver had immense influence over early jazz, bringing in a blues tonality and more of an offbeat narrative style to the genre and shaping the style of musician Louis Armstrong and Henry "Red" Allen. Their trills, growls and improvised vocal effects have been borrowed and revered to this day. Roy Eldridge's fast spectacular swing style was the inspiration for Dizzy Gillespie's firecracker, saxophonelike be-bop technique and Clifford Brown's graceful bebop mastery. On a smoother note, Bix Beiderbecke and Miles Davis developed a silvery, sensuous, elegant style, whose soft contemplative sounds brought a new emotional level to trumpeting. Mastering and bringing all these styles to light is modern musician Wynton Marsalis, whose phenomenal technique has made him one of the premiere trumpet players in the modern age.

The first trumpets were made from hollowed animal tusks. When the instrument was translated into metal the principal remained very similar. The modern trumpet, predated by the valveless bugle, consists of a long, narrow, brass tube that is folded upon itself, 3 valves and a spring piston, which allows the valves to lower and block a portion of the air, thus lowering or raising the pitch of the note. The standard jazz trumpet is in the key of B flat, as is its cousin the coronet, flugelhorn and pocket trumpet. To make sound, a steady and continuous column of air must be forced through the instrument, coming from the bottom of the player's lungs and pushed all the way through to the bell of the trumpet. By strengthening the diaphragm-the wide flat muscle under the lungs-and expanding the solar plexus, a trumpeter can create additional room in the lungs for air, thus elongating and extending the column of air used to create the sound.

While most wind instruments use wooden or plastic reeds to vibrate the column of air needed to create the sound, the trumpet player's natural double reed is their own lips. A trumpeter must train the muscles around the mouth to produce a wide range of timbres and notes without causing fatigue and damage. This is called embouchure. Once embouchure is mastered a student can move onto tonguing. This method allows a note to start more clearly by making a "da" or "ta" sound against the top of the back teeth. Many jazz trumpeters shake the trumpet against their lips to produce a trill sound. By depressing the valves and changing the embouchure, a trumpeter can produce seven basic notes. Using mutes, an item used to muffle or obstruct the movement of air through the trumpet, the player can further alter the sounds emitted by their trumpet. These many variables contribute to the various styles and sounds found in trumpeting today.

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