The Trumpet and Cornet are both very similar members of the Brass instrument family. However, they are generally used for different styles of music. Many advanced players are competent on both. So, what exactly are the differences between the two?
Before we look at the difference, let’s first cover the basic elements that are identical. Firstly, and most obviously, they are both made of the same material: Brass. They have 3 valves and the sound is produced on both by ‘buzzing’ your lips. The tubing is also of an identical length (4 1/2 ft approx without valves depressed.) However, it is wound much tighter on a Cornet giving the impression of being shorter. As they are both the same length they play at the same pitch, (usually Bb.)
Cylindrical v Conical Bore
The fundamental difference between the instruments is in the shape of the **bore. On a Trumpet the bore is Cylindrical, with a consistent diameter throughout the instrument. In contrast, a Cornet has a Conical bore which gradually increases in size down the length of the tubing. This makes a huge difference to the type of sound that is produced. The Trumpet produces a very piercing, direct sound (think Fanfares) and the Cornet a warmer, softer, rounder sound (think Hovis Bread / Coronation street!)
Bands & Ensembles
As each instrument makes a distinctively different sound they are generally used for different styles/genres of music. Trumpets are usually found in Orchestral and Jazz music. Often they are also in the ‘Horn’ section of Pop/Rock Bands. Cornets are traditionally found in a Brass Band where the majority of the instruments are conical bore. However, Concert/Military Bands generally contain both Trumpets and Cornets. This is due to the wide range of wind instruments and therefore timbres found in this type of ensemble.
The vast majority of high brass players originally started their lessons on a Cornet as it’s easier to hold/handle from a young age. I stated above that the Cornet and Trumpet are the same length and pitch. However, because the Cornet tubing is ‘wrapped’ tighter it is more comfortable for a small child to hold. Their arms, (and therefore their centre of gravity,) are held closer to the body making it is less tiring for the child to play.
Is One More Popular?
In pure worldwide production terms Trumpets outsell Cornets. This is predominantly because the Brass Band is a very British ensemble whereas Trumpets are more popular in the American market. However, Brass Bands are starting to flourish all over, including Australia, Holland, Asia and America. As such we may see the production gap narrow slightly: Particularly given the improved quality of Chinese instruments making instruments more affordable.
Which One’s For Me?
As for which one you should choose, that’s down to your own personal musical taste. If you like rousing Orchestral works or a bit of Big Band then the Trumpet will always be your best option. If you prefer the distinctive sound of a good old traditional British Brass Band then the Cornet’s for you. It is worth noting that it doesn’t have to be either/or. Many top players will be proficient on both, although generally they will have one that is their primary instrument.
**BORE – The Bore of is the tubing diameter throughout the instrument, (excluding the bell flare section.)