Should I change the professional ranges for the trumpet?

• Mar 26, 2016 - 23:35

So, I am writing a piece for full orchestra. I intend for trumpet 1 to hit a high E, (the one above the staff). However, musescore is telling me that that is too high even for professionals. Now, would really good professional trumpet players be able to hit that note? I have met some in the past who could hit past a high F, but I'm not sure if that applies to everyone.


I can hit an F playing a C trumpet but wouldn't put money on managing it reliably during a performance. I used to play an Eb cornet and one concert piece call for a sustained D but don't recall playing anything higher in "mainstream" music (although there are bound to be a few). Speak to your trumpeter, however, as they may have a piccolo trumpet (usually Bb) stashed away for just such an occasion and that would mean playing an F# just at the top of the stave which is eminently doable for one of these guys.

FWIW, orchestral trumpet players would very rarely be asked to play that high, so it's probably not a bad idea when wrtiting orchestra music to avoid that, even when writing for professional orchestras. But it's equally rare to find a jazz big band piece that does *not* go that high. You pretty much don't get a job as a lead trumept player in a jazz big band without having a sloid "G" above the staff, and there are any number of folks who can go up to double high C or higher.

Elwin, sounds like you are writing a part for an E flat piccolo trumpet - the one used in Penny Lane by the Beatles.

I played trumpet for years and the highest I could go was the F above high C. Even then, it was a little weak.

For any non-brass players, the reason we are talking here about piccolo trumpets is that they make it a bit easier to play high notes reliably in an orchestral setting. A trumpet (or a euphonium or tuba etc.) can be though of as a long tube of fixed length that has been curled up all fancy so that you can carry it.

By using the lips and facial muscles (embouchure) a vibration is sent down the tube and a note produced. By tightening the muscles a higher note is produced a particular interval above the first. A fixed length tube can only play certain notes and the valves are used to add in varying lengths of tubing to fill in the gaps.

As you get tighter you go higher but the space between notes decreases such that a typical C trumpet goes C4, G, C, E, G, Bb (not usually played thus), C, D, E etc. or thereabouts. To play the very high F (F6; above the third ledger line above the stave) you would usually press the first valve down and kind of hope for the best that you didn't hit a D or some sort of atonal Eb or Gb. With a piccolo trumpet, however, you start with a shorter length of tubing and your starting note is, therefore, higher so notes of the same pitch as those that your were trying to achieve on the regular trumpet are a bit more spaced out and consequently a bit more manageable.

An Eb cornet or trumpet helps a bit and a Bb piccolo (higher still) helps even more as it starts at Bb4 then goes F5, Bb5, D6, F6 etc.. There is, of course, a limit and I can't hit a much higher note on a (very short) English hunting horn than I can on a standard trumpet but it's the control here that the smaller instruments bring to bear on the problem. None of these little instruments are perfect, however, since ideally you would want your valves to increase the length of the tubing by a certain percentage rather than a fixed length and with the Bb piccolo you often have a 4th valve for lower notes and the professional standard Bb and C instruments often have slides or triggers on the 1st and 3rd (very occasionally on the main tuning slide) valve tubes to fine-tune pitches.

Incidentally, you can get a piccolo trombone on eBay that has the cunning (dis)advantage of the slide falling off the end when you try to play a low D (luckily I say this from research and not from personal experience of buying one of these "musical instruments").

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