Cornet vs Trumpet – The Ultimate Guide

Trumpet-like instruments date back to a few thousand years from now. These instruments were earlier used to make loud sounds for announcements in ceremonies and battlefields. Initially, these instruments were not considered for creating music.

Trumpets gained popularity around the 20th century. The trumpet that we see today is a development of the old trumpet with three piston valves.

It consists of a mouthpiece, tube, valves, rings, and bell. Some modern trumpets also come with four valves. So basically trumpet has evolved over a period of time and is still evolving.

The trumpet is considered as one of the oldest brass musical instrument in which the sound is produced by blowing the air into the tube. While blowing the air, the players cause their lips to vibrate. The vibrating air goes through the tube and then comes out of the bell portion creating a sound. The trumpets basically amplify this vibration to create sound.

The introduction of the valves helped the trumpet to play every note across the range. Over time different musicians have used different fingering techniques with the valves. Besides fingers, the players make use of tongue to make changes into the pitch.

A trumpet is mainly suitable for jazz, concerts and symphony orchestras. Trumpets come in various varieties and models manufactured by some well-known brands. They come in different keys but the Bb key trumpet is the most commonly used followed by the C trumpet.

What Is A Cornet?

Cornet

Cornet is a musical instrument made up of brass which is played by blowing air into the mouthpiece. It is considered very similar to a trumpet and was invented in the early 19th century. It was developed from an instrument called posthorn. The cornets had emerged as a popular solo musical instrument up till the 20th century.

The cornet as the name suggests has a conical tube. It is compact and small in size and therefore very easy to hold. It produces a mellow and softer sound.

A cornet is about 24 inches long and is generally played in jazz bands, brass bands, military bands, and orchestras. It also comes in varying models like the circular cornet, long cornet, echo cornet, and the butterfly model.

Similarities Between Trumpet and Cornet

There are many similarities between both the instruments. In fact, it is not possible to describe the cornet without mentioning trumpet. So let us first enlist the similarities below –

  • Both belong to the brass aerophone category of instruments which means that both are made up of brass and produce sound when the air is blown into them.
  • Both the instruments are similar in shape and size.
  • Both the instruments have three valves with the same configuration. The valve tuning slides are also of the same length.
  • Regular oiling of valves is necessary to maintain both the instruments.
  • Cornets and trumpets are played with the same breathing and finger techniques. The right hand is kept on top along with the fingers on top of the valves and the left hand is used to hold the instrument.
  • The hand grip is the same with the little finger ring placed near the third valve in both the instruments.
  • Both can produce a concert B flat sound. The B flat trumpets and cornets are quite common and their bell size is almost the same.
  • The length of the tubing is the same for trumpet and cornet.

Difference Between Cornet And Trumpet

  • Cornet holds more resistance than the trumpet so a player would feel more pressure while playing the cornet. Therefore one should not be too aggressive with a cornet which means it has to be slow air whereas in a trumpet one can go with fast air.
  • Cornet is known for a wider dynamic range and a mellower, softer and warmer sound when compared to a trumpet. A trumpet can produce a louder and punchy sound when compared to a cornet.
  • Cornet has more bends in its tubing than a trumpet.
  • The diameter of the tubing or the bore of a trumpet remains the same through the length and it grows bigger while it is reaching to connect to the bell section. However, the diameter of the tubing or the bore in a cornet gradually increases through its length. In other words, we can say that the bore of a trumpet is cylindrical whereas the bore of a cornet is conical.
  • The trumpet has a straight lead pipe which curves once and then goes into the third valve. The lead pipe in a cornet twists three times before going into the third valve.
  • In a trumpet, the first and third valve tuning slides are manual. The manual adjustment is done by thumb rings and thumb hooks. Cornets have mechanical triggers at the first and third valve tuning slides.
  • The bell section in a trumpet exits the valve section by taking a perpendicular bend whereas in a cornet when the bell section exits the valve section, it bends at a higher angle taking a shepherd’s crook shape.
  • Despite the same tubing length, the cornet is tightly wrapped and appears shorter than a trumpet.
  • A trumpet mouthpiece is longer than a cornet mouthpiece. The size of the cup in a trumpet mouthpiece is shallow whereas a cornet mouthpiece has a deeper cup. In other words, the cup is ball-shaped in a trumpet and V-shaped in a cornet.
  • Cornet may be easier to carry in a backpack when compared to a trumpet.

Difference Between A Small Trumpet And a Cornet

Apart from the regular large size trumpets, the manufacturing companies also make smaller trumpets. Pocket trumpets and piccolo trumpets are some of the well known small trumpets.

A pocket trumpet is even smaller than a cornet and a lot of people may like to travel with it instead of a large regular trumpet carry case. Pocket trumpets are challenging to play and offer lesser tone quality. Therefore, they can’t be considered as a replacement to standard size trumpets or even cornets for that matter.

A piccolo trumpet is the smallest trumpet with four valves and is often used by players for better accuracy. A piccolo has lesser tubing and the fourth valve helps in providing a lower pitch.

It is quite common for people to confuse a small trumpet with a cornet. However, it is important to understand here that the cornet cannot be called a small trumpet.

Similarly, a pocket trumpet or a piccolo trumpet cannot be called a small cornet mainly because a cornet originated differently and manifested into being an instrument similar to the trumpet. So the cornet that we see now is quite like a trumpet but belongs to a different family as far as its origins are concerned.

In future, if the pocket trumpet further evolves or develops then there is a possibility that they may replace the cornet.

Trumpet Or Cornet – Which One Is Better?

Although it depends on the band and the music conductor as far as choosing a cornet or a trumpet is concerned. Nevertheless, we would still need to understand the real-time environment and the musician’s standpoint as defined below.

The Real-Time Scenario

The below-mentioned factors give us an idea about the current usage of these instruments in the real world –

  • Beginners especially the children like to use a cornet because it is easier to hold but a lot of professional trumpet players prefer a trumpet over a cornet. It also happens that a lot of learners and beginners who started playing brass instruments using a cornet, later on, move to bigger instruments like trumpets as they become more experienced.
  • It is interesting to note that trumpets and cornets are not always played in isolation but they are also played in combination.
  • A trumpet is a fanfare instrument which finds use in a lot of symphony settings. Articulation is crisper on a trumpet as compared to a cornet.  

Understanding A Cornet & Trumpet From A Musician’s Standpoint

Cornet blends easily with other instruments but a trumpet can produce a piercing sound. Since the trumpet mouthpiece is long so it may result in instability and intonation issues for players at higher pitches. However, a lot of players find a trumpet to be more resonant than a cornet.

The V-shaped deep mouthpiece in a cornet tends to highlight the lower overtones and in fact, it is freer down low. Therefore cornets are easier to play at low to medium pitches but difficult to play at a higher pitch.

Some players attach an adaptor on to the mouthpiece of a cornet and use it in a trumpet and eventually make a trumpet sound like a cornet. Some players also try to make a cornet sound loud like a trumpet. So basically players often experiment and try to replace one instrument by the other.

A trumpet and a cornet both have been known to produce their characteristic sound. There are musicians who like both the instruments for this reason and do not favor the idea of struggling with one instrument to make it behave like the other.

Popularity wise, the trumpets score over cornets. The last century has seen not just trumpet players but also certain trumpet models with a considerable fan following.

Nevertheless, a musician may not choose an instrument based on its popularity but on the kind of sound that they want to achieve. So the cornets very much hold their relevance in front of trumpets for this very reason.

Also, it is not necessary for musicians to choose one amongst these two instruments, they can be proficient on both.  

As of now, a trumpet cannot replace a cornet but in the next hundred years or so you never know considering the fact that a trumpet is constantly evolving. On the other hand, we may see a rise in the number of brass bands in the future and people’s taste also change with times so a major shift might happen towards cornets as well.

  • Alex
  • Updated September 17, 2019
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