Whether playing brass instruments is in your family tradition or you’ve just picked up the hobby for fun or in band class, the trumpet is one of the most popular choices for brass players.
As you do a little research on your brass instrument, you will discover that there are in fact two popular choices for people interested in playing the trumpet; the trumpet or the cornet.
The trumpet and the cornet are relatives in the brass instrument family, but they are used for different styles of music.
Many brass players eventually become proficient at both.
When starting out, it's wise to choose either one or the other.
It's important to keep your focus on one instrument while you're learning and it's going to prove more cost-efficient too.
In this guide, we’ll discover the differences and the similarities between the trumpet and the cornet.
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What Do The Cornet & The Trumpet Have In Common?
The trumpet and the cornet have much in common.
Of course, they are both made of the same material, and they are both part of the brass family of instruments.
They also have three valves, which are pressed down in the pattern that produce different tones.
The tone itself is generated on both instruments by buzzing your lips in a powerful, tight embouchure.
The tubing is also approximately the same length (4.5 ft), meaning they play in the same range and the same concert pitch – Bb.
Lastly, the trumpet and the cornet are both played by brass players.
They are used differently and they different sounds, but the skills you learn are mostly transferable.
What Are The Differences Between The Trumpet & The Cornet?
Now that we've covered the similarities between the instruments, let's look at how they are different.
The biggest difference between the trumpet and the cornet is the shape of the bore.
On a trumpet, the bore is cylindrical, with a consistent diameter throughout the entire instrument.
A cornet has a conical bore that increases in size down the length of the tubing.
The cornet also has four 180-degree curves in its tubing, whereas the trumpet has only two.
The instruments also have different mouthpieces – the trumpet has shallow, bowl shaped mouthpieces, and the cornet has a deeper, V-shaped mouthpiece.
Within each of these instrument types there are also varying types, such as the pocket trumpet and the Bb trumpet.
Different bores and different tubing change the sound that is produced; the trumpet offers a bright, direct sound and the cornet gives a warm, soft, round sound.
The cornet is also available in two different keys.
The soprano Eb cornet delivers a higher sound than the concert Bb cornet.
When you’re watching a concert band cornet player, you may see them switching between a Bb cornet and an Eb cornet to play the full musical range.
Because the instruments produce different sounds, they are used for different styles of music.
Trumpets are more commonly found in popular music, brass bands, big bands, rock bands, etc.
Cornets are often found in concert bands, military bands and the like.
Cornets are also used by young brass players.
When you are just starting out on a brass instrument, it is hard to hold pitch and play in tune.
The trumpet and the Bb cornet are the same pitch and feature the same fingerings but the cornet is easier for younger students to play.
Cornets have tighter tubing (remember the four 180-degree turns), which makes it smaller and easier to hold.
It is also easier to hold and find pitches on the cornet.
The history of the two instruments is another major difference between them.
The trumpet has been around for many centuries, dating back to a time when it was used as a signal during war and ceremony.
It was adapted over the centuries with the introduction of valves into a musical instrument, into orchestras and eventually into popular music.
The cornet is a more modern instrument, invented in the first half of the 19th Century.
It was invented by adding valves to a post horn in an attempt to create an instrument similar to a trumpet, but with a different sound and a wider range.
Difference In Popularity
Trumpets are more popular than cornets.
Trumpets are used in so many different styles of music – from classical, to rock horn sections, to jazz, to marching bands – they are everywhere.
If you are serious about playing a brass instrument, the trumpet may be the more logical choice, for this reason alone.
The cornet, however, is growing in popularity, and is easier to play for beginners.
If you're trying to decide which to choose, it is not necessary to choose based on the popularity of the instrument.
Trumpet vs. Cornet: Which Should You Choose?
The trumpet and the cornet are different in many ways, and there are many things to consider when choosing to buy one or the other.
What Is Your Age & Experience Level?
The trumpet is notoriously challenging to learn.
Once you get going, you can learn very quickly, but the early stages are challenging enough to discourage some students.
If you think your child (or you) might run into this issue, consider trying out a cornet instead.
What Kind Of Music Do You Want To Play?
If you already know what kind of sound you want to produce and what kind of band you want to play in, that factor may make up your mind for you.
Playing the trumpet is probably the right move if you are into jazz.
If you want to play in a traditional brass band or military band, the cornet is likely the right choice!
Rent Before You Buy & Try Both!
At the end of the day, it's up to you.
Many instrument shops have rental programs, so you can try out an instrument and take some lessons without fully committing.
Many players will end up being proficient on both the trumpet and cornet, as they get gigs that require both instruments.
The important thing is that you choose an instrument you are excited about, and practice often.