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What’s the Difference Between a Cornet and Trumpet?

Looking at both, they do appear to be quite similar. However, there are some differences and not only in the way they are built. So, what’s the difference between a cornet and trumpet?

An Ancient Instrument

The Trumpet and the Cornet are both horns if you want to group them into a descriptive box. They have been used in various shapes and sizes for thousands of years, some dating back as far as 1500 BC. 

They have been used in wartime, for displays, and military fanfares. And many Royal courts had their “Trumpet Ensembles.” But they only became part of musical ensembles in the 17th century.

The Arrival of the Valve

In the early 1800s, the valve was invented. The result of this was that more notes became available on the trumpet. The length of the tube changed. With the air from the player’s breath having to travel a shorter distance, now you could play chromatic scales.

Manufacturers weren’t sure and were a bit slow to build them in. One of the options was to build a different type of trumpet. Say hello to the cornet with its valves. 

For a long time, composers wrote different musical parts for trumpet and cornet. The trumpets handled the pronounced blasts of sound. The cornets with their valves, the more melodic requirements.

The Cornet was the Favorite Amongst Musicians

The Cornet

At least in the early 1900s, it was. But gradually, the “jazz boys,” led by Louis Armstrong, changed their opinions, and players went to the trumpet. The sharper and brighter sound enabled it to cut through the bigger bands. 

The influence of the cornet began to wane, especially when guys like Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie came into view brandishing their trumpets.

Now we have two separate instruments. But let’s look at them in two different ways. But, before looking at the differences between cornets and trumpets, let’s look at how similar they are.

Similarities between the Trumpet and the Cornet

Well, they are both brass instruments, so that is a start. And you blow into both of them. You create the sound the same way by using your lips on a metal mouthpiece. The notes are achieved by either loosening or tightening the lips.

Both instruments also use the jaw and other facial muscles, known as “embouchure,” to achieve notes. So, in other, words the playing techniques of a trumpet and a cornet are virtually identical.

Both the trumpet and the cornet have three valves. As I mentioned earlier, the valves reduce the length of the piping on both. The valves work with the embouchure to produce the notes for both instruments. You can play the chromatic scale with both.

More of the same

Both instruments, despite the conical or cylindrical shapes, have a very similar bore size. The Lead pipes and Bells are quite often turned in their manufacture on the same mandrel. This means the tapers will be the same. Although, they are bent into shape in different places.

The mouthpiece design is similar, although not quite the same in some ways. And they both play at the same pitch. But as we shall see, the mouthpiece design does affect the sound. 

Most, but not all, trumpets and cornets are in the key of Bb. Seems to me like we are looking at very similar instruments. But they aren’t. So, let’s take a look at…

What’s the Difference Between a Cornet and Trumpet

You can argue that they both look similar. And to a certain extent, they do. But the cornet is smaller than the trumpet and has a much rounder appearance. The length, of course, is the most obvious difference.

Most trumpets have a regular size and usually measure about 19 inches. Cornets, on the other hand, can measure between 13 and 16 inches. It is usually the size of the bell on the cornet that dictates its length.

The valves are placed about halfway along the body of the trumpet. On the cornet, they are roughly two-thirds of the way down.

The length is different, but the same…

Confused? They are different sizes, but the length of the tubing is the same. The tubing on the trumpet is coiled in one revolution for its shape. The cornet has two revolutions. Another difference is the size and the shape of the bore.

Does Bore Size Make a Difference?

The bore is the diameter of the inside of the tube. This is where the air passes through when you blow. The bore will affect the timbre of the sound, and it will also determine how much breath is required.

The bore on the trumpet is cylindrical, while the bore on the cornet is conical. The conical bore means that the size increases as you travel down the tubing. The sound of the cornet is warmer and not as sharp as the trumpet because of this.

The Mouthpiece

The Mouthpiece

Another contributor to the warm and less harsh sound of the cornet is the mouthpiece. The mouthpiece on the cornet is deeper than that of the trumpet. This adds to that warmth for the sound it produces.

Are the Differences Important?

That depends. The main difference between the two instruments, as I have said, is the sound. That has the natural consequence of making both of them more suitable for certain styles of music.

They both have their limitations. But they also both have their positives. Whilst they can both sound a little like the other, those limitations are noticeable. We have talked about the shape and the size of the bore. This is a significant difference because it creates the tone of both instruments. 

The sharper, more piercing sound of the trumpet makes it more suitable for some things. That is positive in some environments. Whereas the softer, warmer tones of the cornet lend that instrument to alternative uses. In turn, that is a positive in some musical circles.

The Cornet has a Problem

Not with itself; it is a fine instrument, but with its persona. It is sometimes viewed as an “inferior” trumpet. Played by those who can’t handle the larger instrument. 

Of course, this is nonsense; they both have their place. But it’s something you pick up on when parents are consulted about which they want their child to learn.

The Popularity of the Trumpet

The Popularity of the Trumpet

The trumpet is simply more popular, and there is a reason for this. And it has nothing to do with anything other than how it is viewed. 

When you see great jazz musicians, it is the trumpet they are playing. When you see rock bands that use brass, it is the trumpet you see. In the larger orchestras, the cornet might be there, but it is the trumpet you tend to see and usually hear. Additionally, the cornet can be seen more often in brass bands or a military environment. 

When a parent is talking to their child about choosing a brass instrument, why choose the trumpet? Is that because it appears to have a future in a variety of musical circles?

If You Want to Become a Pro

Understandably people will gravitate towards the instruments that seem to be featured. Quite understandable to a certain degree. The trumpet usually gets the nod because it seems to have a future. But becoming a professional horn player shouldn’t be a consideration when choosing a horn. And especially for a young starter. 

The cornet is somewhat easier to play. It is shorter and easier to hold. It is going to be easier to learn. And bear in mind this is no easy instrument, cornet or trumpet, to even start to get a sound out of at first. 

Learning on a cornet is fine… 

If they want to join Blood Sweat and Tears later, then they can convert to the trumpet without that much trouble. But the cornet is not inferior. It is just different.

If you are thinking about “going Brass,” here are some options to consider are this Jupiter Standard Bb Cornet and Yamaha YTR-2330 Standard Bb Trumpet. And some thoughts on playing a Brass instrument, there is Brass Playing Is No Harder Than Deep Breathing.

Interested in a Great Trumpet?

We can help with that. Check out our Mendini by Cecilio MTT-L Trumpet Review, our Mendini by Cecilio Gold Trumpet Brass Standard Bb Trumpet Review, our Yamaha YTR-2335 Bb Trumpet Review, our Yamaha YTR-2330 Standard Bb Trumpet Review, and our Jean Paul USA TR-330 Standard Student Trumpet Review for great items currently available.

Also, take a look at our in-depth reviews of the Best Trumpet, the Best Pocket Trumpets, and the Best Student Trumpets you can buy in 2021.

You might also enjoy our guides to The Difference Between Brass and Woodwind InstrumentsTypes Of Bebop Scales, and the 6 Easiest Musical Instruments for Adults to Learn for more useful information.

What’s the Difference Between a Cornet and Trumpet – Final Thoughts

Yes, there are differences. You can’t dispute there are. But the differences occur when you are considering what sort of music you want to play. That really should be the driving force between choosing one over the other.

Until next time, let your music play.

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About Jennifer Bell

Jennifer is a freelance writer from Montana. She holds a BA in Creative Writing and English, as well as an Associate of Applied Science in Computer Games and Simulation Design.

Her passions include guitar, bass, ukulele, and piano, as well as a range of classical instruments she has been playing since at school. She also enjoys reading fantasy and sci-fi novels, yoga, eating well, and spending time with her two cats, Rocky and Jasper.

Jennifer enjoys writing articles on all types of musical instruments and is always extending her understanding and appreciation of music. She also writes science fiction and fantasy short stories for various websites and hopes to get her first book published in the very near future.

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