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What Is a D Trumpet?

M. Glass
M. Glass

A D trumpet is an orchestral instrument that is somewhat smaller than the common B flat trumpet. The smaller size enables it to be played comfortably in a higher range. Although it is rarely used by non-orchestral musicians, D trumpets might be featured in Baroque ensembles that are seeking an authentic sound and in larger orchestras that are playing pieces with exceptionally high trumpet parts.

Trumpets are an ancient instrument with a history dating to at least 1500 B.C. Early trumpets did not have valves. This restricted them to the notes corresponding to the fundamental frequencies associated with the instrument's length. After valves were added, trumpeters were able to play more notes on a single instrument, but the quality of the highest notes had a slightly different sound when compared with smaller, non-valved trumpets.

Baroque composers, such as Handel, featured trumpets in their music.
Baroque composers, such as Handel, featured trumpets in their music.

Baroque composers such as Johan Sebastian Bach and George Frederick Handel used trumpets extensively in their works. Valves were not yet invented, and these composers hired trumpeters who were capable of playing in the ranges called for by their compositions. Modern players who use orchestral trumpets can frequently reach the ranges called for in their pieces, but some choose to substitute the D trumpet because its subtly different sound is considered more authentic.

B flat trumpets are favored by most modern horn players, with C trumpets being the second most common. The note designation refers to the fundamental frequency, or natural sound, and harmonics associated with that trumpet's tubing length. The B flat trumpet is longer, and it plays lower than either the C trumpet or D trumpet. Most modern trumpet music is written with these ranges in mind. Orchestral musicians, especially those who are seeking to recreate an authentic Baroque-period sound, will sometimes use a D trumpet for pieces that feature an especially high trumpet range.

The decision to play a D trumpet is complicated by the fact that it requires a different mouthpiece. Some musicians state that switching mouthpieces changes their embouchure, or their facial muscles' ability to produce clear, high-quality notes. Others believe that the ability to play more easily in the higher ranges is essential to their playing. This is especially true for pieces such as Bach's Brandenburg Concerto, which features multiple high notes trilled together. Although it is possible to achieve these notes on the more common trumpets, they are further apart and therefore more difficult to play quickly.

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    • Baroque composers, such as Handel, featured trumpets in their music.
      By: nickolae
      Baroque composers, such as Handel, featured trumpets in their music.