Trumpet Versus Cornet – What is the Difference?

The Basics

To look at the two instruments together the cornet is smaller; however, the actual tubing (the pipe from the mouthpiece end all the way round to the bell) is the same length as the trumpet at 4.5′. If you look at the tubing on a cornet next to a trumpet you can see that the cornet tubing is wound much tighter. Being the same length, they both play at the same pitch of Bb on standard student models.

Trumpet vs Cornet

The Technical Difference

The differences between the sound of different trumpets and cornets is the bore size. The bore size is the diameter of the tubing used to make a trumpet or cornet. Bore sizes vary according to the trumpet. A smaller bore will give a mellow, softer tone and a larger bore will be for trumpets used for a more pronounced tone. Professional trumpet players will have different trumpets for different types of playing or styles of music. They will also have different sized mouthpieces for different types of music.
The tubing on a trumpet is cylindrical and a consistent diameter throughout until you get the bell. The cornet has a conical bore which gradually increases the throughout. This difference gives two very different sounds. Broadly speaking you would be looking at the difference between the two instruments like this;

  1. Trumpet gives more of a jazz, piercing sounds. Think of fanfare/jazz trumpet solos
  2. Cornet has a much warmer, softer sound. Think Hovis bread advert or solemn military music.

Where They are Used.

Because they have very different sounds it makes sense they are used for very different music. Trumpets are found in jazz, big band, pop music, orchestras and the cornet is often used with other brass instruments that have a cylindrical bore, such as the French Horn in orchestras or wind bands.  Most orchestras/military bands will have both.

Younger Children

Many brass teachers will recommend that players who learn at a younger age start on a cornet. This is simply because it is shorter in length and a child’s arms do not have to extend as far to hold a trumpet. The centre of gravity is much better and less tiring for the child if playing for any length of time if the instrument is smaller in length.

Which is More Popular? Trumpet or Cornet

The trumpet globally speaking outsells cornet easily. But it shouldn’t really influence your decision too much. Both will be popular in schools and teachers won’t have a preference overall!

Which Should I Choose?

When it comes to deciding which is best for you the choice comes down to age and preference.
Starting with age, there isn’t a strict rule for younger players regards starting on a cornet. As a guide, a cornet may help a child up to the age of eight purely on size. After that it is down to preference, and that is based of your own musical taste and possibly availability of the instrument, or what is on offer at the school.  Remember that you can always swap or change from one to the other!

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