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Physics of Playing a Trumpet



Through out my years as a trumpeter, I have fallen in love with my instrument. I really never gave much though as to why, or how, it plays the notes that it does. Now, with my knowledge of physics, it all makes perfect sense.

The trumpet is a precise instrument; one dent, clog, or hole could ruin the beautiful sound that may come out of it. The trumpet is made up of multiple parts, each critical to its performance:


When first learning to play the trumpet, the hardest part is learning how to buzz your lips in the correct way to get a clean sound, and then how to adjust the pitch as you play. This is sound waves at it's finest. By buzzing your lips (embouchure is the correct term), you cause the mouth piece to buzz, therefore sending a sound wave bouncing away through the air in the trumpet. The vibrations carry through the lead pipe until they reach the valves (refer back to the diagram). This is where something cool can happen; You can change the sound of the note by pushing down different valves. It's how you differentiate between a B, D, F, etc on the trumpet. This actually occurs because, with each valve pushed down, the path of the air is altered, becoming either longer or shorter to change the note. After that, the vibrations continue up until they reach the bell, and are diffracted off into the room to produce the music!

There is also a way to change pitch without touching the valves, as well. By adjusting your embouchure- that is, your facial muscles or mouth- you can change the pitch to be higher or lower. This is what distinguishes the middle G, low C, middle C, and high E from one another, because all four of those notes are played opened valved (none being pressed). While it takes a while to get good enough to hit and slur up to high notes, like all else it just takes practice. The physics involved in the trumpet will make it happen if you can supply the vibration, pitch, and air flow.

Putting all this together, you can do scales as simple as this:

Or many other scales (sharps, minors, flats, etc).

There is more I could rant about with the trumpet, but I have a dragging suspicion you are bored by now :lol:

The trumpet is a beautiful example of Physics that, until this year, I really wasn't able to appreciate. I love my trumpet, yes, but it's awesome to be able to apply what I learned in order to TRULY understand why I can do what I can with my instrument.

I'll just leave you with one more thing ;)


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