If you’ve never thought about it, the anatomy of a trumpet might seem pretty simple. You’ve got the mouthpiece, the trumpet body, the valves, and the bell. But when you look at a trumpet parts diagram like the one below, you may wonder what all those parts are for.
Beyond just reading the trumpet parts names, each part serves its own interesting purpose to creating the magic sound of the instrument. Read on to find out about what are the parts of a trumpet and their importance based on my own experience in teaching and playing the instrument for over 20 years. This is also useful information when dealing with your trumpet care and maintenance.
All the trumpet parts and functions are vital, but this is actually the most important part of the trumpet. Without the mouthpiece, the trumpet is basically a fancy, empty metal tube.
To create sound, vibration must be present. Vibration creates sound waves which, in turn, vibrate the air molecules and travel to your ears as sound. For brass instruments, such as the trumpet, the vibration occurs when you buzz your lips.
The mouthpiece offers resistance to help with buzzing. The cup shape channels the vibration into a standing wave which is what creates the trumpet’s unique sound.
In general, the larger the cup of the mouthpiece, the more sound you can produce. On the flip side, a smaller cup is easier to play because it doesn’t require as much work on the part of the trumpet player.
For a more in-depth guide on trumpet mouthpieces, check out this article.
Warning! When choosing a mouthpiece, take care not to accidentally get a cornet mouthpiece. Although cornets and trumpets are closely related, the mouthpieces don’t fit in both.
The rest of the trumpet is just a fancy sound manipulator and amplifier. Don’t treat your mouthpiece poorly! It’s the heart of your instrument.
The following video gives some good hints and tips for buzzing on your mouthpiece and how it can improve your playing. Many top-level players spend a considerable amount of their practice time on buzzing because it allows them to isolate some of the most important aspects of sound production.
The mouthpiece receiver is where the mouthpiece is inserted into the instrument proper. Not much is needed to worry about with this part unless it’s damaged. A dented mouthpiece receiver makes it difficult or impossible to use a mouthpiece which makes the trumpet useless.
If you find this part is damaged, it’s a fairly and inexpensive fix. Take it to your local music store, and they have special techniques to repair the part without damaging the rest of the horn. Keep in mind, though, once damaged the metal can never go back as perfectly as it once was.
The lead pipe is a key part of the trumpet. Located between the mouthpiece receiver and near the valves (discussed next), the lead pipe sends your air and vibrations through the rest of the trumpet’s tubing.
Due to its location near your mouth and where your hands hold, this part of the trumpet is most vulnerable to damage from sweat on the outside and saliva buildup on the inside. Because of this, many trumpet manufacturers make the lead pipe out of brass with more copper in it.
The addition of copper (or red brass) makes the metal more resistant to damage and buildup. If the lead pipe gets blocked or worn, it results in an overall weaker sound. Regular baths and polish can prevent damage, but getting a trumpet with specialized brass at this part is a wise choice.
The valves (or buttons as many call them) are how the trumpet changes notes. When no valves are pushed down, the trumpet plays in its “fundamental” overtone series. This means the trumpet can actually only play a few notes.
When the player pushed down a valve or valves, the air is redirected through extra tubing to make the trumpet longer. The longer the tubing, the lower the notes. In this way, you can change the fundamental series of notes and play different pitches.
The valves are used singly and in combination with one another to gain access to all 12 pitches over many octaves (or ranges). Here is a quick guide for what each valve does:
- No valves – Fundamental note
- 2nd Valve – 1/2 step lower
- 1st Valve – 1 step lower
- 3rd Valve – 1 and 1/2 steps lower
- 1st and 2nd Valves – 1 and 1/2 steps lower
- 2nd and 3rd Valves – 2 steps lower
- 1st and 3rd Valves – 2 and 1/2 steps lower
- 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Valves – 3 steps lower
The valves often need to be oiled to keep them moving smoothly. It’s a common mistake to believe you can oil the valves by dropping the valve oil in through the bottom of the valve casing. The correct way to do so involves unscrewing the top valve cap (see next), pulling out the valve, and adding drops around the outside of the valve itself.
When putting the valve back in, make sure you line up the holes of the valve properly. Most trumpet models come with a guide (or little plastic tab) that fits into a groove on the valve casing. This ensures you put the valve back in with the correct orientation.
Check out this video for an effective visual on how valves work.
Top Valve Cap
The top valve cap is the part of the valves that screw onto the trumpet. These parts keep the valve in place while you play. You don’t need to worry much about the valve caps; just make sure not to cross-thread it or it won’t hold properly.
Pro-tip: If you find that the valve cap won’t screw down, you may not have the valve in the correct orientation. Slowly spin the valve in the casing until you feel the guide catch in the groove. Test the valve pushes all the way down before you try to screw the valve cap on again.
The finger rings are often one of the most forgotten parts of the trumpet, but, actually, their proper use can mean the difference between amateur and professional level playing. In addition, using them incorrectly can result in pain to your hands and fingers over time.
There are usually three finger rings/triggers on every trumpet. Each one has a different purpose and is used slightly differently from the other.
Pinky Ring – The pinky ring sits on top of the trumpet. As the pointer, middle, and ring fingers on your right hand use the valves, your pinky kind of just hangs out. Placing your pinky on top of the pinky ring keeps your hand in a better position for pressing valves quickly and avoiding finger pain from a pinky that curls under.
First valve ring/trigger – The first valve ring sits on top of your first valve slide (see below). Your left hand thumb goes through the ring.
This isn’t just for comfort. As you play, some notes you play with your first valve are out of tune (meaning they don’t sound quite right with other players). This ring lets you push out the first valve slide until it’s better in tune.
Third Valve Ring – The third valve ring fits the pinky of your left hand inside. This ring is often adjustable to fit your hand size perfectly.
To find the proper spot for the ring, hold the trumpet in playing position as naturally as you can. Don’t try to put your little finger in the ring, just let it ride comfortably. Adjust the ring to match where your pinky naturally goes.
Like the first valve ring, the third valve ring also helps with playing in tune. As you play using the third valve, some notes are out of tune. By using your pinky to push the third valve slide (see below) in and out you can find the right pitch.
The following video offers a more in-depth explanation of why using the rings to tune your trumpet notes are important.
The bell of the trumpet is where the air and vibration come out. It may seem odd, but the bell is rarely ever made with the rest of the trumpet. Often, the bell is shaped as a separate piece and later soldered on to the body of the trumpet.
Bells can come in different sizes that affect the sound. Large bells actually create a more mellow and rich sound. Smaller bells result in a brighter, more piercing sound.
The bell is a good sized piece of metal, and this makes it harder to hold up over long periods. Many companies opt to make the bell out of a lighter alloy like yellow brass to compensate for this.
Pro-tip: The bell is the most easily damaged part of the instrument, so be careful! If it is dented, it may not actually be a big deal. Small dents (less than the depth of a quarter) aren’t going to impact the sound much.
First Valve Slide
This is the little slide attached to your first valve. When the first valve is pressed, the sound is routed through this extra tube to lower the trumpet’s pitch by 1 whole step.
There is often a ring or trigger attached to this where your left thumb goes. As you play certain notes, you can adjust to tuning of the notes by moving the slide in and out.
Second Valve Slide
This is the little slide attached to your second valve. This one is so small it only allows for minor adjustments which you probably don’t ever need to worry about.
Third Valve Slide
This is the longer slide attached to your third valve. Often it comes with an adjustable pinky ring on top. This slide needs to most adjusting to keep the notes in tune. See the above ring section for a video on why moving this slide is important.
Pro-tip: Take care of your slides by taking them out and rubbing slide grease on them at least once a week. Make sure when you pull the slide out you also push down its matching valve.
Main Tuning Slide
This is the large slide that is part of your trumpet’s main body. Moving the slide in and out affects the tuning of the entire instrument.
There are many reasons your trumpet may be out of tune overall. It’s not a cause for alarm and is a regular part of playing any instrument. Reasons for needing to check your tuning can include:
- Not having played for a while
- Developing better skill at playing
- Cold and warm temperatures
- Playing in a group that tunes differently
- Not being warmed
- Playing with tired lips
Pro-tip: With all slides and tuning. Moving the slide out makes the sound go lower in pitch while moving the slide in makes the pitch go higher.
The waterkeys (or spit valves as they’re more commonly known) are places where you can let the accumulated water out of your instrument. This happens as a normal part of playing due to the saliva from your buzzing and condensation from the hot air you blow.
To use a water key, angle your trumpet slightly down and press the water key attached to your main tuning slide and blow. Repeat with the water key attached to your third valve, but make sure you also press the third valve while you blow.
Pro-tip: If you notice a crackling sound while you play, this is a sign you need to use your water keys.
So there you have it. The anatomy of a trumpet doesn’t have to be so mystifying. If middle school students can understand the parts of a trumpet, you can too.
Now that you know a bit more about this instrument you can always use this information when you go to buy a new trumpet. If something breaks on your horn, you can use your new knowledge to accurately describe what’s wrong to your local music store, and get your trumpet fixed quickly.
I hope you enjoyed learning a bit more about what’s in a trumpet parts diagram. If you are wondering now what the best beginner trumpet to buy, check out this article. Otherwise, go to practice and have fun!
If you are in search of good trumpets, just starting and don’t know where to start, don’t forget to check our excellent article called covering how to find the Best Beginner Trumpet.
On the other hand, if you are more an intermediate to advance level player, you may read this article covering the trumpet brands or this one which explains great trumpets for playing jazz. One of the trumpet brands I really like and recommend is Yamaha and more, in particular, the Yamaha-2300 series.
Let me tell you that after reading this post, you probably know more than a majority of trumpet players out there. To expand your horizon, you can read this article to understand better what are the different types of trumpets.