Cornet vs. Trumpet: Surprising Differences Revealed by an Expert

Cornet vs. Trumpet: Surprising Differences Revealed by an Expert

Have you ever heard the words trumpets and cornets used and wondered what the difference was?

Comparing Cornet and Trumpet

Are you shopping for a new instrument and unsure if the cornet or trumpet is the choice for you?

Don’t feel bad. Many people don’t understand the cornet and trumpet difference. In reality, they are very similar, but a few distinct changes make the sound significantly different.

I hope this guide is helpful to you as you look for a new instrument to play. You do want to make sure you read carefully though because there are some situations where you don’t want a cornet or a trumpet.

Read on for the in-depth comparison of the cornet vs. trumpet.

Overview Of The Cornet

In this section, we’ll give a brief overview of the history of the cornet, its main specifications, and an example of a cornet.

Brief History Of The Cornet

Long ago in human history (around 1500 years ago and before) people would use tubes made of metal and bone to play and make sounds into a mouthpiece. These were the roots of the modern brass family.

Not all of these tubed instruments were made the same, however. There were two main difference in the tubing which still exist in today’s brass instruments.

Some of the tubes were conical (more on that below and in the “Main Differences Section”). These instruments were used for hunting and calling over long distances.

The others were cylindrical and used more for ensemble playing, fanfares, and events.

Over time, they added valves to give more notes to the instruments and the cornets and trumpets were born: the cornet from the conical and the trumpet from the cylindrical.

Main Specs Of The Cornet

As the cornet developed alongside the trumpet they retained some similarities, but also some key differences.

Here is a quick look at the common specifications of cornets. A detailed look follows.

  • 13-16” length from mouthpiece to bell
  • 5’ of tubing (without valves pressed)
  • Brass material
  • Conical bore
  • Valves are 2/3 of the way down the length of the tubing
  • Narrow mouthpiece
  • Around 4.5-4.8” bell diameter

The 13-16” length makes it very easy to hold because it’s a smaller size. Some younger players find the cornet the easiest to handle.

However, the shorter length of the cornet doesn’t mean it’s actually shorter than the trumpet. The tubing length is still 4.5’ long.

It’s just wrapped up tighter. This means it plays the same notes of the trumpet.

The cornet is made of brass. Brass is selected as the metal of choice for the brass family because its provided the perfect mix of clear sound, durability, reliability, and projection compared to all other materials.

The bore of the cornet is conical. This is easiest to explain with a metaphor (something like the lower, and the upper one for the trumpet, maybe a side by side at the end)Cornet and Trumpet Comparison

This is illustrated in this picture to have a better idea of what is described here. Credit for this picture given to this source.

Imagine a four and a half foot long funnel or cone. At one end, the tube is narrow, and the other is wide. The tubing gradually goes from the narrow to wide.

Then, you wrap the tubing around twice and stick a mouthpiece on it. That’s (in the simplest form) how the cornet is designed.

The conical bore provides a strong column of air from the beginning which increases the agility of the cornet. The gradually increases bore size allows for the sound to gain more resonance and depth to the sound.

Imagine the mellow yet brilliant sound of the French horn in a trumpet size, and you have the cornet.

The valves are 2/3 of the way down the length of the cornet. This doesn’t affect the playing at all, and the only reason it’s in this spot is because of the tighter wrapping of the tubing.

A cornet mouthpiece is much more narrow than the trumpet’s. This is due to the smaller initial bore size that a conical shape requires. A narrow mouthpiece helps with playing faster and higher.

The Blessing 7C is an example of a high-quality cornet mouthpiece.

Brand-new players may have a harder time playing initially with this smaller mouthpiece, but this is easily overcome.

The tubing still flares out at the end to the average 4.5-4.8” bell diameter. This is generally the same as the trumpet and provides good projection and depth of sound.

The Ravel Student cornet (check price on Amazon) is a standard example of the cornet. This one is designed for students.

Overview Of The Trumpet

In this section, we’ll give a brief overview of the history of the trumpet, its main specifications, and an example of a trumpet.

A Brief History Of The Trumpet

At the same time as the cornet, the trumpet was developing from the tubed instruments of long ago, but this time from the cylindrical tubed instruments (see below) that were popular in ensembles and for fanfares.

As the trumpet developed, it didn’t get valves right away to change the tubing. There was an interesting period where the trumpets had interchangeable slides to access different notes.

This early trumpet could only play in certain keys, and only had accessed a limited number of notes. So in the early days (around 300-500 years ago), the trumpet was given the fanfares and the cornet was given the flowing melodies.

Then, they tried to give the trumpet movable slides like the trombone. While this worked for the trombone, the trumpet’s shorter slides proved less accurate when trying to play in tune.

Eventually, they added valves just like the cornet, and the modern trumpet was born.

Main Specs Of The Trumpet

As the trumpet developed alongside the cornet, there were some similarities but also some key differences.

Here is a quick look at the common specifications of cornets. A detailed look follows.

  • 18” length from mouthpiece to bell
  • 5’ of tubing (without valves pressed)
  • Brass material
  • Cylindrical bore
  • Valves are 1/2 of the way down the length of the tubing
  • Wider, open mouthpiece
  • Around 4.5-4.8” bell diameter

The trumpet is, on average, 18” from mouthpiece to bell. This is considerably longer than the cornet making it take slightly more effort to hold. Most beginner trumpets compensate for the length by being designed lighter than other trumpets.

However, the 18” length still translates into the same 4.5’ of tubing that the cornet does. This means that they play the same notes and have the same range although the sound is different due to other specs.

The trumpet does one large loop with its tubing where the cornet goes around twice.

The trumpet is made from brass which is the standard for the brass family. For centuries, we’ve used brass in the trumpet because it’s the perfect balance of clear sound, durability, reliability, and projection.

The bore of the trumpet is cylindrical. This means that the tubing in the trumpet stays the same diameter throughout the length of the trumpet until it gets to the bell where it flares out.

The root of “cylindrical bore” is “cylinder.” The trumpets tubing starts fairly narrow and stays that way until the very end. If you unwrapped and stretched the trumpet out, you’d see a four and a half foot long tube that was even and the same size until the bell end.

The cylindrical bore is what gives the trumpet is brighter, more powerful and piercing sound. It also allows it to have a stronger sound throughout the entire range of the trumpet.

The valves are placed halfway down the length of the tubing. This doesn’t affect the playing or sound; it’s only due to the longer wrapping of the tubes.

The trumpet features a wider bore and more open mouthpiece. This allows you to provide a larger column of air which generally means that you can produce a more powerful, brilliant sound.

The Bach 5C mouthpiece is an example of a high-quality trumpet mouthpiece.

Brand-new players play may find this makes playing easier although they may notice it’s slightly more difficult to play higher notes directly compared to the cornet.

Note: Trumpet and cornet mouthpieces cannot be used interchangeably.

Despite the fact that the bore stays the same through the length of the trumpet, it still flares out to the same bell diameter as the conical cornet. The 4.5-4.8” bell diameters offer a balance of projection and clear sound which is why most trumpets and cornets don’t vary much from that amount.

The Yamaha YTR-2330 is a good example of a beginner trumpet (check price on Amazon). It has all of the same features you find on other trumpets for you to look at.

Main Similarities

The trumpet and cornet are very related. In most cases, they can be used interchangeably for one another. In fact, most people find switching from cornet to trumpet requires no effort.

The same skills and exercises for trumpet work for cornet.

Only at the highest levels of playing do groups get picky about what exactly you’re playing. (Look into the difference for more on that).

Here is a quick rundown of how they are the same:

 

Feature Cornet Trumpet
Length of Tubing 4.5 feet 4.5 feet
Type of Valves Piston Piston
Number of Valves 3 3
Bell diameter 4.5-4.8 inches 4.5-4.8 inches
Material Brass Brass
Range (In Concert Pitch) E3-Bb6 (more skilled players can play higher) E3-Bb6 (more skilled players can play higher)
Range (In Written Pitch) F#3-C6 (more skilled players can play higher) F#3-C6 (more skilled players can play higher)

As you can see from this chart, the important elements of the cornet and trumpet are the same. The length, functional design, and abilities of each instrument matches.

They’re also cared for in the same way. To maintain either instrument, all you need is some simple materials (like this Yamaha cornet/trumpet maintenance kit).

When shopping then, it comes down to the difference and what you think you’ll use the cornet or trumpet for.

Main Differences

In this section, we look at the cornet vs. trumpet. This table gives a quick look at the main differences in the specs between the two.

 

Features Cornet Trumpet
Bore design Conical bore (like a cone) Cylindrical bore (like a cylinder)
Valve placement 2/3 of the way up the tubing 1/2 of the way up the tubing
Mouthpiece shape Narrow Wide, open
Length of instrument 13-15 inches 18 inches
Sound Mellow, dark Bright, clear
Ensembles they play in Concert bands, brass bands, specific orchestra groups Concert bands, orchestras, brass quintets, jazz groups, mariachi

From this comparison, we can see the features that differ and how they may affect your choice.

When it comes to cornet vs. trumpet for beginners, the smaller length and narrower mouthpiece may make it easier for new players to handle and produce a greater range of notes.

But is cornet easier than trumpet? Not that much. Beginners may find the cornet easier at first, but that’s easily overcome on the trumpet. It comes down to sound.

The difference in bore design are the biggest effect on the cornet vs. trumpet sound. The cornet’s sound is described as much more mellow and dark, while the trumpet’s sound is described as bright and clear.

See for yourself in this video.

When you look at the cornet vs. trumpet mouthpiece, you can see another big difference. A narrower mouthpiece with the cornet gives more back pressure and helps the player play more quickly and access the high range. A wider mouthpiece provides more depth to the sound and gives a consistently brilliant sound over the whole range of the trumpet.Comparing trumpet and cornet

Another thing that may help you decide whether you want a cornet or a trumpet are the ensembles you want to play in.

Both instruments are seen in concert bands. At the middle, high school, and even amateur adult levels, cornets and trumpets can be used interchangeably.

At the higher levels, the cornet isn’t as common. Its main use is in the British style brass band where it completely replaces the trumpet. It can also be seen in some orchestra pieces where the composer specifically calls for it.

Trumpets are much more common today. They are seen regularly in orchestras, brass quintets, and mariachi.

The question of cornet or trumpet for jazz is an interesting one though. When jazz was first being born, the cornet was king. Its mellow sound and agility made it a great lead for the small groups of early jazz.

But as time went on and the bigger swing bands became more popular, the trumpet replaced the cornet. Since then, it’s been the standard choice.

However, at the amateur level, cornets are still seen and played in jazz commonly.

Pros And Cons Of The Cornet And Trumpet

This table provides a quick and easy look at the pros and cons of the cornet vs. trumpet. Use this as a guide to help you decide which is the one you want.

 

Instrument Pros Cons
Trumpet ●     Bright sound

●     Good projection

●     More common in groups today

●     Consistent sound over the entire range

●     Very versatile in sound quality

●     Easier low range

 

●     Not used in brass bands

●     Sound can be cutting in mellow sounds unless the players is skilled

●     Harder to access high range (although intentional practice makes this easier)

●     More expensive

 

Cornet ●     Mellow, dark sound

●     Agile playing

●     Easier access to high range

●     Easier to handle

●     Featured in brass bands

 

●     Not as common in today’s groups

●     Higher back pressure may throw off brand new players at first

●     Can’t project as much over really large groups

 

 

Use this chart to help you decide what’s important to you when you go to buy your cornet or trumpet.

The Verdict

I hope you found this in-depth cornet vs. trumpet comparison helpful. They are the same where it’s the most important, but the bore design and mouthpiece shape give them their biggest change in sound.

So what do I recommend? That’s a tough one because they’re so close.

As a young or beginner player, you can pick the one whose sound you prefer. The differences in playing and handling are so close that I can only give a slight edge to the cornet for beginners.

As you get better and you’re more serious, I recommend the trumpet. It’s more versatile and common in the groups you’ll find. Some groups may exclude you if all you have is a cornet.

However, if you’re really into brass bands, then a cornet is an easy choice.

If you or your child just loves playing and is really into it, you may want to consider getting one of each. Many advanced and all professional players have a cornet and a trumpet (sometimes several of each).

This lets them play in whatever group they want to and get any sound they want depending on the piece.

Whatever you decide, I hope that you just pick one and start playing. You can always switch or add one to your closet later without much effort. If you would like to learn more about different trumpet types, look at our related comprehensive post here.

Have fun playing some music!

 

Summary
Article Name
Cornet vs. Trumpet: Surprising Differences Revealed by an Expert
Author