History of the Trumpet

The trumpet is an important instrument in all forms of music – notably in jazz, with musicians like Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, and Louis Armstrong solidifying its place in jazz music. Before it’s use as a musical instrument, however, the trumpet started as a communication tool.

Ancient History

Many ancient texts reference the horn, a hollowed-out animal horn or shell. It didn’t have a mouthpiece to assist the player in making a sound or a bell to amplify the sound. The primitive trumpet usually had one or two pitches. Although most were end-blown, like our modern trumpets, some were side-blown, like a flute.

Animal horn trumpets are still used in many cultures, including Israel, Asia, Africa, and countries in the Oceanic region, and has many names. In Sumerian, it is called a Si, in Hebrew, it is called a Shofar, in Indian Sanskrit, it is called a Shringa, in Tibet, it is called a Rwa-dun, and in Uganda it is called an Engombe.

As the horn progressed in its development, people began using other materials to make the trumpet. Hollowed-out gourds, wood, and even rolled metal were used to create horns in a mostly straight or slightly curved shape. Sometimes finger holes were added to create additional pitches.

These early trumpets were not considered musical and were used to signal, announce, and send messages.

Ancient Trumpet

Early History

In Medieval times, as metalworking grew in technique, the trumpet took on the shape that is familiar to us today. The trumpet needed to be longer to create more pitches and manageable to the player. Interchangeable tubes and slides were added to assist in making more harmonic tones. At this point, the trumpet began to be considered a musical instrument. These first trumpets were classified into two registers: Principale, which played the low register, and Clarino, which played the upper register. The trumpet began being featured by famous composers such as Bach, Handle, Leopold Mozart, and Vivaldi.

A reproduction of a Baroque trumpet
A reproduction of a Baroque trumpet

Modern History

It wasn’t until 1820 that valves were added to the trumpet. German players Heinrich David Stolzel and Friedrich Bluhmel worked with C.F. Sattler, an instrument builder, to invent the valved horn that redirected air into different lengths of tubing, allowing the full chromatic scale to be played consistently. This consistency allowed the trumpet to grow in popularity, as its prominence, range, and chromatic capabilities were well-suited for melodic parts in symphonic ensembles.  In the 1920s, the trumpet became one of the first instruments to be recorded and played by many great jazz players.

Trumpeter Clark Terry, (1920-2015)


Learn the Long and Rich History of the Trumpet. (2019, March 1). LiveAbout. https://www.liveabout.com/history-of-the-trumpet-2456531

User, G. (2021, July 12). A Brief History of the Trumpet – Music Education Blog for Parents and Students. Vibe Music Academy. https://www.vibemusicacademy.com/blog/a-brief-history-of-the-trumpet

Wikipedia contributors. (2023, February 1). History of the trumpet. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_trumpet

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