What’s the Difference Between a Cornet and Trumpet?

Trumpets and cornets look and often sound very similar. In fact, it’s a common mistake for people to think that a cornet is just a short trumpet. While there are many similarities between these two brass instruments, there are quite a few differences between cornets and trumpets. If you’re the parent of a child who is interested in joining the band and playing a brass instrument, now may be the time to familiarize yourself with some of the finer points. Since the trumpet is one of the most popular instruments that children interested in band choose to play, this is definitely a good place to start.

What’s the Difference Between Cornets and Trumpets?

The most obvious difference between a cornet and trumpet is that the cornet looks shorter than the trumpet. Trumpets are usually around 19” long while cornets can range anywhere between 13” and 16”. The size of the cornet is usually determined by the instrument’s bell. Cornets with shepherd’s bells are smaller than ones that have long bells. Despite the difference in length, both the trumpet and the cornet have the same amount of tubing. The size difference between cornets and trumpets happens because the tubing on a trumpet is only coiled in one complete revolution while the cornet’s tubing is coiled in two complete revolutions. The valve cluster on a cornet is two-thirds of the way along the length of the instrument while on the trumpet, it’s usually situated about halfway.

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Another main difference between cornets and trumpets is the sound. The trumpet and the cornet are generally used for different styles of music. Although the two instruments are capable of sounding similar, they have different limitations in terms of what sounds they can accomplish. So, a trumpet can sound kind of like a cornet, and a cornet can sound somewhat like a trumpet, but usually, they sound different. The difference in sound is mainly attributed to the shape of the bore. Trumpet bores are cylindrical, meaning they have a consistent diameter throughout the instrument (excluding the bell flare section). Cornets, on the other hand, have a conical bore, which means that the bore gradually increases in size down the length of the tubing. The effect that the bore has on the sound is that, for trumpets, there’s a more piercing and direct sound. The conical bore of the cornet, however, creates a warmer, softer, and rounder sound.

What are Some Similarities?

There are many similarities between the trumpet and the cornet. First of all, both instruments are made from brass, have 3 valves, and are played by “buzzing” your lips. Additionally, both instruments are approximately the same bore, despite the cylindrical and conical shapes. The bells and lead pipes are usually made on the same mandrels, meaning they have the exact same tapers but are bent in different places. Because they are the same length, they play at the same pitch. The design of the mouthpieces on trumpets and cornets is also very similar, typically.

What Effect Do the Similarities and Differences Between Cornets and Trumpets Have?

As has been mentioned, the two instruments, despite their many similarities, are often used very differently. Because of their distinct sounds, they are used in different ensembles depending on the style and genre of music that’s being performed. Trumpets are most often found in orchestras, jazz, and in the horn sections of rock and pop bands. Cornets are most often found in a brass band. The main place that you’ll find both the trumpet and the cornet being played together are concert and military bands.

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In addition to how the similarities and differences affect how trumpets and cornets are used, they also affect who uses them. The trumpet is generally more popular than the cornet, but parents often gravitate to the shorter instrument to accommodate their children. In some cases, this is due to a lack of understanding about the meaningful differences between cornets and trumpets. A majority of high brass players start their lessons on a cornet because their size and shape make them somewhat easier to play. Often, some that learn to play a brass instrument on a cornet will move on to a larger instrument, such as a trumpet as they grow bigger.

Is the Trumpet or the Cornet More Popular?

Generally, trumpets are a bit more popular than cornets. Because trumpets are used in a variety of different types of music, there’s a practical reason to pick the trumpet over the cornet. Simply put, if you want to become a professional horn player, you’ll want to be more experienced with the instrument that’s featured the most. On the other hand, brass bands are growing in popularity around the world. If your child prefers the cornet to the trumpet, there’s no reason to discourage them or insist they make the switch. The popularity of an instrument doesn’t affect whether your child will enjoy playing it. As time goes on and tastes change, you may go from wanting to play in a rousing orchestra with a trumpet to being more interested in joining a traditional brass band.

Just because the two instruments are constructed similarly doesn’t mean there aren’t real significant differences between cornets and trumpets. If you’re trying to decide whether you or your child are more interested in purchasing and learning to play the trumpet or the cornet, there are several things you should consider. First, if you’re looking for a brass horn for your child, the size and shape of the cornet may make learning and playing more comfortable, which helps children stick with the process. Second, if you or your child knows what kind of music they want to perform, you should choose the instrument that will achieve that sound. Maintaining a passion for learning an instrument is more difficult when you’re learning on one you don’t see a future in. Third, don’t be afraid to experiment. Many music shops have rental programs that will give you or your child the opportunity to try an instrument without fully committing to a purchase. If you already know which instrument you’d like to get, then head on over to Music & Arts to check out the selection of trumpets and cornets.


If you do decide to purchase a trumpet, knowing how to take care of it is essential. Here’s some more information on how to care for and maintain your trumpet.

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