Cornet vs. Trumpet – What’s the Difference Between Them?

“Another important difference between the trumpet and the cornet is the bore size, or the inside of the tubing.  On the trumpet the tubing is what we call “cylindrical” whereas on the cornet the tubing is “conical”

Cornets vs. trumpets
Two cornets to the left and two trumpets to the right. What are the differences?

Cornet vs. Trumpet

The difference between a cornet and a trumpet
and how/where they are used

This article is going to answer the question “what’s the difference between a cornet and a trumpet ?” as well as shed some light on in what situations you’d be better off using the cornet instead of the trumpet, and vice versa.

This is something you must know so stay with me all the way to the end of the article. A lot of other questions about the trumpet vs. cornet will also be answered, and I will try my best to make it an easy and interesting read…

…so are you ready?

Good, because here we go!

What is The Difference Between a Cornet And a Trumpet?

  • Looks and appearance 

Take a look at the first picture on this page. When it comes to appearance, the first difference that we can notice between the cornet and the trumpet  is the length. The cornet is shorter than the trumpet…

…However:

…they both have the same amount of tubing. Not only the same amount but also the same length of tubing. By this I mean that if we were to stretch out the instruments to one straight long tube, they would both be the exact same length. But on the cornet the tubing is more tightly wrapped, and thus, the cornet in itself is shorter from bell to mouthpiece.

  • Build

Another important difference between the trumpet and the cornet is the bore size or the inside of the tubing.  On the trumpet the tubing is what we call “cylindrical” and on the cornet the tubing is “conical”

So, what does this mean?

Conical and cylindrical – meaning?

The beginning of the tubing, where we insert the mouthpiece, is a bit smaller on the cornet than on the trumpet. However, on the cornet the bore size starts to increase right away and keeps increasing all the way throughout the instrument. All the way to the bell…

…hence the word “conical”

This is not the case with the trumpet because on the trumpet the bore size stays the same all the way from the mouthpiece receiver (the end of the tubing where we insert the mouthpiece) until right after the tubing exits the valve case. This makes the trumpet more a “cylindrical” form.

The trumpet is “cylindrical”

The trumpet bore size does not increase before this point, when the tubing exits the valve case, whereas on the cornet it slowly starts increasing right from where we insert the mouthpiece.

So on the trumpet the bore size of the tubing does not start to increase until the last “bend” before the bell but then in rapidly increases in size to finally form the bell at the end of the trumpet.

  • Sound

If we could only use one single word to answer the question “what is the difference between a cornet and a trumpet ?” it would without a doubt be the word “sound”…

…the cornet has a warmer and “rounder” sound than the trumpet. The trumpet has a “sharper” and more brassy sound and the trumpet sound is also more energetic.

In the hands of a good cornet player the cornet sound can be extremely pleasing and and millions of eyes are tearing up every year after a gorgeous cornet solo has been performed on a funeral, for example, and I honestly don’t think that any other musical instrument, on the whole planet, can produce such a beautiful sound as the cornet.

  • Production of sound using the lips

There is no difference between the trumpet and the cornet when it comes to how the sound is made by the player. Both instruments need lips formed to an embouchure and a trumpet embouchure is no different from a cornet embouchure.

  • Valves, fingering and playability

The standard B-flat trumpet has three valves and the same is true for the cornet. They also work exactly the same way and the same fingerings are used for the same notes. Some people say that it’s easier to play difficult pieces with the cornet because it has faster valves. This is not true as there is no difference in speed when it comes to the valves between the trumpet and the cornet…

…that said, it is easier to play very fast and difficult pieces on the cornet compared to the trumpet but this has nothing to do with the valves. More on this later.

  • Short summary

So as you can see the difference between the trumpet and the cornet is not that big. The similarities between the two instruments far outweigh the differences and it is fair to say that, if you are a good trumpet player, you are also capable of playing the cornet and likewise, if you are a good cornet player, then you will for sure be able to play the trumpet.

Is The Cornet Mouthpiece The Same As The Trumpet Mouthpiece?

Well, yes and no!

They are exactly the same in that we use the same embouchure and in that  they both have a rim, cup, throat and a backbore and a shank. However the cornet mouthpiece is shorter thn the trumpet mouthpiece. It has a shorter shank (the pipe that goes into the trumpet) and the cornet mouthpiece shank also has a smaller diameter than the shank of a trumpet mouthpiece.

Even though the diameter of the shank is smaller on the cornet mouthpiece this does not mean that the tubing of the cornet itself is smaller because, as you remember, the cornet tubing is conical and starts to increase right away, from the mouthpiece receiver.

That said, right from the very start of the tubing the cornet bore size is smaller and thus it needs a mouthpiece shank that is smaller in diameter.

cornet mouthpiece vs trumpet mouthpiece
The shank on the cornet mouthpiece is shorter and the shank is also smaller in diameter

Other than the length and the diameter of the shank, the trumpet mouthpiece and cornet mouthpiece are identical. That said, it is very common for cornet players to choose a mouthpiece that has a deeper cup as to really augment the round and warm sound of the cornet.

Is The Cornet Easier To Play Than The Trumpet?

I got an email with the question “is cornet easier than trumpet?” yesterday and since this article is about the cornet vs. trumpet, I will do my best to answer that question here…

…here’s the deal:

Cornet vs trumpet for beginners ?

As I wrote in my article “what is a good age to start playing the trumpet“, it can sometimes be easier for beginners to start on the cornet than on a trumpet. The cornet is easier to hold because the valve case, where we also grip the instrument, is closer to the mouthpiece on the cornet, compared to the trumpet.

This means that we  hold our hands closer to our body when playing a cornet compared to what we do when we play the trumpet, and thus, the weight of the horn does not seem so heavy. In addition to this some people say that they have a much easier time to play soft and low notes on the cornet…

…and here we should note that soft and low notes are the very first notes we start with learning, as young aspiring musicians. Thus the cornet might be a better choice to start with for beginners. This, in combination with the fact that many kids are small for their age, and holding a trumpet can bee “heavy business”, can make the cornet easier to play than the trumpet, for some people.

Also, they way the airstream works inside the tubing make the cornet easier to play when it comes to playing REALLY fast pieces, with a lot of fast trills, slurs and other demanding finger dexterity stuff.

So is cornet easier to play than the trumpet then ? …

…well, no, not really…

…because not all music calls for soft and low notes. It is a bit easier to play in the higher register on a trumpet and if the music calls for a sharp fanfare you would have a hard time beating the trumpets if you are going to the gig using your cornet. Trumpets have more advantages than this and I will talk more about those in a minute…

In  What Musical Situations Are the Cornet Used?

Although the cornet is not really as popular as the trumpet in todays music it can still be found in many different kinds of musical settings. Take a look below to see how common cornet use is, compared to the trumpet, in different kinds of genres.

How Common Trumpet Use Are Compared to  Cornet Use in Different Musical Settings

Note that these are rough estimates and not necessarily 100% accurate.

  • Trumpets vs cornet in small jazz groups: 70% – 30% 
  • Trumpets vs cornet in symphony orchestras: 90% – 10 % 
  • Trumpet vs cornet in traditional brass bands: 0% – 100% 
  • Trumpet vs cornet in wind ensembles: 60% – 40 % 
  • Trumpet vs cornet in big bands: 100% – 0 % 
  • Trumpet vs cornet in different kinds of horn sextets, septets, and similar bands, that play traditional entertainment music in Europe:
     20% – 80 %
  • Trumpet vs cornet in different chamber music for brass:
    75% – 25 % 
  • Trumpet vs cornet in Solos you can here in different life situations like funerals, weddings and other festivities: 70% – 30% 

Examples Where The Cornet Is Superior To The Trumpet

Playing the cornet was a lot more popular 30-90 years ago compared to what it is today and during those years there were also many incredible difficult solo pieces written for the cornet.

Some of these pieces were written to really highlight the virtuosity of the cornet player. It truly was a big thing back then and those days the best cornet virtuosos were, in some cultures, really the equivalent of todays most popular pop singers.

Those difficult solo pieces are a good example of where the cornet is superior to the trumpet. Because of the way the cornet is build it has better agility compared to the trumpet and if you ever find yourself in a situation where you get to perform some of the following pieces, you are are wise to choose the cornet over the trumpet:

  • Fantasie and variations on the carnival of Venice
  • Fantaisie brillante
  • Variations on a theme from Norma
  • Variations on a theme from Napoli

These are just a few examples of typical “virtuoso cornet pieces” and even though they are possible to play on the trumpet, the cornet is a much better choice.

Take a look at this!

Take a look at how Ole Edvard Andonsen performs one of the above mentioned pieces, Napoli, on his cornet. It is a very…very…VERY difficult cornet solo, and Ole does a phenomenal job.

P.S. Try to count how many mistakes and split notes you can here in the video below. Listen to the whole song and count carefully!
(hint: not many)

Now, Ole is a first class virtuoso and, while he might also be able to play what you just heard on the trumpet, I’m sure he much rather perform that particular piece on the cornet instead of the trumpet.

Also take a look at this next video so you really get to hear and appreciate the soft and gorgeous warm sound of the cornet. Richard Marshall does a great job in bringing out the typical cornet sound in this video clip…


Examples Where The Trumpet Is Superior To The Cornet

By now difference between the trumpet and the cornet should already be  pretty clear but let’s take a look at a few examples where the trumpet is superior to the cornet.

As of today, there is not a single musical instrument invented that can beat the trumpet when it comes to power and energy in the sound. This is why it should  come as no surprise that the trumpet, with its cylindrical tubing, has been used in situations of great importance for thousands of years.

The trumpet has for example been used in the following situations:

  • As a signaling method during war time (the trumpet sound carries for miles and miles)
  • The king enters the main great hall of the castle (the trumpets play loud and bright to make the people aware and mark the arrival)
  • To notify the city members of an incoming danger (fire, enemies etc.)

While we do not use the trumpet in the same manner in this day of age, we still use that same “energy” the trumpet is able to produce, to the music. In addition to this the trumpet can of course also be played very softly, without that intense energy. This makes the trumpet one of the most versatile musical instruments we have.

Take a look at this video for a good example of where the trumpet is a much better choice than the cornet. The fanfare calls for a sharper sound and the trumpets really gives energy and festiveness to this piece.

Another example of where the trumpet dominates with its sizzling energy is high notes. Take a look at this video clip and enjoy the one and only “Maynard Ferguson” in the piece “Give it one”. While you are watching, notice the incredible amount of energy coming from the trumpets in the big band. And also, of course, from Maynard’s bell…


The Cornet Tuning
And The Different Kinds of Cornets

There are mainly three different tunings when it comes to the cornet with the B-flat cornet being the absolute most common. The next one is the Eb-cornet, also called “soprano cornet”. The Eb soprano cornet plays the highest part in, for example, brass bands and the soprano part is known for being very demanding and is often putting a lot of pressure on the player.

Then there are also cornets tuned in C, but those are not used very often. It is safe to say that if you hear a cornet playing somewhere, it is almost guaranteed to be either a B-flat or an E-flat cornet, with the B-flat cornet being far more common than the E-flat.

The History Of The Cornet

Unlike the trumpet, the cornet is developed from the old post horn that was used to signal the arrival or departure of a post rider or mail coach back before there was any technology to speak of.

The post horn did not have any valves and therefor it was limited in notes that it could produce. The horn was used especially by postilions of the 18th and 19th centuries. The cornet got it firsts valves in the 1820s in France in the form of rotary valves. By the 1830s, however, Parisian makers were using piston valves instead. One of the first makers was the Parisian Jean Asté, known as Halary, in 1828.

 

a post horn

Should I Start My Kid, Or Myself,  On a Cornet Instead Of a Trumpet ?

As I wrote earlier in this post it does not make that big of a difference. The cornet is a bit easier to star on because it’s easier to hold and the soft lower register responds easier than on a trumpet, but other than that there is no additional advantages. Also, later on, if one can play the cornet, one can also play the trumpet and vice versa, so it’s not like you are forever “locking yourself into” one or the other.

Many serious trumpet players also own a cornet and almost all cornet players also own a trumpet. There are exceptions of course but why not start on the cornet and then later also buy a trumpet?

Is a Cornet More Expensive Than a Trumpet?

No they are not. You can found very good cornets for a decent price and when it comes to quality, they are generally priced about the same as the trumpet. Just don’t buy the most expensive cornet as your first instrument if you your’re not sure if you’ll keep playing…

…also, don’t get the cheapest one either, since the poor quality often makes them hard to play and that could turn you off from practicing. Aim for something in the middle, like a good intermediate cornet.

So, if I want to start playing the cornet but don’t want to buy an expensive, professional, cornet right away, what are some good beginner to intermediate cornets ?

Well you have many options here but for example the Ravel RCR102 is a good choice as a beginner-intermediate horn. They are not too expensive yet the price is high enough that the manufacture can make them with decent quality, (click here to check the current pricing on Amazon)

What Are Some Good Cornet Method Books?

One word: Arban!

If you could only get one cornet/trumpet method book in your entire life then Arban would, without a doubt, be the one to get. It is the “bible” of cornet and trumpet method books. In fact, many trumpeters refer to the Arban book as their bible, simply because you will find basically everything in it. Seriously, I believe that every single trumpet player and cornet player on the planet should own the Arban book. And I do mean everyone, from beginner to first class virtuoso…

…the Arban has got it all from:

  • Easy songs
  • Finger exercises
  • Tounging exercises
  • Slurring exercises
  • Trilling exercises
  • Difficult songs
  • Solo pieces with variations
  • Cornet and trumpet advice
  • Performance tips
  • Interval exercises

…and more. My grandfather bought the Arban book when he was young and here in my family it has now been used so much that I had to buy a new book for myself about 10 years ago simply because, well, the old one was literally falling to pieces. You can compare pricing and go for the best option from these two sellers

Click here to check how much the Arban book costs on Amazon
Click here to check the Arban price on Sheetmusic plus

Cornet Vs. Trumpet Final Words

Both the cornet and the trumpet are members of the “brass family” and they have more similarities than differences. And many of the music literature do not make you choose one over the other. There are so much music you can play on both the cornet and the trumpet, so whatever instrument you choose as your first, one thing is for sure: you won’t lock yourself into a restricted area where most music is forbidden to play on your instrument.

If you are about to start playing then just go for the one that YOU find the most interesting. Which one do you think has nicer sound? That said, if your school, county, or city has a rich brass band culture then you might want to consider choosing the cornet over the trumpet…

…on the other hand, if you are dead set on starting a professional career and you want to be playing in symphony orchestras then you might as well go straight for the trumpet. Just remember that, later in life, you are probably going to own both a cornet and a trumpet. Well…

…perhaps several trumpets, like many professionals do.

Thank you for reading this article about the differences and similarities between the trumpet and the cornet. I hope it has been informative.

Keep practicing and remember to have fun while doing it!

-Robert Slotte-

P.S. Are you a trumpet player that started out on the cornet? Or perhaps you started on the trumpet and nowadays you only play the cornet? Do you own and play both of them? I would love for you to leave a few comments down in the comment section below this article. Do you think it’s easier to start on the cornet and then, after a couple of years, switch to the trumpet? If you have to perform a very fast and difficult solo, do you rather choose the cornet over trumpet in that case? Feel free to leave a few words!

 

2 thoughts on “Cornet vs. Trumpet – What’s the Difference Between Them?”

  1. Thanks for the information; I hadn’t known the differences between the two instruments before, although I insanely have more than a dozen of them!😋 now, what about flugelhorns?

    1. Thanks for commenting Jerome. Oh yeah the flugelhorn is another beast. I will write a post on in the near future 🙂

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