Trumpet Shaped Cornets: And Other Inconvenient Truths

Trumpet Shaped Cornets?

Yes, you read that correctly. It turns out that not everything is as it seems.

Add these points to the growing list of reasons that listening to conventional wisdom pertaining to the trumpet is decidedly unwise.

1. Modern trumpets are conical, not purely cylindrical

What were we all taught in school is the primary difference between a trumpet and a cornet? 

"Little Susie, the trumpet is cylindrical and the cornet is conical..."

Well, it turns out that since at least the 1950's, no trumpets (at least those with valves) manufactured are purely cylindrical.

Perhaps the expansion of the bore isn't as pronounced on a trumpet-shaped cornet as an actual cornet, but it's undeniable that there is a gradual widening of the bore width, beginning at the front of the lead pipe and extending to the valve block.

I'm not trying to be difficult here. It's just that by the definition given by trumpet players and teachers, the instrument we know as a trumpet is actually a cornet. 

And yes, it's most definitely shaped like a trumpet, hence the moniker "trumpet-shaped cornet."

2. The cornet is not a "starter trumpet"

I don't know how many times I've heard a band director explain to me that they start their young trumpet students on the cornet. 

They do so beaming with pride, as though they've achieved something meaningful.

I must take issue with this. 

While I have no doubt that their intentions are to equip their students with more than the absolute minimum knowledge on their instrument, the insinuation here is that the cornet is merely a "starter" instrument.

That once a students reaches a certain level of proficiency, they can then "graduate" to the advanced instrument.

It's a subtle but conspicuous jab at the Cornet, not to mention those who have chosen the Cornet as their primary instrument.

Who wants to be known as the person who plays a "starter" instrument at a professional level?

Let me be the first to emphatically raise both hands and a leg on that, for such logic is borne of ignorance. It's one of the primary reasons the Cornet Revolution exists.

3. While very few people dislike the sound of a cornet, plenty of people dislike the sound of a trumpet

Here's a challenge for you. Ask 10 non-trumpet players if they genuinely enjoy the sound of a trumpet.

Then ask 10 more non-trumpet players if they genuinely enjoy the sound of a cornet.

What do you think the results of this unscientific poll might be?

I'm going to go out on a limb here and assume that more people are going to say they enjoy the sound of a cornet than a trumpet.

While trumpet players notoriously pat themselves on the back while they play the dominant parts in the band (many of which were written for cornet in the first place,) the rest of polite society can barely tolerate the sound.

The cornet, on the other hand, has a sweet, mellow sound. It's not abrasive and offensive like the trumpet

Here's a suggestion for you trumpet-shaped cornet players out there who are constantly trying to get that "dark" sound. Play an instrument that's designed to get the sound you want and see if it works any better for you.

4. Sorry. No One Wants to Hear the Arutunian Concerto

As I type this blog post, music schools and conservatories around the world are preparing their trumpet students to be completely irrelevant to the world around them. 

They're rehearsing concertos written by Bohme, Arutunian and Hummel - most likely oblivious to the context in which these pieces were written in the first place.

It's just part of the repertoire, they're told. And when anyone asks them why they are playing that particular piece of music, they're greeted with the look of a calf looking at a new gate.

These students just go through the motions, perhaps in hopes they'll be able to use this experience to play something relevant at some point in their lives.

But here's the thing. No one is requesting these pieces of music - as great as you think they may be.

What people want - no, make that crave - is community. 

People don't go to a concert to hear music as much as they go to experience music with other people. 

Think of it this way: The musician is like the host of a dinner party. While the music is what the guests consume, the point of the event is not to consume it. It's to hang out with people that we like.

Now, this doesn't mean that you can't play the Arutunian in a concert. It just means that it needs to be programmed in such a way that's relevant to why people are at the show in the first place.

5. These days, You have as much chance of succeeding on the cornet as the trumpet - if not more so

News Flash. The days of Doc Severinsen, Maynard Ferguson, Blood Sweat and Tears, and full orchestras for TV shows are over.

Symphony orchestras are facing budget shortfalls; many are dissolving before our eyes.

There simply are not as many jobs for trumpet players as there were, say 20-30 years ago.

And there weren't really that many in those days either.

Any musician today, regardless of what they play, needs to adopt an entrepreneurial mindset if they expect to make anything of themselves as performers. 

And with modern technology and services such as YouTube, a free blog on WordPress and Patreon, the need to be in a particular location to find an audience for our music is increasingly less essential.

The most essential thing for any musician wanting to make a name for himself in this day and age is setting yourself apart from the crowd.

There are a kajillion trumpet players out there who can play the heck out of the standard repertoire. 

Maurice Andre built a mansion from earnings playing Bach's Brandenburg Concerto. These days, a trumpeter is lucky to get $250 to do it.

The demand, not to mention the scarcity of people who can play it, simply isn't there.

What is in demand is authenticity, phenomenal musicianship and, as I've said before, community.

What better way to set yourself apart from the crowd than being the person who specializes on the Cornet?

Will you have to give up your standing Messiah gig every Christmas?

Maybe. It's not like you can't ever play trumpet again.

But now your main focus is the cornet. It's on playing music that people actually want to hear, rather than the "standard rep" that's taught in college.

What better way to set yourself apart from the crowd?

If You Didn't Get All That, Get This

Let's face it. It's a different world out there. There are opportunities for musicians to succeed as have never existed before.

But it's not going to happen doing the same old thing, the same old way it's always been done. 

If your goal is to make it happen as a trumpet player, either as an entrepreneur or as an employee, it's a tough road.

Why not consider doing something no one else is doing? It won't be any easier, but you'll have far less competition doing it.

The Cornet Revolution was started to restore respect, integrity and notoriety to a once great instrument. 

It's not for everyone - but it could very well be for you. Why don't you subscribe to the Cornet Revolution newsletter and find out for yourself?


  1. TC daniel on 11/24/2017 at 6:46 PM

    I started on cornet many years ago playing until high school 1974. Picked it up again in 2012 for a local community band. I found Fake Books extremely fun and useful since about 2013. they sure beat academia music and I can make $20-40 in a hour solo busking. familiar tunes, fun tunes that will stir the soul are what people want to hear, not dry stuff! Never had the desire to own a trumpet, but now have 4 cornets.

    • James Newcomb on 11/26/2017 at 11:53 AM

      Trumpet isn’t for everybody lol

  2. Jeanne G Pocius Dorismond on 11/25/2017 at 11:25 AM

    Hear, Hear!! And HUZZAH!!!

    • James Newcomb on 11/26/2017 at 11:52 AM


  3. Gary Land on 11/25/2017 at 2:07 PM

    I am 64. When I started band in the 5th grade…
    Everybody played cornets. It was a couple of years before I even saw my first trumpet. My band director, who was really old even then, went to the Vandercook School of Music. He believed in the cornet first, trumpet later school of thought.
    That thinking seems to have pretty much gone the way of the Dodo bird!

    • James Newcomb on 11/26/2017 at 11:52 AM

      Hi Gary! Thank you for the comment. Hopefully we can revive a bit of that thinking 🙂

  4. Les Rogers on 11/25/2017 at 3:02 PM

    Interesting stuff. You may have converted me to the cornet!

  5. Mike Vax on 11/26/2017 at 3:15 AM

    Well, I LOVE playing cornet and cornet solos, and I even use it while playing small group jazz, not just traditional jazz. All that being said I have to disagree with many of the premises that you espouse here. Too many to go into all of them at this point. As a full time professional player for over 50 years, cornet will NOT take over for trumpet and is NOT the answer to “being different” from others. I think the question about people liking the sound of the trumpet is completely irrelevant. First of all if you ask ten non musicians, most of them won’t even know the difference between a cornet and a trumpet. And – I won’t allow a cornet in the TRUMPET section of my big band. So even though I love the cornet, your “revolution” is misguided at best.

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