This guide provides a detailed point-by-point comparison of the cornet vs. the trumpet.
The trumpet and cornet are two very similar instruments of the brass family. Both the trumpet and cornet have three valves, they both have a similar shape, they are both roughly a similar size, and all their tuning slides are the same length.
It’s so easy to confuse them, especially if you are not a musician. In fact, if you were to stretch out these two instruments, the length of tubing would be exactly the same.
Let’s look at the similarities and key differences you need to tell the two apart.
Trumpet vs. Cornet: The key must-know differences
Here are the key differences between the cornet and the trumpet you need to tell the two brass instruments apart.
For the purposes of brevity, this guide compares a piston valve trumpet — not a roraty valve trumpet — and a cornet.
If you don’t know what a rotary valve trumpet is, or you simply are curious how different it is, here’s a detailed comparison of piston and rotary valve trumpets.
#1 — The trumpet and the cornet have completely different origins
Even though they look similar, these two instruments come from completely different origins.
The modern trumpet is simply a development of old trumpets with three valves added in. The cornet, on the other hand, doesn’t come from trumpets. It is actually a development of an instrument Post horn.
None of these two instruments orignated from the other.
#2 — The bore size of a trumpet is cylindrical, the bore size of a cornet is conical
The diameter of the tubing (bore size) on a trumpet stays the same throughout right until the right of the bell i.e. it is cylindrical.
By contrast, the bore size of the cornet gradually gets bigger throughout the length of the instrument, smallest at the mouthpiece and then gradually gets larger as you approach the bell i.e it is conical.
On a cornet, the bore size gets larger even on the lead pipe.
At the bell flare the bore size of the trumpet and the cornet both obviously get much larger, much faster.
#3 — The cornet a “spiral” shaped lead pipe whereas that of the cornet is “u” shaped
Some of the purely aesthetic difference between the cornet and the trumpet lie in the configuration of the lead pipe.
The trumpet has a straight lead pipe that curves back once before going into the third valve. The cornet has a lead pipe that curves back, curves forward, and then curves back again before going into the third valve.
This is perhaps the most identifible difference. The lead pipe of a cornet is ‘spiral’ shaped whereas that of a trumpet is ‘u’ shaped.
#4 — The cornet uses trigger slides whereas the trumpet has all manual slides
Even though both instruments share the same valve configuration — the valves are identical, and the third, second and first valve tuning slides are exactly the same length, the cornet uses triggers for the third and first tuning slides.
These triggers are a mechanical feature which you push down to extend the tuning slides.
Trumpets have a thumb ring and a ring finger hook to facilitate the manual adjustment of the first and third tuning slide.
#5 — The cornet bell section exits the valve section with a Shepherd’s crook
Upon reversing these instruments, there is a difference in how the bell section exits the valve section.
On the trumpet, the bell section exits from the valve section in a perpendicular fashion. On the cornet, the bell section exits with what is called a Shepherd’s crook before turning the 180 degree curve.
Round the crook, it is easily visible how much the bell size continues to increase on the cornet than on the trumpet as the sound travels past the valves.
#6 — The trumpet is more stretched out, the cornet is more compact
If you take a look at the two instruments side by side, you will notice that the cornet is more tightly wrapped whereas the trumpet is more stretched out.
This means that the tubing on the cornet looks more compact.
If you hold the two instruments side by side lining up th bells at the bottom, you can tell that the cornet stands a little bit shorter than the trumpet even though the total length of tubing is exactly the same from bell to mouthpiece.
#7 — The trumpet mouthpiece is longer than the cornet mouthpiece
Another difference we have is the mouthpieces.
A trumpet mouthpiece is a little bit longer than a cornet mouthpiece. Also the size and shape of the cup is different.
I have talked about the anatomy of the mouthpiece in much greater detail elsewhere on this blog but in a sentence…
…the mouthpiece of the trumpet has a shallower cup than the mouthpiece of the cornet which is deeper, “v” shaped, and almost similar to that of the french horn.
#8 — The cornet has a mellow sound, the trumpet has a brighter sound
The cornet has a little bit more of a mellow sound whereas the trumpet has a brighter sound.
The acoustics here follows the same logic as when we compared the piston trumpet and the rotary valve trumpet, the conical bore, the compact structure, the deeper mouthpiece…
…the structural differences do seem to create a difference in sound.
Now, if I took a cornet mouthpiece, added a little adapter for the trumpet, and put it into the trumpet, I almost end up with an instant sounding cornet.
That’s it, you’ve gotten through to the end. I hope you can now tell apart the two instruments.