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Flat Trumpet Facts and Figures

Author(s): David Rycroft

Source: The Galpin Society Journal, Vol. 42 (Aug., 1989), pp. 134-142
Published by: Galpin Society
Stable URL:
Accessed: 17-09-2018 03:50 UTC

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angle, which affects the whole instrument's position when being played.
This can vary between the 420 noted on the Tregear and Lewis
ophicleide, and Ward's 1000.
List of crook angles noted on twenty different ophicleides in British collections

1. Bate, Tregear and Lewis 420

2. Sheffield, Wood and Ivy 480
3. Glasgow, Hague Collection 530
4. Leicester, Charles Moore Collection (CM811
5. Glasgow Museum '39-406 630
6. Glasgow, Glen 640
7. Northampton, Abington Museum 680
8. Edinburgh, Smith 720
9. Glasgow, Fischer 720
10. Bate Courtois 730
11. Southend Courtois 740
12. Cambridge University 750
13. Edinburgh, Blight 800
14. London Webb, Halary Alto 800
15. Bate Turton 810
16. Sheffield D'Almaine 860
17. London Webb, Higham 900
18. Birmingham Courtois 900
19. Liverpool, Pollard 940
20. Liverpool, Ward 1000
From the list, it appears that there are
very wide ones; between these are eleven
The most common angle is in the lo
suggestion that the very steep angled cr
use, where the playing position gives th
sort, and would also be easier to march
steep crook angle is depicted on the gram
'Nulli Secundus'.


The launching in 1988 of the new experimental flat

earlier in this issue by Andrew Pinnock (whose idea
it made) is a very welcome and long overdue ventu
actual surviving specimens from Purcell's time, the
be an occasional listing of flat trumpets in certain
period and, notably, James Talbot's brief descrip


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between 1685 and 1701.1 Philip Bate's tentative specimen (made in
1971) was not really a success. Jeremy Montagu reports that some of its
harmonics are shockingly out of tune, though it continues to serve as an
interesting museum piece in a glass case in the Bate Collection in
I shall not be concerned here with Roger North's enigmatic 'turne
screw' (cited by Pinnock and by Steele-Perkins), but solely with the flat
trumpet specifications given in James Talbot's MS. Theoretically, from
looking at the latter, all the notes in Purcell's Canzona from the funeral
music for Queen Mary (1695) would seem to be technically possible on
four flat trumpets of the kind that Talbot describes. But apparently
in recent attempts at playing the Purcell Canzona on Pinnock's
flat trumpets (based on Talbot's descriptions), two notes in the lowest
part have proved to be unplayable. There seems to be quite a
discrepancy between the bare facts, and Talbot's figures, when put to
the test.2

Talbot gives measurements of how far the slide is extended for

various notes. The maximum length required (to lower the pitch by six
semitones from g to co) is 14 inches, so he claims (35.56 cm). But from
recent practical experiments one finds that, for any trumpet modelled
closely (as was the Pinnock specimen) on a standard trumpet of the
period, the inner slide cannot be made longer than about 9.9 inches
(25.15 cm), giving a usable extendable length of somewhat less than
that. This allows the pitch to be lowered by a maximum of barely three
semitones, not six.

In his 'Scale of Notes for the Flat Trumpet', Talbot listed a three
octave chromatic compass, from c to c"' (h2 to h16, assuming C as
and gave the slide length for each note (in inches).3 In the table in Fig
Talbot's slide lengths have been converted to centimetres and the no
have been rearranged.
At first sight, the accuracy of the measurements seems ve
questionable. In the 'position 11/2' column, it is understandable that
notes a" and f" should require only very slight shifting of the slide
they are less than a semitone flatter than the 'closed' h14 and hll1 no
respectively. But why b' and f 0' should take such very short lengths
slide seems inexplicable. On the whole, the extent of variation in t
measurements in each of the 'position' columns seems rather od
though it must be remembered that equal-tempered intervals w
unlikely to have been intended. The overall picture, however, is th
Talbot certainly seems to be implying that such trumpets were fu
chromatic. So let us proceed, for the moment, on the theoreti
assumption that he may have been correct.


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Positions (numbered as for trombone):
1 1- 2 3 4 5 6 7
slide slide extended (distance in cm)
0 5 10 15 20 25 30 35 40

a" *1i905
ad &
f# "

f" *3.81

eK "*o5.715

c# " *6.985

b' *3.048
a' *6.985
ab' 14.605
f#' 2.54
f' *16,256

cb ' 6.985
d' P*12.0065
c# ' 21.59

b * 5.08
bb e 17.145
a 20.955
ab * 33.655

f#I 6. o96
f 1i0.16
e * 26.035t
e& *22.86f
d *33.02
c# * 35.56

0 5 10 15 20 25 30 35 40

t These two measurements obvious

FIG. 1. Table based on Talbot's s

The slide position for each note is
left being for 'closed' position. Th
the basis of trombone slide 'positio
in order to tabulate the measurem
lowering by one semitone, 'posit
maximum of six, in seventh posit


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In Purcell's Canzona, the range of notes for each of the four parts is as

1. ab " g" f" eb" d" c" b'

f" e g'
6 "d"f'
c" b6e' ab) g ' e'
' d' c' b
4. e' d' c' ab g f eb c B6

Working from Talbo

crooked down to C we
necessary, except in t
shift position is
trombone: 1 = fully
by two semitones, et

1 ab6"
11 2 1 1 2 1 g"
3 1 3 1 f"
2 3 1 2 es"
5 1 3 5 1 d"
3 c

From Talbot's claims, a flat

notes, the slide being extende
22.86 cm measurement he give
the short slide of the new Pi
but the first four positions) m
Working from Talbot's meas
250 cm as the total length
concert pitch some three
Theoretically, an increase of
needed to lower the pitch
cumulatively, 6% of that new
6% of Talbot's 250 cm = 15
extended by only half that le
To lower the pitch by tw
theoretically need 7.5 cm + 6%
slide), i.e. a total extension of
theoretical slide lengths for '
15.45; 23.877; 32.809; 42.278
Recently, with the help of M
built the instruments), it was p
new Pinnock flat trumpets. Fo
pitch standard of a' = 403.5
B minus 50 cents at modern p
We chose this pitch standa
conviction that it was exactly
the slide lengths for semito
different notes (until readi
indeed gives Talbot's varying


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Another surprise was finding that certain of the natural harmonics
(with the slide closed) were flatter or sharper than we had expected,
compared with notes produced on a direct copy of the William Bull
trumpet on which the flat trumpet had been modelled. Michael Laird's
view was that this might be due to the different proportion of conical to
cylindrical tubing in the bell joint: normally the section behind the boss
is slightly conical, whereas on the flat trumpet it has to be cylindrical to
accommodate the slide. But such questions are for the experts, and no
doubt a physicist might be able to explain.
Further tests were made later, to find the exact pitches yielded when
Talbot's specified slide lengths were used - though the Pinnock
trumpet's short slide rules out four of Talbot's notes. However, to cope
with these four notes requiring a longer slide, another test was done,
with the same trumpet mouthpiece, but using a narrow-bore, sharp-
pitch tenor trombone which has a 56 cm slide range.' In order to get
comparable results, the trumpet's c" was now adjusted to match the
trombone's pitch, by using suitable crooks.8 All Talbot's measurements
were then tried out, throughout the three-octave compass. The pitches
produced (as measured on a Stroboconn)9 are shown in Figs. 2 and 3. To
guard against 'lipping' the notes into tune, they were deliberately
sounded in isolation - not in close sequence (whereby one matches a
preconceived interval from the previous note). Of course the vagaries of
temperature, player's embouchure, and psycho-kinaesthetic factors of
the moment make such figures susceptible to considerable latitude, and
the values must be taken as arbitrary and very far from absolute.
Talbot's measurements for lowering the pitch by four semitones or
more proved to be far too short. For positions 5, 6 and 7, slide lengths of
roughly 33, 43 and 55 cm were needed, as against Talbot's 26.035 (for eb
- though he gives 33.655 for ab), 33.02 and 35.56 cm.o1 In a further test,
however, it did prove possible even with Talbot's short shifts, to 'lip'
these notes down to a rough approximation of the pitch required,
though with some loss of tone quality. Of course such flexibility is far
more feasible with low notes than higher in the compass. Regarding
'lipping', a surprisingly wide range of individual variation for trombone
slide lengths is cited in Robin Gregory, The Trombone (London, 1973),
p. 56.
The above experiments were very much of the 'kitchen sink' variety;
but I just wanted to get a rough idea of whether Talbot's figures were
based on fact or fiction. A few of his slide lengths are indeed surprising
and questionable, and errors may well have crept in. Of those lengths
which do not deviate overmuch from the expected values, however, it
is possible that Talbot's able informant, John Shore may well have

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'lipped' the notes into tune - that is to say, to conform with 'just
intonation', or quarter comma meantone, or fifth comma meantone,
or whatever temperament he may have had in mind. My feeling is
that, taken overall, there were certainly factual grounds for Talbots's

Exposed cents deviation from equal- cents interval to

slide tempered notes at a'=406.5 hz note above
(in cm) 1 .Flat trumpet 2.Trombone 1.Flat 2.Trom-
trumpet bone

b" -15 c"f -15
+05 b" . -10 80 95
0 bb" -10 bb" -20 115 110
1 .905 a" +35 a" +33 55 47
0 ab" +40 ,b" +40 95 93
0 g" +15 g' +10 125 130
0 f#" -25 f#" -60 140 170
3.81 f" +23 f" 0 52 40
0 e" +10 e" 0 113 100
5.715 eb" +25 eb" +15 85 85
0 d" +15 d" +05 110 110
6.985 c#" +17 c#" -03 98 108
0 c" 0 c" 0 117 97

3.048 b' +55(=c"-45) b' +60(=c"-40) 45 40

0 bb' -35 bb' -45 190 205
6.985 a' -20 a' -05 85 60
14.605 ab' -05 ab' -05 85 100
0 g' 0 g' +03 95 92
2.54 f#' +60(=g'-40) f#' +60(=g'-40) 40 43
16.256 f' +35 f' -10 125 170
0 e' 0 e' -20 135 110
6.985 eb' +23 eb' -02 77 82
12.0065 d' +10 d' +25 113 73
21.59 c#' -15* c#l -03 125 128
0 c' -20 c' -07 105 104

5.08 b -18 b +20 98 73

17.145 bb -45 bb -13 127 133
20.955 a +25* a +18 30 69
33.655 --- ab +10 --- 108
0 g 0 g -20 225 130
6.096 f# -10 r# -20 110 100
10.16 f -10 f +02 100 78
22.86t e -15* e -30 105 132
26.035t --- e6 +60(=e-40) --- 10
33.02 --- d +45 --- s15
35.56 --- c# +85(=d-15) --- 60
0 c -40 c -25 425 210

* Slide near its limit a

t These two slide lengt
the wrong order - th

FIG. 2. Pitches pro


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C C 1) D# E IF F#
0 100 200 300 400 500 600 700 8

Harmonics -+ h 17 * hs 9 h 19 * h5 oh 11
Talbot 's 111 11111 1 1111 1 1

c -b t -f i- +

c' - b' * *

c - c, , * ** * * * * -. *
IIII III ill I l ( Ill(' IIII II H H'lll H IIII i H H II H (H
FIG. 3. Graphic representation of pitches listed in Fig. 2.

The grid represents an equal-tempered chromatic scale of C (here based on a pitch standard of a' = 406.5
The line labelled 'harmonics' shows the theoretical pitches of nearest harmonics of C (transposed to fit into
dots roughly show their deviation from equal-tempered values. (These are actually as follows, to the nea
E-4; F -49; G +2; G 4 +41; AR -31; B-11). Under 'Talbot's notes', the three octaves tested, using Ta
represented by a series of asterisks (for flat trumpet) and dots (for trombone), roughly positioned in relation
listed in Fig. 2, columns 2 and 3).

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Following Talbot's comment regarding the flat trumpet, that 'its size
with the yards shutt the same with common trumpet', the Pinnock flat
trumpet was modelled, as we know, on the William Bull trumpet in the
Museum of London (described by Eric Halfpenny in GSJ XV (1962),
pp. 18-26). But so far, the mystery of Talbot's 35 cm slide remains
unsolved. Technologically, the only available tubing in the bell joint
which can take a slide is behind the boss, and the dimensions there
restrict the slide length to no more than about 25 cm. But what if Talbot,
when referring to 'its size' being 'the same with common trumpet', had
just meant overall tube length, rather than exact shape? A longer slide
should be possible if the front bow were set further back and did not
reach as far as the bell. Two trumpets of that shape are depicted in a
scene from James II's coronation, and this might be significant here."1
Frank Tomes is determined to make further experiments, and perhaps
there may be interesting new developments to report by next year.
I'm afraid I can't resist adding a word about the 'turne screw' after all.
From the quotation cited by Crispian Steele-Perkins I tend to agree with
him that Shore probably used a twist-of-the-wrist device that was fitted
to a common, rather than a flat trumpet - since it could bring 'his
exotick notes' (hl 1 and h13 ?) into tune, but evidently could not lower
the pitch by a full semitone, to produce a 'flatt third'. But various other
interpretations are of course possible. DAVID RYCROFT


GB-Och Music MS 1187, deposited at Christ Church Library, Oxfo

a transcript, see Anthony Baines, 'James Talbot's Manuscript', GSJ I (19
9-26. See also Robert Unwin, ' "An English Writer on Music": James
1664-1708', GSJ XL (1987), pp. 53-72.
2 The score of this Canzona has been reproduced in Anthony Baine
Instruments: their History and Development (London, 1976), p. 181. It r
uncertain, however, whether the bass part was actually played on a flat
or on a trombone - see Baines's comments in GSJ XII (1959), p. 1
3 See Baines (1948), p. 26. Talbot's original measurements were i
inches and eighths of an inch - which, if stated in decimalised inches,
as follows: c 0; cO 14; d 13; eb 9; e 10.25; f 4; f 2.5; g 0; ab 13.25;
bb 6.75; b 2; c' 0; c0' 8.5; d' 4.75; e b' 2.75; e' 0; f' 6.5; f 0' 1; g' 0; a
a' 2.75; bb' 0; b' 1.25; c" 0; cO" 2.75; d" 0; eb" 2.25; e" 0; f" 1.
g" 0; ab" 0; a" 0.75; bLb" 0; b" 0; c"' 0. Having shown this paper t
Baines just before going to press, I was dismayed when he remarked
what if I had made a mistake or two when transcribing this stuff?
checked back to the original Talbot MS?' Well, I must admit, I ha
4 Plausible as this '6% rule of thumb' might appear, it has serious


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practice, slide position lengths are not constant for all harmonics. As explained
in A. H. Benade's book, The Fundamentals of Musical Acoustics (New York: OUP,
1976), p. 412, the addition of more tubing reduces the average taper or flare
parameter, thereby altering the relative positions of resonance peaks. A given
increment of length will in fact make a bigger percentage change in the
frequencies of the lower modes than for the higher ones. Furthermore,
resonances also get shifted by bends in the tubing (op. cit., p. 409). Though not
discussed by Benade, what happens when the bend in the slide keeps changing
position (as in a flat trumpet or trombone) must lead to more complications
than can be coped with by a layman like myself. But there seem to be plenty of
reasons why each slide position varies somewhat, from harmonic to harmonic;
so Talbot's varying measurements cannot be dismissed on that account.
5 With Michael Laird playing the instrument, a slide length of 8.25 cm was
needed to lower c" by an equal-tempered semitone; while for lowering g' by
the same interval, only 6.98 cm was required (as against the theoretical 7.5 cm
for both). Talbot's lengths for these are 3.195 and 2.54 cm (which would give
very small semitones indeed). To lower the same two notes by a tempered
whole tone, slide lengths of 16.19 and 16.5 cm were needed, respectively
(compared with the theoretical 15.45 cm). Talbot gives closed position for bb'
(yielding a flatter note), but 16.5 cm for the f' - which exactly matches ours.
6 Andrew Pinnock kindly lent me one of his flat trumpets and I was the
player this time, not Michael Laird.
7 My trombone bears the imprint: 'The Triumphonic / Class A / 17360 /
Manufactured / by the / Salvationist Publishing / & Supplies Ltd / Jude St
Kings Cross / London / Factory St. Albans / Herts'. The inner slide bore of this
trombone is about 7/16 of an inch (1.1 cm) which is in fact 1/32 of an inch narrower
than that of the Pinnock flat trumpet, though of course the conicity of the bell is
very much greater. The nominal 'Bb' of the trombone (used with a trumpet
mouthpiece) turned out to be about B- 37 cents - only 13 cents sharper than
the B - 50 cents that we had initially been using for a 'C' on the flat trumpet.
8 As it happens, the old British (late nineteenth-century) 'sharp pitch' is 48
cents sharper than modern standard pitch; so presumably a sharp-pitch tenor
trombone should have been designed to sound at B b + 48 cents - which is the
same as B - 52 cents, only two cents away from Laird's 'C' of B - 50 cents.
Possibly the trumpet mouthpiece might account for the fact that my trombone
was 13 cents sharper on this occasion. By my deduction, if we label its nominal
Bb (sounding at B -37) as a speculative 'Talbot C', we would be working at a
pitch standard of a'= 406.5 hz, while Laird's B - 50 for a 'Talbot C' puts the
pitch standard at a' = 403.5 hz. With the trombone, it was reassuring to find that
almost exactly the same slide lengths were needed as Laird had used on the flat
trumpet for tempered semitone and whole tone lowering.
9 For the use of this equipment I am indebted to the Centre of Music Studies
at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.
10 In this connection, where Edward H. Tarr credits the flat trumpet with
'seven full positions', his comment about 'the seventh being somewhat sharp'
seems to be rather an understatement: see 'Flat Trumpet', in S. Sadie (ed.), The
New Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments (London, 1984), vol. I, p. 765.
11 Reproduced in The New Grove (1984), loc. cit.


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