The Shepherd's Crook
Bb Cornet
1921 Letter
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(2005 Extracts From Spring 2000 Newsletter)

Bb Cornet: French Besson

The Shepherds Crook
Newsletter of the
American Brass Band Association
Volume V: No. 1

2000 Extracts from Spring 2000 Ed.


The cornet mouthpiece is deeper than the trumpet cup and more gently shouldered into the throat. The stem is short and narrow and modern designs of the cornet no longer have the detachable shank, the mouthpiece is inserted directly into the instrument.


Parisian brass players in 1830 regarded the cornet a pistons as a valved improvement of the circular post horn.

The cornet is gay and homely, and delivers neither the exciting ring of the trumpet or the ominous sonority of the bugle. It has remained popular because of the technical flexibility inherent from its mouth-pipe taper and from the characteristic mouthpiece.

(This is not a mouthpiece article, but it seemed important to talk about this aspect of tone production).

Brass bands use four cornet parts.

1. Solo Cornet

2. Repiano Cornet (Flugelhorn also reads from this part)

3. Second Cornet

4. Third Cornet

Salvation Army units
usually have three.

1. Solo Cornet

2. First Cornet

3. Second Cornet (There is usually no third cornet part)

Eb Cornet is included as an important brass band voice pitched a 4th higher. A separate consideration of Eb Cornet has been done in an earlier Shepherd's Crook.

The cornet was derived from the Circular Post Horn to which valves were added. It should be noted that cornet and trumpet evolved from separate lines. A quick perusal of the Barkley book (mentioned below) will make this obvious.

An analogy could be drawn to the classical guitar and lute, which are both plucked cordophones, but with two completely separate histories.

The trumpet seems to have been derived from the longer, straighter instruments such as the heraldic trumpets while the cornet came from the Circular Post-Horn.

The keyed bugle in Brass Band history was important prior to 1856. The history of this instrument and its recent revival are chronicled in The Keyed Bugle by Ralph T. Dudgeon.

The famous contest in 1856 between Ned Kendall (keyed Bugle) and Patrick S. Gilmore (Cornet) in Boston was the beginning of the end of keyed bugle in Brass Bands. Some authors have seen this event as a decline of the Keyed Bugle as a virtuoso instrument and its replacement by the Cornet. Dudgeon found no mention of an outcome of this contest that favored Gilmore on the Cornet. Thomas Carroll, an eyewitness, felt the outcome was indecisive. (Carroll, Thomas. Bands & Band Music in Salem. Historical Collection of the Essex Institute XXXVI,

No. 4, October 1900. P. 227)

Tonal Quality of the Bb Cornet  

The vital difference between cornet and a small-valved trumpet lies in the deeper cupped mouthpiece. It is this that gives the cornet its unfatiguing nature and flexibility of execution. This is why Brass Bands have owed their success from the cornets first manufacture in London under the name Cornopean, horn of triumphal song.

The tone quality of the modern cornet has changed since the mouthpiece has changed. The early cornet mouthpiece in England as well as France was like that of the French horn; narrow-rimmed, thin-walled, with a deep conical interior. This author recently toyed with such a mouthpiece on a pocket cornet found in a local pawnshop. (For an interesting photo, see the pocket cornet photo in The New Grove, under Don Cherry.)

Surprisingly, I was able to produce reasonable tones quite easily on the pocket cornet. (I have never actually played cornet). I attribute this to the mouthpiece that was with the instrument; it was of the French-horn style. These older mouthpieces were said to produce a rounder and more velvet sound than the hardy penetrance made when the more cupped trumpet style mouthpiece was used.

Unfortunately, Arban, Levy, and Clark all used this trumpet style mouthpiece and its use has persisted. Arban was not yet twenty-three years of age when the cornet was labeled a snappy vulgarity among classically minded brass players.

Bb Cornet in BRASS BANDS

Brass bands are enjoying rising popularity in the North America. This resurgence adds to the marketing of the instrument and to resurgence of playing orchestral cornet parts on cornets.

Cornet parts add contrast in tone color between cornets and trumpets. This contrast was utilized in scoring by Berlioz, Franc, and other composers.

Genuine cornet tone is darker and mellower than the clear ringing trumpet timbre and can be colored with an expressive vibrato. The latter effect can easily be overdone and should be avoided for purposes of blend. To stress once more, this cornet timbre is achieved only through the use of a mouthpiece with a distinctly deeper and more conical cup. Trumpet players often use the same trumpet mouthpiece with a smaller shank when performing on the cornet. This negates much of the contrast in timbre between the two instruments.

The only traditional cornet mouthpieces available in North America are the Denis Wick models; these were designed in collaboration with leading British cornet players. In the Bach range, only the 5A approaches the requisite cup depth.

Most manufacturers have produced long model cornets (lacking the Shepherds Crook in the bell). The changes in these models unfortunately affect the timbre and the tone becomes closer to the trumpet than the cornet.

The cornet is at its best in soft melodic passages where its voice like tone can be uncommonly expressive. Another asset of the cornet is its uncommon agility.

The true Brass Bands of England have an unbroken performance style reaching back to the 19th Century. This style has been maintained independent of the influence of the trumpet and modern orchestral brass playing.

Salvation Army Brass Bands place a premium on melodic expression. Of particular interest is a recording produced by the International Trumpet Guild of performances of the legendary Herbert L. Clarke, dating from 1904 to 1921. (Crystal S450).

The cornet is a versatile workhorse in the Brass Band. It has been fruitfully utilized in a myriad of instrumental combinations by arrangers and composers.

Each new arrangement and composition seems to bring surprises. The cornets can be utilized as soloists, unisono, solo groups within the section, as well as in ensemble with various combinations of other instruments in as many permutations as the composer can conceive.

The cornets can provide harmonic counterpoint to other Brass Band soloists and provide rhythmic, harmonic and melodic diversity as well as distinctive tone qualities in the milieu of the Brass Band. Truly, the brass band is a cornet band! 


In 1921 Herbert L Clark was conducting the Anglo-Canadian Leather Company Band in Huntsville, Ontario Canada. In a letter to Elden E. Benge of Winterset, Iowa the same year, this was the text:

My Dear Mr. Benge:

Replying to yours of the 19th just received, would not advise you to change from Cornet to Trumpet, as the latter instrument is only a foreign fad for he time present, and is only used properly in large orchestras of 60 or more, for dynamic effects, and was never intended as a solo instrument.

I never heard of a real soloist playing before the public on a Trumpet. One cannot play a decent song even, properly, on it, and it has spring up in the last few years like jaz music, which is the nearest Hell, or the Devil, in music. It polutes the art of Music.

Am pleased that you are making improvements in your playing. Keep it up, and become a great Cornet Player. You have an equal chance with all the rest, but you must work for it yourself.

Wishing you all the best of success, I remain.

Herbert L. Clarke (signed)

(A copy of this letter was published in the INSTRUMENTALIST and is used with their kind indulgence.)

Finally, I must give credit for this edition where credit is due:

Baines, Anthony. Brass Instruments, their History
and Development. Faber & Faber. London. 1976.

Barkley, Robert. The Art of the Trumpet Maker:
The materials tools and tecnniques of the 17th
and 18th Centuries in Nuremberg.

Clarendon Press, Oxford University Press.
New York. 1992.

Dudgeon, Ralph T. The Keyed Bugle. Scarecrow
Press, Inc. Metuchen NJ & London. 1993.

The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians.
Ed. by Stanley Sadie.
Macmillan Ltd. London. 1980.
Volume 4. Cornet. by Anthony Baines.

Whitener, Scott. Complete Guide to Brass.
Shirmer Books, New York, Toronto.
A Division of Macmillan, Inc. 1990.


The Shepherds Crook
Newsletter of the
American Brass Band Association
2005 Extracts from:
Volume V. No. I Spring 2000
Revision: 2013

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