When writing a passage for the brass quartet, what are some of the rules that should be observed with regards to the trumpets. I've noticed that due to the trumpet's piercing sound, my quartet passages sound harsh. Should they be not as loud as the other brass parts?


  • I would have considered that a lot the fault of your trumpet player, in a quartet environment! Perhaps pitch could be a consideration - are the parts unusually high, for a trumpet?
    – Chris
    Jul 7, 2014 at 22:14
  • Or it could be the fault of the Finale 2012 software, which I am writing in. Even when the trumpet part is in the middle C range, the quartet sounds harsh. Jul 7, 2014 at 22:27
  • Ah, you haven't had it played by actual people yet? Then yes - I'd assume the software is to blame!
    – Chris
    Jul 7, 2014 at 22:28
  • 3
    Never, ever, ever trust programs like Sibelius or Finale to play a score back as it will sound when played live, by real musicians. They are brilliant bits of software, and I use Sibelius every day (in my answer for instance!), but they can either: make a certain instrumentation sound better than it really will, giving you a "false sense of security"; or make it sound worse, when you have actually orchestrated quite well. These programs are useful for giving you an overall sense of what the instruments will sound like, and are brilliant for checking that you haven't made silly mistakes... Jul 7, 2014 at 22:51
  • 1
    …but, in the end, they are primarily intended for use as notation software. Jul 7, 2014 at 22:52

2 Answers 2


One of the best bits of advice I've had about writing good, comfortable sounding trumpet parts is "keep it on the stave". Sure, the trumpet range extends beyond this, both above and below the stave, but the range on the stave is comfortable and will generally blend well with other instruments.

Back when I started composing and arranging (a pretty long time ago!), the excerpt below was suggested to me by a trumpet player, as an example of comfortable trumpet writing:

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It's from the Third Part of Stravinsky's ballet Petrushka.

Of course, mutes can greatly help your trumpet part to blend well with the other instruments, too. An understanding of Straight, Cup, Harmon and Bucket mutes (and the sounds they produce) is a good start. I would suggest asking a trumpeter to show you what different mutes sound like, but there are loads of clips online showing you what different mutes sound like. This is just one example...


If you're not a brass player yourself, one rule that may not be obvious is to make sure that your brass parts, trumpets especially, incorporate rest at regular intervals.

Playing, especially loud or high, requires quite a lot of muscle strength in the lips, as the lips need to hold the tension for the note, and the higher the note, the taughter the tension.

Imagine lifting a heavy weight in the gym. If you get a short time after each time you lift the weight, you could probably repetitively lift that weight for quite a while before it got too heavy for you. Compare this to having to lift that weight continuously - you will run out of strength a lot more quickly. It's exactly like that.

If you have friends/contacts who are going to play your music, I would recommend asking them for feedback on whether the parts are ok, stamina-wise. Obviously how much stamina a player has will vary considerably, from occasional amateur to professional. Put it this way: the more strenuous you make the part, the more you restrict the pool of players who can play your music towards the professional end of the spectrum.

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