What is a Carmen Cornet?

Introduction

I’m always on the lookout for weird and wonderful brass instruments. Because of the way that a brass instrument works there are a huge number of ways they could be re-designed. Some ideas that have been tried include:

  • Compensating valve systems (used on French Horns, Euphoniums and Tubas – extra pieces of tubing are added to correct intonation when the fourth valve is pressed)
  • Tuning holes (as added to rotary valve trumpets)
  • Triggers on tuning slides (recent Besson cornets and Euphoniums, and some Kanstul marching trumpets)

There have been other ideas that have been less popular such as:

  • Valves that shorten the instrument (for example moving a C trumpet into D)
  • Transposing keys (offering a trumpet that works in both B-flat and A)
  • Instruments that feature both a moveable slide and valves (Maynard Ferguson’s Firebird trumpet, or the comically named Superbone).

There has been a trumpet developed recently with five valves, offering an array of different fingering/tuning options. It is currently being promoted by trumpeter David Hickman (click this link for more information).

These, however, are not the things that interest me quite so much as the instruments that have been purpose-built for a specific task. By this I mean things such as a the two-valved instruments pitched in G that were designed and used exclusively in Drum and Bugle Corps competitions and the subject of this blog post – the Carmen Cornet, a.k.a Spanish Bugle, or simply Corneta in Spain.

This is an instrument that is pretty unheard of in Britain, and from what I can gleam most other English-speaking countries. The utter lack of information I’ve found online has led me to write this post in the hope of starting to remedy that.

How it looks and works

The Corneta Carmen at first glance looks like a military bugle with an added rotary valve. On closer inspection you’ll see that there are a few more details to describe. Disclaimer: When I was in Spain and borrowed one of these instruments I did not have any measuring tools with me so there are no precise measurements. However, you should definitely find enough information here to get a good understanding.

The corneta is held horizontally in the right hand so that that the rotary key can be turned with the left hand. The rotary valve changes the length of tubing by a semitone.

When in the longest form, the harmonic series that can be produced is based upon C and moving the valve then raises this by a semitone. Because the music you read for this instrument is written at concert pitch you would therefore say that the valve works in the opposite way to the middle valve on a standard modern brass instrument. At first this is a little odd to get your head around, but is by no means the most tricky thing. Overlapping the two available series of notes gives you the following scale, which only really allows you to play full scales in the keys of F minor and A-flat major.

Corneta Scale
0 and 1 represent the two positions of the valve. These are arbitrary labels as there is no spring mechanism so there is no default position for the valve.

You’ll also notice in this scale that the lowest note is a G. Playing the low C (second harmonic) is not possible because of the bore profile of the instrument (the fact that it starts and stays small relative to the length of tubing). This is just like the missing first harmonic on any modern trumpet – you cannot play a proper pedal C on a B-flat trumpet, but you can on a flugelhorn because the bore profile is different.

The receiver is large enough to take a trumpet mouthpiece. This receiver is part of a lead pipe that goes into the tubing in the same way as a piccolo trumpet or flugelhorn and then acts as a tuning slide. The size of the tubing up to and including the valve mechanism is small. Visually it looks about the same bore as you’d expect on a piccolo, or maybe a D trumpet, definitely no bigger. I believe that this is a major contributing factor to that missing low C. The rest of the instrument in then conical but unlike a military bugle it has a proper flare to the bell which is not dissimilar to the bell of a modern pocket trumpet.

Mouthpieces

This instrument cannot be well described without also addressing the mouthpiece that is used with it. I will attempt to be concise about this and will probably return to the subject when I write the blog post about small mouthpieces that I have been meaning to for a long time…

These are the features of a Honsuy 1 mouthpiece:

  • Length: short, like an old short-shank British cornet mouthpiece. Differing from that mouthpiece however because the size of the instrument’s receiver is large enough to fit a trumpet mouthpiece, unlike a normal cornet.
  • Rim: thinner than a trumpet or cornet mouthpiece; like that on a French-horn mouthpiece.
  • Diameter: approximately 15.10mm or 0.590 inches.
  • Cup: by the standards of most, this would be described as very shallow. I expect that most trumpet players would “bottom out” on this mouthpiece.
  • Throat: very small, at most a 30 drill (standard size is 27). I think that this is a defining feature of the mouthpiece as it creates a lot of resistance.
  • Backbore: No measurements available, but it is around half the length of a normal trumpet backbore and increases from the small throat to full-bore-size in that space.

I also had access to an unmarked mouthpiece with a slightly larger internal diameter and deeper cup but found this much harder to play in the usable range of the instrument.

Sound

The only way to get a good feel for how these instruments sound is to hear them. Below is a short list of videos that I think give you a good idea of how they should sound. Warning: Allowing YouTube to recommend similar videos could waste hours of your life.

Ensembles

Generally these cornets are only used in one type of band. This is a style of music that has been gaining popularity in the southern regions of Spain for approximately thirty years.

Typically the ensemble is a drum and bugle band. There are three sections of instruments. Firstly the percussion section; secondly the bugles, which are split into four parts; and thirdly a group of trumpets, flugelhorns, baritones and tubas that fill in the rest of the tonality and harmony of the music.

Coda

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this brief explanation of the Spanish Bugle. At the bottom of this post I have added a small gallery of photographs that I took of the instrument I borrowed.

If you have any questions for me then please comment. ~iii<0

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Dear readers,

I have recently started a Patreon account in order to take donations for my writing. You will only see this message at the bottom of posts that have taken me considerable time to research and write. If you have enjoyed reading this post or feel that you have learned from it then please consider using my tip-jar by following this link.

All the best,

Rich

7 thoughts on “What is a Carmen Cornet?

  1. Hi Rich, I really enjoyed this article about the corneta carmen. What an amazing sound and texture, it has a strong North African feel I think. Those bands on YouTube are amazing, makes our traditional brass band seem a bit bland. It seems very passionate but they seem to be playing at religious festivals so that would explain some of that. Also the bands seem massive in numbers. Have you one of these of your own? I may contact Dani di Baza and see what the best time of year to see them play is. Thank you again -Simon

    1. Hi Simon,
      Thanks for taking the time to comment. The biggest event of the year for these bands is a series of Easter parades that happen from Maundy Thursday up to Easter Sunday at all times of day and night. During these parades there are statues of virgins and depictions of Jesus at various stages of the Easter story are carried and either lead or followed (sometimes both) by a band. The band in some of the YouTube links above “Los Coloraos” is named after one particular parade, which I believe takes place on Good Friday.
      At the moment I do not have a Corneta of my own, but I do intend getting one. I’d love to do some performances of Spanish marches and share this music with more people who’ve not been exposed to it.
      All the best,
      Rich

      1. Hi Richard, thanks for your reply, maybe I’ll try and get there for next year’s parades. Dani de Baza, he is phenomenal,he has his own Facebook page plus online tutorials on how to play, all in Spanish of course.I live down in Taunton so not far from you, if we get one each that would be a start!!!
        Have a good week, best wishes Simon.

  2. Hi Rich, just come back from Spain and thinking about learning Carmen Cornet. Do you know are orchestra notes for this instrument notated at concert pitch? Or perhaps a tone higher as per a Bb trumpet? Perhaps in Bb and transposed down an octave? Don’t want to learn it all wrong! I also saw 2 piston cornets and also Carmen cornets they call Do/Sib, presumably C/Bb. Do you know what notes these can play and if the music is notated at concert pitch? The downside was I tried a C/Db one in a shop and got a bit of a headache! Cheers Cris

    1. Hi Cris, thanks for your comment.
      The answer to your question is quite simple – as the Corneta Carmen is not a transposing instrument the music is notated at sounding (concert) pitch. The graphic in the above post depicts all of the available notes for the instrument. The 2-valve cornetas have the same function as on more standard cornet, so rather than decreasing the length as with the Do/Re-b the two valves increase the length of tube by a tone and semitone respectively. This means that the instrument can play chromatically from the 2nd-space A on a treble stave.
      As for the headache issue – the back pressure, or “resistance”, provided by these instruments as you blow into them is much greater than you’d experience from a British cornet, or modern B-flat trumpet. This is necessary for ease of playing in the range required of the instrument – without it the lips would not seal and create a buzz above a certain pitch without the development of seriously bad technique. As a result of that you would really need to cultivate greater efficiency in your playing (i.e. use less air!!) to prevent the back pressure from causing you pain. On the plus side, this greater efficiency would work wonders for playing on other brass instruments too!

      1. Hi Rich, thank you for the reply. The picture above is a “Do / Re b” cornet (C / Db). I noticed there are also rotary valve “Do / Si b” cornets (example on the Trinomusic website). The tube on the valve is longer. In Spain I noticed quite a few of the cornet players had 2 instruments, (with a nice belt holder for the second instrument), presumably they had one of each. Do you happen to know the notes (and the 0/1 valve setting) for a Do / Si b instrument? Is the first note also G1? Are these instruments also played at concert pitch? Sorry for all the questions, but as you say there is very little info about these instruments about……………

        1. I can’t give you a definitive answer, because I haven’t played on of the Do/Sib bugles. However, it is logical to think of the instrument as functioning like a C trumpet with only the first valve. From the bottom of the scale the available notes, in concert pitch, would be: F, G, Bb, C, D, E, F, G, Ab, Bb, C, D, E, F, F#, G… By the time you reach the Bb above the stave (10th note written here) the valve would have very limited use because all of the notes except the high F can be played on either fingering. I hope this is helpful.

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