The Double-Bell Trumpet

When I first saw Marco Blaauw’s double-bell trumpet, I was fascinated but skeptical. The effects are great, but are they enough to justify this huge modification of the instrument? Not to mention the expense of having one built! I avoided having my own double-bell built for many years, never sure if it would be worth it. But in 2019 I stumbled upon a wonderful used Yahama C-Trumpet and just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to create my own double-belled monstrosity. Here is all you need to know to get started writing for this unique instrument!

The Basics

Most double-bell trumpets in existence are, as far as I know, in C. I have heard of some efforts to build them in Bb, but have yet to actually see one. When it comes to range, articulation, and pretty much every other effect I describe my blog, you can treat the double-bell as you would a piston trumpet in C.

Very few trumpet manufacturers have begun building their own model of double-bell trumpet, and many players will have one custom built, as I did. This means the instruments are pretty rare, and some players may not even have access to one to rent or borrow. If you’re writing for a specific player or ensemble, make sure they have access to one before you write for this instrument.

There is, however, no standardized way in which double-bell trumpets are built. So some of the effects I describe below may vary depending on the build.

Fast Color Changes

With a quick flick of a finger or thumb, the player can rapidly switch between the two different bells. If one bell is muted (or if there is a different mute in each bell), this results in an instantaneous color change that would otherwise be difficult or impossible on a standard trumpet.

Here I’m using harmon-mute in the upper bell.

As you can hear in the above example, a fast tremolo between the two bells is also possible. This means that, unlike with the standard trumpet, single-note tremolos can be achieved on any pitch.

Rough Transition

By gradually activating the bell-trigger, a player can slowly transition from one bell (or sound color) to the other. This transition is not as smooth as one would hope for. There is a clear dip in the intonation and change of sound color at the halfway point.

This can be exploited, as mentioned above, to create a half-valve effect with sound coming out of both bells. With practice, the player can adjust to the “dip” to create a smoother transition, but it’s probably not possible to get rid of it completely.

Sound from Both Bells Simultaneously

This effect could differ depending on the valve mechanism, but by depressing the bell-trigger about half way, you can get sound out of both bells simultaneously. The sound is similar to half-valve (and as a bonus, actually gives players another option for fingering half-valve passages). In general I would treat the effect as you would half-valve, knowing that it may be out of tune and/or unreliable.

Here again with harmon-mute in the upper bell. You can just barely hear the “buzz” of the mute alongside the normal trumpet sound!

Stereo Effect

Some double-bells (like mine 🙂 ) have an adjustable second bell which can point in different directions. This can add another acoustic dimension to your piece by having some sounds appear to come from a different direction. The adjustment needs to be made in advance (preferably not on stage) and cannot be done while playing.

Removing the Bell

Not every model will have a bell that can be removed. For those that do have a removable bell, you can get a unique sound by playing out of the open tube where the bell is attached. (This is much like the effect of removing valve-slides on the standard trumpet, which I will write about in an upcoming post.)

Noodling around with the bell removed.

(Keep in mind with this technique that the available pitches are limited! One day, if I have the time and patience, I will notate the available pitches and post them here).


I’ve seen a few different ways that composers have found to notate the different bells. There isn’t a single way that is superior to the others; it really depends on the piece. Here are a few examples to get you started:

Mute Indications

This method is generally easy to read and doesn’t require any new notation or symbol. By indicating which bell has which mute at the beginning of a piece or passage, you can simply continue using those mute symbols to indicate which bell should sound for any given section. However, if your piece has many rapid changes, this method may be too cumbersome.

Stem Direction

A very simple and effective notation using stem direction. Stem up is for the upper bell, stem down for the lower.

Dog Song by Yannis Kyriakides (2006)


The way Saunders uses bell transitions would be quite impractical to notate with the above methods. She creates a kind of spectrum above the staff with a middle line indicating the movement of the double-bell valve.

Rebecca Saunders, Either or (2020)
© Copyright 2020 by Henry Litolff’s Verlag.
Nutzung mit freundlicher Genehmigung C.F. Peters Musikverlag, Leipzig.

Gold Star

The gold star for this week goes to my friend and colleague, living trumpet legend Marco Blaauw. He certainly wasn’t the first player to come up with the idea of a double-bell trumpet, but I consider him responsible for popularizing the instrument among composers within the last two decades. He also gave invaluable input to trumpet builder Hub van Laar, one of the few instrument makers producing their own model of double-bell trumpet.

This entry was posted in Auxiliary Instruments, Contemporary Techniques and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *