What’s on : Lectures

Physics and the Royal Fanfares: Scientific solutions to brass instrument mythology

25 Jun 2024
Start time
7:00 PM
Yorkshire Museum
Dr Richard A. Smith
Physics and the Royal Fanfares: Scientific solutions to brass instrument mythology

Event Information

Physics and the Royal Fanfares: Scientific solutions to brass instrument mythology

Dr Richard A Smith  (Designer & Maker of Smith-Watkins trumpets)

Every musical instrument ever made is unique and cannot be duplicated.

Some instruments make short transient sounds (by hitting or plucking) and others are designed to produce a continuous sound using a harmonic generator (e.g. lips or reed in in a wide range of modifications) coupled to a resonator.

Up to the mid 20th century, discussion of these complex arrangements within the sphere of musical and physics education had been limited to the work of Pythagoras. While being theoretically accurate, the truth of the real world was not mentioned.

Since my first experiments in 1968 to the current day, I have developed equipment to measure the resonant frequencies of simple instruments like the natural trumpet. Demonstrations will show that none of the notes are harmonically related, but each can be adjusted by minute manipulation of the bore shape.

Various techniques are discussed concerning the choice of materials in instrument design (laser holography), blind testing of players for material choice and new instrument development.  Demonstrations will be shown that are designed to help musicians understand how their instruments work and what is important in finding the perfect instrument.

Since 2000, Smith natural trumpets are used by the Household Cavalry for all state events and sets of the chromatic valved fanfare instruments are played for many monarchs and presidents around the world.

7pm in the Tempest Anderson Lecture Theatre in the Yorkshire Museum.

Please note that the YPS AGM will take place at 6.30pm so non members need to arrive after 6.45pm.

Member’s report

To say that Dr Smith makes trumpets is to understate the case – he makes the trumpets – those used on royal occasions: coronations, weddings and Trooping the Colour.  His lecture covered the history of the trumpet, and the factors which govern the sounds which trumpets can make.

Trumpets were originally straight, and inconveniently long. A 13th century seal shows two trumpeters sending signals at sea using trumpets that appear to be in danger of becoming entangled in the rigging.  A picture of the battle of Agincourt (25 October 1415) again shows two trumpeters, one with a straight trumpet, but one with the familiar curved tube, the latter much easier to use, particularly on a horse, a factor of interest to contemporary cavalry regiments.  Curving the tube does not affect the sound, which is produced when air is blown into the mouthpiece, travels along the instrument to the bell, and then travels back again.  The player provides 100% of the input; there is a less than 1% output at the bell.  Sound is altered by the player ‘lipping’– this is the only way in which notes are changed in a natural trumpet.  Valved trumpets, invented in the 19th century, unsurprisingly use valves to manipulate the air in the trumpet to alter the pitch.

‘Sets’ of trumpets for fanfares come in sevens – one soprano, three melody, two tenors and one bass.  More than one set can be used at a time; at the late Queen’s Jubilee Concert 35 of Dr Smith’s trumpets were played, five sets in total.

Felicity Hurst