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Description of Initial Lesson for Beginning Trumpeter
1. Posture. The student should establish correct posture without holding the trumpet. Model correct posture for the student: feet flat on the floor, sit on the edge of the seat, back straight (or leaning slightly forward-position should be such that one can stand up with almost no adjustment to position), shoulders down and relaxed. Another good image to help with a straight back is to imagine a string coming up through the bottom of the chair, up the tailbone, up the spine and neck, and out of the top of the head, pulling the head up slightly. Encourage the student to keep his/her muscles relaxed.
2. Breathing. Relax and address breathing. Inform the student that air is what plays the trumpet and is therefore the most important aspect of trumpet playing. What is most important regarding air is that it is free flowing, unobstructed, in and out. This will maximize quantity of air and will contribute to good sound, ease in playing, and achievement of skills. One must try to eliminate all obstacles to the air flow, and good posture is part of this, as is remaining relaxed.
Trumpet air is quite different from “TV air” (breathing while watching TV). It is important to breathe deeply, not fully. Model this exercise for the student:
Set the metronome to 60. Exhibit proper posture. Open the mouth really wide-like you are yawning-but do not strain. Inhale silently for 2 counts (if you can hear the breath it is not deep enough). Make sure to inhale for the entire two counts. Exhale with a partial embouchure (no buzz but resistance) for two counts. Make sure to exhale for the full two counts, exhaling all air. The exhale should be intense and with direction, and the air should not stop or slow down when it changes direction. Repeat. The abdomen should expand in all directions. It should also be easier to inhale after the initial exhale; the lungs will fill up more easily when empty (an important point). Then have the student try it. Observe and comment. You may notice the student get tense or his/her posture change.
Next, demonstrate again, but this time place your right hand on your abdomen, palm down, and your left hand on the small of your back, palm up. Both hands should move outward as you inhale. You will want to expand your entire lower section while inhaling, from all directions. Practice this. Have the student try it. Observe and comment.
Have the student pretend to fog a mirror on his/her hand; this is the correct mouth position for inhaling with the trumpet and is a good analogy for how the mouth should be shaped when playing the trumpet. The jaw is lowered, the tongue is low in the mouth, and the mouth is round.
3. Embouchure and buzz. Model correct embouchure. Put your face in a neutral position. Say “hmmm”, curling the lips slightly under. Have the student copy you. Do this several times. If the student is not modeling the “curl under” correctly (this will be more challenging for those with bigger lips), curl your lips under in an exaggerated fashion, so much so that you expose all of your teeth (lips should be curled under over the teeth). Have the student copy you. Then, slowly bring the lips together over the teeth so they are touching but still curled under.
Once the student can correctly copy your embouchure, demonstrate it again, saying “hmmm”, but this time start to exhale after saying “hmmm”, slowly at first, keeping the lips in this position. The chin should pull down slightly and the muscles in the corners will have to flex. Keep the lips taught, without air pockets. The lower jaw should also move slightly forward, almost in line with the upper jaw. Continue to increase air speed until a buzz occurs. Sustain the buzz until you are out of air. Have the student copy you. Demonstrate, and have the student copy you, 3-4 times. Then, see if the student can add a full inhale before the buzz. Ask the student to exhale with the intensity used in #2, but slowly at first.
4. Mouthpiece buzzing. Demonstrate the proper way to hold the mouthpiece for buzzing. Hold with the pointer finger and thumb of your non-dominant hand. Hold at the end of the stem. Curl the other fingers around, out of the way of the air stream. Establish correct posture and put lips in neutral position. Demonstrate proper mouthpiece buzzing. Bring the mouthpiece to the lips (approximately 50% on upper lip, 50% on lower lip). Wet the mouthpiece and lips. With mouthpiece on lips, establish embouchure as above (with “hmmm”) and blow until a buzz occurs. Hold the buzz until out of air. Have the student copy you 3-4 times. Then, have the student add a full inhale before buzzing. First, the student should wet the lips and mouthpiece and should place the mouthpiece on the lips. Then, the student should inhale by dropping the lower jaw, setting the embouchure at the end of the inhale.
5. Holding the trumpet. Put the mouthpiece in the trumpet. Demonstrate the proper way to hold the trumpet. The left hand holds the trumpet, the right hand plays the trumpet. Put your left hand ring finger in the ring on the third valve slide. Curl your other fingers around the slide and third valve casing. Keep your wrist as straight as possible and keep your ring finger as far out of the ring as possible. Your thumb should go in the first valve “crook” or in front of the first valve, at the bottom. The trumpet should rest on the left hand; it is not a “grip”. Your right hand should form the shape of a backwards “C” or a Big Mac. Your right hand pinky should rest on top of the pinky hook. Your right wrist should be as straight as possible. The right hand thumb should go in front of the first valve at the top. Arms should be at a 90° angle. Posture same as above. Have the student copy your position.
6. Producing tone on the trumpet. Demonstrate producing a tone on the trumpet. Establish posture, pick the trumpet up and establish proper position (always bring the trumpet to you-do not bring yourself to the trumpet), wet lips and mouthpiece, place mouthpiece on lips, inhale and establish embouchure, maintain embouchure and blow. Have the student copy you. It does not matter what pitch comes out, but establish which pitch it is. Do this 3-4 times.
7. Playing a second line G. Try to get the student to sound a second line G. Model this for him/her. Have the student sing the pitch. If the student plays too low, ask him/her to increase the speed of his/her air. If the student plays too high, ask the student to relax the embouchure a little bit. Hold a G out until you are out of air. Do this 3-4 times.
8. Long tones. Play long tones from G down to low C in the C major scale. Write the pitches on staff paper as you go. Discuss the notes on the lines and spaces of a staff.
Notice I did not introduce the tongue yet! This is for the second lesson.
Congratulations! You just taught your first trumpet lesson! The student should soon begin to practice lip slur exercises, slowly. Start very simple and descend chromatically from an open set of notes down to all valves down (this is called “through the valve series”). For example, have the student slur from a low C to a second-line G. Both notes are whole notes. Put a metronome on 60 (students should always practice with a metronome at this stage). Rest for four counts, then play B and F# in the same manner. Continue down chromatically. Continue to develop simple lip slur exercises based on the student’s current ability and range.
How to introduce the tongue: First, demonstrate for the student how to produce a sound without saying “hmmm”. You should still think it but not say it. Then, demonstrate a quicker response time between exhale and buzz. Get to the point that the buzz or sound occurs immediately upon exhale. Have the student copy you. Then, say these two syllables-“hut” and “tah”. When you say “hut”, keep the tongue against the roof of your mouth. Hold it there for a second or two before saying “tah”. Have your student do the same. This is where the tongue should hit the inside of the mouth when tonguing. Have the student play a second line G on the trumpet as he/she has been. Explain how this is a “ha” attack and that now you will try a “tah” attack. The purpose of the tongue is only to give a clearer beginning to the note. The air is what produces the sound and should continue to do so. Tell the student to strike the tongue at the appropriate spot in the mouth upon blowing. Tell the student to strike the tongue lightly. The sound should occur immediately as it did without the tongue.
I have given a lot of description, but in general, it is best to model correct techniques and not explain them. If the student is not picking up on something in particular, then you can mention it. The best way to improve, in general, is also not by figuring out what to do physically, but instead by having in your ear what you want to sound like and striving to sound like that. Your body will naturally do what it needs to do to sound like that. A good analogy is standing from a seated position. It takes many muscles executing very specific movements to complete this task, but we don’t have to command those muscles to make these movements, we just know how to stand and do it. We did not learn how to stand by commanding these muscles. We just copied those around us. Imagine how much harder standing would be if we did have to command those muscles! Learning to play beautifully should be just as natural and can be if we listen to great performers and try to copy their sound. Sometimes, however, some technical description is helpful and necessary.
Common Problems and Solutions with Beginning Trumpeters
1. Breathing and use of air
It has been said that in a masterclass setting, when the guest artist asks a question of the participants, the correct answer is always, “more air”. This is true! Air is the most important part of playing the trumpet and students should keep it as their primary focus. They should always be focused on trying to get the air to do more work.
Young students often do not take in enough air or blow enough air. Refer to the breathing exercise under “Initial Lesson”. The student should practice this exercise, trying to maximize inhale and exhale, all the while staying relaxed. This is very important. The student then needs to apply the exercise to his/her playing.
Often, a young trumpeter’s posture suffers when breathing (particularly head/neck position). Establish correct posture, and without holding the trumpet, have the student practice breathing in and out without changing his/her posture. The student should shape their mouth as if fogging a mirror when inhaling. When exhaling, have the student approximate an embouchure but do not buzz. The air should not stop or slow down when changing directions. Make sure the student is blowing air with intensity and direction, as if trying to get rid of it. But, the air should not be forced. Inform the student that air is what plays the trumpet and is therefore the most important aspect of trumpet playing. Have the student reestablish good posture with the trumpet in his/her lap. Then have the student slowly bring the trumpet to playing position, maintaining the exact same posture. Have the student breathe in slowly and deeply and blow air through the trumpet as above, maintaining good posture the entire time. The slowness of action will allow the student to concentrate on maintaining posture. Repeat this process. Encourage the student to involve this process when playing anything. Now, have the student play a second line G, continuing to concentrate on proper posture and breathing. As the student begins to play notes in succession, he/she must increase air and crescendo as he/she ascends.
Sound may be the most important aspect of trumpet playing. Model a good sound for your students and encourage them to listen to recordings of famous trumpet players to get a model of a good sound. The sound should be open, relaxed, warm, and resonant. The sound should not be stuffy, bright, strained, thin, or have a “laser tone” quality. A good trumpet sound is produced by maintaining a relaxed body and an open, relaxed oral cavity. The analogy of “fogging a mirror” is good to help students create the correct mouth shape. Have them raise their right hand close to their mouth, palm facing the mouth, pretending it is a mirror. Ask them to fog it. Then, have them describe what happened in their mouth. The jaw lowered, the tongue is low in the mouth, the shape of the mouth is round, and the throat is round and open. The air is warm and the oral cavity is relaxed and open. Students should practice long tones everyday (play each note between any two open notes in the staff, ascending or descending chromatically, until the student runs out of air, resting in between each note) and focus on improving sound with every beat by opening, rounding, and relaxing the oral cavity. Unless a student is lipping a note up or down for intonation, he/she should blow through the center of the horn, as opposed to angling the air up or down in relation to the lead pipe.
3. Bad posture and improper holding of trumpet
For good posture, feet should be flat on the floor, butt should be close to the edge of the seat, back should be straight (or leaning slightly forward-position should be such that one can stand up with almost no adjustment to position), and shoulders should be down and relaxed. The student should be relaxed.
The left hand holds the trumpet, the right hand plays the trumpet. The left hand ring finger should be in the ring on the third valve slide. The other fingers should be curled around the slide and the third valve casing. The wrist should be as straight as possible and the ring finger should be as far out of the ring as possible. The thumb should go in the first valve “crook” or in front of the first valve, at the bottom. The trumpet should rest on the left hand; it is not a “grip”. The right hand should form the shape of a backwards “C” or a Big Mac. The right hand pinky should rest on top of the pinky hook. The right wrist should be as straight as possible. The right hand thumb should go in front of the first valve at the top. Arms should be at a 90° angle.
Good posture is important so that the air is as free-flowing, in and out, as possible. Proper holding of the trumpet is important for staying relaxed and for long-term physical health and comfort.
4. Managing the trumpet physically
Sometimes the trumpet is just too big for a young student. In general, only time and therefore physical maturity will help with this issue. The student should try his/her best to still use proper posture and properly hold the instrument. If accessible, using a cornet instead of a trumpet can help. Also, for those with small hands, wrap a pipe cleaner or two around the third valve slide ring at the back to help with its use. And, using plyers and a cloth to avoid damage, bend the front part of the first valve slide crook closer to the first valve to help with its use.
Sometimes I meet young trumpet players and watch them play, and am shocked at how much force they use to play the trumpet. Their shoulders are up to their ears, their necks and heads are contorted, and they grip the trumpet with tremendous force and jam it into their faces. There is no way anyone can play the trumpet well when playing in this manner.
Of course there are benchmarks for you as a band director that you and your students must meet. But, try not to impose unreasonable goals on your trumpet students in relation to developing range. Sometimes they are not developing range because they are not practicing. But trumpet requires a lot of muscular strength, and a lot of this comes with time and age because it depends on physical maturity. Don’t give your trumpeters range requirements. Instead let them develop naturally. Most of them will impose some sort of goals or pressure on themselves, as their classmate might have an easier time and they want to play as high as him/her. But forcing will only impede their progress. They must be relaxed to develop range and strength; they must play the trumpet with ease. Establish this in the first lesson and do not move on to new material unless they can play the current material with ease. If they have been forcing, they will need to practice not forcing. This will need to be the priority for awhile, above all else. If they have been forcing for awhile, they will probably get worse before they get better as they start to play in a more relaxed manner. They may lose some range, their sound may become worse at first, and things may become more awkward and uncomfortable for them. But they will adjust to the new approach and eventually will develop strength (that they couldn’t develop before) which will allow them to surpass their past level of ability. Have them concentrate on using their air to make progress with range while maintaining form and keeping the body’s muscles relaxed. Forcing may also be connected with their body size in relation to the trumpet (see #4). If students can play a relaxed G above the staff by the time they leave eighth grade, this is a great place to be. Beginners might have a hard time reaching fourth space C and it may be two years or more before they can play top space E comfortably. Students should also get plenty of rest when practicing the trumpet, resting often and in general as much as they play.
6. Lip slurs
When playing a lip slur exercise, young students will sometimes tongue the notes instead (especially on an ascending slur) or they will interrupt the air stream. Again, relate the air back to whole note air. With an ascending lip slur, not only does the air need to be continuous, but the air will need to increase in speed and quantity as ascending. This requires effort, and either consciously or subconsciously, some students avoid it. Sound should be continuous through any slur. Lip slurs are imperative for developing strength; if they are “cheating”, they will never develop the strength. They will also never be able to execute the lip slurs!
7. Low D’s and C#’s
The D and C# right below the staff are sharp on the trumpet. The C# is sharper than the D. Players need to extend the third valve slide for these notes. It depends on the trumpet and the player, but typically the slide needs to be extended all the way for the C# and a little less for the D. The earlier this becomes a habit, the better. Make sure this slide is lubricated and very easy to move. If not, it should be assessed by a repair person.
8. Initiating sound with the tongue
The tongue does not make a sound. Try moving just your tongue and you’ll see! Some students become too dependent on the tongue. It is often audible that a student is trying to use the tongue to move the air or start the sound. Sound, however, comes from air, as is demonstrated in the first lesson. Many young students use too hard of a tongue. The tongue should be very light and should not strike until the moment the air changes directions. Have the student say these two syllables-“hut” and “tah”. When saying “hut”, keep the tongue against the rough of the mouth. Hold it there for a second or two before saying “tah”. This is where the tongue should hit the inside of the mouth when tonguing. The tongue should be moving towards the strike location at the end of the inhale. If a student is using too hard of a tongue, return to using a “ha” attack. Let this remind them that it is the air that must initiate the sound, not the tongue. Then reintroduce the tongue as only a minor assistant.
9. Ending sound with the tongue
I hear many young players end their sound by bringing the tongue to the teeth. I call this a “tut” articulation. This is not good. Have the student think of saying “ah” as he/she releases a note. Some students also exhibit this problem with repetitive staccato tonguing. Encourage the student to keep the tongue back in the mouth until the next note begins. The tongue should not simultaneously end one not and start another. It should only start notes. I have my students play scales, 8 eighth notes per pitch, at a tempo at which the student can eliminate tongue stopping, with four counts rest in between each pitch. Play several scales a day this way. After one week, increase the tempo by 10 clicks or so. Once the tempo reaches around 160, slow it down to the original tempo and try 4 eighths per pitch, putting the 4 counts rest after every two pitches. When the speed of 160 is reached, move to 2 eighths per pitch, and so on, until you are at 1 eighth per pitch without any rest. Increased speeds can also be attained.
This is when someone is not using a continuous air stream, but is exhaling for each individual note. It is visually clear as the person tends to actually physically move up and down slightly or his/her abdomen contracts for each note. Have the student play a couple of whole notes or long notes and have him/her observe the constant flow of air. Then have the student play the same note, sustaining at first, then legato tonguing, keeping the air just as steady. An analogy I like to use is that of a faucet. If you turn on a faucet, and run your finger through the water, the water does not stop. Your finger only interrupts it. This should be the same relationship between your air and tongue. The air should be constant; the tongue only interrupts it. In fact, because the tongue is an obstacle to, and thus compromises, the air stream, one must be more purposeful about steady air and use more air when tonguing. The air is what is making the sound; I like to think of the air being in front of the tongue, or the tongue riding the air stream. Next, have the student sustain a note, followed by legato tonguing, then staccato tonguing at a moderate speed, trying to keep the air constantly moving. In reality, the air is not constantly moving, but it should feel like it is (tongue stopping may play a role in this issue as well). It should still feel as though one is constantly blowing air even in staccato tonguing. Sometimes, huffing is the result when a student tries to eliminate tongue stopping from his/her articulation. Keep referring back to what I call “whole note air” and have the student play a whole note and/or legato tongue followed by staccato tonguing. Executing these two approaches back to back will help the student transfer his/her use of constant air to staccato tonguing.
Common Problems and Solutions with High School Trumpeters
1. Breathing-stopping the air and timing
Other than the breathing issues mentioned in the beginner section (#1), some students will hold their breath or stop their air between their inhale and exhale. Or, their air will slow down significantly as it is transitioning from inhale to exhale. The air must always be moving, either in or out, and air that slows down before exhale will likely cause one to crack the note or have no response. Try to make the inhale the same speed that is required for the exhale. Practice these things without the trumpet.
Students also need to work on the timing of breathing. A lot of my students will avoid breathing simply because they are not comfortable with breathing while playing music, so they wait until they are completely out of air and are forced to take a breath at a very inopportune time. They also typically must stop playing to take this kind of breath. Students need to plan where they are going to breathe and mark it in their music. They should pick locations according to when they need a breath (they should never get lower than ¼ tank of air), according to the phrasing of the music, and according to where there is enough time or space to take a breath (after a longer note is better than after a shorter note). They must then practice breathing in these spots until it becomes automatic. Again, inhales should be deep.
2. Sound quality and projection
Please refer to #2 under “Beginning Trumpeters” for a discussion about sound quality. Sound is perhaps the most important aspect of trumpet playing.
High school students often don’t project their sound. To me it is as if they are playing to only about one foot beyond their bell. When giving lessons in my office, I tell them to play through the door, for someone in the hallway, or for someone outside. The analogy of being in an end zone on a football field and playing to someone in the other end zone can work too. The student must play “out”. Sometimes, projecting simply requires the student to play louder. But this can result in a forced tone. In this case, the student should think about increasing the resonance of his/her sound. This is achieved by referring back to proper sound production techniques, specifically, keeping the oral cavity round, open, and relaxed, and simply striving for a sound that resonates more. Another good analogy is playing to the person in the cheapest seat in a large concert hall; that person paid for his/her ticket and needs to hear the sound just as well as everyone else. Even the dynamic of piano needs to be heard by everyone in the hall. This is achieved through resonance, not volume.
A warm-up is very important to trumpet playing and not all students do one or enough of one. A warm-up should include simple mouthpiece buzzing exercises, long tones, slow lip slurs, and articulated scale patterns, covering the student’s entire comfortable range in a gradual manner. The purpose of the warm-up should be to establish a relaxed way of playing. Warm-up exercises should not be for strength or range development. They should focus on ease of playing and sound production. Warm-up exercises should be within the current capabilities of the player. One should rest frequently during a warm-up. See my website for my warm-up/daily maintenance routine.
4. Embouchure issues
I have seen some pretty significant embouchure issues that are unnecessary. Part of this is making sure to start a student on trumpet with the correct embouchure and monitoring the student so he/she doesn’t alter it during the initial weeks and months of playing. Sometimes, a student’s physical make-up (teeth and jaw structure) requires a unique embouchure or mouthpiece placement. Strive for traditional embouchure set-up and mouthpiece placement. However, if the student has a unique physical set-up, allow the student to form an embouchure and select a mouthpiece placement that is most comfortable and makes the best sound; let the sound be the guide.
A student’s embouchure can also migrate if he/she uses a forced way of playing, trying to develop range too quickly. This is another reason to not put range demands on your trumpet students, and to discourage them from doing so themselves. Students should never manipulate their embouchure in order to be able to play higher notes or anything else.
If you receive a student who has a strange-looking embouchure, and trumpet is not your primary instrument, I would refer the student to a professional trumpet player and teacher for evaluation. He/she will be best equipped to determine if an embouchure change is necessary and how to change it.
5. Developing range
I include this topic not because I see lack of range as a common problem in high school students, but because students typically pursue range development the wrong way. Please refer to the “forcing” topic in the beginner section. Playing the trumpet with ease should be a priority; this is key to developing strength and range. Scales are a good way to develop range. The student should play any scales (major, minor, etc.) up chromatically, remaining relaxed and letting the air do most of the work, until the student begins to strain to reach the highest note of a scale. At this point, the student should stop his/her range practice for the day. He/she should rest at this point and can continue practicing or playing later. The student should continue with this routine on an almost daily basis, and eventually, the student will be able to play the note with ease for which he/she previously strained. The student should then add one more scale and continue with this process. The process of making one’s highest attainable note easier to hit is more beneficial to range development than trying to hit notes one cannot yet hit. It is very important to get plenty of rest (play a scale, rest as long as it took you to play that scale, continue with this pattern) and not overplay while trying to develop range, and to increase air and crescendo as ascending. Concentrating on using the corners of the embouchure is important as well, making them firmer and thinking of moving them towards the center of the embouchure as ascending.
Another good way to increase range is through lip slurs. I would have the student use a text for this, like Little’s Embouchure Builder, Arban’s Complete Conservatory Method, Bai Lin’s Lip Flexibilities, or Charles Colin’s Advanced Lip Flexibilities (listed in order of most basic to most advanced).
This also relates back to the “forcing” topic in the beginners section. A very important aspect of trumpet playing is continuing to work on playing the trumpet with greater ease, or using less effort or energy to achieve a certain result. The less one has to work to play something at a certain level, the more difficult levels that person will be able to achieve. This needs to be practiced. The student should take practice materials and spend time trying to make them easier to play, trying to work less to achieve the same result.
Select Problems and Solutions with Advanced Players
1. Playing musically
I would say this has mainly to do with dynamics. My best players often play music at a very similar dynamic level. Dynamics should be changing almost constantly in music (unless otherwise indicated) and it is up to the performer to add dynamics to the music that are not written. Rubato, weight, and vibrato are important as well. Students should not be using vibrato until they have developed a very good sound that is very consistent and a relaxed way of playing. Vibrato cannot create a good sound or even help a sound; a player must be able to play beautifully and musically with or without vibrato.
2. Practice habits
Practicing is the most important component of getting better. Refer to the Practice Guide on my website. Too many students do not get better when they practice. They often run things but do not actually fix any problems. They must problem solve to figure out how to play things well. They must slow things down so they can play something successfully, as progress has to come from success. They must achieve three “perfect” repetitions on a passage before increasing the speed or difficulty, and must achieve three “perfect” repetitions on each new tempo before moving forward. Upon achieving the desired tempo, they must do many accurate repetitions to make the new skill automatic. They must practice often in short sessions and must practice as though they are performing; in other words, they must always “go for it”.
3. Lip slurring and flexibilities
Students need to work on playing slow lip slurs smoothly, easily, and without sliding between pitches. Air is the most important component to executing lip slurs smoothly and easily. The student must increase his/her air while ascending, blowing through the slur, while staying relaxed. Young students tend to decrease air upon slurring. At first, to execute an ascending slur, a student may make an abrupt air change that results in an accent. Eventually, the student should work to change air quantity and speed smoothly, not abruptly. The tongue is of great importance when lip slurring; lip slurring exercises are sometimes referred to as tongue level exercises. The tongue will rise as one ascends, and lower as one descends. To play smoothly, the tongue should be placed such that it does not have to move far to change notes, and it should change smoothly, not harshly. To avoid sliding, the player should wait as long as possible to change notes and then change quickly. Changing quickly without accent can be a challenge. Faster lip slurs, known as lip flexibilities, are used to develop strength. One should work to get the tongue and air to do all the work and minimize how much the tongue has to move to change notes.
4. Lyrical playing
Slow lip slurring is part of developing the skill of lyrical playing. One should also play songs like those in the back of the Arban Complete Conservatory Method or from a set of songs by Concone. Playing as though you are singing is a very important concept. Listen to singers. Emulate them. Strive to play as smoothly as possible (no accents unless indicated). Strive to have as beautiful a sound as possible. Say something with what you are playing. Sing!
5. Soft playing/response
Students just don’t do enough soft playing. They should be playing long tones softly. They should be playing Clarke’s Technical Studies softly, slurred and legato tongued. Having good response on soft attacks and soft legato tonguing is very important to good trumpet health and efficiency. A note should speak as though you are starting a car with just a slight turn of the key; a little amount of air should produce a tone and an immediate attack on any note. Lower notes and higher notes are harder and therefore good to practice for response. Students should practice this skill; at the beginning of a practice session, the student should attempt to play a low F# pianissimo. Or perhaps a top-line F. Once attempted, the student should leave the trumpet for five minutes (it is this down time, when one’s chops get “cold”, that makes attacks more difficult). Then, the player should try again, perhaps a different note. Becoming secure with this type of practice will result in a very secure player. Coming in on a note after an extended period of rest can be very scary; security in this area will eliminate this fear. As part of the warm-up, and at the end of the day, the trumpeter should establish easy response on soft legato tonguing, not through forcing, but through relaxed repetition.
See the section on tuning tendencies. Students should use slides whenever possible to help intonation. This of course is not possible when notes are flat. Students will need to learn to “lip up” notes by directing the air stream upwards. Then they will need to strive to develop the same quality of sound while lipping up as they do when playing through the center of the horn. Students will need to lip down notes that are sharp and cannot be helped with valves.
7. Playing too much
Several of my serious high school students are so serious that they practice too much. More specifically, they are not getting enough rest. I have found that serious students who have trouble in the upper register are either forcing or not getting enough rest. If a student sounds tired, it can be because he/she is not practicing enough or not practicing intelligently. Have a discussion with the student about his/her practice habits to determine which one is true. If one is practicing a lot, tell the student not to practice when the lips are tired. Encourage the student to practice in shorter segments and rest more frequently. Adopt the habit of resting for as long as you play. Every time you play a phrase or an exercise or an etude, rest for as long as it took you to play the phrase, exercise, or etude. Rest is what makes the lips stronger. Every day, the student should feel stronger than he/she did the previous day. If this is not true the student needs to rest more.
This is connected to #7 in that there is a way to develop the ability to play for longer periods of time. I am discussing endurance not necessarily because it is a common weakness with advanced players, but because students generally don’t know how to build endurance. The first step is to actually work on building endurance. Some students complain about not being able to play for long, but they are not working on increasing how long they are able to play.
Some simple ways to build endurance (endurance exercises should be done as the last playing of the day):
Sightread one etude a day, always making sure to play from beginning to end without stopping.
At the end of every day, play through a piece of music that is about a page long, making sure to play from beginning to end without stopping.
You may take a piece and see how far you get before you get noticeably tired. On five days over the course of a week, play to this spot as the last thing you do at the end of the day. The following week, see if you can add a line or several measures, or one measure. Continue with this weekly process until you can play to the end and still have strength left.
A more advanced process would be to take a set of etudes and play them back to back with timed rest in between. You may try to play five etudes with five minutes rest in between each one. Do this once a day for five days during one week. Then, decrease the rest time to 4½ minutes for one week. As your rest time gets shorter, you will need to decrease the time by smaller intervals. Strive to play the five etudes with only 20-30 seconds rest in between.
One must be careful with endurance practice and not go too far. The student should stop when he/she gets tired, and if he/she is getting weaker and not stronger over several days, the student is doing too much.
In other practice, it is best to stay as fresh and strong as possible. This should be a priority.
9. Single tongue speed
Some students need to increase their single tongue speed. Try this exercise, originally developed by Herbert L. Clarke.
Find the tempo at which you can single tongue sixteenth notes on second line G continuously for one minute, taking relaxed breaths as needed. Decrease the tempo by 20 clicks and do this exercise once a day for a week. Focus on making your tonguing more efficient; try to decrease the distance the tongue moves away from the teeth, minimize the tongue surface used, keep it relaxed, and let the air drive it. After a week, increase the tempo by 8 clicks or so for the second week. By about the fourth week you should be back to your original tempo, but it should be much easier now. Continue to increase your speed weekly; you will need to decrease the increment of increase. Eventually, you may only be increasing your tempo by one click per week. Your goal should be 120. You will find that all of your tonguing, including multiple tonguing (particularly triple tonguing) will be easier and this may also help you feel more relaxed in general while playing.
10. Transposition and different pitched trumpets
Serious trumpet students will eventually need to learn to transpose music. Common intervals are up a half step, whole step, minor third, major third, and perfect fourth as well as down a half step, whole step, and minor third. The C trumpet is the next most commonly used trumpet and is used frequently to play orchestral music.
Common Problems and Solutions with Trumpeters in Band or Orchestra
1. This is not marching band (unless it is)
Trumpeters might need to be reminded that concert band is not marching band. While a certain volume and brightness is acceptable on the field, and perhaps necessary to project outdoors, this is not acceptable inside. Students will need to play softer in general. Their loudest dynamic inside will be less than the same outside. Students should strive for a warmer sound. Remind them to keep their aural cavity and throats open, round, and relaxed.
For concert band, I think a good rule of thumb is to have section members play a little softer than the first chair player of each part; make sure they can hear the first chair player while playing. Make sure they understand, through discussion, which part is most important at various parts in the music. Make sure they can hear that part (if it is not theirs) while they are playing. Have them sing the most important part to make sure they know it. Sometimes, all parts within the section are equal; ask them to make sure they can hear all parts equally. Ask them to sing the other parts, or, for practice, rotate the players so they all get experience playing every part, and therefore get familiar with every part. Often, it is the inner parts that need to play out more. Exercises to practice this can be helpful. For example, for a particular section of music, have the lower parts play forte and the first part play piano.
3. Uniform sound, articulation
In any ensemble, players need to strive to have the same sound as each other. They may not want to do this, but they must. When they leave the group, they can go back to a more individual sound if they wish. They must recognize whose sound they are trying to copy and practice this. Have this individual play something simple, like a scale or arpeggio, and have each player try to play exactly like the model student. You can have the players take turns being the model. When modeling, they can also experiment with playing very uniquely and thus making it harder to match (style, articulation, dynamics, intonation, etc.). Have a classmate verbally analyze if he/she sounds like the model or not and how his/her sound is the same or different. This concept can apply to articulation as well.
4. Angle of horn, projecting
Although #1 and #2 address those who play too loud, some young trumpet players have the opposite problem-they do not project their sound well, or play too soft. Trumpet players can adjust their bell angle slightly depending on the desired volume of their part. In general, make sure they are not playing into the ground or into a stand. Their bells should be visible to the audience and directed towards them when playing an important part. Orchestral trumpeters in particular will need to project well. Ask them to envision themselves in a large concert hall, and the person in the cheapest seat needs to hear them just as well as those in the orchestra section. Please refer to “Projecting” in the high school section for more information.
Recommended Trumpets and Mouthpieces for Different Ability Levels and Prices
Yamaha YTR-2335, new around $1000
Bach TR600, new around $950
Good used trumpets of these and various other brands can be found on Ebay and www.trumpetherald.com. I recommend that beginning trumpet players purchase a used horn, because it is not certain how long and to what extent they will continue to play. If you purchase a used horn, make sure there is a trial period during which you can return the horn with a full refund. For beginner horns, the make and model of the horn is less important. Most important is its condition: Are there any major dents or a lot of lacquer wear? Do the valves move smoothly and easily? Do the slides move (this is sometimes an easy fix)? It is best to have a trumpet player you trust evaluate the horn.
Mouthpiece: Bach 7C, new at $36
Level 1: Yamaha 4335G, new around $1,200 (intermediate)
Level 2: Yamaha 6335 or 6345G, new around $1,680 (professional)
Level 3: Yamaha Xeno 8335 or 8345, new around $1,940 (professional)
Level 1: Bach TR200, new around $1,280 (intermediate)
Level 2 and 3: Bach Stradivarius 18037, new around $2,250 (professional)
These horns are appropriate for individuals as well. It is best that an individual student consult with a professional trumpet player when looking to purchase a new trumpet, so that the most appropriate trumpet for that student can be chosen.
Elementary school-purchase Bach 7C, new at $36
Middle school and high school-purchase Bach 7C, 5C, and 3C, new at $36 each
I do not recommend purchasing used mouthpieces unless you have evaluated them in person and they are in like-new condition. Mouthpieces should not be worn, scratched, dinged, or dented. Please refer to the mouthpiece section under “Special Considerations” for more on how to choose mouthpieces for your students.
Trumpet Tuning Tendencies Relating to the Overtone Series with Solutions
The fundamental does not exist as a real note on the trumpet. The first member of the harmonic series that exists on the trumpet is the first overtone, or second harmonic. Let’s use the lowest open note (no valves) as the first overtone for discussion. This would be low C on the trumpet. These tendencies apply to the overtone series starting on any valve combination. In relation to equal temperament, the notes in the overtone series are out of tune as follows:
|First overtone (low C)||in tune|
|Second overtone (second line G)||2 cents sharp|
|Third overtone (middle C)||in tune|
|Fourth overtone (top space E)||14 cents flat|
|Fifth overtone (top of the staff G)||2 cents sharp|
|Sixth overtone (Bb above the staff, played open)||31 cents flat|
|Seventh overtone (high C)||in tune|
These numbers vary based on the trumpet, but the tendencies are the same, except for
a rare exception.
Because it is so out of tune, the sixth overtone is never played open; it is played first valve. Therefore, this is technically an alternate fingering, but has become standard. Refer to fingering charts for how to play the sixth overtone in each overtone series (in other words, starting on a different valve combination).
To make it easy, here are some other notes that tend to be out of tune on the trumpet, mainly because of the presence of valves, which makes it impossible for the trumpet to be completely in tune.
|Low C#, D||very sharp|
|Second space A||sharp|
|A above the staff||sharp|
Here is a summary of the typically out-of-tune notes on the trumpet:
|Low C#, D||very sharp|
|Second line G||sharp|
|Second space A||sharp|
|Fourth space C# through top space E||flat|
|Top line F through top of the staff G||sharp|
|A above the staff||sharp|
Use slides to fix sharp notes whenever possible. The third valve slide should be used for the low C# and D. The first valve slide should be used for all other sharp notes that use the first valve (low E, second space A, top line F, and A above the staff); the first valve slide will probably only need to be moved slightly for these notes. This leaves the flat notes and some sharp notes (second line G, top line F#, top of the staff G) that one must now “lip” in tune. This involves directing the air stream upwards for flat notes and downwards for sharp notes. The challenge then also becomes to play these notes with as beautiful a sound as though you are playing through the center of the horn.
Some other thoughts:
Notes from low C below are so “moveable” that they do not have traditional pitch tendencies
and typically slides are not needed. Notes below the staff tend to be flat because
one is relaxing the embouchure so much to reach them.
Notes above the staff tend to be sharp for younger players as they tend to “squeeze” for these notes, and this pinching makes these notes sharp.
Fatigue also affects intonation on the trumpet, and will affect players differently. Some go flat when tired, some go sharp.
Temperature affects pitch. Cold trumpets play flat. Hot trumpets play sharp. Temperature also affects intonation exponentially on pitches which are already out-of-tune. For example, top space E is always flat, but with each decrease of 5 degrees in temperature, this E will get flatter by larger amounts.
Each trumpet has slightly different intonation issues. Each student needs to learn the tendencies of his/her own trumpet by first putting third space C or third line B in tune with the tuning slide. When purchasing a trumpet, one should try to pick a horn that puts the notes that are hardest to play in tune closest to in tune (the flat notes and G on top of the staff).
Special Considerations for Trumpeters (Mutes, Mouthpieces, Multiple Tonguing)
I recommend the Yamaha Copper Bottom straight mute as a good all-purpose mute-not too bright or “metal” sounding and not too subdued and covered. For cup mutes, I recommend Humes and Berg or Denis Wick. Humes and Berg cup mutes are perhaps more appropriate for jazz, Denis Wick for classical. Mutes will typically make someone play sharp. Students should determine if this is true for them, with each mute, and, time permitting, adjust the tuning slide during rests accordingly. If time does not permit, one must use the slides or lip the notes in tune. Mutes tend to have a greater affect on the intonation of notes already naturally out-of-tune on the trumpet.
When first starting on trumpet, students should start with a Bach 7C and should stay on this mouthpiece until they are able to play above the staff with a good sound and with ease. A student who cannot produce a good sound and strains to play should not switch mouthpieces from a 7C. Once a student is ready to move from a 7C, move him/her to a 3C. If the student has progressed particularly slowly towards being ready to move from a 7C, move him/her to a 5C first. The 5C and 3C are bigger than the 7C. Therefore, a bigger and fuller sound will be possible. At first, the student’s range and endurance may suffer. But he/she will regain these skills, given time. He/she will have to use more air on the larger mouthpieces.
If a student produces an excellent sound and can play up to a high C with ease on 3C, he/she may be ready for something different. However, a professional trumpet player and teacher should be the one to make this decision at this point.
Mouthpieces should not be played with. This is dangerous and can cause playing problems. Unfortunately, there is the idea out there, mostly among high school students, that a different mouthpiece can make you play higher, or better, or can solve your playing problems. Mouthpieces do not solve playing problems! For some advanced players, a different mouthpiece may help slightly with a particular issue. It is true that a mouthpiece can help one play higher, but only advanced trumpet players should pursue this, and only if they are focusing on jazz/commercial playing. For those focusing on classical playing, sound should be the priority in combination with ease in the upper register. Students need to develop the strength to play in the upper register, not switch mouthpieces to do so. Using mouthpieces to play high will undoubtedly result in a poor sound and poor playing technique.
Mouthpiece Rule #1: Students should not be switching mouthpieces without guidance and support from the band director or private instructor.
Mouthpiece Rule #2: Students should certainly not be switching mouthpieces often; they should be playing on one mouthpiece. For the advanced player, spending some time exploring some different options can be helpful, but this should be done in a controlled manner. The student should sit down with 3-4 different mouthpieces, recommended by a professional, and try each one to see what is easier and what is harder, what produces a better sound or a worse sound (they should have another pair of trusted ears give feedback). This should take maybe an hour; a second similar session with the same mouthpieces would be fine if more information or time is needed. After this, the student should either return to the previous mouthpiece, or select a new one and play on that only. Students should not be going back and forth between mouthpieces!
Only a very advanced high school player can have one mouthpiece for “legit” playing and one for commercial/lead playing, but only under the guidance of an experienced professional.
3. Multiple tonguing
Multiple tonguing is executed by using a “ka” articulation along with a traditional “ta” articulation. Double tonguing is ta-ka-ta-ka, triple tonguing is ta-ta-ka or ta-ka-ta (either is fine; the student should do whatever is more comfortable for him/her, but should select one quickly and only use this method). Or, the syllables “da” and “ga” can be used. It is important that students who are multiple tonguing practice keeping the notes long and sustained, use lots of air to do the work, and keep the tongue relaxed and close to the teeth, moving minimally and using minimal surface area.