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How Do I Play This Thing?, Part 4 - The Trumpet

Congratulations on picking the trumpet!

The trumpet is one of the most exciting instruments in the band.  Its bright tone and strong projection make it perfect for upbeat, high-energy music.

Trumpets are used in all styles of music including jazz, classical, and popular. 

Here are some tips to get you started.

When you open the case, it will probably look something like this.  It's helpful to make sure you can name every major part of the trumpet.

trumpet in case

The trumpet is easy to assemble, as all you have to do is add the mouthpiece to the instrument.  But let's start with just the mouthpiece.

Forming the Omm-boh-sure

Hold the mouthpiece by its shank (the long, narrow end) between your thumb and the index and middle fingers of your right hand.  We want to lightly hold it, just enough to steady it.  A full fist around the mouthpiece tends to cause us to use too much pressure against the lips.

We'll need to form the correct shape with our mouth, which when playing is called the embouchure (pronounced "Omm-boh-sure").  Practice saying "mmm..." and then add a little pressure between the lips, enough to form a slight frown.  Although you may feel silly, practicing this in front of a mirror is a great way to check yourself to make sure you're on the right track.

Your embouchure will look something like this, hopefully:

trumpet embouchure

Next, we'll place the mouthpiece against the lips.  

Don't miss this next part - it's really important...

For 99.99999% of players, the mouthpiece should be centered on your lips horizontally (left & right) and slightly above center vertically (up & down).  

It should look something like this:

Notice how the cheeks are nice and flat?  You'll need to keep the corners of your mouth firm to keep your cheeks from puffing out. 

Louis Armstrong playing

Louis Amstrong puffed his cheeks sometimes and got away with it, but you're not Louis Armstrong, now are you?  (at least not yet, you're not.)  And see, he didn't always, anyway.  :-)

Time to Buzz

Sound is produced on the trumpet by blowing fast air between the firmly pressed lips.  As the air moves across your lips, it causes them to vibrate very quickly, making a "buzzing" sound.  When we do this into the mouthipece (and later then trumpet), the sound is transformed into the wonderful trumpet tone we're looking for.

It's possible to make a buzzing sound without blowing air.  You DON'T want the "raspberry" sound.  


Practice doing just that, then practice blowing air with your mouth in the shape we just learned.  You should easily be able to feel the difference.  You'll also find that if you're doing this correctly, you can change the pitch (higher and lower) by changing the amount of pressure between your lips and the direction of the air (up & down).  Practice that until you can control it.  Can you "buzz" a song?  


Practice doing what you just learned, but now with the mouthpiece against your embouchure.  You want to apply just enough pressure to prevent air from leaking out the side of the mouthpiece, but no more.  You should feel fast air blowing out of the shank of the mouthpiece with your free left hand.  A good way to practice this is to buzz and point the mouthpiece against a piece of paper on your music stand.  Try to blow the paper off the stand while you buzz.

Here's a great video to help you see what we're talking about:

Connecting the mouthpiece to the trumpet

It's time to put the trumpet together.  Carefully pick up the trumpet with your left hand.  You'll support the entire weight of the trumpet with your left hand.  This leaves your right hand free to press the valves without and stress or strain.  Hold the trumpet around the valve casing like this:

holding the trumpet

Now, we'll repeat the same buzzing technique into the trumpet, with no valves pressed.  This is called playing "open."  Before trumpets had valves to change pitch, they were called bugles.  Remember practicing different notes on just the mouthpiece?  Practice doing that now into the trumpet.  You'll find that the notes are much more distinct.  Practice this until you can get 3 or 4 separate notes.  Can you play a bugle call like this?

Adding the valves

The valves on most trumpets today are like the picture above - pistons.  When you press them, make sure you press them all the way.  When the valves are pressed, they open up extra pathways for the air to travel before it leaves the bell.  This makes the trumpet "longer" in effect (like moving the slide out on a trombone, but without the slide), changing the pitch.  By using one or combinations of valves, we can get any note we want.

And that's it! (at least, the basics)

You'll need a fingering chart to learn the notes on the trumpet.  

CLICK HERE to download a free fingering chart from Amro!

Need to learn to read music?  Here's another great article to get you going!

From here on, the rest is up to you.  Get a method book, join a band class, find an instructor (we can help with that too - CLICK HERE).  Good luck!

Need a trumpet?  CLICK HERE.

Posted by Ben Fonville at 6:30 AM
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