To learn how to play trumpet, you will need a few “prerequisites”. The first one does not even use the trumpet. This is because all trumpet sounds happen through vibration. The source of this vibration for all brass instruments is your lips. The goal will be a full, rich sound by learning to vibrate your lips with a clear, comfortable tone. Forming your mouth muscles so they can produce a tone will do more to help you learn how to play trumpet than any other skill you will develop.
Start with “Silly Sounds”
Before you even use a mouthpiece, make some “silly sounds.” The first can be called the “horse sound,” which is basically just a very loose flapping of the lips. Next, try the “motorboat,” a slightly more sustained and faster vibration, Lips are not closed tight. Blow out a fair amount of air with your lips closed just enough to cause the vibrating sound of a motorboat. Finally make sound of a “bee”. This will require the corners of your mouth to be held a bit firmer and against your eye teeth. The middle of your lips closed enough to make the air vibrate with a higher pitch than the motorboat. If you can make these sounds, using the mouthpiece is easy.
Solid, Consistent Buzz
Working on the mouthpiece and developing a solid and consistent buzz is one of the cornerstones of learning how to play trumpet. To make this happen, the corners of your mouth will be pulled toward the back teeth so that your lips are stretched across your teeth. Do not squeeze your lips together. Imitate the picture to the left and work on a steady buzz. The pitch doesn’t matter, as long as it is steady.
After getting a steady sound, try making the pitch go down. This happens by moving the corners of your mouth forward (as you buzz). The middle of your lips will get thicker as you do this. Next, make the pitch go up. The corners of your mouth pull back toward your molars. The middle of your lips will get thinner. It is important to do this without squeezing your lips together, pinching the sound. Do all you can to maintain a rich, full sound. Finally, try a Siren. Combine the up and down motions. Focus on smoothness and evenness of sound rather than range. All shapes in music can be reduced to these four basic shapes, and the better you are at making these sounds, the better you will be at playing the trumpet.
How to play Trumpet “Getting Started” Video
We are still in the prerequisite stage at this point. This is how important buzzing is! Try to play tunes on the mouthpiece. Play easy songs by ear (with the mouthpiece buzzing). Match what you sing in your head to the buzz that you create. (Watch this video titled “Getting Started”)
Don’t “Pop” the mouthpiece
Step 2, which is also crucial, is to know the proper position to hold the trumpet. Sit upright in a chair, insert the mouthpiece into the mouthpiece receiver at the end of the trumpet (twist it ever so slightly to seat it in place, but not too much, or too often, or it may become stuck) The most common problem that occurs is that once the mouthpiece is put in place many students then hit it to make sure it is in all the way (and besides it makes a cool “popping” sound) — don’t do this!! Popping the mouthpiece can cause a vacuum and get the mouthpiece stuck. If this happens, please don’t struggle to get it out – the best way is to bring it to a music store who should have a special clamp to un-pop the vacuum.
Twisting too hard will simply snap the braces on the instrument and cause more problems!
Holding the Trumpet
Put your left thumb behind the 1st valve and reach the other fingers to curve around the 3rd valve. The right thumb is placed between the 1st and 2nd valve just under the pipe at the top of the valves and the right pinky is best on top of the pinky ring that sits on top of the trumpet just past the 3rd valve. At the beginning most players prefer to hook the finger into this ring but avoiding this will help keep the remaining fingers in a good position for pressing the valves properly.
The biggest complaint from new trumpet players is “Sticky Valves”. This is caused more from faulty right hand position than it is from dirty valves – in fact this faulty position is a major cause of dirty valves. Trumpet valves work like pistons – having a poor angle for pressing the valves (Pistons) cause them to rub on the valve casing making them slow and dirty from the metal shaving metal on metal causes. As you become more advanced you will want to play faster and faster and poor finger angles will slow you down and be more difficult to correct the bigger the habit becomes. Your right hand should not be carrying the weight of the instrument. Keep it loose and as relaxed as possible.
The Left Hand Review
When holding a trumpet, nearly all of the weight should be carried by your left hand. This is because the left hand is not responsible for pressing the trumpet’s valves to change notes. Many trumpet players end up resting a lot of the weight on their right thumb and pinkie. This results in tension in both hands. Freedom of movement becomes very limited and effect your ability to work the valves.
Practice holding the trumpet with just your left hand, with your thumb in the ring closest to the trumpet mouthpiece. Now place your pointer, middle and pinkie fingers around the valves, resting on the body of the third valve slide. This is something you need to learn in your very first trumpet lesson, or it will haunt you later. Place your pinkie in the ring closest to the bell. Make sure to adjust the ring such that your whole hand can lay comfortably. If your trumpet does not have a third valve slide ring, simply place your hand in the position that is most comfortable for you.
Learning to breathe for Trumpet Playing.
When I was a child, I would often hear teachers and adults tell kids to “sit up – don’t slouch.” As a musician, this mantra becomes the difference between playing long musical phrases and gasping for are after a short time. Slouch down into your chair and feel what happens to your lungs and rib cage. Focus on this and picture the shape your lungs make.
When you do this, you can feel the top of your lungs press downward and the bottom of your lungs press upward. Whenever we sit with a curved back, our rib cage is restricting our lungs and is only allowing them to fill up at a minimum capacity. If you focus on this for a moment, you may feel a restricting of the air you take in. We get used to it because it has become a habit and sitting still doesn’t require much air. Now, sit up straight as if a string was pulling the top of your head to the ceiling – It will feel liberating. The bottom of your lungs can now expand downward and the overall space in your lungs is larger.
Take a Deep Breath
Take a deep breath now and notice your lungs have much more room to expand! It is very common in band classes for students to relax all the way back into their chairs, I like to call this “question mark backs”. If we straighten them up and move to the edge of the chair, their question marks will turn into exclamation points! Use a “broad stance” with your arms to your advantage. Keep our shoulders and elbows out wide and strong, it will help keep your back in line and straight. (See “Satchmo” below)
Now you are ready to start playing. Find the right teacher – learn how to play trumpet! Fundamental Music Instruction offers trumpet lessons at select schools (Check our list). We also teach The benefit to this is in scheduling. These private lessons can be scheduled on the day and time of your choice. We do all we can to remain flexible since we know schedules change in our busy lives. Start with a free trial class and see if trumpet lessons with FMI. Feel free to view our Trumpet Book “First Songs for Band”
Read another article titled Trumpet Lessons for Beginners – Starting Right