Ultimate Guide to Trumpets for Beginners
Trumpets are very appealing instruments; they seem so simple to handle, and they can produce beautiful melodies. That’s why a lot of people take an interest in learning to play them. There are so many famous trumpeters that people like to listen to, like Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie, Chet Baker and more.
These musicians often inspire people to pick up the trumpet and start learning all about it. Some people want to play it casually; others become really passionate about it. No matter what your cause or the goal is, you will get all the basics that will get you started, right here.
Trumpet’s mark on the world
The first trumpets date way back to 1500 BC. Their initial purpose was to signal for military purposes, and they were used in the religion. Their design improved over the course of time and the materials used to produce it. Most improvements made were in the Middle Ages.
The Renaissance period turned the once signaling tool into a musical instrument. The trumpets in this era didn’t have valves, only a single coiled tube. They weren’t capable of producing the notes yet. The golden age of the natural trumpet was the Baroque era.
Most of the music in this era was written for trumpeters. The art of playing trumpet was going strong and started slowly fading away after some time. It came back to life around the mid-20th century. Even the modern trumpet players tend to use natural trumpet with 3-4 vent holes to correct out-of-tune notes.
Since the natural trumpet was very limited, it’s requirement for chromatic freedom lead to the creation of the keyed trumpet. At first, it had a very poor sound quality, but in 1818 the patent was made for box valves, which contributed to the great improvement.
Since this type of trumpet was developed so late, it had a very limited repertoire. But, the 20th century had an explosion of music written for the modern trumpet.
Types of trumpets
The small trumpets are called piccolo trumpets, and they are built to play B♭ and A alike. They feature separate lead pipes on each key. There are also piccolo trumpets in G, F, and C, but they are not that common. Trumpets pitched in low G key are called sopranos and soprano bugles. They are adapted from the military and were traditionally used in bugle corps. They can be found with both rotary and piston valves.
The bass trumpet
The bass trumpet is played by trombone players because it has the same pitch. The music for the bass trumpet is written in treble clef. The most common keys for it are B♭ and C. The modern trumpet you see today is the side trumpet that is a B♭ trumpet which has a slide instead of valves. It’s very similar to soprano trombone.
The pocket trumpet
The pocket trumpet is a smaller and compact version of the B♭ trumpet. The bell is quite smaller compared to the standard trumpet, and the tubing tightly wound to maintain the length of the tube but to reduce its size. It doesn’t have the standard design, and the quality varies a lot based on different models.
The herald trumpet
The herald trumpet has a bell extending in front of the player much more than the standard trumpet. It’s mostly used in ceremonies.
Choosing your trumpet
To start playing, you will first need an instrument, naturally. The best thing for you to do is to go to the nearest music shop and ask them for the best trumpet for a beginner. When they give you a suggestion, be sure to ask them is the trumpet in the B-flat key. That’s the best option for a novice player.
The B-flat key is the easiest scale to learn. You shouldn’t focus on a branded trumpet; even an unlabeled trumpet will be just fine for you. You can even rent one for a start if you just want to try it out. But before you rent it, check if the valve casing has dents, and the valves can move smoothly and are not noisy. Also, check if all slides can move freely.
When you get home with your rented or purchased trumpet, get to know its mechanism, appreciate its beauty and then get ready to start learning.
Practicing basic sounds
Before you even put the trumpet against your lips, you should practice your first sound. Start by creating the “mmm” sound. Hold your mouth in that position and start blowing through in order to create the buzzing sound.
This is the basic lip position you should overcome. If you’re having trouble with creating that sound and maintaining the shape of your lips, just imagine that there’s a small paper on the tip of your tongue. Once you master the lip part, you will be ready to start the trumpet basics.
When you fully assemble your trumpet, inhale through the mouth, assume the lip position you previously learned and place the trumpet on your lips. Start vibrating and creating that buzzing sound you previously overcame.
You should focus and recognize the feeling of your lips when they loosen and tighten. Don’t press the valves just yet, not until you get the hang of the feeling of your lips. Begin to tighten your lips a bit and try to gently press one or two valves.
The valves are numbered 1-3, 1 being the closest to you and 3 being the farthest one. Now you have successfully played your first notes! If you feel kind of stuck on the buzzing part, don’t give up just yet! You can improve and speed up your advance by carrying a mouthpiece with you.
Use the mouthpiece to practice the buzzing sound as much as you can, and once you are able to buzz into the mouthpiece correctly, you will do it properly using the trumpet as well. The buzzing sound through the mouthpiece should sound like a duck call. A lot of people think that they shouldn’t produce that kind of sound, but it is, in fact, a correct sound to make.
Your first scale
When you feel confident that you overcome the notes, you can begin to practice your first scale. A scale is basically a group of descending and ascending pitches that precede each other based on a specific scheme.
Start with a simple scale.
Begin with C; you can produce this note with no valves pressed down.
Then proceed to D; push down 1 and 3 valves. To play D, tighten your lips just slightly.
Now play E; tighten your lips a bit more and push down 1 and 2 valves.
After E, play F; continue to tighten your lips and push down the first valve.
Move on to G; tighten your lips more without pressing down any valves.
Play A; continue tightening your lips and press down the first and the second valve.
Move on to B; tighten your lips a bit more and push down the second valve.
Finish the scale with high C; don’t press any valve.
Congrats! You just played your first C scale! From this point onward, you should focus on finesses that will make you a good trumpet player. Grab a music book, and make it your main reading material.
Now that you completed some basic playing let’s go through some important finesses that will help you even more and raise your skill level. I want to mention embouchures, so you don’t get discouraged if you can’t play the sounds correctly right away.
Everybody has different lip and teeth shape, and because of this, a number of different embouchures are developed. None of them are wrong; it’s only the matter of what feels the best in your individual case. But, there are few rules that apply to almost all of them.
The corners of your mouth should be firm, so the air doesn’t leak. When you go up, you should push your lips more to the center instead of stretching them. When you stretch your lips, not only do you make the sound thinner, you also expose them to damage.
The most used embouchure is Farkas. It requires you to push your jaw out and keep the lips even. Some other embouchures require you to roll your lips in, Stevens for example, and other to roll them out, like Maggio embouchure.
Try out different embouchures, find the one that fits you and keep playing using it. Check the list of embouchures here.
Wet or dry lips?
A lot of new players have a similar starting question: should they have wet or dry lips. The short answer is that the both ways are correct. If your lips are dry, they will just stick to the mouthpiece more, which will prevent the slipping.
If you play with wet lips, they will slide under the mouthpiece, and they will adjust to your dynamics freely. It comes down to what feels the best for you. Try both out, experiment a little and keep the way that you’re the most comfortable with.
The breathing technique for the trumpet is not complicated, but it should be followed. Don’t worry about your lung capacity right now. You will increase it over time naturally. Just remember to take a deep breath every time.
Relax completely when you’re inhaling, and DON'T lift your shoulders. Breathe from your belly instead from your chest, this way you will take a lot more air in, and exhale it quicker. Don’t keep the air in, blow it out instantly, and inhale the air in tempo.
And that’s pretty much it when it comes to proper breathing technique, just relax and release all the tension, music is about relaxing anyway.
The natural instinct to most of the people is to point the bell of the trumpet to the floor. It’s okay if you point it just slightly to the floor, but don’t keep it low too much. Don’t slouch, and don’t lock your knees, be relaxed at all times, but be careful not to slouch.
You should keep your arms a bit AWAY from your body. To keep your breathing at top performance and the proper posture, you should maintain a good physical condition. It is recommended that you stand while playing because inhaling is a lot easier when you’re standing.
But, if you need to sit down, sit on the edge of the chair, don’t lean back and keep your feet on the floor.
How to hold a trumpet
The proper way to hold a trumpet depends on which hand you hold it.
Place your thumb between the first and the second valve or in front of the first one. Your index finger, middle finger and the ring finger should be on the valve buttons. Place the little finger on the hook.
Place your thumb on the first valve. Your index finger and middle finger should be behind the third valve. Ring finger should be on the third valve and the little finger under the third valve slide.
In both cases don’t hold the instrument too tight. Support the weight of the trumpet with your secondary hand, this way you will push the valves more efficiently.
How to handle the valves
Before you get the natural feel of how to press the valves, you might need a few tips.
Press down the valves straight down with your fingers.
If you press them often diagonally, they will start jamming.
Don’t press them with your fingernails or joints; you should use the middle of your fingertips.
To have the clean note changes, press the valves vigorously down.
How to practice
Now there’s only the question of how much and when should you practice. The more you can practice the better, but you will need the rest as well. My philosophy is that it’s better to practice a little bit every day than to practice a lot for two days a week.
You should rest just as much as you play, and AVOID excessive pressure with a mouthpiece. Some pressure is required to play a proper tone and to prevent the air from leaking, but control it, don’t put your mouth to too much pressure.
This information should be plenty to get you started for now. You have chosen a great instrument to play, and you will have a lot of fun getting to know it and playing it in the future. Just stay true to your passion for music, and it will be quite rewarding. If you need any extra pointers, leave a comment, and I will do my best to help you.