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