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How to Play the Trumpet for Beginners

man playing the trumpet in a black and white image

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Learning to play the trumpet is an excellent skill, so if you’re a new student, congratulations! The trumpet is an extremely popular instrument for jazz, classical, and even rock bands. 

You can play in school or take private lessons and gain some extensive knowledge of musical theory, along with learning to play some great tunes. Mastering the trumpet takes a lot of practice, dedication, and time. 

If you’ve recently taken on the trumpet or are interested in learning how to play, this article is the ultimate guide for beginners who are learning the instrument.

How to Play Trumpet: The Basics

It’s necessary when learning to play the trumpet that you begin by learning proper mouth positioning to learn how to make clear notes. You’re never too old to take on a new instrument, so don’t let the complexity of the trumpet deter you from learning. 

The mouthpiece is an essential part of your trumpet playing. Here are some of the basics to starting your journey as a trumpet player.

Familiarize Yourself with the Instrument

Before you even attempt to play the trumpet, you should learn all of its primary parts. Every instrument has its own specific pieces and terminology, so when you’re able to identify each part you can more easily ascertain what needs to happen during lessons and practice time, especially when being directed by a teacher. 

The anatomy of a trumpet includes the following pieces:

  • Mouthpiece and receiver
  • Lead pipe
  • Valves
  • Finger buttons
  • Main tuning slide
  • First and second valve slides
  • Valve casing
  • Water keys
  • Bell

trumpet diagram pointing to each part of the instrument

The mouthpiece is a removable part of the trumpet that touches the lips. It’s where you blow to make the sound. The mouthpiece can come in different shapes and sizes depending on the trumpet variation. The shape of the mouthpiece affects the sound of the instrument. The mouthpiece receiver is the narrow part of the trumpet where you place your mouthpiece.

The lead pipe is the first part of the tubing on your trumpet. It’s also the first part of the instrument that your air goes into when you blow. The three valves are a more complex aspect of the trumpet that needs maintenance. The finger buttons are the caps at the top of each valve that are pushed by the fingers on your right hand. 

The main tuning slide of the trumpet is the “u” shaped piece of tubing that fits in the lead pipe at one end and then the tubing that leads to the valves on the other end. It can be used to adjust and tune your trumpet when you change its length by sliding it (hence the name). The slide needs to be well lubricated so it’s easy to move back and forth. 

Each valve is connected to a valve slide, which consists of three lengths of tubing that lower the pitch of the trumpet when the matching valve is pressed down. The third valve slide lowers the pitch by three semitones, and it is the longest valve slide of the three. The valve casings are three cylinders that the pistons fit in without allowing any air to escape.

Water keys typically consist of a lever and a spring and are there to allow you to release the moisture that builds up from blowing air into the tubing. The lever has a piece of cork covering a hole, and when you press the lever, it opens the hole so you can blow the water out.

Water keys on a trumpet are more commonly referred to as the ‘spit valves,’ but the water comes from the moisture in the air when you breathe out, not truly from spit. 

The bell is the length of tubing found at the end of your trumpet, and it gets gradually wider and flares out, similar to a bell shape. The shape of your bell gives your trumpet its unique sound and amplifies it to direct the vibrations from the air in your instrument.

Holding the Trumpet Correctly

Proper posture and positioning are crucial when learning to play the trumpet. To achieve correct playing posture and positioning for holding the trumpet, follow these simple steps:

  • Sit on the edge of your chair with both feet flat on the floor.
  • Keep your shoulders back and chest up so you’re not stiff or slouching. 
  • Raise your trumpet so that it is parallel to the floor or just angled down very slightly. 
  • Put your right hand around the valve casings with your thumb placed on the first valve and your index finger and middle finger wrapped around the other side.
  • Put your ring finger into the third valve ring and your pinky on the far side of the ring.
  • With your left hand, put your thumb under the lead pipe and in between the first and second valve casings.
  • Then, you can place your index, middle, and ring finger from your right hand on the three buttons.

You can rest your pinky on the top of the saddle or inside it; the choice of where to rest it is up to you. Keep in mind that having the pinky tucked can limit your dexterity when playing fast. Pressing the buttons should happen with your fingertips so as to keep it light and quick because using your finger pads will slow you down.

man playing the trumpet in a black and white image

Photo by Aarón Blanco Tejedor on Unsplash

How to Blow Into the Trumpet

Now you have the posture and positioning for playing the trumpet down; you can work on the breathing aspect. Your breathing is the most important thing when playing your instrument. Learning the correct breathing technique ensures you’ll play the trumpet well. 

Begin by breathing deep into your belly so as to get the most air in your lungs. Singers often refer to this type of breathing as ‘diaphragmatic‘ since it expands and contracts the diaphragm. 

To practice this method, you can lie down and inhale deeply, focusing on getting it into your belly and inflating it like a balloon. You’ll feel your sides or your back expand. Work on this for three to five breaths until you get the hang of it.

Take some normal breaths so you can notice the difference when working on breathing more deeply. You should feel that you get more air and feel fuller, giving you more breath support to help play the trumpet. 

Making the First Sound

Taking that breathing knowledge, you can now begin to make your first sound, or buzz, in the trumpet. Here are the next steps to follow as a beginner:

  • Purse your lips to form the letter “M” with the center of the lips pressed together and keep the corners tight.
  • Now, open the middle of your lips very slightly so a small but steady stream of air can pass through them, then tighten them again while expanding a little sound until it sounds like a “buzz.” It can take some time to learn and master this skill, so don’t feel rushed.
  • Put your mouthpiece to your lips and continue to practice making the sound. You will have to experiment with slightly different positions until it makes the correct sounds. You can tighten and loosen the lips to hear the difference in pitch.

Tightening your lips tends to lend itself to a higher pitch, while loosening produces lower-pitch sounds. Take your time and work on making different pitches.

Playing Trumpet Notes

It’s time to work on playing different notes. The best way to do this with your brass instrument is by going through the steps above to hold the trumpet and position yourself correctly. Then, blow into the mouthpiece, and don’t press any of the valves after taking a deep breath. On a typical B flat trumpet, this sound should produce a C note – and you’ve accomplished playing your first note!

Take note if the sound is weak because you may be puckering your lips instead of making the buzz. The first note you play is likely going to be rough and not play clearly and evenly. But that’s ok – you’re just starting to learn, so you need to keep practicing. Without pressing any of the valves, you’re playing in an open position. The C note and the G note are played this way; by buzzing your lips harder and pushing out more air, the pitch is raised from C to G.

When you’re ready, you can begin pressing the first and third valves together, which creates the D note. The E note is played when you press the first and second valves together. The F note is when you push and hold down on the first valve only. 

Eventually, you can work to play all seven notes in the scales from C up to B note, playing each note in between and taking a breath before playing. It helps if you work a little bit on each music note by itself before putting the notes together.

How to Read Trumpet Sheet Music

If you’re familiar with another wind instrument, such as the clarinet or the flute, because you’ve played it before, you already have a solid foundation for reading sheet music. But, since the trumpet is a brass instrument and your main playing comes from creating a buzzing sound, you may find that learning the trumpet has some challenges.

If you’re able to invest in a book of trumpet songs for beginners, this will help you during your journey. The problem with advancing your skills and improving the sound quality is that if you’re doing it on your own, it may be difficult to identify your mistakes. 

You may find some great video tutorials online to help you begin, but over the years, you may not see a vast improvement. Your trumpet skills can greatly progress over time if you work with an instructor who can help you with music notes, music theory, and also ensure that you have fun while you learn. 

Practicing is a necessary part of your playing that needs to be done each day. With trumpet lessons, you can ensure that you get more from your practice session and become a better trumpet player.

Essential Tips and Techniques for Beginner Trumpet Players

You can’t go from beginner to professional trumpet player quickly; you must understand that it takes time to learn this musical instrument. Besides the steps above, some other helpful things to know about the trumpet include starting with finding easy songs to play, and listening to other trumpet players for inspiration. 

Here are some essential techniques for beginners with the trumpet.

The Importance of Breath Control

Your breath is everything when it comes to playing the trumpet. Work on your facial muscles, breathing, and creating that stream of air from the center of your lips before you even think about working on a song. 

You can work with the mouthpiece when it’s not in the trumpet to get comfortable buzzing your lips. Avoid puffing out your cheeks or putting the mouthpiece too high on your upper lip. 

Remember to press your lips together and keep the corners of the mouth tight. Breathe in deep in the belly so you can feel full of air and ready to hold out your notes. 

Perfecting the Trumpet Embouchure

Your trumpet embouchure and lip positioning are the next most vital part of your playing next to the breath. Some helpful tips for beginners include:

  • Flatten your chin (think about pointing it toward the ground).
  • Keep your teeth apart in your mouth, and curl in your bottom lip ever so slightly.
  • Wet your lips – the lubrication is helpful to ensure your lips vibrate more consistently.
  • Keep all of the red of your lips within the cup of the mouthpiece.

Older students and younger children may not be cut out for the trumpet if you see that their lips are divided where their top lip is outside of the rim, or they end up with a circle shape on the red of their upper lip. It could be worth switching to another brass instrument with a bigger mouthpiece.

Exploring Different Tonguing Techniques

The tongue is another muscle you must pay close attention to when learning to play. If you arch your tongue or put it to the back of your teeth while playing, this is a common tonguing technique. 

Your tongue should be stable while playing, so keeping the middle and back of the tongue still is a great technique to achieve the proper sound. If you release air more quickly through the small opening, you can articulate more and ensure your tonguing is not clumsy. 

Try creating the shape of the “ee” sound inside your mouth. It arches your tongue up toward your back teeth. You can effectively channel air and focus it more directly through the mouthpiece, helping to clarify and sustain a good sound.

Practicing the Trumpet

Practicing, as mentioned, is one of the most crucial parts of your trumpet playing that will help you excel. Here are some helpful tactics to elevate your practice of the trumpet.

Warm-Ups and Exercises

You may want to find tutorials online of people who demonstrate some trumpet warm-ups and exercises if you’re learning on your own. Otherwise, you’ll have a lot of difficulty learning without an instructor to help you. 

Some easy steps you can take to help you get started include:

  1. Practice your buzz to loosen up and get used to making the proper sound with the correct technique for blowing your air.
  2. Work on holding some long notes out, as long as you can, clearly and consistently.
  3. Trumpet flexibility exercises are all about slurring. Tongue the first note and try to go from one note to the next without any stops, air, or stuttering in between.

Playing Trumpet Scales

Playing all notes going up and down the scales is one of the best ways to warm up your instrument. Keep the notes long and together when doing your scales. Don’t play them short, and relax your way up and down. 

The key to playing your trumpet scale is to do it all in one breath without needing to rush it. You should work on your breathing and fill your lungs so you can sustain the clear sound throughout.

Advancing Your Skills

The best way you can advance your skills is by taking private trumpet lessons. When you’re able to work with an expert, they can adapt to your learning style and help you identify areas to work on as you go so that you progress more quickly.

Taking trumpet lessons helps you to learn all about your brass instrument, from learning music theory to fundamentals of playing. With all of their knowledge and help to get you playing as a beginner, before you know it, you’ll be playing simple songs and impressing everyone. 

Teachers can even provide access to practice trumpets so you don’t have to buy one at the music store until you’re ready, making it easy to figure out what types of trumpets work best. They also give live feedback so you know exactly how to go home and practice before your next jam session.

Learn the Trumpet Today

The trumpet is a challenging but rewarding instrument. From learning the proper embouchure, working with the mouthpiece, fingering, and learning to read sheet music and explore music genres, it may feel overwhelming even before you begin. But just take your learning one moment at a time.

With help from a professional teacher, you can learn the ins and outs of the trumpet and start improving your ability to play the correct rhythm, explore different pitches, practice scales, and, eventually, play full songs. As a child or an adult, there is no right or wrong age to take up this magnificent instrument and give it all you have!

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