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Trumpet Lessons and How to Play the Trumpet

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Improving your high range and how to play the trumpet by:
Clint "Pops" McLaughlin
reprinted from Windplayer Magazine issue #64

I think the biggest problem with playing high and endurance (both go hand-in-hand) has to do with being impatient.

When you start learning how to play the trumpet as a kid, you want to get a bigger sound immediately, so rather than take the months and years it takes for a regular embouchure to get a big sound, you start opening your mouth wider than it really should be.

And so you immediately get a bigger sound, but there is no way to add compression and get range out of it.

The hole (aperture) is too big. Then when younger students try to play high, they use mouthpiece pressure and pull the horn into their face, because their lips are so open.

It's pretty much like stepping on a dough-nut: teeth on one side and mouthpiece on the other; you squash the hole. But it takes you a long way. You can get to where you're playing Ds and Es, but you're not going to play double high Cs.

So the solution is twofold: you have to learn how to form the proper embouchure and then build the muscles that were never built up in the first place.

Both of those solutions are remarkably easy. Here are six steps toward achieving these goals:

1. Lip Buzzing. Although lip buzzing (no mouthpiece) is slightly different than the way you actually play, when you learn how to lip buzz correctly, you can buzz a 3-octave scale and if you can buzz it, you can play it.

Lip buzzing actually teaches you to make your own mouth corners. Most people think the mouth corners are where the two lips meet, but they are actually where the buzz stops inside the mouthpiece. Playing the trumpet never enables you to make the buzz point closer in toward the center. The only way you can manage this is through lip buzzing. The goal is to bring the corners in toward the center. Buzzing is a BASIC of learning how to play the trumpet.

2. The Pencil Exercise. You put an unsharpened pencil between your lips. Push your bottom lip up toward the top until the pencil is elevated at about 45 degrees up from the ground. At first you'll probably be able to do this for about 30 seconds. The lead players who can really hit the upper register all night long can do it for four minutes.

It's a real amazing exercise. The muscles that get sore are the ones you will need to work on for range.

3. Soft Playing. Another aspect of how to play the trumpet is playing really, really softly. I suppose Herbert L. Clarke was the first person to really teach soft playing. In his first exercise in the Clarke Technical Studies, he recommends starting pianissimo and decrescendoing until you can barely hear it. When you play it loudly, you don't get the full benefits.

When you play it really softly, it teaches you how to focus your lip aperture to a fine point so there's just a thread of air coming through.

4. Proper Abdominal Support. You should think of the body as if it were a tube of toothpaste. When you take the cap off, the toothpaste doesn't come out. The only way to get it out is to make the tube smaller, which means you push. The only thing we can do to push with our bodies is to pull our stomach in. By pulling the stomach in and up as you play above the staff, it forces the diaphragm up into the bottom of the lungs, making the chest cavity smaller and putting the air under pressure, resulting in the compression needed to play high notes.

5. Air Projection. You are actually sending the note into the airwaves. So you want to give it energy. Take blowing out a candle, for instance. If it were right in front of you, you could blow it out with a warm "ha," but if it were across the street, you would pull your stomach in and really speed up the air and give it a fast blow. On the trumpet, if you want to actually move the note farther out, you want to give it more impulse so that when it leaves the horn it has more energy than it needs, so it can make it all the way to the back of the hall. So increased intensity results in increased projection.

6. The "Lip Setpoint" (TM). If you are playing a three-octave scale starting on low G, the lips will be open and loose and there will be two spots where you can hear a difference in tone quality.

But if you play the G above the staff first and set your lips for that note and then relax to play the low G, you stay relaxed to play the two lower octaves and tighten just for the third octave. It cuts that spread into a third of the size it would normally be and it helps you connect the registers without having any kind of change in sound quality. Many players use middle C for their "Lip Setpoint" (TM).

The combination of playing musical exercises utilizing the above steps and the isometric benefits of doing the pencil exercise will lead to a more efficient range fairly quickly. And when you learn to traverse the range efficiently, you will have improved endurance.

Clint "Pops" McLaughlin is a trumpet teacher and clinician in the Dallas area. He has written the books The No Nonsense Trumpet from A-Z and Trumpet FAQs. His Website address is

McLaughlin plays a Wild Thing Bb trumpet and Bb cornet, both designed by Flip Oakes and manufactured by Zig Kanstul.

He plays a Curry 90 M mouthpiece.

Windplayer 64

Tips and gratuities for trumpet help
Trumpet trumpet lessons and trumpet books.

Trumpet playing tips.
Factors for a dynamic embouchure on the trumpet.

In my books I list all of the possible causes. Here I only listed the top 3.

Poor Attacks on Trumpet
mouthpiece too small or shallow
wrong syllable for tonguing
Lips too tight

Weak Stuffy Trumpet Tone
too little air used
too much pressure
closed throat

Bright Shrill Trumpet Tone
mouthpiece too shallow
Bad concept of tone
Too tight

Dull Lifeless Trumpet Tone
Mouthpiece too deep
no tongue arch
wrong concept of tone

Forced Trumpet Sound
lips too tight
too much mouthpiece pressure
Bad breath support

Weak Upper Register on Trumpet
Chops too tight
too much pressure
wrong or no pivot

Weak Low Register on Trumpet
No or wrong pivot
Mouthpiece too small
not using warm air Haaaaa.

Changing Quality of Sound
poor breath support
change in tongue arch or pivot
tonguing problem

Slow Response on Trumpet
too much pressure
poor breath support
lips too tense

Missed Notes
Mouthpiece Too small or shallow
too much pressure
poor breath support

No Endurance on Trumpet
Too much pressure
No practice
Mouthpiece too big or deep

Clint 'Pops' McLaughlin

Copyright protected from 1995 to date.