Date: Thu, 29 Aug 2002 20:31:42 -0400
From: Jeanne G Pocius/ John C Archer <>
Subject: Re: [TPIN] The Art (and SCIENCE) of Trumpet Playing I (LONG)


This is lenghthy, so if you don't feel like reading you might as well hit the delete key now and save yourself the time.

If, however, you want some food for thought, please read on:

((NOTE BENE:  These are my own, personal views and opinions, not flame bait.YMMV.  I welcome further discourse.))

For years and years there has been a dichotomy in approaches to playing the trumpet.  On the one side are those who espouse purely musical principles (such as sound, tone color, interpretation, knowledge of literature, etc.) and avoid the physical aspects of playing as much as possible.  On the other side are those who focus purely on physical aspects (such as embouchure, equipment, breathing, tonguing, etc.) and avoid discussing the esoteric aspects of playing as much as possible.

In the middle are those of us who address both sides, depending upon the current needs of the student(s) at hand.

This is not to say that both sides of the spectrum do not address the needs of their students, just that they may focus too much on one side of the equation, without addressing the other very much.

My personal approach may be likened to that of a teacher of painting.
((Note that I do frequent personal demonstrations throughout the process))

Let me explain:
When a person teaches another to paint, they begin with absolute basics which may seem to have little or nothing to do with the final product, for example: figure studies, sculpting, drawing with pencil or chalk, mixing colors. And all this is covered before the student is even allowed to pick up a paintbrush (and then, that is often only to learn how to CLEAN the brush, not to use it).

A gradual process is followed in which the student develops a personal palatte of colours, as well as a personal palatte(if you will) of techniques which will enable the highest degrees of self-expressive creation in the future.

Often hours will be spent on a single brush stroke, perfectly the angle, the beginning and completion of the stroke.  Then the same technique will be repeated, this time adding layers of paint to the brush to produce graduated color for, say, a leaf or the curve of a blossom.

When we begin to play the trumpet, we focus on the purely physical aspects of playing to establish a good foundation for the future.  This makes sense, since we don't build a house from the roof downward, but from the foundation upward.

The very first step should be learning to take good, solid breaths while using a good, upright but relaxed posture.  Once the student has learned to take a good breath (I recommend breathing inward with the mouth in the same shape as if saying the word *HOME*.  This establishes a habit of dropping the jaw and tongue, filling up with relaxed air, and creating a rounded oral cavity.), I'll move on to getting him/her to wet the lips and close them gently before blowing the wind out with belly support (pulling the belly button in, toward the backbone).
((Note: this is for sheer beginners--I don't always advocate wedge-type breathing for mid-range or lower playing--more about that later))

This should establish a good *horse-flap* type of buzzing in the lips.  ((For some students it's also necessary to use the tip of the tongue on the inside of the lips as if spitting out a seed to begin the vibrations, but not all.))

I'll next teach the student to place the tips of the index fingers at the corners of the lips with the fingers straight and tips pointing upward.  Then I'll have the student gradually blow harder and press the lips more strongly against each other as he/she moves the fingertips gently toward the center from both ends (this helps to establish a seal between the lips and to increase the speed of the lip buzz).
((Note: at no time do the fingertips press inward against the lips--they merely rest outside them to keep the awareness of seal there))

Finally, I'll diagnose the best point-of-compression(anchor spot) for the student before teaching them to apply the mouthpiece to the already established embouchure.  It is essential to establish this point-of-compression(anchor spot) because the whole embouchure works best when this is utilized. ((It is the point at which the orbicularis oris muscle meets itself somewhere near the midpoint of the upper lip, but varies to some degree among players.  It is seldom, if ever, exactly spot-on dead center, btw)).

I'll have the student hold the mpc shank gently between the thumb and the first two fingers and apply it to wet lips at the anchor spot.  We'll adjust the angle and pivot to accomodate the shape of the teeth and type of the jaw.  Then we drop the jaw, keeping the upper rim on the upper lip at the anchor spot, breathe *HOME*, close the lips and blow into the mpc.

Teeth and jaw shape determine the pivot ((up-to-down angle)) and angle ((side-to-side angle)) of the embouchure, not the lips.   Thus damage to teeth/jaw usually does not change the anchor spot, though damage to the lip itself (without damage to bone) may change it drastically.

All of this and we haven't even added the trumpet yet!<!!>

((In fact, if these basics have never been established into muscle memory by the player, even more advanced players may need to return to these exercises in order to continue their advanced development or to break long-standing bad habits.))

During all of this so far, we are, of course, continually reinforcing the breathing approach and the relaxed, aligned posture.

Next step is to teach the student to hold the trumpet properly. (( I NEVER tell the student to *Grip the trumpet firmly like you're shaking a hand*<shudder!> because this immediately leads to tension in the hands and arms.))

Instead, I teach the student to lay the trumpet on the lap, bell toward the left, with the second valve slide downward.  Then I have the student pick up the trumpet, using the left index finger on the bell side of the third valve casing(supported by the middle finger, if necessary) and the thumb on the receiver side of the first valve casing, being sure to leave space between the palm of the hand and the valve casings.  The ring finger of the left hand should be in the ring (Adjust an adjustable one so the the ring rests against the bell side of the middle finger when the slide is closed.  Use the back of the middle finger to push the slide out, and the inside of the ring finger to pull it back in) The pinky should rest next to the ring finger, rather than beneath the third slide(which can lead to distortions of the angle and pivot).

I have the student place the mpc gently into the receiver with the right hand, and turn it, gently, 1/4 turn just to seat it (without applying any strength to the turn).

Now, using JUST the left hand <!> I'll have the student repeat the previous steps to get a sound from the trumpet.  If sufficient time has been spent on mouthpiece, lip compression and breathing practice, the first open note on the horn should be a second line *G*. ((Note: if the student's hand is too small to hold the trumpet at the proper angle with the left hand alone, I'll usually recommend using a cornet instead of a trumpet.))

All of this, and we haven't even added the right hand yet!<G>

Finally, we'll add the right hand.  The tip of the thumb should be placed *in the cave* between the first and second valve casings and beneath the leadpipe.  The pads of the first, second and third fingers rest comfortably on the valve buttons(there should exist a gentle sideways *C* or *U* between the first finger and thumb, depending on the size of the student's hand).  The pinky finger should be free.  ((I prefer not even to rest it upon the top of the ring at this point, telling the students that it is only used for applying a mute whilst playing, or holding the horn with one hand while turning a page of music and continuing to play.))

Next we'll do some tongue games.

First, I'll have the students stick their tongues out of their mouths as far as possible (with the tip pointed as much as possible).

Then I'll have them try to touch the tip of their nose with their tongue.  Then their chin.

Then I'll have them wiggle their tongue side to side and up and down.

Finally I'll have them touch the tip of the tongue gently to the inside of the lower lip and spit (like they're spitting out a watermelon seed or a cat hair). This is also helpful if they have trouble getting a buzz to start.

Now we'll apply the tongue start to the *G* we've already played. First, with whole notes, then halves, then quarters, then, if they can, eighths. (Sorry to those of you 'cross the pond for the nomenclature: breves, semi-breves, quavers, etc)

We'll also take a break from holding the horn, learn how to hold it when not playing: (concert rest= bell on left knee, mpc up, right hand off) (lap=bell toward left, mpc toward right, to expedite picking up with left hand), and do some more mpc buzzing.

I'll also play a couple of examples of trumpet recordings for the students, both classical and jazz, by artists whom I believe to have characteristic trumpet sounds, such as Philip Smith, Maurice Andre for classical, Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie for jazz.

And this is a first lesson for an absolute beginner.  Practice assignment is to buzz lips alone three times a day, buzz mpc three times a day, play the *G* three times a day as a long note and as a tongued note, and do the *Bumblebee* (wiggle the valves as fast as possible while blowing any note into the trumpet).

At the second lesson I introduce double-low pedal tones, played very gently, between buzzing the lips and mouthpiece and playing a *G* on the horn.

All of this is by way of explaining that trumpet playing is a science as well as an art, and that mastery of the basics is essential to reaching the stage where the finer points of interpretation can be addressed.

I welcome your comments.

Take Care!
Jeanne G Pocius