Wow! There’s nothing quite like the eyes of a beginning trumpet player when he or she holds their very own bright, shiny trumpet for the first time. They are pumped for sure! Keeping that excitement going will be the key to long-term success as a trumpet player in a band program.
The assembly of the trumpet is the easiest part of learning to play the trumpet. The one thing that every young child seems to want to do is put the mouthpiece in the mouthpiece receiver and then hit it to be sure that it’s in there tightly. Do not do that! “Popping” that mouthpiece can create a vacuum and get the mouthpiece stuck. Even with care, it’s almost inevitable that a beginning trumpet player will at some point get the mouthpiece stuck on the trumpet. Never try to use strong-arm methods to pull it out. While sometimes successful, that technique generally winds up with some damage to the braces on the trumpet. Damage to their bright, shiny trumpet can be devastating to the young beginner. Instead, go on with the practice session at hand but then take the trumpet with the mouthpiece still in it to your child's teacher. There is a special tool designed exactly for the purpose of removing a stuck mouthpiece with no damage.
As with other instruments, it’s likely your child’s band director will have them begin by practicing only with the mouthpiece for a short period. The first step is for the child to learn how to “buzz” their lips. This is accomplished by pulling the corners of the mouth back, holding the lips together, making the lips very thin and closed across the teeth. The teeth need to be slightly apart so that the air can go through. This process uses muscles of the mouth and face that aren’t used a great deal normally so at first, there will be some muscle fatigue until those muscles develop.
To produce the buzz, just blow air through the front of the closed lips, just hard enough to make the lips buzz. This buzz should come fairly easily for most students. Having learned how to buzz, then place the mouthpiece against the lips. The trumpet mouthpiece should be evenly placed above and below the lips. In other words, don’t set the mouthpiece too high on the top lip or too low on the bottom lip. Using the same lip and teeth position as used for the buzz, do the same thing using the mouthpiece. This will produce a sound very similar to a duck call.
Your child’s band director will provide special instructions for mouthpiece practice. Usually, the child will be asked to learn to produce long tones on the mouthpiece at first. To do this, the child will start the buzz and continue the sound to a slow count of four. Then begin another long tone and hold for the count of four. The cheeks should NEVER be “puffed out”. Puffing out the checks doesn’t allow for the correct operation of the facial muscles.
It is very important to continue practicing with just the mouthpiece for as long as the child’s teacher requests. After this time period, the child will progress to playing his first notes on the trumpet. This will be much easier because the facial muscles will have been strengthened by the mouthpiece practice as well as the ability to hold a tone for several beats.
To form the correct hand position of the trumpet, the left hand thumb goes behind the first valve while the remaining fingers reach toward the third valve and hold the trumpet. The right hand thumb, up to the first joint, goes between the first and second valve and the little finger goes on TOP (not IN) of the ring just past the third valve. The first, second, and third fingers are placed on top of each valve. There are two reasons for not putting the little finger into the ring. First, the trumpet valves function like pistons. By putting the little finger into the ring, the third finger, being the weakest finger, will drag a little on that third valve. Over time, this can cause some damage in the valves because the piston action will not be cleanly up and down but dragging a little each time the valve is used. The second reason is that as the player progresses, he will need to operate the valves very quickly to change notes. Putting the little finger on top of the ring results in the smoothest action and less hand fatigue. Correcting the hand position after years of playing the other way is difficult, similar to changing a life-long habit.
The player should sit forward on their chair, not leaning against the back; feet should be flat on the floor. The trumpet should be held almost at a 90-degree angle but pointed slightly downward. Raise or lower the music stand so that the music can be read while the player is in the correct sitting position. As with any other instrument, the use of a music stand is essential; playing without the stand can cause the development of some very bad playing postures and hand positions.
The trumpet requires care and cleaning. A trumpet cleaning kit has everything needed. This kit will come with valve oil, polishing cloth, mouthpiece brush, valve brush, tube brush, etc. It’s an excellent idea to get in the habit of using a polishing cloth after each practice session so that the trumpet finish will stay shiny. In general daily use, the trumpet player merely releases the built up saliva in the trumpet tubes by using the “spit” valves which are small spring loaded keys at the ends of the tubes. The mouthpiece can be cleaned at home by running some warm water through it and occasionally using the mouthpiece brush to remove any build up within the mouthpiece. It’s important to use only a mouthpiece brush designed for this purpose as another brush might gouge or damage the mouthpiece. It is best for a trumpet player to rinse their mouth with water prior to playing in order to avoid any build up inside the tubes of the trumpet.
Every two to three months, depending on the amount of use, the trumpet should be disassembled and cleaned more thoroughly. The band director can provide more specific instructions for this. The trumpet can be cleaned in the bathtub with warm water, very light soap solution, and using the coiled tube brush. The valves do not go into the bathtub, as this would damage the felts. The valves can be cleaned at the sink by running warm water through the valve section; taking care not to get the felts (below the valve buttons) wet.
In closing, parents and students alike should be aware that any of the brass instruments take some time for the embouchure (teeth, lips, facial muscles) to develop. The trumpet only has three valves and this means that different notes can be produced using the same combination of valves. The different notes are controlled by the player by changing the positioning of the lips. This requires excellent control of very tiny facial and lip muscles and the development of these muscles takes time. Though wonderful progress will be made in the first several months of playing, a child usually requires about two years to fully develop these muscles and to be able to comfortably play the full range of notes available on the trumpet. This is true also of the trombone, baritone, French horn, and tuba.