Developing Tone in a Beginning Trumpet Player
Developing Tone in a Beginning Trumpet Player
In my first blog I am going to talk about a few methods to help develop a strong trumpet sound in almost all beginning trumpet players. A couple of reminders: 1. These concepts will not work for every trumpet player, 2. be patient with each student and 3. Allow several weeks on each activity to see if there will be positive results. In the blog I will discuss exercises that I use with my students and ways to modify them to get them to benefit a student within the first lesson.
The first lesson with a new trumpet student starts with a discussion on how the trumpet gets the sound. I personally ask the student their opinions first and see what they know (depending on the age of the student, I go into more scientific explanations). I want to make sure that all of my students know that air is the most important thing when playing a brass instrument. To demonstrate this first take my mouthpiece out and blow air (without buzzing my lips) through the mouth piece, the goal is for it to sound like a jet engine or a plane as it is taking off of the runway. I then have the student match the sound in their mouthpiece; we would then spend about 3-5 minutes just trading back and forth on this. The idea behind this is to get the student to be focused solely on moving the air fast and keeping it hot. I then ask my students if they can free buzz without the mouthpiece, sometimes a demonstration is needed for them to see what it looks like. After the student has done some free buzzing I then explain to them that this is what takes place in the mouthpiece when we blow the hot/fast jet air. The next step is to have the student attempt to blow the air through the mouthpiece, while the student is blowing the air I will then slowly place the trumpet up to the mouthpiece and connect the two parts together. The lips should naturally start vibrating or buzzing causing the trumpet to form the sound. I do not normally encourage my students to buzz on the mouth piece; it can lead to upper body tension and forcing the sound from the face and not letting the air naturally carry the sound of the trumpet. Once we have a sound naturally being made and it is consistent then I have the students move on to learn actual notes based on the students natural register.
After the student has successfully played the same note several times, I try to move up the C major Scale from that point. I play each note then tell the student the note name, and then I play the note again and have the student play it. If the student is struggling to find the note, I play the note then hum the note. Now I would have the student hum the note exactly like I do, then sing the note on an “Ahh” sound and have the student sing it just like the teacher. When I sing I emphasize the volume and the warm open sound of the voice when we sing. Playing a brass instrument has the same breathe control properties as singing. Singing in a lesson is one a good way to take a break to let the lips rest and second to work on ear training. Once we have located the proper pitch I play it on my trumpet first then have the student play the note. The concept of playing each individual note is to get the student to be comfortable playing just a few notes before we add reading music. In the first few weeks of learning how to play the trumpet I encourage my students just to focus on playing with a good sound that is free and open (no tension). When a young student focuses just on making a good sound and less about reading notes, then they tend to develop fewer problems within the sound or the way the make the sound.
When I feel the student is creating a strong sound on the trumpet and the sound is not forced, I then introduce music. I prefer to start my students in “The Rubank, Elementary Method for Trumpet”; this book gives the option to start on low C or on G. I let the student’s natural ability of creating a sound dictate where we start in the book. If the student is naturally playing the C to start then we start at the front of the book that is a preliminary starting place just inside the cover of the book where the first note is a C, and if the student is playing G naturally then we start on page one of the book. After a couple of weeks in the Rubank book I then add a lip slur book called “Embouchure Builder for Trumpet” by Lowell Little. The start of both of the books is mostly playing long tones which can get boring for a young student, to excite the student I create pitch patterns and simple melodies. I encourage my students at a young age to practice in small amounts each day, no more than 30 minutes for a beginner.
I then move on to explain how to practice when at home. For all of my new students I write out a daily practice routine. This is not a mandatory routine but an idea of how to sequence the students practice so that it is beneficial. I encourage all of my students to start their practice times with about five minutes of destressing and breathing exercises. This will help focus the mind and body so that the student can be fully engaged in the sound of the trumpet. I then have all of my students play natural sounds on the lead pipe as a warm up. When you play on the lead pipe the tuning slide is removed, this removes some of the resistance in the trumpet and forces the student to use more air to make a sound. This is also a more natural way to create a full sound. I recommend playing on the tuning slide instead of the mouthpiece due to most young players forcing the lips to buzz instead of letting the air run through the mouth and create a natural vibration in the lips. After we play on the lead pipe for about five minutes we then start playing long tones (I play based on the natural sound that the student makes). An example of the natural sound is: one student naturally plays low C when he starts playing, so in his lessons we always start on low C and another student of mine naturally starts playing on G, so in his lessons we always start the long tones on G. While playing long tones I encourage my students to play as long as they can, sometimes I have them compete against me to see who can hold the note the longest. Long tones should only take about 3-5 minutes in their daily practice. Then I tell my students that it is time to practice the materials from their music books, with beginners they should only spend about 10-15 minutes on the book work. I assign all of the book work, the student knows what to practice by having a slash on the number in the book and when they complete each exercise with no major errors then I check it off to show that they completed it.
At the end of the lesson I remind my students that the sound is created by the air not by a buzzing lip. Reminding the students as they leave also will get the parents to hear some of the concepts that are being developed in the lesson. With the parents hearing the concept, then they will have at least one little bit of information to help the student practice at home.