Five Common Mistakes Of Young Trumpet Players
My Top 5 Problems
This article is about the five most common mistakes young trumpet players have. I will address the mistakes, what causes them, why they can create a problem and ideas to help fix them. Remember that this article is opinion based and the solutions proposed may not help every person with or problem.
- Breathing and Air Use
In my opinion most young students do not use enough air when they play. I remember being in several trumpet master classes where the professional that was leading the class would have a young player come up and play for everyone, and before the student was done the rest of the class could already say that the player needed to use more air. When it comes to breathing the goal is for any brass player to breathe low in the stomach and fill up. I teach my students to draw a triangle with their belly button and two shoulders, they need to start the breathing at the bottom point and fill up evenly to both shoulders. The next step to the breathing is to have the student push the air out from the bottom of the triangle, this will help keep the sound supported and keep the air flow steady. Another problem with air use is how the air is initiated. The air going into the brass instrument needs to be hot and with an “Ah” sound. To get my students to use hot air I have them blow on their bell or on a mirror and try to fog it up. I prefer to use a 3” x 3” mirror; if they can fog the whole mirror then they will be blowing hot enough air into the instrument. The earlier a student starts doing this the better. The final problem with the air flow is the speed. To keep the sound full, it takes speed with the heat to keep the sound moving. I demonstrate the proper speed to my students by using the mouth piece. I do not have them buzz on the mouthpiece, but have them blow air as fast as they can through the mouthpiece. It should sound like a jet engine; I even tell them to think of a plane taking off of the runway. Then to get all of these things to work as one unit I have students blow on the just the lead pipe. If the sound is not supported from the belly and the player is not using hot, fast air then the sound will be thin or weak.
- Bad Posture and Improper Holding of the Trumpet
Posture is often over looked, especially with older players. When I was in high school my private trumpet teacher did not focus a lot on reinforcing my posture, the result of this was that I let some basic things slide and I developed some small problems that could have been avoided. Posture can affect many things with playing, to start let’s just talk about what good playing posture is from a seated position. To start the player needs to sit in a chair that has a level seat and does not have too much padding. If the chair is over padded, the player could sink down and cause restriction in the airway. Once the player is sitting down then they need to keep both feet flat on the ground (if they are tall enough) and sit on the front half of the chair. Most chair backs curve, which can allow for a player to slouch in the seat. I remind my students to sit up tall and imagine a string coming out of the top of their head from their back and I can pull on it to have them sit up tall. The player should then put their trumpet to their face. Have the student pull their shoulders down and back, if the shoulders are too high or too far forward then the player is restricting the air flow and causing tension. Finally the trumpet should be at about a 40 degree angle or at the bottom portion of the stand (if the stand is set so that the player can look over the top when they sit up tall). Different parts of the posture can affect different things in the playing, as I said at the start of this section it would be easier to talk about what the ideal posture is.
- Sound/Concept of Sound
When I was in jr. high and high school I had no real concept of what I wanted to sound like when I played the trumpet. Many band directors and private instructors for younger players do not focus on having the student develop a personal concept of what they want to sound like. I was fortunate enough to have a great trumpet teacher in college that helped me develop my own thought of what my sound should be. To develop a concept of sound the student may need to be exposed to different trumpet sounds. If all they hear is their trumpet teacher and the “best student in class” then they are not being exposed enough. I have my students listen to professional trumpet players from all over the world. My favorites are: Doc Severinsen, Wynton Marsalis, Alison Balsom, Chris Botti, Wayne Bergeron, Allen Vizzutti and Maynard Ferguson. I like to use youtube in my lessons and have the students just sit and listen to the sound of these professionals, after the recording I have the student try to describe it. Remember that live performances are better to show, they offer not only the sound but a visual of what the player is doing to create the sound. I then explain the process to make the sound that was in the video and describe the good things in that players sound that we want. Another thing I do is have my students do an actual listening assignment. When they do the assignment they have to listen to a recording and then write a paragraph or two about what they heard. This helps get the student thinking about the mechanical parts of trumpet playing.
Forcing is a really big problem with younger players. Sometimes forcing is just a way to make up for being a smaller person. If the forcing is coming from tension in the breath then I breakdown the breathing motion to figure out if it is the intake or the release that is the problem. Sometimes tension is developed from stress; to correct this I just start the lesson with a stress release activity to help relax the student. Most forcing is done in the shoulders or in the lips. If it is in the shoulders have to student first take a slow deep breath from the stomach and release it all at once with a sigh. Forcing in the lips can be countered by having the student think about pulling the corners of their mouth back and think “Mmmm”. Forcing the notes from the lips develops a lot from buzzing on the mouthpiece ( I am not saying that buzzing is bad), young players will force the lips to buzz rather than letting the air push over the lips and create a natural vibration or buzz. One way to show the students this is to have them blow hot air into just the mouthpiece; remind them to make it sound like a jet taking off. Then once they have that down put the trumpet to the mouthpiece as they are blowing the air through the trumpet. The biggest thing to counter forcing is to help the student stay relaxed when they are playing and keep the air fluid.
Tonguing is another problem with many younger players. The two biggest problems that arise with tonguing are not starting the attack with a “tah” sound and ending the note with a “t” sound. To fix that initial attack, just have the student say tah several times and in different rhythmic sequences. Then have them say tah through the trumpet just like before with different rhythmic sequences. Finally I have the student play the note several times to reinforce each attack with a tah. Rarely do I have to tell a student to place the tip of the tongue on the front two teeth. With the note ending with a t sound I show my students how to end by just blowing on a pinwheel. They need to just stop the air by not blowing any more. I show and explain to the student so that they can have aural and visual representation. This usually takes several attempts to correct, many of the students with this struggle with not using the tongue to stop the air (be patient and encourage the student every time). The final tonguing problem that I have encountered is too hard of an initial attack on the note. This is caused by use of a flat tongue on the teeth instead of just the tip. I have my students think about a blow gun, the tip of the darts is pointed and sharp. The tongue needs to be pointed and make a sharp “T” sound. Have the student blow air through a drinking straw and tongue several fast notes, if the student can’t keep up with the teacher then the tongue is to fat or flat on the straw. Once they can keep up have the student apply it to the trumpet.