I realised recently that I embarked on my journey to learn playing the trumpet a decade ago in September 2013. At the time, it was a very spontaneous idea, and I had no idea how hard it would be on the one hand, and how much I enjoy playing and learning the instrument. For the anniversary, I decided to treat myself to a new trumpet (hopefully to last longer than ten years!) Coincidentally, I stumbled upon a Craigslist ad from a parent seeking a trumpet for their child. In the spirit of sharing (and also because I had collected quite a few) I decided to give one of my trumpets away. Yesterday, that parent reached out to me for advice on how to help their child learn to play. In response, I’ve compiled some of my own experiences and insights to assist aspiring trumpet players.
The trumpet is a unique and challenging instrument. Unlike musicians playing other instruments, I have found professional trumpet players to express their unique frustrations and the experience of being constantly challenged. This difficulty stems from the fact that much of the technique required to play the trumpet is hidden inside your mouth. Initially, no one can fully explain how to make the necessary adjustments, and even if they could, you might not have the muscle control to implement them. And then, even if you do have the technique, when you happen to make a mistake it is going to be quite obvious to the listeners, because of the volume of the instrument. Patience is key, and it’s important to understand that it may take a considerable amount of time, possibly even a year, before you can produce pleasant or enjoyable sounds. Don’t get discouraged by mistakes or slow progress – enjoy the journey and celebrate every small improvement. I was happy to not have any timeframe or goal to meet — I just liked the challenge and the (small if not tiny) progress that I was making. I still think it is one of the hardest things I have undertaken.
Before even thinking about the technicalities of playing, I think it’s valuable for any trumpet player to know how to disassemble and assemble their instrument. It is also not particularly difficult, and the first step to clean it from the inside. You can find helpful tutorials on YouTube for this purpose, here is one example.
While self-learning is possible, finding a qualified teacher is highly recommended. A teacher offers valuable corrections and guidance, inspiring and encouraging you throughout your journey. I had weekly one hour lessons. (Although many beginner students do half hour lessons.) I found my (three) teachers through twitter, online search and a party. I practise around 15 – 30 minutes daily (except weekends).
The Internet is a treasure trove of resources for aspiring trumpet players. A simple Google search for “trumpet tutorial”, “how to begin playing trumpet”, or related keywords and phrases will yield a wealth of advice, lessons, and tips to suit your specific needs. Same for searching Youtube. I trust you can adapt your search terms as needed. Also, you can do an image search for scores (example, Bach Minuet Trumpet), or search for “trumpet – tune – pdf”. (example, Amazing Grace Trumpet PDF). One of the first things you may find immiediately useful are fingering charts. With the Internet, it has never been easier to learn. I find YouTube so useful I am paying for a Premium membership, in order to avoid the interruptions by ads. This also comes with YouTube music.
The first practice technique that I highly recommend is focusing on long tones. These exercises help build your embouchure, tone, and breath control. You can find a helpful tutorials on long tone exercises on YouTube, here is one example.
I really like the Second Clarke Flow Study. You can access the sheet music online, and watch recordings on YouTube. The Clarke flow studies are versatile and can be practiced starting from any note, from the low G below the staff to the high G above it. A beginner may find it easier to start on the C – F notes (32 – 37 in that PDF).
With the major scales and 3 different kinds of minor scales, you can easily spend 5 minutes a day and still take quite a while to be able to play all of them by heart. I have actually written them up myself. The thing about scales is that many melodies will have shorter or longer sections of ascending or descending notes, so it is good to be familiar. Also, even the simple scales are challenging enough — if not, just try playing faster. And it is good to be comfortable with different key signatures. (So Long Tones, Clark Flow and Scales would easily make up a good first 10 minutes of a daily practise session).
In the beginning producing a good sound will be more difficult than anything else; still it will be good to play with a metronome just to get used to it. There’s many mobile apps if you want to spare the expense. So turn it on for long tones, the flow studies and scales.
Of course, there are many other exercises, like lip slurs, articulation exercises, or sight-reading practice. But I wanted to highlight these as they seem to me to be good for beginners and advanced players alike. Happy playing!