Some musicians, like guitar players, have it easy. They can make a great tone just by plucking a string. In fact, anyone who plucks Eric Clapton’s guitar string will produce Click here a tone nearly identical to Clapton’s own. But if you want to play the trumpet, making a good tone is a little more complex. Trumpet players spend their careers practicing and focusing on their tone. As a beginning trumpet player it’s important to recognize this fact and be diligent, yet patient in creating good tone.
Good tone is an essential, often elusive component of trumpet playing, and is best achieved by learning correct technique from the very beginning. One reason many trumpet players struggle with their tone is because of the way they learned to form their embouchure, or muscles of the lips area when playing. A poor embouchure set easily becomes habit, and the longer it persists, the more difficult it is to change. We’ll take a look here at how to form your embouchure to produce a nice, clear trumpet tone.
A short disclaimer here – learning to buzz and produce a nice trumpet tone by reading about it is like having someone describe the colors of a rainbow. The concept may come through, but the real thing needs to be experienced. That’s why a good trumpet teacher or quality video lesson is recommended. Resources are available below. Now on with the details…
The way you produce a sound on the trumpet is by buzzing your lips together. The buzz is a concept that might be illustrated by going back in your memory, recalling a time when you were about 5 years old. Maybe you were frustrated or angry and you wanted to spit. You went – “ppft”. Not an adult type of spit with lots of fluid and maybe a loogie (okay, sorry about that), but just a lips-together, relatively dray “p-p-p-p-p-p-p” kind of spit. Try it now without the trumpet by starting with a relaxed face. Then flex the corners of your lips and draw them back only slightly, stopping short of a smile position. Try to make a flat surface of the front of your lips. Now hold that position, keep the corners nice & firm. Take a deep breath, and blow, making a long, buzzing spit sound. Done correctly, this will sound somewhat like a bumble bee or mosquito, and might tickle the lips.
Your first efforts might result in a rough buzz sound with lots of spray, but keep practicing, and remember to keep the corners firm and the front surface of you lips flat. You don’t want a pucker shape like you’re kissing your Aunt Tilly. And even though I used the spit reference, you’re not really spitting and you don’t want a lot of spray. Look at your self in a mirror and make sure that the underside of your lips, or the wet part, aren’t visible when you make that buzz. Just like when you say ‘mmmm..’.
Think about the mosquito buzz sound in contrast to a dirt bike. Sometimes the idea of spitting out a hair or a seed can help get the right concept. If you find that your buzz is pretty rough, really focus in on clenching those corners and keeping them nice & tight & firm.
The next step is to put a trumpet in front of the buzz. Keeping the corners firm, place the trumpet gently to your lips and play the buzz into the mouthpiece. Are you keeping firm corners? Without pressing any valves, you’re likely to play one of two notes, C or G. Either is fine. Be sure though that you’re not pressing your trumpet into your lips with brute force. You should be able to make a tone just holding the trumpet gently in place and using good, steady air. Pressing that horn into your lips is one common mistake that beginners make, and if it becomes a normal habit for you, it will really hold you back and hinder your ability to improve.
Practice making nice, long tones on any note that you can produce. Don’t try to play too high or too loud, just aim for a consistent tone. Sounds simple, but that’s a pretty tall order for a brand new player, so do your best with it.
This is just one note for now, but if you can start by playing one note really well here early on, you’re way better off than playing 20 notes badly.
Back to the disclaimer, a written description on hoe to play the trumpet has limitations. The best investment a beginning trumpet player can make is in trumpet lessons, either in person or on video. A live personal teacher is great, but that can be expensive. Technology now allows for a good alternative in video trumpet lessons delivered online. Check your local resources and the internet for options that are right for you.