Frequently Asked Questions
Welcome to our Trumpet FAQ’s – part of the ‘Beginner’s Guide To Learning The Trumpet’ series. Please do let us know if you have any more suggestions, and remember to sign up for 4 Feature Friday…
Choosing An Instrument
Unlike a lot of musical instruments like the cello or violin, the trumpet doesn’t cost too much to buy at the beginning. You can easily get one for $171-$198 (£130-£150). That’s the price range for a good student trumpet. Going really cheap when buying a trumpet, however, isn’t always advisable. An instrument that costs too little might not be set up right and could hinder a student’s learning progress. So when buying a trumpet, don’t go for an inexpensive, one-off purchase because even a decent student-level instrument won’t last very long, as a player’s skills will eventually improve and require better gear down the line. A low cost student trumpet from a reputable reseller is a good way to try out the instrument with minimal investment in the knowledge that you’ll be upgrading after a year or so anyway.
Here’s one thing you should know: professional trumpets are always better and sturdier than intermediate ones. When you go for a professional level instrument, you can expect things such as hand-finished hardware and lead pipe construction, among others. A mostly handmade instrument will feature better sound quality and overall durability, since they aren’t mass produced. As for an intermediate trumpet, they are made with the beginner player in mind; giving someone a leg up from the basics to the intermediate level. That means they’re not going to require higher-level skills to play and maintain. But that also means they won’t have the same bells(!) and whistles as a professional trumpet.
It might not cost a lot to get started with a trumpet, but if you want the best, you will have to shell out a good amount of money. The better-quality ones at the lower end will cost around $1,010 (£764), with intermediate-level trumpets easily costing over $2,513 (£1,900). Professional-level ones cost about $2,645 (£2,000) and up. Like any other musical instrument out there, you get what you pay for with a trumpet. The cheapest ones are good enough to learn the basics on, but they’re not good enough for making good music. So when shopping, be sure to do a lot of research so you will get a good amount of years on your first instrument.
A student trumpet is of lower quality than an intermediate one, but they have been improving construction-wise over time. Nowadays you can find heavy gauge tubing and bracing on student trumpets on a regular basis. Intermediate trumpets are a step up from student ones as they tend to feature design elements you can find on professional trumpets, such as fixed 3rd valve rings and nickel plating.
Many players agree that buying an intermediate trumpet as a beginner is unwise, because it would be too expensive for a typical player. Only buy it if money isn’t a problem and you like the way it handles and plays. Otherwise, you would be fine with a student trumpet as a novice.
Like anything else that you can buy brand new or used, a trumpet will have its own pros and cons for either state. Brand new ones aren’t always the better choice unless they’re of a higher calibre and from a reputable brand. It really depends on where your budget lies. You can buy a great used trumpet that would sound and perform a lot better than a brand new one, provided you know what you’re looking for. But brand new instruments aren’t bad either as you would have the option for an extended warranty should it break down and require service. At the end, choose an instrument that best fits your budget and needs.
A trumpet in general would require a lot less care than other musical instruments such as cellos or violins. If you play it regularly enough, components such as the valves won’t stick and get stiff. Otherwise, these valves will need lubricant to work smoothly again. That’s also the case for the slides. You should not use any other type of oil on a trumpet except specialised valve oil, which is sold separately. In the end, the only thing you really need to clean is the mouthpiece, which you can do with a simple mouthpiece brush. It’s a really good idea to simply purchase an all-in-one trumpet care kit which includes valve oil.
Oiling a trumpet’s valves requires you to do two things: either unscrew and raise the valves a little bit, or take out the valves altogether. If you go for the latter, you must know how to put them back in the right order, or the instrument won’t work well. Once you can reach the valves’ innards, you can apply lubricant on them to get them working smoothly again. For younger players, it is advised that you do this with adult supervision so you’ll know what you’re doing.
If you have a good ear tuning a trumpet isn’t that difficult. Work on a general pitch and adjust your instrument from there. You might hear that some notes on your trumpet are sharper (higher) or flatter (lower), and you’ll have to adjust accordingly by moving the tuning slide. The key to higher pitches is shortening your instrument by moving the tuning slide up. Do the opposite when going for lower pitches.
For beginners, we recommend buying an electronic tuner, rather than relying on ear!
Many players recommend that you deep clean your instrument every 6 to 8 weeks. For every cleanup session, you must spend at least 30 minutes or more for the first few cleanings. This is to make sure that you clean off all the built-up gunk and dirt on the trumpet. Once you get used to the cleaning routine, you won’t need to spend as much time-even a good 15 minutes will do. Experienced trumpet players can both set up and clean up their instruments in that amount of time.
You blow air through the trumpet to make it produce sound. You do that by blowing air through the mouthpiece. But you don’t do that without learning proper embouchure or lip technique. That’s one of the very first lessons a trumpet student will learn: how to properly position your lips on the mouthpiece for the best sound possible. Learning to switch between notes will also require the student to learn more embouchure techniques to get the sound they’re aiming for.
The trumpet is like any other instrument out there: it will take time and effort to learn how to play right. But it can be especially hard because all the sound that the trumpet makes comes from the players themselves. There are no strings or keys to press that will give out sound. With good lessons, a student will learn how to get the best sound possible out of themselves and the instrument. Once they master the production of great sound, the lessons will get off the ground at a very rapid pace. Be patient at the beginning, because after mastering the sound, your playing will get better really fast!
The short answer is yes! You can learn the trumpet without learning how to read sheet music. That is, if you only want to play solo and not in an orchestra. If you’re going for the latter, the only way to do so is learn how to sight-read, which is best done through formal trumpet lessons. But in order to fully master the instrument, we recommend that you take a two-pronged approach: learn how to both play by ear and by reading sheet music. Good trumpet players are a perfect blend of the two.
Yes, it is still possible to learn without in-person instruction. But there is still something different in being in the same room with a good trumpet teacher, because you can see, hear, and feel what a great trumpet is like in person. Learning at a distance is still a good avenue, provided that there’s a good loop of feedback on your playing every time. You can do this via recordings and online calls, but we would always recommend that you record your playing so your teacher will hear the sound more accurately and judge it the right way.
Musicianship is hard to “unlearn,” so to speak. There will always be that part of you who will still remember notes, scales, and playing techniques. But don’t be surprised if your playing sounds a little “rusty.” To shake that rust off, we recommend that you find a good teacher to guide you to a reset. A teacher will know how to deal with lost muscle and ear memory, so you can ease back into playing slowly but surely.
Musicianship is the word you’re looking for. Good players sound pleasant to the ears. Great players not only sound pleasant, but they also sound passionate. You can feel the different emotions of the music when a great trumpet player performs. In other words, they make the music memorable. Great trumpet players also focus a lot on showing off their technique, like playing fast, high, and low on the instrument like it’s nothing. A great trumpet player is a perfect blend of a musician and showman: it’s not enough for them to hit the notes. They have to play it and make you feel it!
A good chunk of learning the trumpet involves sound production, as we previously said. Once you master how to produce good sound, then your playing improves a lot faster. So to improve your trumpet sound, have a good idea of what good sound is in the first place. Remember that the sound you hear yourself while playing isn’t the same one that people hear outside. The one that you hear is the resonance inside the instrument and your body, so you must focus on making the external sound good. You can do this by listening to great trumpet players closely and taking notes.
Here’s one thing you have to know: the brain tends to forget new information that comes in. In order for it to remember the lessons, you must have repetition. As soon as you learn a new concept, take the time to master that before you move on to another one. That means that you should practise more often in a week rather than have a few long sessions. Say, 25 minutes every day for 7 days is enough to get your muscle memory going. Practise smart, not hard.
It’s all in the mind. It’s not uncommon for novice trumpet players to be told that high notes are very difficult to play. Over time, they build that up in their mind, which eventually makes it very difficult for them to play the high notes. That is simply untrue. To play high notes, don’t put too much pressure on your lips. Keep them relaxed. Body positioning is also key, so don’t slouch! Stand or sit up straight, maintaining a relaxed hold on your instrument. And lastly, always, always fill your lungs with enough air before playing any notes, so you don’t run out of breath!
General Trumpet FAQs
This is a common question, since playing the trumpet does require the mouth. The short answer is yes, though there might be a couple of issues. It can be hard to play any type of woodwind or brass instrument if you have something in the way (i.e. braces). They can affect good embouchure (lip technique), which is critical in producing good sound. But it’s not impossible to learn trumpet with braces, since a good teacher will always adjust the lessons accordingly to account for this.
Children as young as 5 years old can learn the trumpet. Anybody older than that is perfectly capable, even you! In fact, the older you are, the better your chances are at learning the basics and producing good sound faster than most. That’s because with constant practise, a trumpet student will eventually develop good technique involving their lips, lungs, and hands. But the most important thing is passion: it’s always better to want to learn the instrument because you’re passionate about making good music out of it.
Trumpet valves work by pressing them down. As you learn individual notes one at a time, you will also learn the combinations of the valves you have to press in order to reproduce the notes. But since there are only three valves, a bulk of the learning involves mastering your embouchure (lip technique) to produce different notes. The most important thing about trumpet valves is lubrication; you need to put a good amount of oil in them to keep them loose and easy to press.
A lot of scholars believe that the very first trumpets are merely logs hollowed out by insects. Over time, trumpets will come to be made of other materials, the most common being animal tusks and horns. But the earliest modern-looking trumpet can be traced back to the Ancient Egyptians, who in 1400 BC created an instrument from silver or bronze that tapers into a bell on the other end. By the 1700s, the first modern trumpet in terms of hardware was invented.
A cornet looks like a shorter trumpet, but with a slightly different sound. It can be hard to differentiate them as they sound more or less the same and play similar notes. It’s not uncommon to see younger children start out learning on the cornet (either with a low cost pCornet, or a beginner brass type), because it’s smaller than a standard-sized trumpet, thus it’s more manoeuvrable for their smaller hands and shorter arms. When it comes to usage, cornets are common in brass bands where the style of music being played tends to be different from the trumpet’s.
Only if you have poor lip technique. Playing the trumpet with the right embouchure will not hurt your lips, as the first thing you ever learn is how to position your lips on the mouthpiece. It’s very rare for a trumpet player to hurt their lips during playing. But if they do, then they might have poor lip positioning or their teeth are making lip positioning uncomfortable. If you practise and play the right way, you won’t have to worry about your lips because all you’ll ever care about is the music.
In the beginning, yes. A large chunk of learning the trumpet as a novice will involve you mastering the very basics of producing good sound. Good lip technique, breathing exercises, the usual. This can take a considerable amount of time, because a good and thorough trumpet teacher will not advance until the student produces a good enough tone out of the instrument. As we said before, the trumpet is a bit of a slow-starter. So if you lack patience, we advise looking for another instrument to learn.
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