An Introduction to the Trumpet

by Larry Elliot, Music & Arts Lesson Trumpet Instructor

Tools for Success

*SP indicates items included in the trumpet Starter Pack sold at Music & Arts.

Music Stand (SP) Shop Now >
Nothing substitutes for a music stand. Do not allow the student to practice with music placed on a piano, the trumpet case, the bed or anywhere else. Proper playing posture cannot be achieved if the music is not positioned directly in front of the student at eye level or slightly below eye level.

Valve Oil (SP) Shop Now >
This is necessary for the DAILY maintenance of the trumpet. A student practicing and oiling on a regular basis will go through at least one bottle every two months.

Mouthpiece Brush (SP) Shop Now >
This is necessary for the WEEKLY maintenance of the trumpet. One brush lasts years.

Slide Grease (SP) Shop Now >
This is necessary for the MONTHLY maintenance of the trumpet. One container should last several years.

Snake Brush (SP) Shop Now >
This is necessary for the MONTHLY maintenance of the trumpet. This is also needed for the full cleaning you’ll do three times a year. One snake lasts many years.

Valve Brush (SP) Shop Now >
This is similar to a test-tube brush from chemistry class. It’s used for the full cleaning you’ll do three times a year.

Metronome Shop Now >
This is not in the Starter Pack. It’s an electronic device which produces steady clicks to help the student count the proper note length and keep a consistent rhythm. For trumpet, get the loudest metronome you can find.

CD Player
Most beginning band books now come with audio CDs, so a CD player is helpful in the room where the student will practice. This can be a stereo system or an inexpensive boombox. A portable player with earbuds is NOT acceptable because the student cannot hear the true sound of the trumpet at the same time as the audio guide tracks.

Basic Trumpet Maintenance

Daily Maintenance
Valves MUST be oiled every day before the trumpet is played. This involves removing each valve to apply oil to all surfaces. Spit should be let out before putting the trumpet back in its case. Fingerprints should be wiped off the exterior before putting trumpet away.

Weekly Maintenance
The bottom valve caps must be removed and the interior of the valve casings are cleaned with a finger or a Q-tip swab. The caps themselves are cleaned with a Q-tip swab. The mouthpiece is cleaned inside using the small thin brush found in the Starter Pack with running water. Soap is NOT needed or recommended.

Monthly Maintenance
The four slides are removed, wiped clean with a paper towel and fresh slide grease is applied to all the sliding surfaces. After reinserting the slides, wipe away all excess grease. The lead pipe (the tube into which the mouthpiece is inserted) is cleaned inside using the “snake” brush found in the Starter Pack with running water. Soap is NOT needed or recommended.

3 Time per year cleaning
A full interior cleaning is needed periodically. My usual recommended schedule for students is Winter Break, Spring Break, and Summer. While most students are comfortable performing a full cleaning at home, a full cleaning service is also offered (for a fee) by the Music & Arts repair facility.

Trumpet Practice

When a student comes for lessons, an almost universal goal is to move to (or stay at) the top of the class, or near the top of the class. My practice guidelines are based on the amount that I feel is necessary to achieve that goal.

Scheduling the right amount
Daily practice minutes are found by multiplying a student’s grade level by four. So, if the student is in 6th grade, minimum practice should be 24 minutes daily. In 9th grade, it should be 36 minutes.

My guidelines assume 6 days of practice and one day off each week. So, calculating WEEKLY practice needs for sixth grade, we get 144 minutes, calculated this way: 6 x 4 = 24 min daily, 24 minutes x 6 days = 144 minutes weekly.

If the student’s schedule allows fewer than six days days of practice per week, then the DAILY amount needs to be recalculated to achieve the same WEEKLY total. Example:

  • 144 minutes divided over 5 days means 29 minutes each practice session.
  • 144 minutes divided over 4 days means 36 minutes each practice session.
  • 144 minutes divided over 3 days means 48 minutes each practice session.

Measuring the practice amount
Here’s where things can go wrong. 24 minutes of practice does NOT mean sitting at the music stand for 24 minutes with five minutes spent oiling valves, five minutes spent counting notes, and five minutes of resting between songs because “my lips hurt.”

24 minutes of practice means 24 minutes of sound coming from the trumpet, no matter how long it takes to get there. A focused student can do 24 minutes of practicing in 25 or 26 minutes. An unfocused student may stretch those 24 minutes into an hour.

For the first few weeks, dividing the practice into two sessions may be desirable as long as it doesn’t become an excuse to cut practice time by half by never getting around to the second session. If practice is divided, I prefer that the first session be about 2/3 to 3/4 of the total daily practice.

Forming good habits, not bad habits

Hand Position
Proper hand positions are shown here.

LEFT HAND: The fingers wrap around the valves. The ring finger goes in the third valve slide ring and the thumb goes in the hook on the first valve slide.

RIGHT HAND: Thumb goes below the lead pipe between the first and second valves, finger tips go on top of the valves and pinky goes on TOP of the hook, not in it!!! (That hook is for turning pages only.)

Trumpet hand position Trumpet hand position Trumpet hand position

The cheeks must NOT puff out when playing. If the student claims he cannot play any other way, quickly seek the advice of a professional teacher. Do not let him or her continue this way.

One common bad habit is placing the left elbow in the side to support the instrument. Elbows must stay two to eight inches away from the body, preferably both elbows the same distance out. Younger students will want the elbows lower than older students, which is acceptable, but they must not touch the side of the body.

Poor posture can be in the form of leaning back in a chair, leaning to one side or leaning forward with the elbows on the knees. My personal recommendation is that the student sit on an exercise ball while practicing because this automatically promotes excellent posture while strengthening the core (abdominal) muscles that are important to playing trumpet well.

Maintaining Your Instrument

The trumpet won't play / air won't blow
This usually causes panic the first time it happens. The most likely reasons are:

  1. The valves were replaced in the wrong order. Check the numbers that are printed on all three valves to be sure they’re in the right place.
  2. One valve (or more) is not “locked in” to the proper position. Grab each valve cap (the place where the fingers rest) and gently turn in a clockwise direction until the valve clicks. It’s now locked in place and the trumpet should play.

The notes sound "gurgly"
Spit accumulates in the first curve of the trumpet (the tuning slide.) This is natural, so there is a “spit valve,” which is euphemistically called a “water key” in most instruction books. The spit normally needs to be emptied several times during each practice session. Trumpet players need to keep a section of yesterday’s newspaper, towel or a carpet scrap under the music stand for this purpose.

The mouthpiece is stuck in the trumpet
This happens occasionally from bumping the mouthpiece or dropping the trumpet. Music & Arts has a special tool that will remove stuck mouthpieces without damaging the trumpet or the mouthpiece. There is no charge for this in-store service. If you try to do this yourself, you’ll likely damage both the instrument and the mouthpiece.

Yes, it is possible to play with braces. About 25% of students are able to play with little or no difficulty. Another 25% find it’s a convenient excuse to quit playing. The remaining 50% can play with the help of either dental wax or a wonderful product called Brace Guard that’s available at Music & Arts. There is usually an adjustment period, which may be painful for a few weeks, but Brace Guard can dramatically shorten the adjustment period.

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