Common Problems and Solutions with Developing Trumpeters

Common Problems and Solutions with Developing Trumpeters

1.  Embouchure

Embouchure is not something we want to teach.  Every student is different, and their physical make-up influences their embouchure (usually teeth and jaw position).  What is most important is that their air can easily get through the trumpet and they can make a resonant sound.  Keep striving for that sound and the embouchure will develop naturally.  Generally speaking, the mouthpiece should have equal parts top and bottom lip.    

2.  Using slides for out-of-tune notes

The D and C# right below the staff are sharp on the trumpet.  The C# is sharper than the D.  Players need to extend the third valve slide for these notes.  It depends on the trumpet and the player, but typically the slide needs to be extended all the way for the C# and about 3/4 for the D.  The earlier this becomes a habit, the better.  Make sure this slide is lubricated and very easy to move.  If not, it should be assessed by a repair person. 

For those with small hands, wrap several pipe cleaners around the third valve slide ring at the back to help with its use.  And, using plyers and a cloth to avoid damage, bend the front part of the first valve slide crook closer to the first valve to help with its use (suggestions from Louis Ranger).

3.  Warm-up

A daily warm-up/maintenance routine is important for growth, ease of playing, fundamentals, and health.  Please see for my warm-up routine. 

4.  Lip slurs

With an ascending lip slur, not only does the air need to be continuous, but the air will need to increase in speed as one ascends.  Sound should be continuous through any slur.  Lip slur exercises are important for developing the embouchure.

5.  Inhale/exhale

The body knows how to breathe very well.  Trumpeters should inhale and exhale as they normally would without the trumpet.  The difference is the exhale will be more directional.  A timed inhale is counterproductive and unhealthy.  If you are resting before an entrance, allow the air to come in naturally ahead of time.  If you are breathing in the middle of a phrase, relax the gut to let the air come in quickly.  Do not “take a breath” or suck air in.  Remember, let the music teach the body how to breathe.  When we speak, we do not “take a breath”.  Our body knows how to take in the air it needs to speak in sentences.  Same with music.  Use the body’s natural breathing expertise.

Concept borrowed from MWNA program designed to retrain brass players:

6.  Projection

The person sitting in the cheapest seat in the concert hall still needs to hear you at pianissimo (concept from Louis Ranger).  But this is not about playing louder.  This is about projection which comes from resonance in the bell, see previous.  

7.  Developing range

Select music that is within a comfortable range for your trumpeters.  Inappropriate music selection and a natural but sometimes unhealthy competitive tendency often makes trumpet players try to expand their upper register too quickly, resulting in strain, a range plateau, and risk of health issues.  Create an atmosphere that values a good sound, ease of playing, and musicality over high notes.  Those notes are not any more important than others.  Let range develop naturally.  One exercise to incorporate in the student’s practice routine, when they are ready, involves a sequence of one octave scales.  Have the student start with their lowest scale and play it ascending and descending.  Rest for as long as it took to play the scale, then play the scale one-half step higher.  Continue with this process until the student just begins to strain for the highest note.  That is when the student should stop with that exercise for the day.  The student should stop at the point of strain each day, which will vary.  Eventually, it will become more consistent (exercise from Louis Ranger).