The trumpet is a magnificent instrument, but if you’re just starting out, it can seem daunting.
You just spent your hard earned money on a quality trumpet, so you obviously want to do the instrument justice.
But where to begin?
There’s so much to learn and so many exercises you could do to learn it. Which exercises are best for a beginner?
You don’t want to waste your time on exercises that don’t lead to much improvement. Or even worse, exercises that actually hinder your progress or teach you incorrect techniques and habits.
To reach a high level of musicianship, you need to do “deliberate practice” (see this study). In addition to having an actual desire to improve, you need to be fully aware of your practice strategy—know what your goals are and what exercises you need to do to reach them.
Here are the 9 best exercises for beginning trumpet players. They will help you improve your range, your endurance and your tone. Note that we’re assuming you already know the basics, like how to hold a trumpet.
Trumpet Exercises For Beginners
The reason these types of “deliberate practice” sessions are so effective and deliver the highest payoff for your time is because, as stated in the study: “…deliberate practice involves trying to exceed one’s previous limit, which requires full concentration and effort.”
If you want to go from amateur to professional in the shortness amount of time—with the least amount of frustration—then keep reading and learn the nine necessary trumpet exercises you should be doing in order to become a true trumpet master!
Trumpet Exercises To Improve Range
Range is important for trumpet players because it’s the key metric of your capabilities as a musician. If you’re playing live, then you’ll want to be able to play a vast number of different and dynamic notes to truly ‘wow’ your audience.
Tension in your body is what reduces range—reducing it is the main factor when it comes to increasing your range when playing. A relaxed body allows trumpet performers to exude a bigger range because airflow is better when relaxed.
In addition, the parasympathetic nerves found in your back and neck can become inflamed due to the tension in your body. When this nerve becomes inflamed it affects your middle ear. The inflamed/irritated nerve changes the pressure in your ears causing you to hear differently, which can affect your judgement.
The number one indication of tension in your body as you play is when you notice your shoulders raised (kind of shrugged). You will also likely have a stiff or sore back if you’ve stayed in that position for a long time.
Players often think that tensing your jaw while playing gives you more control or a better tone. Some even believe it gives you more range. But tension in your jaw will only increase fatigue in your face; it doesn’t help with anything, so don’t do it.
There are three great exercises that I’d recommend and as you practice them, make sure to keep in mind that tension does not help with your playing. Try to stay tension free when you attempt these trumpet range exercises.
Exercise 1: Frank Brown Lip Slurs
Frank Brown Lip Slurs will get you used to slurring, so that you can play them at different ranges during performances. The same goes for any other technique but slurs are the best for building your range.
Exercise 2: Caruso Six Notes
The Caruso Six Notes exercise is responsible for a better embouchure and like the slurs, helps get you comfortable with the technicalities of trumpet playing. When it comes time to play at a bigger range, you’ll have the technique and articulation to do so.
Exercise 3: Maynard Ferguson Range Builder
The Maynard Ferguson Range Builder is an upper register exercise that focuses on steady airflow. By incorporating this into your daily warm-up/routine, you’ll get used to moving air in a way that is more controlled, so you can hit those higher notes with the proper air flow. You’ll also learn to be more conscious of tension in your face and how to avoid playing in a manner that will quickly exhaust you.
Trumpet Exercises To Improve Endurance
Focusing on your endurance is an excellent habit to have as practices or performances can be very extensive. If you’re not prepared, you may injure yourself, because playing the trumpet uses some delicate muscles. If you burn out those muscles, you might not be able to even practice the next day.
By improving you endurance you’ll also improve your technique, which is what directly impacts how quickly you get tired. Additionally, your tone will improve overall, as you get a better grasp of the notes. And, of course, your embouchure will be stronger.
It’s important to note, however, that endurance is a very physical activity for trumpet players. Like in sports, overextending yourself during a practice session or a performance could lead to injury, which can prevent you from playing for a period of time as you rest.
Don’t do marathon practice sessions. A runner does not run a marathon on their first day. You want to practice like a marathon runner, who runs a little longer every day and thus trains himself over time to withstand longer running sessions.
Playing for overly long periods of time has other repercussions.
It will eventually result in a stiff embouchure, or just stiff lips, which will negatively affect your playing. You’ll begin to notice how uncertain you become when playing your notes (you’ll feel a sort of resistance to making the appropriate tone), your notes will have an airier sound and it’ll be difficult to play softer material.
These negative effects happen if you play past your endurance and you begin to cause tension in your body from overextending yourself. And as we know, tension has no place in the body of a professional trumpet player.
Here are some great exercises to slowly and progressively expand your endurance to an astounding level.
Exercise 4: Play an easy note for as long as possible
The goal for this exercise is to choose an easy note and see how long you can play it before it begins to sound “off”. Count how many seconds you can sustain the note and strive to pass that record by a second each day or so.
You’ll see the best results if you practice on several different notes—before too long, there won’t be a note you can’t sustain. It should go without saying to take breaks between notes.
Exercise 5: Play softly
This exercise simply involves playing your practice material softly. This will allow you to maximize and perfect your embouchure and to slowly increase your range as a byproduct.
A good place to start is scales and once you’re comfortable with playing them softly, go on to play more technical material like performances or any other exercises you regularly do. The key is: whatever you play, play it softly.
Exercise 6: Focus on your scales
There are no cons to practicing scales. All pieces and performances stick to scales, so you’re indirectly improving your ability to play a wide array of different pieces, when you practice scales. And the more familiar you are with your scales, the easier it becomes to play pieces for a long period of time, like during a live performance.
Trumpet Exercises To Improve Tone
Endurance and range are all important components of your trumpet playing, but making sure your tone is on-point is the biggest responsibility, not just for trumpet players, but for all musicians.
Achieving the proper tone is actually quite simple, but people tend to overthink it. You just need to know what the right tone sounds like, and then practice replicating it.
Ok, maybe that’s easier said than done. Learning how to manipulate your trumpet into producing beautiful notes can be a bit of a challenge. But the process of learning is straightforward and it begins with knowing what the proper tones are. Here are some great tone exercises that will help with that. And if you need more after doing them, you can find some additional exercises here.
Exercise 7: Listening to major trumpeters
Who knows better than the most famous trumpet players what the proper tones are? So it only makes sense to listen to them in order to learn how you want your tones to sound.
Of course you should also listen to musicians you like, but you definitely want to spend some time listening to musicians who are known for their phenomenal performances. What better way to hear some great examples of what an excellent tone is.
You can’t go wrong listening to any of the following amazing artists:
- Miles Davis
- Clifford Brown
- Alison Balsom
- Matthias Höfs
- Chet Baker
- Jouko Harjanne
- Maynard Ferguson
- Dizzy Gillespie
- Louis Armstrong
- Håkan Hardenberger
- Doc Severinsen
- Maurice André
Listening to those twelve artists will help you get a good grasp of how professionals play excellent tones with great range and for a long, sustained performance.
Once you have an idea what a great tone sounds like, the best way to replicate it is by working to find the “center” of the note that you’re trying to play. When going higher up the scale think “down” and when going lower think “up”. That’s how you remind yourself of that magical center so you’re not sharp or flat, but just right.
Exercise 8: Spend time playing the mouthpiece by itself
For tone, it’s all about how you move the air in the trumpet. Tension and fatigue are big obstacles to doing this correctly. By playing the mouthpiece, you’ll be able to hear the true tone without the help of your trumpet. This will better train your ears.
You’ll also learn how to control the way you move your air and you’ll teach yourself how to better use breath support. You’ll develop more control and efficiency, which is what you need in order to produce the best tone effortlessly. Better control means better sound.
Exercise 9: Use the most suitable equipment
Making sure your equipment is optimal for you is the biggest factor for achieving a great tone. The right equipment allows you to achieve maximum efficiency. Better efficiency means a better sound.
One major factor to consider is the trumpet bore size and bell size. Both impact the sound of the trumpet and the bore size also impacts how hard it is to play.
Changing your equipment doesn’t require any serious talent, so it’ll be the easiest improvement you make! So ditch that cheap mouthpiece and the toy-like pocket trumpet and get yourself some professional level equipment.