The Sound of the Trumpet

A trumpet is identified by the sound it produces. There’s nothing else in the world, natural or man-made, that sounds like a trumpet. It’s also one of the easiest instruments for the everyday public to identify. Due to this and the fact that the trumpet plays a prominent and/or leading role in most ensembles it is imperative that quality of sound be of the highest priority for any trumpeter.

A select few of us are lucky enough to produce a beautiful, resonant sound without even trying. These people can put most of their focus toward something else while the rest of us spend a good deal of time working out different aspects of a good trumpet sound. For most situations, a good trumpet sound will possess qualities such as brilliance, clarity, depth, core, and projection. While each trumpet player works on various exercises (pedal tones, long times, breathing methods, soft and loud playing, etc.) to enhance the qualities they are looking to produce, having a vivid mental sound concept may be the most important. It is for me.

Take the time to immerse yourself in the sound of your favorite players. Listening to great trumpet sounds will cultivate a sound concept of your own, which will eventually find its way out of your bell. Listening will do as much for your sound as playing exercises, provided that your ear is critical enough when examining your own sound. The brain and ear working together really go a long way to promoting growth as a player. A “trumpet friendly” practice room and a recording device will help your ear do its job more effectively. I could discuss trumpet sound behind the bell versus out in front and how that can trick the ear, but that’s a topic for another day.

What should I practice?

Many of my students have asked me this question:  “What should I practice?”

While my response does vary a bit given each particular student’s needs, I do have a basic methodology of practice material. I try to teach my students that mastery of the instrument comes before focusing on a particular type of playing. I find the “classical” approach to practice is the quickest route to gaining an overall facility of the trumpet.

To answer the above question, I’ll give a generic example of the practice routine I use for my students. I also follow the same basic form for my own practice.

  1. Fundamentals (50 to 70% of your total practice time and in no particular order)
    1. Mouthpiece buzzing
    2. Long Tones
    3. Articulation
    4. Scales (major, minor, diminished, blues, whole-tone)
    5. Lip Slurs
    6. Finger/air/embouchure coordination
    7. Tuning/Arpeggios
    8. Dynamics

      Recommended methods: Arban, Clarke, Irons, Schlossberg, Goldman, Rubank, Boyde Hood mouthpiece routine, Cichowicz long tones, Tune Up, Colin

  2. Flow studies and lyrical etudes (20 to 40% of your total practice time) Recommended methods: Concone, Bordogni, Rochut, Collins, Cichowicz, Arban, Charlier.
  3. Other etudes, solos, orchestral excerpts and studies, jazz studies, “fun stuff” (10 to 20% of your total practice time)

    Recommended methods: Charlier, Bitsch, Veryne Reynolds, Brandt, Smith, Bousquet, Aebersold, Thomas, Arban, Clarke, Norris, Hickman, Sachse. “Fun stuff” is a catch-all category that can be any material or piece that a student wishes to play. I encourage students to play “fun” music at least a couple times a week. (The occaisional junk food instead of the constant meat and potatoes!) This can remind a student why we are doing all of the tedious and sometimes monotonous material.

  4. Duets
    Recommended duet books: Arban, Amsden, Bower, Gekker, Rubank, etc. I highly encourage playing duets whenever possible. Duets address the skills of intonation, style, balance/blend, and sight-reading.
  5. Rest
    I advocate resting as much as you practice. Rest can be physical, mental, or both. Muscle fatigue is an obvious sign for taking a break. Practicing on tired chops is generally useless, as bad habits can be easily formed. A lack of concentration is often overlooked as being important. It is equally pointless to practice without mental focus; 15 minutes of focused practice is better than an hour of inattentive practice.

I’ll close with an excellent quote that sums it all up:

“Intellect in the practice room or studio gives you the tools to use your heart on stage.”
-Manny Laureano