An article by Estela Aragon, CEO/Founder at TrumpetHeadquarters.com
Ahhhh the trumpet. So many of all ages fall in love with the instrument due to its age- less sound and versatility. The trumpet plays nice with classical, jazz, pop, mariachi, latin jazz, bluegrass, dixieland and many eastern music forms. It’s no wonder that the world is never short of people dreaming of being able to play “What a Wonderful World.”
If you are an adult thinking of picking up the trumpet or if your child wants to learn it stick with me for a bit. We will cover considerations for children and other aspects of diving into this instrument that always take people by surprise. I’ve taught thousands of lessons to people all over the world, and this is what you must know before you or your child become trumpet players.
Age and Size Considerations
For a long time very young children have played the trumpet, and many famous trumpet players started playing around between 6 and 9 years old. Children as young as 4 can play the horn, but they will experience some difficulties during the first few years since their “baby” teeth will still be there, so it is better to start playing trumpet when teeth have become permanent between the ages of 10 and 12. However, many children start younger and that is okay as long as a private teacher supervises their development.
While we’re on the subject of teeth, let’s talk about braces. If you or your child foresees getting braces within 8 months or so of starting trumpet, I recommend to wait until the braces are off. Unfortunately, the mouthpiece sits exactly where the braces are and while it is possible to navigate this change (though not without major hurdles) with students who have been playing for at least 1 to 2 years, it is monumentally difficult to learn how to play the trumpet with braces, especially when they’re freshly installed.
And what about the weight of a brass instrument?
The trumpet, while not particularly heavy, can be quite a monster to hold for children younger than 8 and smaller older children. Due to the weight, weak forearms and wrists, the front of the trumpet (the bell) tends to dip down, which causes prob- lems at the embouchure. Some kids are tall and have longer arms so they could fare well, but most kids under 8 will do better with a cornet instead of a trumpet.
Let’s look at these two instruments.
Cornet vs. Bb trumpet
The cornet is played exactly like the trumpet, it’s also held the same way and sounds almost the same. The cornet is warmer than the trumpet’s brilliant tone. The biggest benefit of the cornet for children is that it is much smaller and the bell won’t dip. It’s a perfect size for young kids.
Some adults prefer the cornet too because of its compact size and tone quality. Culturally, the cornet is more widely played in some countries than others too, such as in the UK, where the cornet is a staple of the British brass band and a common solo instrument.
The decision between a cornet and a Bb trumpet should be in the size benefits and tone preference.
Maintenance and Must-Knows
Many new players and parents are surprised to see so many moving parts on a trumpet. The horn has 3 valves that need oiling and 4 slides that need greasing. Of the 4 slides, 1 is stationary and 3 need to move smoothly and quickly.
How often you oil valves depends on how much you play the instrument and in which conditions, but generally you will want to oil the valves once a week. The slides should be greased as often as needed to maintain smooth movement.
I’d like to stress how important this maintenance is. The trumpet cannot be played properly when the valves are even a tiny bit sticky or slow. The slide must also move freely because we move these slides while we play simultaneously. Yes, we move more than just the valves! So parents, be aware that you will need to learn how to oil and grease the instrument and it is always a good idea to show your child how it’s done.
To learn more about trumpet maintenance and cleaning the instrument visit my guide.
This is by far the biggest obstacle in trumpet playing and one that new students find surprising. The trumpet requires a rather significant time commitment to truly ad- vance. This is due to the nature of the instrument and its requirement on our facial muscles.
The trumpet is a brass instrument and it requires a certain strength of facial muscles. That is, you have to exercise (through practicing) your facial muscles in order to gain enough strength and flexibility to be successful. The most apparent proof of this is how children usually puff their cheeks like little balloons when they first pick up the horn. This is because their cheek muscles and the corners of their lips are weak from their age and lack of practice. After about 2 to 4 weeks of practicing most children will gain enough strength to keep the cheeks from puffing.
The same process of gaining strength is true for other parts of the embouchure including the tongue muscle.
Okay, so now we know how demanding a brass instrument is for the face, now we add the size of the facial muscles. Compared to other larger muscles groups, facial muscles are very, very small, which makes them lose their strength very, very fast.
So what does this mean for trumpet playing?
It means that when beginners don’t play for 3 or 4 days in a row they lose a lot of that muscle strength. This is even true for professional trumpet players who can go a few days or a week without playing and be alright, but it will still take 2 or 3 days to get back on track. I’ve been playing for 21 years and if I take 2 weeks off I need 2 weeks to get back to it.
For this reason parents should be prepared to set a practice schedule to ensure that the child gains confidence in their playing and experiences success. At the beginning, practicing 15 to 30 minutes a day is sufficient until they gain enough strength to increase their load.
Listening and Understanding a New Language
Let’s say you’re going to learn French. Some things that you have to do is learn how to read and write the new language. You also have to listen to dialogues and mimic sounds. Eventually you gain enough understanding of the language to speak without needing help.
Music, with any instrument, is the same.
Most beginners will focus on learning the notes, the sheet music and the fingerings. What is often forgotten is to listen. This is equivalent of listening to dialogues to learn how to pronounce words in a foreign language. New students must listen to dedicated trumpet music daily to nurture the mind’s ear, to nurture the concept of tone.
If you don’t know where to start simply check out my curated list of essential trumpet players.
While the trumpet is a demanding instrument, the rewards are truly remarkable. Dive in with a simple practice schedule and enjoy a lifetime of music.
For more trumpet tips and recommendations follow my Instagram @trumpetheadquarters.
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