The most important thing on every instrument, to be enjoyable to listen, is to is to have a good tone. Here’s how to get a clear sound (or tone) on the trumpet.
These are the tips I use to keep my tone on check.
Of course, tone doesn’t just happen. It takes many days, months, years of practice. What you’re about to read is an approach to improving tone.
There are a couple of ingredients you need to play with good tone, such as a good embouchure, that I have covered elsewhere on this blog. I will not be rehashing those here. I try to point you to those guide instead.
So let’s get started.
How to get a clear sound on the trumpet (5 actionable tips)
The #1 thing you need to is a good embouchure to start with. Have a look at how to form a trumpet embouchure in 4 easy steps to get that setup properly on the jump, and, trumpet embouchure problems, misconceptions and myths to sidestep the bad habits and beliefs that may set you down the wrong path.
Here are the tips:
Tip #1 — Start with a clear mental image of your sound
Having a clear mental image of your sound is one of the best steps you can take to improve your sound.
As Vincent Cichowicz said about musical thought:
Everyone is concerned about respiration, embouchure, and tounging as separate entities, but it is the musical imagery that pulls these together. All the component parts of playing are merged by the aesthetic message guiding them.
— Vincent Cichowicz
The idea here is that as brass players, we need to focus on sound first. We need to hear what we expect before we can hear it.
A lot of your playing, the way you sound, comes from a lot of listening.
Tip #2 — Listen, listen, and listen to other trumpet players
Listen as many trumpet players as you can. Listen to everyone you come across that plays trumpet.
You should listen to a large number of trumpet players for two reasons:
- It helps you build a repository of trumpet sounds — this is important so you can have something to reference in your playing. It opens you up to a large repertoire of sounds thats are possible on the horn. This speaks directly your musical expression, such as when you want to convey a certain charactestic or feel in your own music.
- You get a chance to discover your own personal taste — listening to everyone gives you a chance to discover players that you like.
What I did was listen to a lot of players, then pick a few — the ones I really liked, and I imagined myself laying with that sound. For this to work, you have to listen to them a lot.
A lot of listening develops your ear for a good sound. That’s how you grow to tell apart what is a good sound, and what isn’t.
A good sound varies a lot.
Many trumpet players have great tone, but the don’t all sound alike, they all have their unique personalities on the horn, but there is a common thread that sets apart great tones, and not so great tones.
Tip #3 — Absorb and imitate your favorite sounds, players
One of the most important thing in developing a good tone is listening to a lot of trumpet players, picking out a few that are your favorites and the imitating them to get started.
There are two ways you can imitate your favorite trumpet sounds:
- You can find a recording a technique you are working on and listen to it as much as possible. The idea is to be able to imitate it with, and without, the recording — this helps you internalize it.
- If you can’t find a recording, the second method is to use your imagination. This works best when you record yourself and then listen back and analyze. You can then compare your recording to your favorite player and yourself later.
Ultimately, the better we can hear the sound in our mind, the better we can play it on the trumpet.
Learning the trumpet is a game of imitation. A lot of what you can do with your instrument has already been done.
Tip #4 — Master breath support and control
On the technical side of playing the trumpet, make sure that you start with a good grasps of the fundamentals of breath control.
You want to make sure that you are not struggling with small, shallow breaths, for instance. It has to be a nice full deep breath with proper support from your core.
Another you might recognise is that, for instance, is that on the higher notes there’s hardly any air moving. There’s hardly any air going through the instrument. There is a little really fast air.
One of the problems people have is taking a huge breath and then they try to blow all this air through.
This is where the trumpet confuses because the sound of it suggests there is a lot of air moving through the instrument. But in actual fact, especially as you get into the upper register, there’s not much air moving through at all.
Tip #5 — Record yourself playing (from day #1)
This tip expands on an idea I touched on earlier.
A lot of beginners do not realize the value of listening to how they sound while they practice. That’s really unfortunate because how they sound is the most important factor of their trumpet playing.
You can play anything in the world — the simplest nursery rhyme even, but if you sound good, if it’s pleasant to listen to, if it’s pleasing to the listener’s ear, then you will retain your audience.
If your sound is the most important thing in your playing, it makes sense that the most attention of your playing should be focusing on how you sound, at least, until you’ve established, and are comfortable with how you sound.
So, when you practice, you need to make sure that you are not just trying to hit the notes. You shouldn’t be so focused on hitting the notes that you’re forgetting to listen to how you sound.
Recording yourself doesn’t even have to be on video, it could just be an audio clip.
Being your own biggest critic goes a long way in seeing faster progress. Critisize yourself on your sound by listening to, and comparing, your recordings.
Even better, get video and listen to yourself while you watch yourself play. This is a really effective way of catching things that you are not happy with, that you may want to change.
You won’t like the way to sound early on, but that’s how you know what to work on.