In this guide, we are going to look at playing pedal tones on the trumpet or fundamental pitches on the harmonic series…
…some of which are true fundamental pitches…
…and some of which do not exactly exist as starting pitches of the harmonic series that we can play on the trumpet.
The way that playing pedal tones is taught using buzzing into the mouthpiece is completely wrong. You end up with pedal tones that sound like a false sound — like complete noise, that you cannot use in music.
What is a pedal tone?
A pedal note on the trumpet is, quite simple, a low note.
Typically, the lowest note you’ll find written in any of your music for bflat trumpet is an Fsharp below the treble clef staff.
Any tone below this is called a pedal tone.
A pedal F, for instance.
Working on these pedal tones everyday has many benefits for developing our fundamentals. We’ll look at some of those benefits later.
As you know there are three valves on the trumpet, resulting in seven different harmonic series. Each of these have a fundamental starting pitch which can be played by playing the pedal tone with the same fingering as the rest of the series.
Not using a false fingering — yes, there are also false fingerings for pedal tones.
If you are playing a middle C on the trumpet, for instance, it is important to realise that is the second note that exists on the C harmonic series on the trumpet.
A lot of trumpet players do not play the octave below, and if they do, they use a false fingering lip it down.
It’s a completely different sound when you are playing it as a real note versus playing it as a false pedal tone.
The fundamental benefits of playing pedal tones on the trumpet
Playing true fundamental pitches of the harmonic series can be very benefitial to the trumpet player and also other types of brass playing.
The reason for this is quite simple, actually — if you cannot play the fundamental pitch then the rest of the series is going to be a little bit out of alignment.
You have to be able to play the very, very, base note of every series because all other notes grow out of it.
Benefit #1 — Playing pedal tones strengthens your embouchure
First and foremost, playing pedal tones strengthens our embouchure and all the muscles around our lips.
Benefit #2 — Playing pedal tones expands your range, endurance
A strong embouchure helps us play with better range and endurance.
But there’s a caveat here, we are exanpading your range downwards, not upwards.
There’s a theory that playing pedal notes helps expand your upper register. I don’t buy that. I’ve never found that relationship.
Playing the lower register requires a completely different approach than playing the upper register.
Benefit #3 — Playing pedal tones improves your tone
Producing pedal tones notes correctly is going to help you to make a better sound in the horn.
And besides, a strong embouchure improves our tone.
How to play your pedal tones on the trumpet
The way that playing pedal tones is taught using buzzing into the mouthpiece is completely wrong. You end up with pedal tones that sound like a false sound. It complete noise.
It’s probably a little easier to play the actual musical notes.
As Arturo Sandoval says “the bottom line of playing those notes like trying to plant a mango tree in the middle of the ocean. You get nowhere.”
Play pedal tones correctly, with the real musical sound, not with the buzzing.
So what I strongly believe is that producing notes correctly is the best way play pedal notes (or any note) on the trumpet, with a better quality sound.
Let’s look at a few steps to help you play your first pedal tone on the trumpet.
#1 — The throat should be open (it shouldn’t participate in anything)
Your throat shouldn’t be participating in anything at all.
The air way should be completely free and clear. Don’t let your throat get in the way.
#2 — The tongue should be as low as possible
The whole pedal notes embouchure happens inside your mouth with the position of your tongue (which is crucial with any register).
If you’ve got your tongue in the wrong position for any register, that’s a huge problem. That’s where you see people getting red trying to blow a note.
For low notes, the tongue should be as low as possible behind the teeth. The lower your tongue, the lower the note.
If you try to play those low notes with the tongue somwhere in the middle or up against the roof of your mouth, that’s going to be problematic. I don’t believe you’re going to be able to do it correctly that way.
This is purely a physics principle that making a space smaller, even with the same amount of air, increases the pitch.
The bigger the space inside the mouth, the more the resonance created to make those low notes sound good.
#3 — Blow with a low speed of air
This is yet another physics principle — the higher speed of the air, the higher pitch, and the lower speed of air, the lower pitch.
You have to be in command of the amount of pressure.
We always want to play our pedal tones with the same fingering that’s an octave higher. So don’t cheat and use a different fingering.
Pedal tones trumpet exercises
The most important thing when playing pedal tones is to treat them more like actual notes, and less like exercises.
Once you can be able to do that, you we can begin working on some exercises in that pedal register.
Now, a couple of resources I encourage you to check out are James Stamp’s Warm Ups and Studies — these are a series of exercises you can use with just your lips, mouthpiece but they also work into the pedal register using the full trumpet.
Also you can take a look at Original Loius Maggio System for Brass, especially David Hickman’s 15 Advanced Embouchure Studies.
There’s no shortage of exercises on the pedal register.
You just need to use them.
Lastly, never practice, always perform. Any exercise you do should be approached as a performance.