How To Improve Tone Quality On Trumpet

an old bach stradivarius trumpet

How To Improve Tone Quality On Trumpet:
5 Easy Tips

If you would like to know how to improve tone quality on trumpet, you are on the right page. There is a video down below with easy to understand instructions but be sure to read the text as well as the article and video complement each other.

Tip #1
Know Where You Are Going

You can take the biggest and most luxurious ship there is and put it out in the middle of the ocean. Now, it does not matter how technically advanced and how good the steering and maneuvering mechanism of that ship is, if the captain does not know the end goal, a destination where he is going, the ship will just end up drifting at sea. And guess what…

…the same is true when you are looking for answers to the question “how to play trumpet with a good tone?” What I really mean with this is that you have to know what you want to sound like.

Listen to a couple of trumpet players you like

Every day BEFORE you start your practice session listen to a trumpet player you like and really focus on that sound. Let your ears and brain really take it all in and try to “store” it in your minds ear. Every time you lift your trumpet to play something then listen to that sound you have stored in your brain.

This is very powerful so do not underestimate this tip as there’s a good reason why I made it tip number one. Of course you should listen to trumpet players that YOU like, and have a sound that really moves you, but just to get you going here are a few examples of trumpet players who has an incredible sound…

  • Maurice André
  • Håkan Hardenberger
  • Doc Severinsen
  • Jouko Harjanne
  • Maynard Ferguson
  • Alison Balsom
  • Matthias Höfs

Tip #2
Keep Everything Open

In order to play the trumpet with a good tone you have to be sure to let the whole resonance mechanism resonate freely, without anything repressing it. This means that you must keep everything open and as relaxed as possible (I deliberately avoid only saying”relaxed” because there is no such thing as 100% relaxation when performing a physical act, as playing the trumpet really is, and that’s why I say “as relaxed as possible”).

This is kind of hard to explain in text alone so in order for you to really grasp the meaning of it, take a look at the video below for more instructions…

Watch this video!

If interested, click here to subscribe to the YouTube channel as well

The takeaways from this tip
  • Think “open and big” all the way down from your stomach-going up to the chest- neck and mouth.
  • But be careful to not let that thought make your tongue go in a position that is too low
    (the tongue needs to be in the right position in order for the best trumpet sound and every note has it’s own unique position , so we don’t want to mess with that)
  • To help with all this, think “down” when you go up and “up” when you go down

Tip #3
Play Trumpet Tone Quality Exercises

How to get a clean sound on the trumpet?

Well when you have got tip number one and two down you should make sure to also incorporate a few “trumpet tone quality exercises” into you daily practice routine. The “trumpet tone quality exercise” should be something that works on maximizing the efficiency of your trumpet playing mechanism…

…in other words something that teaches you how to use the leas amount of energy necessary to get the job done.

This is done by

  • FEELING!!!
  • Finding the center of the notes
  • Fine tuning the start of the notes to make them “speak” easier

You can do this by practicing pretty much anything the right way in a mindful manner, as the key is to be really focused on what you are doing and how and why you are doing it. However that is probably only possible for very advanced trumpet players so in the beginning it is much more easy to have specific “trumpet tone quality exercises”.

This exercise works on finding the center of the tone, fine tunes the attack of the notes and is designed to make you play more efficiently and doing it every day will almost guarantee an improved quality of the sound.

“Incorporate a trumpet tone quality exercise into your daily trumpet routine”
Print this exercise and put it on your music stand. Just click on it to open the image alone.
How to play the exercise
  • When you get to the end, repeat from the beginning and then end the trumpet tone quality exercise where it says “Fine”
  • Be sure to use your ears and play with a clean sound
  • Soft but controlled
  • Take the mouthpiece OFF the lips during every quarter rest
  • Don’t breathe or take the mouthpiece of your lips before the quarter rest at the fourth bar
  • Do not loosen up the lips/embouchure too much when descending to the low notes
  • The bending notes should be just that, you change the note without using any vales, that is play the F-sharp open (no vales) and also play the A-flat open (no valves)

As you descend to the low G, don’t loosen up your embouchure too much. If you do you will lose a bit of your control and, as we already stated, control is essential for a good sound. This is why I put the jump to D4 in the second bar (d2 in scandinavia) because if your embouchure / lip setting is too loose on the low G’s you will not be able to jump up to the D without it feeling uncomfortable. On the other hand, if keeping the corners of your lips firm, the jump will be pretty easy…

…now, practice it like that but don’t forget to listen to the sound as well. This is a sound exercise, remember =)

You will most certainly notice that bending DOWN from G to F# is much easier than bending UP from G to Ab. This is normal and it’s the way it should be. You don’t have to get the Ab, just try to bend the pitch up and if you don’t get it all the way, that’s perfectly OK.  The reason for doing lip bends here is because it will teach our “ear-brain-lip connection” where the exact center of the tone is…

…learning our subconscious mind this will make us automatically play in the center whenever we play a note and that will ensure a clean sound on the trumpet. Even advanced players will benefit from bending notes so no matter what level you are on, do not skip them!

The crescendo and diminuendo on the long notes are there because it teaches us to calibrate the amount of air we need to have for a good sound. Too much air for a given dynamic will result in poor sound quality, just as too little air will give a tone lacking in “core” and “body”.

The pianissimo soft low notes are very important. They are there because, by doing a lot of them, it will teach us how to use as little amount of energy as possible to get the trumpet to respond. Getting the notes to speak with no more energy than needed is optimal playing at its finest and this is where we use the word “efficiency”.

You can develop efficiency by playing anything, if you are really focused and tuned in to doing so but NOTHING builds optimal efficiency like practicing a lot of very soft playing.

Even though you play the notes very softy in the exercise, be sure to play them with a good sound. The tone still have to project and carry. It should not be like a whisper but the tone sound still be clear and clean. Also concentrate and really make an effort to get the start of each note very clean. We are specifically training the “attacks” in the bars 3, 5 and 6

By the way

The trumpet tone quality exercise on this page is also very useful for warming down after a hard trumpet gig or after a day of much practicing. I use this very exercise as a warm down myself. It will really “reset” your lips…

…remember that where we leave our chops after a plying day is most likely where we will find them the next day. A few trumpet gurus like to say stuff like: “When I’m tired I just put my horn down” or “My cool down is a cold beer” and so on. Well, we are all different but I think doing a warm down /cool down after a hard days work could benefit everyone…

…and those comments are probably just the “macho mentality” speaking.

Tip #4
Play Something On The Mouthpice Alone

Make a habit out of playing a couple of minutes on the mouthpiece everyday. This is a bit controversial amongst trumpet teachers out there but I strongly believe it to be helpful when it comes to improving sound quality on trumpet.

a trumpet mouthpiece to improve trumpet soundDon’t do it too much though. Just 5 minutes a day will be helpful. I recommend playing through a easy song on just the mouthpiece before you play that same song on the trumpet. The reason we want to incorporate mouthpiece practicing on a daily basis is

  • It will train your ears (because you have no help from the trumpet)
  • It will train you to move the air  and use your breath support
  • If you get a full sound on the mouthpiece the sound will be amazing on trumpet
  • It will train you to have better control over all (better control = better sound)

Tip #5
Are You Using The Right Equipment For YOU?

Perhaps the least important of these five tips is the equipment we use and that’s why I made this tip last on the list. That said it is still important and it really does matter. For example, if you are using a trumpet that you do not get along with, then you are bound to run into issues with you playing…

…and when running into issues, the quality of the sound is often the first to suffer.

But when it comes to playing with a good tone on the trumpet, even more important than having the right trumpet is that you use a mouthpiece that is right for you. So often teachers at music schools have their student play a mouthpiece that is just too big.

Bigger is not always better

There is this general perception in the brass world that bigger is better, for sound, and this is just not true. In fact it is one of the biggest trumpet playing myths that seem to be hard to get rid of. Using a mouthpiece that is too big will make your endurance suffer. Not only that but your articulation will be much worse and that significantly lessens your ability to play the trumpet efficiently…

…and as you remember: efficiency equals better quality of the sound.

So what mouthpiece is the best then?

The short answer is: the one that fits YOU…

…that said, many teachers have their students play on a Bach one and a quarter c. This is a very big mouthpiece and for most players, it’s just too big. That is not to say that it’s a bad mouthpiece, and chances are that it will be suitable for you, however, for most people it is not the optimal mouthpiece.

The Bach 7c that comes as a standard trumpet mouthpiece, along with almost every trumpet when we buy them, is a better choice however I would not recommend this mouthpiece to start with either.

I would like to recommend the Bach 3c

If you are a trumpet player that is still a bit unsure of what the right size is for you I would recommend the Bach 3c mouthpiece as your “baseline” starter mouthpiece. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean that the 3c  is a beginner mouthpiece, in fact I do most of my playing on a 3c myself, what I mean is that it is a very good all around / baseline mouthpiece.

The reason for this is that the 3c rim size is in a comfortable “middle ground”, and also, the depth of the mouthpiece cup on the 3c is a bit more shallow than the other Bach’s C cups. This makes your endurance better and it signficantly improves your articualtion…

…and improved articulation, in turn, improves your trumpet playing efficiency and by now you probably know what’s coming next…

…better efficiency = better sound. That’s right! =)

And by “baseline” mouthpiece I mean that this is an excellent place to start with before you  know what size is really the optimal size for you…

…and chances are, when you start exploring other sizes, you will find that the 3c is the right size for you and, if so, you should of course stick to that mouthpiece.

Conclusion when it comes to mouthpieces
and trumpet sound quality

Your ambition should be to find a piece that is optimal for YOU and if you start exploring new mouthpieces then my recommendation is to try the Bach 3c first (you can click here to check the price on Amazon).
If you have an extra 45 bucks to spend I would say: go for the “Bach 3c megatone“, as the extra mass of the mouthpiece indeed makes the sound a bit richer with a more “core” to the tone.

The megatone also has just a little bit bigger throat, than the ordinary 3c, and this will often improve the quality of the sound as well, in my opinion. However  the megatone is a bit more pricey, click here to check the price on Amazon, so if you don’t have the extra bucks to spend, then just go for the standard Bach 3c…

…it will be just fine and the difference is not THAT big anyways even though the megatone can potentially give a slightly richer tone.

Thanks for reading the article “how to play trumpet with better tone”

-Robert Slotte-