How To Play Trumpet Without Getting Tired

How To Increase Trumpet Endurance And Play For A Long Time

If you are wondering how to play trumpet for a long time you are on the right page. I had this issue for many years and it was so incredible frustrating. In fact it was THE biggest problem I had in regards to trumpet playing and it made me so irritated I seriously considered  selling my trumpets.

There are so many gigs I just barely made it through, and yes,  there were gigs I couldn’t play all the notes I was suppose to because of my lips getting tired. I had no idea how to play the trumpet without getting tired back then or…

…I should say: I did not know HOW to practice to build trumpet endurance, so that getting tired no longer would be an issue.

What does Trumpet endurance mean ?

When it comes to trumpet endurance we can think about it in two ways

  1. The ability to play long pieces of music/or exercises without the lips giving up on us and the sound get’s bad (or the sound completely dies and there is no sound at all coming out of the bell)
  2. The ability to play the trumpet over a long period of time, perhaps for several hours a day (but not necessarily long pieces)

Both are, of course, related and in this article I’m going to touch on both of them.

How to play trumpet without getting tired
5 Important steps

First let me make it clear that playing trumpet without getting tired is, somewhat, unrealistic. It is a very physical act and sooner or later we will experience fatigue to some degree…

…that said, it is possible to drastically improve trumpet endurance IF we go at it the right way.

Increase Trumpet Endurance Tip #1

  • Full relaxed breath

When you take in a full relaxed breath then 50% of the music phrase you are about to play will almost play it self. What I mean by this is that is that if you take a big, relaxed in-breath the rib cage and lungs will expand, almost like when you are lengthening a rubber band…

…so that all  you have to do is LET GO and 30-40% of your air will come out of it’s own. You don’t even have to blow for the first 30-40%.

If you do this with every phrase you take you will be able to play the trumpet for a longer time without getting tired.

Relaxed breathing will also help you to play with no extra tension in the body and embouchure muscles and that will, in turn, help you to recover quicker during the rests when you have the trumpet off your lips for a few seconds.

Extra tension in the body will often also “spread” and affect the embouchure muscles as well, making them more tight than they need to be and this will, of course, drastically reduce your ability to play the trumpet for a long time.

Increase Trumpet Endurance Tip #2

  • Do NOT practice on tired lips (except for once or twice a week at the end of the day)

Whenever we are practicing something, whatever it is, it means that we are programming our brain and nervous system. This means that we have to be carful with what we are practicing and what program we now are putting into the brain.

If you practice with tired lips and a bad sound, well guess what…

…you are now teaching your brain (programming it) how to play the trumpet with a bad sound and tired lips.

Reps reps reps…on fresh lips

So what we have to do instead of practicing too much, with tired lips, is to try and practice
as much as possible but on fresh lips. This is done by frequent resting during your practice sission. You should rest before you get tired. This is important so let me say it again…

…rest BEFORE you get tired!

For example

  • Play for 40 seconds
  • Rest for 60 seconds
  • Repeat this throughout your whole 60 minute session (60 minutes is just an example)
  • Practice session lasted 60 minutes, then rest after the session
  • Rest for 60 minutes before next session

By doing this you will get in a LOT of practice reps during the day and, more importantly, it is many reps played on FRESH lips. You have been programming your brain-lips-body to play correctly. This is very important and this is how you learn how to play the trumpet for a long time.

How to Build Stamina on Trumpet Tip # 3

  • Make your lips a bit tired!

What, wait…WHAT??? But you just said…!?

Hold on a minute because it is only true in one sense….

…what I mean by this is that about one to two times a week it is ok to take the lip muscles, or the embouchure, to  fatigue if you do it as the last thing you do on the practice day. You see when a muscle gets really fatigued it will come back stronger if we allow it to rest.

This is how bodybuilders grow bigger muscles. In the gym they are tearing the muscle fibers down. It is not in the gym they are growing.

They are growing after the gym when they are resting. During the rest the body makes the muscles respond to the the training by making them grow strong so that they will be able to handle the physical “abuse”  if the person in charge of the body decided that lifting such weights indeed is necessary.

How to transfer this to trumpet playing

So making the lips tired would be a good idea to do a couple of times a week as long as we are not “practicing” on tired lips AND if we can let the lips get the needed rest, after we have made them tired…

…so how do we do this?

a trumpet player with good staminaWe do it by putting a trumpet endurance exercise as the last thing we play for the day. This means there will be no more playing that day and thus we won’t be practicing on tired lips and no bad habits will occur.

During the night, after having done the trumpet endurance exercise, your embouchure muscles will rest and come back stronger but I recommend that you practice a little less on the day after the endurance exercise, in to make sure your lips really will recuperate….

…that is exactly what I do. Personally  I take a light playing/practicing day the day after a really heavy practice day or if I have done a trumpet endurance exercise the day before. For example, if you normally practice 60 minutes a day then a “light day” could be practicing for only 40 minutes.

What is a trumpet endurance exercise?

There are a lot of different trumpet endurance exercises out there but you can basically use any long tone exercise and play it over and over again until your lips gets tired…

…or just play a melody that has no rests in it, at a soft volume, over and over again until you are tired and then stop for the day and put your horn down (the soft volume is important to keep the aperture/ the opening in the lips focused and to prevent it from becoming too spread).

This is my personal favorite trumpet endurance exercise

trumpet endurance exercise

** The last note should be played as long as you possible can get the sound coming out of your horn. When you run out of air, quickly breath in through the nose, to not lose the tension in the corner embouchure muscles, and keep going with that last “G” until you are unable to produce hold it. Then do the cool down you can find on
this page, in the article about how to improve tone quality and you are done for the day. NO MORE PLAYING after that! Don’t repeat and play the exercise again. Once is enough!

Improve Trumpet Endurance Tip #4

  • Practice softly!

Do most of your trumpet practice sessions playing softly. At least 60% of your playing should be piano or mezzo piano. This will instantly help your to play longer as well as help you to build trumpet endurance over time…

  1. Soft playing teaches you how to play more efficiently. More efficient playing = better endurance
  2. By practicing softly you will be able to practice more exercises / music during the day before your lips gets tired. More practice / more reps = builds greater endurance over time

Don’t make the mistake of thinking “soft playing can’t build power, endurance and high notes” because it absolutely can. Maurice andrè, perhaps the greatest trumpet player who ever lived, did almost all of his practicing very softly. He use to say that when we master soft playing we master everything…

…it is easy to step on the gas when we want to play louder but to learn to play with control and have great endurance we must first master the art of soft playing.

Improve Trumpet Endurance Tip #5

  • Downsize your equipment!

Do not use a trumpet mouthpiece that is too big or too deep. I still have trouble understanding why so many trumpet players insist on playing on equipment that is just too big for them. It has to be some kind of macho thing I guess, you know…

…”bigger is better”, that sort of stuff. But it is NOT! Perhaps they think that a bigger mouthpiece will make the quality of the sound better. Perhaps that might be so in some cases but I think that the difference in sound if going one size smaller is not at all that noticeable, and besides…

…what  happens to the sound when we are running out of strength in the lips and our embouchure muscles gets tired? That’s right…

…whenever we are having issues with our embouchure or trumpet playing in general the sound is THE FIRST ASPECT of our playing to suffer. So no, bigger is not always better.

click image to check price at Amazon

Personally I recommend the Bach 3C megatone mouthpiece for better endurance on the trumpet, because the Bach 3C is a bit more shallow than other standard mouthpiece cups, and at the same time it is not so shallow that it would affect the sound in a bad way. With a more shallow cup, articulating is easier and that, in turn, improves the endurance significantly.

Whenever I have to play music that requires great endurance of me I use either a Bach 3C mouthpiece or something equivalent, in size. My last dance gig I had to play on was played on a Bach 3C mouthpiece and I had to play for hours…

…not high notes but just ordinary melodies with a brass septet for people to dance to. Now of course, if the rim size is just too small for you then obviously you should not play on the 3C but I have found that it to be a perfect “middle ground” for most of my students I have had.

For more details on how the mouthpiece affects endurance, then make sure to also read my article that I wrote called  >Top Two Best Trumpet Mouthpieces For Endurance<<

What to do if you have dug yourself into a hole and the damage is already done?

Preparing for the gig…

So you are having a gig tonight and your lips are already tired and you don’t know what to do…

…IS there anything that can help at this point?

Well, not much but I have a few tips that might help a little bit.

Try to stay as calm as possible and do a lot of lip “flapping” to keep the blood circulating in your lips. When I found myself in a situation like this i also pop an aspirin. The anti inflammatory effect of the aspirin helps keep the lips from swelling and that in turn might give you about 20-30% better endurance…

…if you are lucky.

While on the gig…

getting tired chops while on the gig

If you play the solo part there is not much you can do to “cheat” but try to find places in the melody that you can quickly take down an octave without it sounding weird. If the octave jump is not an option then perhaps play the melody, or solo part, a bit differently and then if someone points it out to you after the gig you could just reply…

…”this was my interpretation of the piece” 😉

If you play in a band you have much more rome to do this and you can lean on other players and take breaks here and there without anyone knowing.

Remember the soft playing. Here too it comes handy as you can use soft playing on the gig as well as a first aid or at this point perhaps we should call it “as a last resort” for your tired chops.

Final words on building and increasing trumpet endurance

Getting tired when playing the trumpet is normal, albeit frustrating. very frustrating. The endurance part of trumpet playing is perhaps the most difficult part of playing the trumpet. We should look at this as a challenge and, in a way, it makes playing such a difficult instrument as the trumpet, even more alluring.

If you are struggling with trumpet endurance you should know that you are definitely not alone. I still struggle with it today, even after having played the trumpet for 37 years now. Not all the time but I have periods when my chops feels bad no matter what good things I do for them…

…and so does many many many other trumpet players.

Building your endurance takes a lot of time and we are not measuring results in weeks or days here. We are talking months and years. So pursue patience and know that this will take a long time but it is very doable. After all…

…what fund would trumpet playing be if it were easy?…

…then everyone would do it 😉

Thank you for reading the blog post about trumpet and endurance.

Now let’s go practice the trumpet.

Edit: Bonus Tip
How To Increase Endurance On The Trumpet #6

  • Do trumpet isometric exercises

Ok, I’m making an update to this article (it was originally 5 tips), but I have since than made another article called, trumpet isometric exercises.

In that article I share an exact strategy how to use a couple of embouchure muscle building exercises that you do away from your trumpet. Those kind of exercises can be very helpful IF we do them correctly. They also follow the principle, “don’t do them until exhausted”….

…anyway, you can read more about them here:

—> The pencil trick and other trumpet isometric exercises.

P.S. Be sure to also read my article: The TWO best mouthpieces for endurance.

-Robert Slotte-