Can’t Play Low Notes On Trumpet?
Even thought it’s more common with questions about how to play screaming high notes and master the upper register, a lot of people can’t play low notes on the trumpet and I do also frequently get questions about how to fix low note problems on trumpet…
…or to put it more accurately, people want to know how to improve trumpet low register playing.
In order to improve our low register playing, we have to take a look at what causes low note problems in the first place…
..so grab a cup of coffee, turn off your smartphone, and get ready to discover some interesting things.
Problems Playing Low Notes On Trumpet Does This Sound Familiar?
Do any of these sound familiar to you…
- Notes from second line G and downward don’t “speak” right away. There is a delay in the start of the note, with only air coming out at first.
- The low C and all the notes downward are difficult and often they do not come out at all.
- You have problems playing low notes loudly. Your low note sound is not big and you just can’t get that robust low note sound.
…you just can’t play low notes on the trumpet ?
Well, you are not alone, and the problem can be easy to fix, so late’s take a look at some of the most common causes of problems with the bottom register.
The Causes Of Trumpet Low Register Problems
When a trumpeter can’t play low notes, the most common reason is tension in the wrong places and / or too little tension in the right places. Listen to that again…
…tension in the wrong places or too little tension in the right places!
Here are the most common causes…
- The center of your lips are too tight
- The center of your lips are too tight while your embouchure corners are not firm enough
- You have tension in your upper body (neck, chest, tongue)
- Wrong mouthpiece placement
- Jaw too closed and wrong tongue arch
How To Fix Low Note Problems On Trumpet
Ok, so let’s zoom in and take a look at these one by one and see what we can do about it. I would recommend you reading it thoroughly, really think about it, and then of course implement the tips…
1) The center of your lips is too tight
The most common cause of low note problems on trumpet is that the center of your lips are too tight. This can either be caused by…
- Using the embouchure muscles inappropriately
- Practicing too much
If you have a habit of squeezing or pinching the part of your lips that is inside the rim of the mouthpiece, whenever you ascend, you might be setting yourself up for low note problems…
…actually, if pinching the center, you might be setting yourself up for many different problems, not only low note problems. Range problems and a thin sound above the staff are also two very common symptoms of a pinched center.
For a nice sound the center needs to be soft and flexible
You see, in order to create a nice, resonant sound the center of the embouchure can not be tight, as it has to be able to vibrate freely in all registers.
So now, some of you may be asking, “but how do I get higher notes if I’m not supposed to squeeze the center?”
Good question, it is true that the aperture (the opening in your lips) needs to be smaller for high notes, but smaller does NOT have to mean tighter. Think about it, it is possible to use the lip muscles in a way that makes the aperture smaller without making it stiff, tense and rigid.
As you probably noticed there is absolutely no need to tense the center of your lips to get a smaller opening, and by using the corner muscles you make the opening in your aperture smaller. Sure, to some degree, we are also using some of the center muscles, but the corner muscles should be the main focus.
What to do about it
Step 1 – Play scales…mindfully!
You have to learn how to make the opening in your lips smaller without making the center rigid.
Play a lot of scales and make sure that your sound is RESONANT throughout the whole register.
For example, say you play the G-major scale, and you notice that the top three notes (E, F# and G) are thinner than the other notes. Well, if so you are pinching. Back of and practice a lower scale until you can play all the notes with a full, resonant sound. When you can, you move up one step and play a higher scale…
…let the sound be your guide, listen carefully and be mindful. Incorporate the mindful scale practice into your daily trumpet practice routine.
“Also, make sure to play the low note exercises below, in order to really relax the center of your chops. Relaxed center = robust low notes”
Playing loudly can also make you stiff
Even if you do not over-tighten the center, you might involuntarily be playing with stiff lips, if you do a lot of loud practicing…
…or, if you have a habit of practicing too much!
You see, every time we push a muscle to it’s limit, the muscle fibers get abused and as they repair and recover, they tend to come back being more stiff then before they got the beating. This is especially true it you put the horn down right after a hard session, without doing a warm-down first…
…or cool down, whichever you prefer. As a cool down, just play soft notes in the low register for a few minutes and make sure the sound is focused.
What to do about it
Step 2 – Do “Relaxers”
Ok, so now that you have started implementing the mindful scale practicing into your daily routine, it is also very beneficial to do a few exercises specifically designed to loosen up the center of your chops.
You can do these exercises as a warm up or in the middle of your practice session, it really does not matter when you do it, as long as you do it once every day…
Lip Flapping (5 minutes)
Do some lip flapping for five minutes. If you are not sure what that is then imagine a horse blowing air out through the lips and the lips vibrate, making that familiar “horse sound”…
…or, remembers when you were a little boy and played with your small toy cars, making the sound of the engine with your lips, by blowing air through them…
…in other words, you do not buzz them, they are very loose, vibrating freely (you do not tense them at all).
Well, that is lip flapping, you do it away from the horn and you should do that for at least five minutes every single day. It really helps to loosen up the center of your chops.
After you have done the lip flapping, you move on to the following trumpet low note exercise…
Trumpet low note exercise (5 minutes)
Click here for a printable pdf version of the exercise
Repeat the exercise a few times until you get a nice, relaxed feeling in the chops!
Some people even notice a tingly sensation in the very center of their lips, after doing these two exercise, and that’s good because it’s a sign of good blood flow…
…which in turn means that the lips are now much loser than before you started.
How to play this trumpet low note exercise
Play it at a mezzo piano dynamic (not too loud, more on the softer side) and make sure to do the crescendo and diminuendo on the long tone as well…
…why? Well, because in order to be able to play a smooth crescendo and diminuendo the center of your lips have to be flexible and not too stiff…
…so the low notes loosen them up, while the crescendo and diminuendo will help you learn how to control the aperture the right way. Two good things for fixing low note problems right there, in one exercise…
…gotta love it!
2) The center of your lips is too tight while corners are too loose
Some people do not improve by doing the above exercises and this is most often because their corner muscles are too loose.
You see, the corner muscles are a very important part of the whole embouchure mechanism because they are like the pillars that support the delicate aperture.
And pillars need to be firm…
…heck, we might almost go as far as to use the word…tense!
Caution; firm corners DOES NOT mean that you stretch your lips and use a “smile embouchure”.
So, a mini repetition:
- Center of your chops soft and resonant. NOT tight -just use the muscles to make it small engough, yet without making it tense or rigid by pinching.
- Corners of your embouchure must be tight / firm.
Why the tight corners?
Because as I already alluded to, the corner muscles support the aperture and if you have “loose corners” you lose a lot of control over the center of your chops /aperture….
…and loss of control means ==> Trumpet low register issues.
The following trumpet low note exercise is good for improving low notes WHILE keeping the corners firm…
- If you have problems playing low notes, and you have too little tension in your corners, this trumpet low note exercise will be difficult to do.
- In the second bar you are supposed to jump up to the fourth line “D” from a low “G” and if you are playing with loose corners you will probably struggle with the jump.
So, firm up your corners and keep them firm from the very beginning of the exercise. While you descend in the first bar then make an effort to make the center more and more relaxed while you maintain the corners firm.
click here for printable pdf file
How to play this trumpet low note exercise
As you can see the trumpet low note exercise is to be played very softly. This is to ensure you master the art of relaxing the center of your chops. Soft playing also helps to develop control…
…remember: Firm corners all the way and soft center!
Note: When I say firm corners I do NOT mean that you should clench them very hard, NO, just firm them up and hold them firm. No need for a lot of power. If you “over-firm” them, you will only run into endurance issues later on.
I feel confident saying, if you implement these trumpet low note exercises into your daily routine, you WILL see fast improvements in your low register playing.
If you still feel that you want more this, when it comes to the stiffness in the center of your lips, then take a look at this article…
==> How to fix stiff lips and unresponsive chops!
But don’t go there just yet, because there are more fixes to low note problems coming in this article, so keep reading…
3) Tension somewhere in the upper body
If you are struggling and it is difficult playing low notes on trumpet, chances are you have tension in any, or several, of the following areas…
Oh no, not more whining about tension!
Hey, I hear you, but this is really important. We can never become a excellent trumpeter if we have excessive amounts of tension in those areas when we play, because if we do…
…well, we just don’t play well.
What to do about it
The most important thing is to become aware of the tension.
That might sound too obvious, but it is SO easy for tension to creep in, without us knowing it. Be mindful when you play and “scan your body” for any tension and really make an effort to keep as relaxed ad possible.
This is especially important during your warm up….
Well, because the warm up is what sets you up for the rest of the day, so it’s important to get it right from the start.
If you need more help with relaxation I have written two detailed articles on the subject and I recommend you read them both.
You can find them here:
>>10 simple tips how to relax when playing trumpet
>>5 tips on how to relax your throat while playing trumpet
4) Wrong mouthpiece placement
Another common cause of trumpet low note problems is wrong mouthpiece placement. If you play with your mouthpiece too high or too low on your lips it will most likely cause issues with your low register…
…as well as cause many other issues, of course. This is particularly true with a mouthpiece placement that is too high.
What is too low or too high?
We all have to find a mouthpiece placement that is suitable for us and there is no one perfect placement, that every trumpet player should use. That said, a good rule of thumb is that the pink part of your lips should be inside the rim of the mouthpiece.
For example, if you play with a mouthpiece setting that is so high that the rim of your mouthpiece is resting on the pink part of your bottom lip, you are probably setting yourself up for playing problems.
However, I have to point out that there are always exceptions to this, and you will find phenomenal trumpet players out there, playing with an extremely low, or high, setting.
What if I play a bit to the side of my mouth?
For the most part this is not a problem. We have to find a spot that is well- supported by our teeth formation, and for many people this means they have to put the mouthpiece a bit to one side or the other. This is OK, in fact, forcing yourself to play dead center is not good if it feels unnatural for you.
If you want more detail on mouthpiece placement then perhaps check out my article >> Trumpet mouthpiece placement
What about the mouthpiece size and low notes?
What about the mouthpiece size, it has to be one factor right?
Yes, it is one factor, but here’s the deal…
…if you have severe low note problems playing on a Bach 3c, for example, then just going a little bigger, to a Bach 1 1/2 c, will not magically solve all your problems.
Sure, equipment makes a difference, heck it can even make a big difference, but when it comes to big problems we have, in any area of trumpet playing, we have to be able to solve them by fixing our trumpet playing approach…
…then, after you have done everything you can, and learned how to play correctly, if you still want to fine tune something then by all means, experiment with different gear.
To sum it up, yes, it IS easier to play low notes on a bigger mouthpiece, so going a bit bigger could be right for you, but again, if we have big issues in any area the equipment is rarely the thing to blame.
Trumpet Low Notes
If you find it difficult playing low notes on trumpet then one, or several pointers in this article, should guide you on the right track. I recommend that you come back and read this article several times, apply the relaxed open approach to your playing, and you will start improving your trumpet low notes…
…pursue patience, take your time and keep working on it!
Thanks for reading the article.
P.S. Also, why not also take a look at the popular article I wrote a while back called 26 trumpet tips to take your trumpet playing to the next level. I think you could find it interesting.
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