How to Hold a Trumpet Correctly: A Guide for Beginners

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As with any new skill, starting to play the trumpet can seem a pretty steep learning curve to begin with. While you might be itching to get making sounds and doing your best Miles Davis impression, it’s worth taking some time to get a few good habits in place right at the beginning, so that you’re in the best place to progress quickly.

One of these habits is how you hold the trumpet correctly. This will enable you to support the weight of the instrument comfortably and easily, and to operate the valves quickly and smoothly.

The Left Hand

The left hand takes most of the weight of the trumpet and so you’ll want to get a firm grip on the instrument to keep it in position.

While you get used to holding the trumpet, you might want to start with the instrument on a flat surface to make it easier to get the correct grip.

Step 1: Left Thumb

Start by holding out your left hand with the thumb a little separated from the other fingers.

Then place your thumb in the thumb rest on the first valve slide (or wrap your thumb around the first valve casing if there isn’t a thumb rest).

Step 2: Left Fingers

Next, stretch the other fingers of your left hand across all three valves, so that your index finger is wrapped around the third valve casing.

Step 3: Third Valve Finger Ring

Finally, put your left ring finger through the ring on the third valve slide.

In time, this is used to move the third valve slide out to adjust the tuning on certain notes, but for now it’s just going to be used to support your hand and hold it in place.

For most adults, this will be the most comfortable finger to use on the third valve ring.

The little finger can either rest against the ring finger, or can wrap around the third valve case underneath the third valve slide.

Smaller hands may find it easier to put the little finger through the third valve ring instead, with the index, middle and ring fingers nestled up against the third valve slide.

You may have to experiment a little, but the main aim is to find a hold that is comfortable and firm.

Right Hand

While the left hand takes most of the weight of the instrument, the right hand operates the valves on the trumpet using the index, middle and ring fingers.

Good positioning and right hand technique will help you to operate the valves with control and ease.

Step 4: Little Finger

To start with, hook the little finger of your right hand around the pinky ring on the leadpipe.

This should naturally mean that your other fingers are roughly aligned with the valves.

Step 5: Index, Middle and Ring Fingers

Position your other fingers so that they are lightly touching the tops of the valves. 

Gently curl your fingers so that just the tips of the fingers are pressing on the valve caps.

This will ensure that when you are pressing down the valves, the movement is straight down rather than at an angle, which can cause the valves to move sluggishly or stick.

Try not to get in the habit of playing with flat fingers.

This makes it harder to move the valves quickly and precisely.

Step 6: Right Thumb

There are a very different places you can hold the right thumb.

You can experiment a little to find the position that gives you the best combination of support and comfort.

One position is to have the tip of the thumb lightly touching the first valve casing.

You may need to move it around a little to make sure it doesn’t clash with your left thumb!

Alternatively, some players prefer to rest the thumb gently on the underside of the leadpipe, underneath the fingers pressing the valves.

This can help to support the right hand and keep it in a more upright position.

Posture

The way that you stand (or sit) while playing the trumpet can have a great deal of impact on the way the instrument feels to play.

This is because our posture affects our breathing, which is the key to making sound on the trumpet.

So, to begin with, make sure you are standing up straight with your feet roughly shoulder width apart, or sitting forward on your chair with a straight back and your weight shifted onto your feet.

The next step is to keep your ribcage lifted, so that the lungs have lots of room to fill with air.

You might find your shoulders lifting up too – so make sure you let them relax and drop.

You can’t fill your shoulders with air!

Take a few deep breaths in and out, and check that your posture is allowing you to feel like your lungs are completely full with each breath.

When holding the trumpet, keep the instrument lifted up, so that your head is straight.

This will keep your throat open and allow the air to pass through easily.

If your head drops, or your throat is stretched by looking upwards, this will obstruct the air and make it harder to play.

Finally, when playing, keep your arms eye and elbows out – this gives plenty of room for your ribcage to expand and contract while you’re taking deep breaths, helping you get the absolute best sound out of the trumpet.

The Importance of a Good Hold

It might not seem obvious, but the way that you hold the instrument and position your body will make a huge difference to how the trumpet feels to play, and to how it sounds.

If your posture and grip are poor, your breathing will be shallower, holding the trumpet will seem tiring and awkward, and it will be difficult to move between notes quickly or tidily.

On the other hand, if you get in the habit of keeping a good posture and breathing correctly, your note production will improve drastically.

Your sound will be fuller and stronger, notes will start more easily, and you will be able to hit higher notes with apparently less effort.

Keeping the trumpet held firmly in the left hand will free up your right hand fingers to move the valves precisely.

You’ll find that it’s easier to press down the valves firmly, which will help you to move between notes more quickly and tidily.

Summary

When you start learning the trumpet, posture and hold might seem like a small things.

But they will make a big change to your playing. 

So try and do your best to build up good habits, and keep doing them. Good luck!

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Written by Peter Yarde Martin
Peter Yarde Martin is a freelance composer, musician and educator based in London. He studied music at Cambridge University and now works with many top professional ensembles and soloists in the UK and abroad.