Tuesday, June 19, 2018
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Get A Good Grip On Your Trumpet!

An often overlooked aspect of playing the trumpet is how one actually holds and operates the instrument. Most of the time, students grip the trumpet (or cornet) in any manner desired as long as it feels comfortable at first. Many teachers tend to ignore this aspect of playing, figuring that their attention can be better served by concentrating on the student’s need to play the notes on the page.

I have seldom seen an entering college student hold the trumpet correctly. In fact, very few of these students were instructed at all on how to grip the instrument. Considering that your grip (both hands) has a huge effect on tone quality, range, flexibility, intonation, and technique, it is imperative that this aspect of your playing be carefully perfected before you can expect to see any significant improvements.

The fine control and manipulations of the trumpet by the player’s hands are many times greater than those needed to swing a gold club, baseball bat, tennis racquet, or even operate a computer keyboard. To reach a top professional level, the player must constantly activate three (or four) valves plus the first and third valve slides in a myriad of combinations and at nano-second speed, all the while subtly adjusting mouthpiece pressure and pivot to accommodate various range and interval requirements. Just because a particular manner of holding the instrument during the first year or two of practice feels comfortable does not necessarily mean that it is the most efficient.

As a general rule, a player’s forearms should come together at a ninety degree angle (with elbows several inches away from the body), keeping the valves on the same plane as the left forearm. This helps ensure that the valves are moving straight up and down and wear evenly.



The fingers of the left hand should grip the instrument so that the first and little fingers support most of the weight. The two middle fingers operate the third valve slide (one pushes out and the other pulls back in). Be sure that only about a half inch of the ring finger is inserted through the ring. The left thumb is placed in the first valve slide saddle, again by only about a half inch. The palm of the hand should not be pressed tightly (if at all!) against the valves.



It is very important that the left forearm be in line with the hand so that there is no sideways break in the wrist. This allows the weight of the hand and trumpet to be transferred to the forearm, prevents soreness in the wrist, makes valve slide operations much easier, and allows subtle changes in mouthpiece pressure to pivot into the lower lip which should always receive a slight majority of the necessary pressure.




[NOTE: For a “perfect” action photo of the left wrist position, log on to the cover photo of Doc Severinsen’s website at: www.docseverinsen.com]

The main function of the right hand is to operate the valves. The thumb is to be placed between the first and second valves, just under the leadpipe. The fingers should be curved (as though holding a tennis ball) and only the tips of the fingers should touch the valve buttons. Try to avoid straightening the fingers in fast passages, or allowing the palm to touch the leadpipe. The little finger can be placed in the leadpipe hook (being careful to avoid excessive mouthpiece pressure!), but the other fingers will move much faster if the little finger isn’t tied down in the hook.

“Triggering” out-of-tune notes is essential and should begin as soon as you are capable of playing eighth-note speed music. You should trigger even extremely fast notes to make sure that the tone is well centered (focused) and in tune. Just think of the trumpet as a five-valved instrument, with both hands working together to operate it (like a woodwind instrument). The action of the valve slides should be just as quick as the valves.

Each player may have a slightly different grip depending on hand size and jaw alignment. Some people place two left fingers below the third valve slide, others three. Some do not place any fingers below. Don’t be afraid to experiment in consultation with your private teacher. After a short time, a proper grip will feel very natural and will allow you to improve more quickly.


David Hickman has been teaching at the university level for 33 years and is now Professor of Trumpet at Arizona State University. He has recorded 15 solo CDs and published numerous books and articles about trumpet playing. He is the founder and president of the famed large brass ensemble, Summit Brass.

About the Editor: Lisa Blackmore is Adjunct Professor of Trumpet at the University of Missouri-St. Louis and Adjunct Professor of Trumpet and Horn at East Central College in Union, Missouri where she also teaches Music History and World Music. She is a member of “Cadre” at Missouri Baptist University, teaching trumpet and assisting with the concert band. Lisa earned a Doctorate of Musical Arts (D.M.A.) in Trumpet with a minor in Music History at the University of Illinois-Urbana/Champaign, where she received the Graduate College Dissertation Award in Musicology. Dr. Blackmore also holds degrees from the University of Missouri-Columbia and SUNY-Stony Brook. She previously served on the faculty at Lindenwood University and under her direction, the Lindenwood Trumpet Ensemble performed at the 2007 ITG conference at the University of Massachusetts―Amherst. Her private studio teaching has resulted in students performing in the St. Louis Youth Symphony and various Missouri All-State ensembles.

Lisa is a member of the Stonehenge Brass Trio and Confluence Brass. She was a bugler with the Missouri Military Funeral Honors Program from 2008-2013 and performed Taps at over 350 military services for Missouri Veterans. She performs with the Compton Heights Concert Band, and she is principal trumpet in the St. Louis Wind Symphony. She serves as a trumpet adjudicator for the Missouri All-State groups.

Lisa lives in Wright City, MO with her husband, Mark (also a trumpeter!) and their two cats, Chet and Ella. In her spare time she makes practice mutes and also enjoys reading and traveling.

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