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How to Play The Trumpet With Clean Articulation

Updated on March 29, 2010

A Short Trumpet Lesson On Tonguing For Beginners

As a beginning student learning how to play the trumpet, you're often concerned mostly with getting the right notes. You think, "If I can get through this song without missing any notes, that's perfection".

And while playing the right notes can bring beginning trumpet players a certain pride, learning fundamental techniques is even more important to your long-term success than right fingerings. Articulation is an example.

Articulation, or 'tongueing', refers to the way you begin each note. When learning how to play the trumpet, you have lots to think about, and it's easy to overlook articulation, but at some point you need to develop an ear for a clean attack on every note.

Proper articulation involves a combination of good air support and proper use of your tongue. The right way to use your tongue when playing a note is the same as if you’re saying ‘taa’ or “da” . This should feel like a natural postion. Some common errors that beginning trumpet students make in articulation include not using the tongue at all, and tongueing something like, "ha". Another mistake beginning trumpet students make is placing the tongue too low on the teeth, or even between the teeth so the sound is something like, ‘tha’. One other possibility is using just the lips without the tongue, kind of like a ‘pa’.

A Toungueing Exercise

Just as an exercise, try tongueing a few notes using each of those articulation styles. Do you recognize your sound in any of those examples? Do you notice how the ‘ta’ sound is the cleanest? Now try again using only the "ta" style with plenty of breath support and really focus on the sound at the very beginning of the note. Did that one sound better?

Here’s another little exercise that I’ve found to be real helpful. Pick any note that’s comfortable for you, and play one note with your best attack sound. When you’re satisfied that you’ve played one the best you can, try two in a row. If you can play 2 in a row perfectly, go to three. Keep practicing 3 notes until you get 3 perfect tones in a row before adding a fourth note. This sounds like a really simple exercise, and it is... but you can spend a really long time with it. If it's hard to discriminate the quality of the different notes, try...

...Recording Yourself

There are lots of ways to conveniently record yourself - you may even have an audio recorder on your cell phone. A great computer program for recording is Audacity sound recorder. As you learn to listen and improve your technique, you'll also become more discriminating, and a sound that perhaps used to be your best tongueing sound becomes unacceptable to you.

It's said that Wynton Marsalis will sometimes just play single note attacks for 20 minutes or more. It’s the same idea when Tiger Woods putts hunderds of balls a day in practice. Both of these guys are good examples of how important it is to focus on the fundamentals, regardless of your level.

As you develop your skill, you'll learn different styles of tonguing to use depending on the style of music you're playing. Whether accented, light, or heavy, your articulation style plays a huge role in expressing the right style of the music.

So take this simple exercise, and work your way to up to 4 notes in a row that represent your very best tonguing sound. And if you can't get to 4, that's a good sign too because it means you know how to listen for what you really want.

Now admittedly, reading about how to play the trumpet is like talking about how to play football. It's important to listen to yourself and others, and immerse yourself. One of the best things you can do to improve your trumpet articulation is to get a good teacher. Look to your local classifieds for trumpet teachers or even better, get a referral from your local music store. There are also some great options for learning how to play the trumpet online.

Below is a short video lesson describing tongueing technique for beginners, and there are more video trumpet lessons online. So get your horn out, follow along, and keep practicing. Best of luck!

How To Play The Trumpet - Clean Articulation


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