Classical Trumpet Performance, Teaching

High Notes

​John Freeman

Was this the first trumpet topic you clicked on? 

How did I guess...

Well, I'm a trumpet player too, it's okay, I understand.

Anyway- we all have all at some point wanted better access "up there".  

First things first, it's important to practice playing high.  Don't expect to have the notes above high C "on call" if you never venture up there regularly!

However, before you start, it will help to know what is going on to make a high pitch on trumpet.  

High Notes = Fast vibrations 

Fast vibrations = (are caused byFast Air

How to get the air going fast?  I could write a whole book. A combination of tongue arching/shaping and channeling, air compression from the diaphram, a focused aperture, the list goes on an on, but it's easier to learn just by doing.

You may have seen the videos online of small children playing double C's- so it's clearly not a muscle issue or something that takes years of building strength to do.  It's learning to coordinate your body to channel the airstream youcan already produce into a small, fast, focused stream.  

Despite all this technical talk, it's important to remember the way our bodies learn best- from sound and feeling, rather than trying to control certain fine muscles.  

When practicing for higher notes, I recommend to practice softly- it's like training with much smaller targets- and ensures that you are doing it correctly.  Playing loudly lets you get away with doing it inefficiently (wrong) and ingrains bad habits.  Not to mentionstay soft and you won't wear yourself out, or risk injury.

Like everything else, work up to it gradually, and take lots of breaks.  Super soft chromatic scales are great, as are ascending arpeggios.  I like to add some low notes throughout to keep the lips soft and pliable.

Speaking of soft lips- this is the main problem people fall into with high notes.  They tighten up and their lips can't vibrate- they get only air.  If this is happening to you it means one of two things- either your lips are not touching in the center (too open) or they are too tight to catch the air and vibrate.

 With my students I use the image of 2 flags blowing in the wind- one made of fine silk, where you can see every ripple of wind catching the flag, and another made of fabric which was painted, is allowed to dry, and is very stiff.  The painted one is too stiff to catch any vibration.  

So Remember- think fast air, not tight lips.

Here is an exercise I wrote out for my students when they want to work on high notes.  They usually end up shocking themselves how high they can go!  

High Note Exercise Rules: 
1. Stay Soft!
2. You get 3 attempts at the high note.  After unsuccesful 3 attempts, you are done for the day.
3. Hear the pitch you want before you play it
4. Relax- lips must stay soft and touching in center to vibrate
5. You can may continue as high as is productive. 
6. Do not move the trumpet as you ascend.
7. Experiment with fingerings for high notes, it can help!
8. Rest at least 5-10 seconds between each line.  
9. Stay soft!