# Can all notes be produced using only the trumpet's valves?

I am learning how to play the trumpet and I am currently practicing my embouchure.

I was wondering if all the musical notes can be done with the valves, or if I have to do some changes in the way I blow through my mouth to make different tones.

Like, do I have to blow in different ways to produce different sounds for different songs?

• Being pedantic, the answer to the header is NO. There are many basic notes that do not need any valve pressed.Maybe re-phrase the question?
– Tim
Apr 15, 2013 at 12:02
• > do I have to blow in different ways to produce different sounds for different songs? Yes > Can all notes be produced using only the trumpet's valves? No
– sav
Jun 28, 2013 at 19:18
• Think of the possible combinations, for 3 valves with 2 possible states there are only 8 combinations. That's too few, you can't fit not even one full chromatic scale in 8 notes. Nov 21, 2013 at 15:04
• There aren't even 8 combinations, because 1+2 is equivalent to 3. Yes, I know I could complicate that answer, but no need at this stage, I think. Feb 18, 2016 at 18:44

Think of a bugle in C. Bugles have no valves, and the notes you can produce on them are only the following:

C - G - C - E - G - Bb - C - D - E - ...

These match the overtone series of C.

On the trumpet, however, you have valves, which enable you to play additional notes. Press the second valve and the length of tubing increases in the amount needed to lower this series half a tone, as if you transformed your bugle in C to one in B:

B - F# - B - D# - F# - A - B - C# - D# - ...

Press first valve alone and the original series is lowered by a whole tone (bugle in Bb). First and second valves together: one and a half tone down. Two and three: two tones down. One and three: two and a half tone down. And finally one two three: three tones down.

This allows trumpet players to cover all the tones from low F# (below the treble clef), and theoretically unlimited upwards.

Now how to make the jump from the low C to the middle G, which are both fingered with no valves? Closing the embouchure does work in the lower register, but is a dangerous practice. The problem is that if you continue to close your lips more the higher you play, you'd have no air coming through after a while.

What I understand makes a difference is the air speed. The higher the speed, the higher the tone. It is similar to overblowing a bottle: with enough air speed, you can jump to a higher tone than the original one.

There are several ways to increase air speed through the trumpet:

• closing lips (smaller hole but same amount of air makes for higher speed). It has the aforementioned drawback of blocking air flow in the higher register,
• forming a smaller channel with your tongue. (it feels like it could have the same drawback, but I have never experienced blocking the air flow with my tongue doing this.),
• blow harder.

I think the correct way to go is a combination of the second and third bullet.

I also find that playing tones in an overtone series feels very similar to whistling. Try and whistle up and down from the lowest to the highest tone you can achieve, and observe what your tongue does. Try to do the same on the trumpet, and support with enough air.

An additional bullet point, which I now think is necessary for the double high register (G with four ledger lines and above):

• lip stiffness. It is similar to tightening a guitar or piano string to increase the pitch. This requires a lot of work out: you need the muscles to hold the embouchure without closing it, and compensate with larger air flow to start the vibration. Hopefully this gives range without sacrificing volume (which a smaller tongue channel could, at least in theory as mentioned earlier). I have been working out a bit for that, I am not quite there yet. Since I lack control, sometimes my lips get too stiff and no sound comes out at all. Also I suggest combining strength with suppleness, flexibility. If you only get the muscles and give up flexibility, you won't be able to play soft anymore.

The valves are changing the length of the tube from the mouthpiece to the bell. Each length can produce the overtone series of a different fundamental pitch. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harmonic_series_(music)

Your embouchure and support will directly affect which overtone comes out. Generally, the more closed the embouchure is, the higher the note. Practicing buzzing 'in tune' pitches on your mouthpiece will help you learn the correct embouchure for any pitch on the instrument.

You've probably already found out that with a fairly loose embouchure, pressing one valve will drop that note by a semitone, pressing another will drop by two semitones(one tone) and the third drops it by a tone and a half.Thus, when you move up to the next tightness of lips, you can drop that note by as many semitones as necessary before you reach the first original note. At your next tightness, there aren't as many semitones to drop, so you don't need to press as many valves.Soon you're at the point when each tightening of lips will give you the next note,and the 'in between' note is found by pressing the middle valve (one semitone down). The bugle sounds are - fundamental, 1st harmonic(7 semitones up) 2nd harmonic(another 5 semitones) 3rd harm.(another 4 semitones up) 4th, (3 semitones up)etc, so you can see that only certain tunes can be played on a bugle (or trumpet with no valves pressed).Thus, the valves help find the in between notes. To get a different TONE is a completely different issue, and one that you maybe don't need to address until you are at least a year in front - unless your tone is awful, which is only achievable on really cheap instruments!

Another way to think of it is that you vibrate your lips to produce a musical tone, and the trumpet amplifies that tone. But if you try to vibrate your lips to a note "between" the harmonics of the trumpet, the trumpet doesn't amplify such a note. This can lead you to believe that you don't have to do much with your lips; the trumpet "automatically" puts you in tune.

Well, sort of, but not quite. When playing, pay attention to your lips, and make sure they are producing the note you want. You'll get the clearest note that way. When your lips are producing exactly the right note, you get this effortless almost magical bright pure tone.

To answer your last question: yes, you can blow in different ways. Jazz players do this to make the sound express emotion like the human voice does. You can get a big fat tone, a little thin whiny tone, a growl tone, a tone with different degrees of vibrato, and a lip trill just to name a few.

• I've heard the lip buzz amplifier theory many times, but I am a bit skeptical. If you can play the trumpet, try and play a comfortable clean middle G, then remove the mouthpiece from your lips. You are not buzzing, just blowing. Likewise, I can play tones with such spacing between my lips that they could not be possibly buzzing. Now I don't want to go too far and call it a myth before I have more evidence, specially since buzzing is such a great work-out. Apr 15, 2013 at 14:27
• @Gauthier: Resonant-air-column instruments (pipe organs, flutes, reed instruments, and "brass" instruments) all work on the principle that sound can travel smoothly down a uniform tube, but changes in the tube will cause some of the sound to be reflected. When this reflection reaches the base of the tube, that will change the air pressure there. To produce a tone, there must be something at the base of the tube which will cause such a change in pressure to produce a change in airflow. In the case of a brass instrument... Apr 15, 2013 at 16:47
• ...an increase in the pressure at the mouthpiece will push the lips closed, while a decrease in pressure will draw them open. While a change in pressure would produce a certain change of airflow even if the lip opening remained uniform, such change in airflow would translate into a smaller change in pressure than the original one. By contrast, when the opening and closing of the lips is added to the equation, there's enough change in airflow to cause a change in pressure larger than the one which caused it. Apr 15, 2013 at 16:49
• You can remove the mouthpiece and play into it and get all the notes and everything in between, even if it's not a very nice sound, and you are buzzing with the lips. I played the tuba, not the trumpet, and it was a long time ago, but one of the first things I noticed was that I could think of it either as the instrument producing the note and the lips providing a "setting" as to which note, and jumping from one note to the next when tightening them, or the lips producing the note and the instrument amplifying it and cleaning up the tone. Apr 15, 2013 at 21:50
• @supercat: interesting, I am not sure I understand it all though. Apr 16, 2013 at 6:04

you need to change the way your mouth moves for notes like g. you need to speed and tighten your lips to produce the note g