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TLDR: Is there any way to practice hitting notes on correct pitch on the trumpet ?

I got back into playing the trumpet two months ago after a nine-year break. I'm playing in a concert band (2 in autumn) and while I can play the songs just fine technically, I noticed (and was told) that I really had to work on my pitch (absurdly flat on low register, a tad sharp on high register which is... odd...). I have all the good will in the world to make this better but I don't know how to correct it besides just tuning my instrument and listening to our section while playing. Are there exercises that can be done to help getting correct pitch ?

  • Considering the answers given, I'm tempted to add the wind tag for generality. Any objections? – guidot Sep 3 '16 at 21:46
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Playing reasonably long pitches using a chromatic tuner would help you to "tidy-up" your tuning. You could either use an actual chromatic tuner or an app. Obviously, using a tuner that has a transpose function (such as this one), would be less confusing, as you would be playing the pitches that you actually see on the tuner. However, any chromatic tuner would be fine, and will still help you to play in tune, but you need to mentally transpose "in-your-head" to check exactly which pitches you are playing. For instance, if playing a D on the trumpet, a concert pitch tuner will tell you that you are playing a C. This isn't necessarily a problem though; as long as you are pretty certain you know how to play the pitches on a trumpet (!), you can just use a non-transposing tuner to tell you whether you are in tune or not, and you can ignore the actual pitch on the screen.

Of course, using a tuner will only tell you if you are playing out of tune on any particular note, and by how much. To play in tune, you will need to adjust your embouchure and/or use the trigger. And, certain pitches are inherently more out of tune than others when playing the trumpet. This webpage gives advice about playing in tune, tuning, and also lists pitches that are inherently sharp or flat.

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If the upper register is consistently sharp and the lower register flat, there is a chance (however small) that you have a mouthpiece that is ill matched to the trumpet. Have an experienced trumpet player try your trumpet and mouthpiece together. If you have a mismatch problem, your setup will exhibit the same intonation problem to a different player. If it plays in tune for the other player, the problem is indeed with yourself. In that case, see Bob Broadley's excellent advice.

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A general good advice to get correct pitch is to use enough air. Support from your lungs is vital - do not compensate with lip strain.

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I'd advise not practising with a tuner precisely because it forces you to use your eyes to tell you that you're in tune, rather than your ears. And you can't use a tuner during a live performance to tune individual notes. Also, it tells you how your pitch compares to a reference pitch, which won't help if everyone else in the band is playing slightly sharp or flat.

The skill you need to practise is using your ears to play in tune with your bandmates.

My suggestion would be to get together with another patient trumpet player (or some other wind player - someone who can play long sustained notes, so not guitar, not piano) and practice doing long unisons and simple intervals.

When you're not in tune with each other you get a beating effect - the two notes fight. But when you are in tune, you can't tell there are two players any more - it just sounds like one person.

The thing to practise is tracking the other person's pitch as they play. You have to adjust your pitch to follow theirs - and at first you won't be sure what direction to adjust in. So maybe you'll sharpen your note when you should have flattened it, and the beating will get worse. So adjust in the other direction. After some practice, you'll learn whether you need to adjust up or down, and you can make your notes converge on the other person's note. And unisons sound really good!

  • While I (and my teacher) agree with most of that, there are instruments like the bassoon, where certain tones are systematically beneath the exact pitch (while the tendencies are similar for all instruments of a certain maker, the amount may vary be the specific instrument). To collect this type of experience (which anyway has to be carried to the muscles during weeks or even months), playing with a tuner is helpful and may speed up the process. – guidot Sep 3 '16 at 21:44

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