What actually causes the trumpet play a higher note?

There are 4 factors I've identified that change pitch in the mouthpiece:

  1. Pressure of air (how hard you blow)

  2. Tightness of lips (maybe this causes higher air pressure with less tension?)

  3. Angle of the air hitting the mouthpiece

  4. Size of mouthpiece

I can hardly hold a high C. My lips feel strained trying to even make the embouchure that is required to hit that note. I started like two weeks ago... so maybe my lip muscles are weak?

  • If you started training to run a marathon, would you expect to be running times under 3 hours after two weeks training? Stick at it for two months, or even two years, and it will start to get easier! – user19146 May 9 '17 at 2:50
  • @alephzero that's what I figured... endurance and technique need time. I want to pay for lessons when i find the right place – Kolob Canyon May 9 '17 at 3:01

Generally speaking, it is the speed of the air that determines the range. (This is inversely related to the volume of the air.) So it's getting control of this faster airspeed that will increase your upper register.

For brass players, lip slurs are very good for improving range. In the following example, each two-measure group uses the same fingering for all five of its pitches; this fingering is shown above the first pitch of the group.

As you play, really conceptualize the syllables that I've placed below each pitch. "Oh" is the bottom syllable because it's the most open and allows for the greatest volume of air. "Ah" (as in "hot") is in connecting link to the "ee" (as in "heed"), which allows for the fastest air on account of the condensed oral shape.

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You can continue this pattern down by semitone using the following valve patterns:


And then back up by semitone if you wish. Consistent practice with this exercise (and others like it) will improve your range considerably over time.

  • 2
    I agree with most of this answer, particularly the technique of using lip slurs to extend range, but the idea of using an "eee" vowel shape for high notes is poor advice, and will produce high notes that sound thin and tweezy. Constricted vowels like that are often suggested as a quick fix to cover poor technique elsewhere. Also, the exercise starts with the highest pattern. Is that deliberate? I would have expected to start with the lowest-pitched phrase and move the starting note up a semitone at a time. – Brian THOMAS May 9 '17 at 12:49
  • What is the definition of a lip slur? Does that mean don't stop blowing between the notes? – Kolob Canyon May 9 '17 at 16:33
  • Also, I accepted. #1,2 is hard for me. Should be good practice material. Thanks! If I hear the note in my head before I play it, it helps a lot. Octave = Somewhere over the rainbow. P5 star wars... oh yeah! – Kolob Canyon May 10 '17 at 5:02
  • Sure enough, @Kolob Canyon, lip slurs use virtually steady lung pressure but are nonetheless misnamed because they also use throat and tongue adjustments more than lip adjustments. They just don't involve fingering or actual "tonguing" (where the tongue would touch the palate, gums or teeth). Lip slurs are also essential as "shakes" in jazz. Other related posts... (continued) – lauir Jun 14 '17 at 12:46
  • Other related lip-slur posts: Charles Colin Lip Flexibilities and Why is it harder to lip slur without tonguing? – lauir Jun 14 '17 at 12:46

I’ve played trumpet for a little over a semester and I play French Horn as a main instrument. A great way to get into the higher octaves is to do a scale and take the top note and hold it until you’re confident and then move up a half step and so on .


Here are two aspects hinted at but not examined in the question.

What actually causes the trumpet play a higher note?

  Sure enough, playing a note begins with starting the note, which has an additional factor:

  1. Tongue flick.

    This is why many methods begin by tonguing the sound “tee.” The sharper the flick, the more it contains high-pitched vibrations that can quickly develop into the note. The actual motion is exciting to refine after finding out how much difference it can make.

I can hardly hold a high C.

  For holding a note, we have naturally exquisite control over another hidden factor:

  1. Shaping the mouth, tongue and throat.

    By learning to practically sing each note, in every way except using vocal chords, vibrations of desired notes will be reinforced significantly and will rely much less on lip pressure. This is easiest to explore by forming different vowels for lower notes.   Shaping the vowel “ee” is a good start for high notes, and optimal shaping just gets better and better with experience and experimentation.

  • An overall negative evaluation without comment. Voice your parts, musicians! This answer comes from experience, a desire to share, and a desire to learn from those more experienced. Unvoiced negativity harms the credibility of this site. – lauir Jun 4 '17 at 2:37
  • 1
    I did not downvote but I thought I would attempt to explain at least why I can understand a downvote here. Not much of a trumpeter but my knowledge of the acoustics of trumpets and all aerophones suggests that your assertion that a "sharper tongue flick" would help maintain higher pitched notes is incorrect. Do you have a documented source for that? Regarding your second suggestion, Richard has that in a clearer fashion in his answer. Contrast with Richard's answer which is clear and has action items (e.g. to practice lip slurs). – Todd Wilcox Jun 12 '17 at 19:52
  • 1
    Also note Brian's comment on the vowel shapes under Richard's answer. Quoting, "Constricted vowels like that are often suggested as a quick fix to cover poor technique elsewhere." If I knew what Brian seems to know about trumpet I would probably agree that trying to make an ee shape with the mouth while playing is actually a bad idea and suggesting bad habits always gets a downvote from me. – Todd Wilcox Jun 12 '17 at 19:55
  • Thank you for commenting, @Todd Wilcox. Alas I have no documentation on how tongue "flick" helps initiate (not maintain) high notes. Just success that once stemmed from engineering intuition. There's still a "dirty" effect to smooth out once a player finds out how easy it can be. This answer will improve, delete or fade. And perhaps this question is two in one: 1) How to reach high notes at all? And 2) How to perfect them? My approach is to cross each threshold, somehow, before removing the blinders and security blanket, not to frustrate learners by pointing at imposing overhangs. – lauir Jun 14 '17 at 12:09

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