Are you just starting to get skilled on the trumpet?
Are you jealous of the high trumpet range other players have?
Learning how to play high notes on a trumpet can be tricky, but it’s one of the hallmarks of a skilled trumpet player.
There is a right way and wrong way to go about it. You may find some shortcuts to help you play that trumpet high C, but you’ll never have consistency and endurance unless you put in the work and understanding.
In this article, I’ll use my experience in teaching music for over 10 years and 20 years of playing trumpet personally to help you learn how to play high notes on a trumpet.
The Short Answer
To reach for the highest note on the trumpet, you need to do the following things:
- Use more air pressure
- Have the right lip setup
- Tongue-up position
- Use fast air
- Practice, practice, practice
In addition, you need to make sure you avoid the following:
- Pressing the mouthpiece against your lips hard
- Using only your lip muscles
- Engaging your neck muscles
- DON’T PUFF YOUR CHEEKS
Read on for more details on these steps.
The Long Answer
This section details the steps needed to extend your trumpet range. Be sure to read the advice carefully and possibly seek the help of a lessons teacher or mentor.
More Air Pressure
Higher notes require faster vibration from your lips. Faster vibration means more energy.
To get the energy up you need to increase your air pressure. Instead of blowing harder, make the aperture (the hole your lips make) smaller and tighter.
Using the same amount of air through a smaller hole increases the pressure on your lips. This, in turn, makes them vibrate faster which makes the high range easier.
In addition to more air pressure, you also need to set up your lips in the correct position.
For higher notes, your bottom lip should curl slightly over your bottom teeth, and your upper lip should come over the bottom lip slightly.
What this setup does is create a smaller funnel to the smaller hole where your air comes out. This increases air pressure more and makes the high notes playable.
The reason you should also do this with your lips is that spreads the muscular tension across a wider area than if your lips were in line. With a more widespread muscle engagement, you won’t get tired as much.
The tongue can also get into the action on helping to play high notes. Normally, when you play you may not pay much attention to what your tongue is doing.
Or you have noticed that moving the tongue slightly can impact the tuning of each note to small degrees.
In general, a lowered tongue (as if you were saying “ah” or “oh” inside your mouth) creates a deeper, lower sound. It can also bend the pitch down.
For playing high notes, it’s helpful to instead think of the sound, “eeh,” inside your mouth. This raises the tongue more into your mouth cavity and focuses the air.
A higher tongue creates a more focused stream which in turn increases the air pressure and vibration. The narrower cavity in your mouth also shapes the sound more purely so the note sounds strong instead of weak.
The goal of the above steps is to create the fastest stream of air possible, so keep that in mind.
You want to instantly be able to call on the fastest stream of air when you go to play high.
In addition to the steps above, I find it helpful to suggest visualizing you’re trying to blow a piece of paper or bubble in a straight line across the room.
Blow too slow and the bubble won’t make it. Blow too hard and the bubble pops.
Blow smooth and fast and the bubble goes right where you want it to. It’s the same thing with high notes.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Now that you know how to play high notes, you can’t stop there. And that’s what many players do.
You need to practice and exercise your muscles and brain so that it has the endurance and muscle memory to call on that trumpet high C whenever you need.
Here are two of my favorite trumpet high note exercises you can try out. These workouts can be used as part of your warm up and cool down after playing.
- Lip Slurs – Start on your low C and play the following pattern slowly:
“C G middleC G C”
Then go up to the next step (either D or Db if you know how to play that) and play the next set of notes in the same manner.
“Db Ab middleDb Ab Db”
Continue going up by steps until you reach higher notes. Focus on all of the steps we discussed above as you play. Once you’ve reached your highest note, step your way back down.
- Fifth Scales – This is a similar exercise to the last one, but now I want you to play the following pattern on smooth notes.
“C D E F G F E D C”
After you play it, go up to the next step (again D or Db depending on what you know).
“Db Eb Enatural Gb Ab Gb Enatural Eb Db”
Work your way up and back down again as high as you can go.
Note: The Fifth Scales exercise is also a great one for learning your fingerings.
In addition to following this advice, it’s always good to hear what other good players have to say. Check out this video for a different perspective on playing high.
Things To Avoid When Playing High
Here are four mistakes that people often make when trying to play high. Doing it wrong can injure your lips and develop bad habits that are hard to break.
Hard Mouthpiece pressure
Never push the mouthpiece hard against your lips. This is a shortcut that many new players fall for.
It actually cuts the circulation to your lips and can cause muscle spams.
Using only your lip muscles
Many teachers advocate for strong and firm embouchure (the muscles used to buzz), but you don’t want to focus all your strength on your lips only.
From the corners of your mouth to the lip muscles by your chin and nose, all face muscles around the lips need to be engaged.
Engaging your neck muscles
On the flipside, it’s also common to see new players trying to play high where the cords on their neck muscles are standing out.
Your neck won’t help to play high at all. All it’s going to do is hurt you, build up pressure in your head, and make you dizzy.
DON’T PUFF YOUR CHEEKS!
Never puff your cheeks. Famous trumpet player Dizzy Gillespie would do it because he was born with face muscles that wouldn’t engage to hold them in.
If you puff your cheeks, you lose that focused air pressure you need to play high and your tone gets very fuzzy.
Figuring out how to play high notes on a trumpet doesn’t have to be hard, but it does take time.
There is no quick and easy shortcut, but if you follow this guide, you’ll be playing up there in time.
Now go practice!