Category Archives: Trumpet for Beginners

Can I Play Cornet Solos On My Trumpet?

Of course you can. And you could hunt elephants with a 22 caliber rifle also, but I wouldn’t recommend either.

How are cornet solos different from trumpet solos?

Literature which has been written especially to be performed on a cornet usually follows these characteristics-

• Melodies are most often very lyrical and smooth.
• Traditionally more vibrato is used in cornet solos.
• Cornet solos many times have drastic tempo changes with grandiose retards and sudden accelerandi.
• The cornet solo gives more liberties in the musical interpretation than in the trumpet literature.
• Most cornet solos draw from a more romantic period.
• Dynamics tend to be on the softer side when compared to the trumpet literature.
• Many of the cornet solos were written in a Theme and Variation form which illustrates the many subtle effects capable when playing a cornet.
• Even when double and triple tonguing during a solo, the cornet retains its smooth and connected tonguing style.
• The cornet exemplifies the extremes in playing, i.e. soft-loud, fast-slow and lyric-bombastic.

Who should I listen to in order to understand how to play cornet solos correctly?

There are many recordings available of previous and current cornet players but if you really want to understand the fine art of cornet playing, I would recommend that you visit this site The James F. Burke Tribute Page for not only will you be able to hear wonderful examples of cornet playing, you will also be able to learn everything you need to know about one of the modern greats of the instrument, James Burke 1943-1974).

Trumpet Hand Playing Position

Sometimes the obvious can be overlooked as in the case of your hand position while holding your instrument. If you search on line for pictures or video of successful trumpet players, you will find a variety of hand positions ranging from the normal to several extreme positions. Each performer has settled into his/her favorite hand position because of habit or preference.

Left Hand Playing Position

Trumpet left hand playing positions
Trumpet left hand playing positions

I have included normal as well as unusual positions and will explain the advantages as well as the disadvantages of each. It is not my intent to try to influence anyone into any one position, but knowing the strengths of each might be interesting.

The photo in the center is what most would consider a normal left hand position. The little finger is placed around the third valve casing and below the third valve slide. The ring finger is in the third slide ring so that adjustments can be made on out of tune notes utilizing the third slide. The thumb is in the first valve slide saddle for the same function on the first valve. The remaining fingers are placed below the bell section in a comfortable position. This left hand position is most common and works well for most players.

Many trumpet performers prefer the hand position in the photo on the right. The third ring is now manipulated by the first finger and all remaining fingers are together below the third slide. The thumb is again placed in the first slide saddle.

Very few players opt for the high position featured in the photo on the left. The reason I have included this position is to illustrate another possibility and list its’ advantages and disadvantages also.

Advantages of normal hand position-

  • Most comfortable of the three.
  • Easy to move first and third slide when needed.
  • Good grip on the instrument
  • Very balanced feel
  • Less fatigue than low position.

Disadvantages of normal hand position-

  • More mouthpiece pressure can be exerted because of the possibility of too tight a grip.
  • Uncomfortable stretch between little finger and ring finger after long sessions.
  • Fingers are bunched together under bell section.

Advantages of low hand position-

  • Lessen mouthpiece pressure.
  • Sustains endurance for longer periods.
  • Tends to bring horn up higher than other two positions.
  • Increases high range because of less mouthpiece pressure (eventually).

Disadvantages of low hand position-

  • Uncomfortable stretch between first finger and second.
  • More awkward when moving third slide
  • Second finger is the only finger supporting the instrument and becomes sore after time.
  • Horn is in a higher playing level (might be an advantage or not).
  • Tends to position the valves in a more vertical position.

Advantages of high hand position-

  • Tends to tilt horn more to the right.*
  • Becomes the most comfortable position after a while.
  • Lesson mouthpiece pressure than normal position.

Disadvantages of high hand position-

  • Placing your fingers on the bell affects the sound (good or bad).
  • Looks unusual.
  • Tends to move mouthpiece further to the right.*

Right Hand Playing Position

Trumpet Tilt and right hand playing postions
Trumpet Tilt and right hand playing postions

Most players agree when recommending a position for the right hand. Most agree to the following preferences:

  • Thumb under lead pipe and anchored between first and second valve casings.
  • First, second and third fingers placed on top of corresponding finger buttons.
  • Little finger out of hook and allowed to move freely.

Advantages of this hand position-

  • Most natural and comfortable
  • Fingers work easily when contacting finger buttons in this position.
  • Keeping the little finger out of the hook resists the temptation to pull and crush chops.
  • Letting the little finger float freely allows third finger to move more easily.

Disadvantages of this hand position-

  • None that I know of.

Tilt of Trumpet

The most common tilt is illustrated in the first photo and would be considered to best for most players. Notice that the right hand is in a very natural position for working the valves. Remember that the function of the left hand is to hold the instrument and adjust slides and the function of the right hand is to work the valves. The only time you will need to use the hook on topof your lead pipe is when you have to hold the instrument in your right hand as when inserting a mute, turning a page of music or letting the water out of your horn. From this angle you should be able to visualize a triangle formed with your hands and arms. The top of the triangle would be your hands and instrument. The other two points of the triangle would be your elbows. This is a very natural and comfortable playing position.

If the above is true, why even mention the extreme right tilt? The reason for this inclusion was to address a situation I found myself in a couple years ago while playing with the Vinton Orchestra. At that time, I noticed that my mouthpiece had moved more to the left than I was used to. This can sometimes happen if you are reading off a different side of your bell than normal. I decided to move it more to the center, left and right. I began thinking about the change and realized that when I tilted the horn more to the right, the mouthpiece followed. It wasn’t long before I had it back where I wanted it and the hand position I was using became my new hand position. This change included the extreme right tilt as well as the high left hand position. The importance of this position might be helpful to anyone faced with the same problem I had with mouthpiece centering.

Can you cope with quarter tones?


Our harmonic and melodic system is based on half steps and other systems are based on quarter tones. When we listen to the quarter step system, we are uncomfortable because of this unusual pitch relationship. Our instruments are not capable of playing quarter tones. So why am I posting information on how to perform the imposable? I think you might find the exercise interesting, or even mind altering.

Our brass instruments are based on an overtone system which overlaps each fingering series, i.e. open fingering followed by 2, 1, 12, 23, 13, and 123. If you think of each series overlapping the next, you will realize that as we ascend the scales, this overlapping will create additional false fingerings. False fingerings are different fingerings for the same note. In the lower range, fewer notes have alternate fingering but as we ascend to the higher notes, more and more fingerings become available. Some of these alternate fingerings may be new to you and whether they have any use or value will be something for you to determine. The first page of material includes all of the notes and their alternate fingerings that I have used. The second page was written to utilize these fingerings in a series of exercises. Not every pitch will be exactly one quarter steps for each instrument is made differently just as every player will perform them differently.

As you play through the exercises, try to simulate a true quarter step difference. You will be tempted the first few times to play in half step intervals which will force your ear to incorrectly perform the exercises. With practice, you will eventually be able to relax your ear enough to get with the system.
If nothing more is gained than added knowledge of alternate fingerings, you will have not wasted your time.
If you would like to listen to true quarter tone scales, I encourage you to listen to the Don Ellis Orchestra which was equipped with true quarter tone trumpets. These instruments were designed to play true quarter steps and the unusual sound can only be described as bizarre. Each was designed with an additional fourth valve which lowered the horn one quarter step. How the trumpet players were able to adjust their ears to this system is a wonder.

Download exercise sheets here- Implied Quarter Tone Exercises
Listen to Don Ellis perform in quarter tones here