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Conquering the Trumpet Fingerings’ World

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Trumpet Fingerings

The trumpet is an extraordinary musical instrument. We know that it exists since ancient times. The trumpet began as a straight tube, which had no valves. As a result, playing this type of trumpet (which is called a “natural trumpet”), the trumpeter of that era did not face the “challenge” of the fingerings. The only thing he had to do was place his lips in the right position of the mouthpiece to play the appropriate pitches. We know that the only notes that a trumpeter could play with the natural trumpet were the notes of the harmonic column, C — G — C — E — G — Bb — C.

Many centuries later, and especially during the 1830’s decade AC, the new type of valved trumpet was established. More significantly, during this period, we have the piston valve trumpet’s appearance in Paris, France, and the rotary valve trumpet’s development in Wien, Austria (then Austrian Empire, 1804-1867). These new types of the valved trumpet allowed this instrument to play not only the notes of the harmonic column but the notes of the whole chromatic scale, that is, C — C#/Db — D — D#/Eb — E — F — F#/Gb — G — G#/Ab — A — A#/Bb — B. This technical improvement gave the trumpet new opportunities and a more melodic role in the world of music.

Since this period, the valved trumpet has been submitted to many technical improvements. Nowadays, this instrument brings the modern trumpeter face to face with an exciting challenge: manipulating the trumpet fingerings. As the usual type of trumpet has three valves, this means that this instrument affords eight possible combinations of valves, that is:

  • 0 (no valve pressed).
  • 1 (the first valve pressed).
  • 2 (the second valve pressed).
  • 3 (the third valve pressed).
  • 1-2 (first and second valves pressed together).
  • 2-3 (second and third valves pressed together).
  • 1-3 (first and third valves pressed together).
  • 1-2-3 (all the three valves pressed together).

Furthermore, the valved trumpet hides another magical phenomenon concerning the trumpet fingerings. More significantly, when playing, the trumpeter can quickly realize that they can produce some notes with more than one fingering combination. For example, you can have the note E on the first line on the trumpet with two combinations:

  • By pressing the first and the second valves together (1-2).
  • By pressing only the third (3) valve.

In another example, you can produce the note G on the second line on the trumpet with two combinations:

  • By pressing no valves (0).
  • By pressing the first and the third valves together (1-3).

Also, there are occasions that you can produce one note in three ways. For example, you can have the note C# in the third space on the trumpet:

  • By pressing the first and the second valves together (1-2).
  • By pressing only the third (3) valve.
  • By pressing all the three valves together (1-2-3).

Furthermore, the trumpeter can meet the fantastic occasion of the note E in the fourth space, which you can produce in four different ways (!):

  • By pressing no valves (0).
  • By pressing the first and the second valves together (1-2).
  • By pressing only the third (3) valve.
  • By pressing all the three valves together (1-2-3).

I believe that most (if not all) modern trumpeters accept the fingerings’ subject as one of the most exciting and challenging chapters in their studies. And indeed, nowadays, no one can play the trumpet well if they don’t practice on several “finger flexibilities” trumpet exercises.

Many distinguished trumpeters and trumpet teachers have included a “finger flexibilities” chapter in the trumpet methods they have written. I think that this material is undoubtedly essential for practicing trumpet.

However, I believe that the contemporary trumpeter should not be limited only to studying those ready exercises. In my opinion, today’s trumpeter should also mobilize their imagination to create by themselves some fingering exercises to play. It would be advantageous for the modern trumpeter to discover the fingerings’ complexities through their own creativity.

As a result, I suggest that all trumpeters create their fingering exercises. Especially for those at an advanced level, I think that they should use all the alternative trumpet fingerings and combinations they know, and if they don’t know them yet, it’s time to learn about them! It would be very beneficial if they would try on their own to imagine several possible fingering combinations, including both conventional and alternative fingerings for notes which you can produce in more than one way. For example, one can create a repeated musical shape using both conventional and alternative fingerings in eighths or sixteenths.

At this point, I would like to present you with some schemes from a series of trumpet fingering exercises, which is a creation of my imagination.

In one of these cases, I have written a repeated scheme of eighths, with the notes:

  • E on the first line (played with the valves 1-2).
  • C under the first line (played with no valve).
  • The previous E again (but now played with the valve 3).
  • D exactly under the first line (played with the valves 1-3).

In another repeated scheme of eighths, I include the notes:

  • G on the second line (played with no valves).
  • D exactly under the first line (played with the valves 1-3).
  • The previous G again (but now played with the 1-3 valves).
  • E on the first line (played with the valve 3).

In one more repeated scheme of eighths, I include the notes:

  • C in the third space (played with no valves).
  • B on the third line (played with the valve 2).
  • The previous C again (but this time played with valves 2-3).
  • A in the second space (played with the valve 3).

I think that these examples of fingering exercises could mobilize the modern trumpeters’ imagination to write their own special fingering exercises.

But be careful; such trumpet fingering exercises hide one more serious challenge: the accurate sound of the same note played in two different ways! For example, when playing a scheme with a G on the second line with 0 valves, and then playing the same note with the valves 1-3, the trumpeter must try to make both notes having precisely the same sound (not the one sounding a little higher and the other sounding a little lower). For this reason, the trumpeter must always have the preferable accurate sound of a note in his ears and his mind.

In conclusion, we understand that trumpet fingerings consist of a really challenging chapter in the trumpet studies. As we claimed, the trumpeters have a cumbersome “weapon” to come up with this challenging chapter: their imagination. And the imagination in combining several fingering positions refers not only to the advanced level but also to lower levels (such as the intermediate and the easy), of course with different schemes including more conventional than alternative fingerings. So, every trumpeter can try to create his own fingering exercises, playing them as an entertaining musical game! And who knows, maybe this “entertaining musical game” will be developed, in the future, into a series of written fingering exercises, useful for the progress of the trumpeters’ society…

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