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Brian Kay


How Can a Bass Trombonist Teach Trumpet and Horn?

I hope that my students and their families care deeply about the quality of their instruction, so I hope they will ask, "How can a bass trombonist teach other brass instruments, such as trumpet, horn, and tuba?" The answer is by thoroughly understanding the similarities and differences between the instruments, and by investing time in developing competence in trumpet and tuba. Professional brass players work, study, and travel together, and one tends to build up a great deal of knowledge about the individual brass instruments.

The brass instruments are all one family and work by vibrating the lips into a cup shaped mouthpiece connected to a metal tube of variable length. The trombone changes tube length with the slide, while trumpet, tuba, euphonium, and horn use valves. The trombone uses seven slide positions and the trumpet also has seven different tube lengths using the three valves. Each trombone position corresponds exactly with a valve combination, but the trombone sounds one octave lower than trumpet, and one octave higher than tuba.

  1. first position = open (no valves)
  2. second position = 2nd valve
  3. third position = 1st valve
  4. fourth position = 1st and 2nd valves, or 3rd valve
  5. fifth position = 2nd and 3rd valves
  6. sixth position = 1st and 3rd valves
  7. seventh position = 1st, 2nd, and 3rd valves

Many notes can be played in each position or valve combination and the patterns of these are the same for any brass instrument (called the overtone series).

There are also differences between the instruments a teacher must learn, eg, different clefs and transpositions, instrument care tips, etc. A teacher must also invested in purchasing a sizable music library for each instrument he regularly teaches. There are subtle differences as well. Tuba, trombone, and trumpet are on different ends of the spectrum of brass instruments and sometimes require different approaches. For example, a firm embouchure is more important for beginning trumpeters than tubists. Horn (aka French Horn) works on the same principles as other brass instruments, but has it's own unique transposition and considerations.

Before I started teaching trumpet, I obtained an instrument, and gave myself trumpet lessons. At first it felt terrible, as the muscle settings are different from trombone, but with a little steady practice, things got much better and I was able to demonstrate a good sound on the trumpet. This process gave me more sympathy for beginning students and proved that even if you are going about brass playing exactly right, good results take time and patience. New things tend to feel "wrong", but start to feel "right" over time.

I went through a similar process when I started teaching horn. I purchased a quality beginner's instrument for myself, gave myself lessons, and sought input on teaching from horn specialists. I have since had good results with students, and produced many of my own horn teaching materials, including a beginning method booklet for horn. Since horn is such a uniquely demanding brass instrument, I do limit myself to teaching beginning and early intermediate level players.

I currently do most of my demonstration playing on trombone in order to give my best quality musical example, but I keep trumpet and horn mouthpieces in my teaching bag, and instruments at my home studio, because some students need to hear an good live example of their specific instrument instead of just a good general brass sound played on trombone.

In teaching the brass instrument family, the good habits of brass playing, the fundamentals of musicianship, and the teaching process stay the same. I continue to teach trumpet, tuba, euphonium (baritone) and horn, because I enjoy the challenge and am pleased with the results my students have achieved. I do encourage my trumpet, horn, and tuba students to work with a specialist in their instrument as they get older and/or feel the need.

If you have any questions or concerns on the matter, please feel free to E-mail or call me.