Beginning Method Books

The success of any beginning trumpet student depends largely on the music that he or she is first asked to play. Students can become bored, overwhelmed, discouraged, or hooked depending on their repertoire. The following suggestions apply primarily to first-year students, and do not address the needs of intermediate or advanced performers. Since the selection of music depends primarily on the ability and enthusiasm of person who must play it, it should go without saying that no one method will work for every trumpet player.


Full Band Methods

(Accent on Achievement, Essential Elements, Standard of Excellence, etc.)

Advantages: Nothing discourages a student more quickly than attending band and feeling like everyone else is better. Since many students learn by rote at first, it can be a good idea to reinforce basic concepts such as fingering and rhythmic values within the context of the music they will need for class. It is not safe to assume that just because they learn “E-D-C” in their private lessons, they will recognize and correctly finger the same series of notes when their band plays “Hot Cross Buns”. Working out of a band book can build confidence because students see that they are on par with their peers, and possibly even ahead of the class.

Disadvantages: Band methods inevitably program students to view certain things (sixteenth notes, low F-sharp, and the key of D-flat major, to name a few) as “hard” and others as “easy.” In reality, none of these things is significantly harder than anything else, but most of us come to the trumpet with biases against these things because they were not introduced in the early stages of our experience. Private teachers should take every opportunity to supplement band methods with other materials or exercises that will encourage advanced musicianship.


Beginning Books Specific to Trumpet Players

(Rubank Elementary Method for the Cornet or Trumpet, Beeler Method for the Cornet, Edwards-Hovey method, Getchell Practical Studies books, Sigmund Hering Progressive Etudes, etc.)

These books fall into two basic categories: those intended as method books, and those intended as etude books. Method books will usually include explanatory text (i.e. how to hold the instrument and form an embouchure) and technical exercises (scales, articulation studies, lip slurs, etc.). Etude books assume that a student is already receiving information about how to play the instrument, and simply provide musical studies for practice. Theoretically, a student could teach himself to play the trumpet using a method book, and then apply his ability to the music in an etude book.

Advantages: The primary advantage of these materials is that they provide more challenging material than band methods, thereby allowing a student to develop technical depth and proficiency. Any trumpet player needs a healthy diet of technical exercises so as to develop maturity as an instrumentalist, and no band method will adequately address this need. Furthermore, etude books in particular provide an important contrast to band books in that they foster an appreciation for more abstract music. These types of books may be best used in conjunction with one another or with band methods, since students who play only technical exercises are likely to lose interest.

Disadvantages: Many method books advance rapidly into the upper reaches of the trumpet’s range, and teachers will need to be selective about which exercises to assign. But the biggest problem with these methods is that most young students simply lack enthusiasm for this type of music. Having never heard the tunes before, they have no context within which to assess whether they are playing the correct notes and rhythms and can become easily frustrated. Especially for young students, lack of enthusiasm is a fast track to quitting the instrument.


A Word About the Arban Book….

J.B. Arban’s Complete Conservatory Method for the Cornet has long been a staple in the trumpet player’s library. Many have referred to it as the “bible” of trumpet playing, both for its encyclopedic nature and its whopping size (depending on the edition 1 – 1 1/2” thick, with a price tag to match). It is not uncommon for a student to show up for his first lesson with little more than an Arban book, since someone told him it would be a must-own. Unfortunately, most beginning students can do very little with their $40 Arban text. Its initial pages span the range of the instrument through high G, and almost all of its exercises require third-space C or higher. Why would anyone write such a book for beginners?

In fact, Arban wrote his method as the textbook for his cornet class at the Paris Conservatory. At the time, trumpets had no valves and were therefore limited in their capabilities. But the valved cornet was a fully chromatic instrument that had recently appeared on the scene and which Arban viewed as having the potential for greatness. After several years of debate, the administrators at the Conservatoire consented to let Arban start a cornet class at the school—but left it to him to come up with a textbook. His students, therefore, may have been new to the cornet, but they almost certainly played the trumpet already. (Thanks to ASU Regents’ Professor David R. Hickman for this background information.)

Recently, an adaptation of this text has appeared entitled My First Arban. The newer version (only about $6) reduces several of the range requirements and shortens many of the exercises. Personally, however, I have found that I can teach the same concepts using other texts. For older students, however, the Arban book truly is an essential purchase. As soon as a student can reliably play a G on top of the staff, he or she should acquire a copy.


Herbert L. Clarke’s Technical Studies for Cornet

…is the only book that I require all of my students to own. As soon as a trumpet student is fully conversant with the notes of the C major scale, she needs a Clarke book. This text is entirely scale-based and contains the same sets of exercises transposed into all major keys in all registers. I start my students on the second study and take them week by week through all possible keys. Used with a metronome and some creativity, this book can aid in the development of finger dexterity, triggering, double or single tonguing, dynamic levels, articulation patterns, major and minor keys, high and low register, and fluid motion between all of these extremes. However, it should never be a student’s only lesson assignment, lest practicing grow too tedious. Most of my beginners panic when they open it, and have to be carefully shown that exercise 32 is already within their grasp.


“Themed” Books

(“movie favorites”, “top 100 pop charts”, “greatest classical hits”, etc.)

Advantages: Many of these books come with CD accompaniment, which can provide a more interesting practice environment. Some of the recordings also feature professional musicians playing the solo line, which can help students to establish a good sound concept. I find these books to be useful material for students who are progressing quickly and are bored by their band books, for students who need motivation and find these pieces more exciting than other music, and for first-year recitals.

Disadvantages: Many (not all) of these books are simply too hard. The worst culprits are probably those that reproduce songs from the radio, since they usually include extremely complex rhythms that are actually incorrect when compared to the vocal rendition. Parents hoping to purchase one of these books for their son or daughter in order to provide extra motivation should ask either the student or the student’s private instructor whether the material is actually playable.

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One thought on “Beginning Method Books

    April 19, 2013 at 1:40 am

    I love this write up because I have a trumpet student thanks JOHN

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