From classical bands and orchestras to improvisational jazz combos, the trumpet has long had a prevalent place in music. If you are looking to become an accomplished player in either sphere, the first steps you need to take in order to get there involve getting comfortable with having the trumpet in your hands, and in connection, becoming familiar with trumpet fingering patterns. And as is the case with most instruments, the best way to build this comfort is to start practicing and mastering major scales.
Need some musical background before you start playing the trumpet? Take Udemy’s Keyboard Basics course to learn about major and minor scales on the most standard of all instruments: the piano.
Playing trumpet scales, of course, is different than playing scales with a piano or guitar. While the 12 major scales are inherently always the same in the notes and intervals that make them up, the way those scales are produced by each individual instrument is quite different. With the trumpet, the learning curve is higher than usual because players have to understand both how to produce fingering patterns as well as how to produce notes with the mouth shape (called embouchure) and breath support. Before you move on with this guide to playing trumpet scales, you might consider taking Udemy’s “Trumpet – A Beginner’s Guide” course, just to get a primer on these and other building block skills.
Understanding Trumpet Fingering Notation
When you go to play trumpet scales, especially if you are using Internet resources to teach yourself the instrument, you are often going to see them presented in fingering notation that, while easy to understand, can be confusing for a beginner. Still, this tablature can be easier for first time players to read quickly and efficiently than sheet music.
Before you head out and memorize the trumpet finger chart, let’s take a moment to discuss how trumpet sound is produced at all. Trumpets have three valves, each of which alters the pitch. Trumpets also come in a variety of different tunings, with B♭ tuning being the most common trumpet variety used around the world.
With this B♭ tuning, when all the valves are left open – which is to say, you play a pitch with the trumpet as it is, without pushing any of the valve keys down – the instrument will usually sound a B♭. Confusing is that this open valve pitch is notated as a C in most sheet music or tablature, but don’t worry about that for now: merely focus on learning the different note fingerings and scales. (Note: Also remember that each valve position can produce several different pitches, with lip pressure and air pressure playing roles in deciding which pitch is sounded.)
Tablature for an open valve note would be written either as “ooo” – so as to best represent the openness of the valve – or simply as “Open”, since the meaning of such a term in trumpet playing is hard to confuse. Comparatively, a note with closed valves would be marked as “xxx” or as “123”, with numbers being assigned to each valve and showing which ones should be pressed down to produce a certain pitch. In common notation, “1” is the valve closest to the player, while “3” is the valve furthest away.
Applying Fingering Notation to Major Trumpet Scales
Now that you know how to read basic trumpet tablature, we can move on to using that notation to play individual scales. Look below for a chart outlining the 12 different major scales in trumpet tablature. I will alternate between x and o tablature and number tablature to give you a sense of what both look like and how both can be useful for illustrating trumpet notes. Each note is notated as “pitch: finger pattern.”
For different pitches notated with the same tablature, practice with different levels of lip pressure and air pressure to change the pitch. This same practice can be used to switch octaves. Beginning players will likely want to drop the octave on higher scales to provide for more manageable playing.
C: ooo / D: xox / E: xxo / F: xoo / G: ooo / A: xxo / B:oxo / C: ooo
C#: 123 / D#: 23 / F: 1 / F#: 2 / G#: 23 / A#: 1 / C: Open / C#: 12
D: xox / E: xxo / F#: oxo / G: ooo / A: xxo / B: oxo / C#: xxo / D: xoo
E♭: 23 / F: 1 / G: Open / A♭: 23 / B♭: 1 / C: Open / D: 1 / E♭: 2
E: xxo / F#: oxo / G#: oxx / A: xxo / B: oxo / C#: xxo / D#: oxo / E: ooo
F: 1 / G: Open / A: 12 / B♭: 1 / C: Open / D: 1 / E: Open / F: 1
F#: oxo / G#: oxx / A#: xoo / B: oxo / C#: xxo / D#: oxo / E#: xoo / F#: oxo
G: Open / A: 12 / B: 2 / C: Open / D: 1 / E: Open / F#: 2 / G: Open
A♭: oxx / B♭: xoo / C: ooo / D♭: xxo / E♭: oxo / F: xoo / G: ooo / A♭: oxx
A: 12 / B: 2 / C#: 12 / D: 13 / E: Open / F#: 2 / G#: 23 / A: 12
B♭: xoo / C: ooo / D: xoo / E♭: oxo / F: xoo / G: ooo / A: xxo / B♭: xoo
B: 2 / C#: 12 / D#: 2 / E: Open / F#: 2 / G#: 23 / A#: 1 / B: 2
A Note on Concert Pitch
As you perfect your trumpet scales in the major keys above, and as you continue looking at more and more trumpet-based music, you may come across the term “concert pitch” on numerous occasions. Particularly, this term is common in orchestral scores, chamber ensemble scores, and in other sheet music that demands a trumpeter to play with several other instruments at once.
This term exists because trumpets are customarily tuned at B♭, which means that they are a whole step down from other instruments that are simply tuned in C. A written C major scale for a trumpet (as presented above) actually sounds as a B♭ major scale. Therefore, if a piece of orchestral music is written in C major, trumpet players will receive their parts presented in “concert pitch C major,” which is actually up a whole step to the D major scale as written above.
When it comes to actually learning trumpet scales, concert pitch is not of paramount importance, but it is still worth knowing what the different scales translate to in concert pitch. To do this, just move the given key of the scale down a full step. For instance, the trumpet E major scale is a concert D major scale, while the trumpet B♭ major scale is a concert A♭ major scale, and so on and so forth.
The Next Steps of Trumpet Study
Once you have mastered the art of major key trumpet scales, you will be well on your way to becoming a capable trumpet player! Once you have these scales down, you can start working on minor scales, on improvising in certain keys to get more comfortable with their frameworks, and even on solo trumpet pieces. Take Udemy’s Trumpet: Beyond Beginner or Intermediate Trumpet Solos courses to learn what you need to know as you develop your skills on this wonderful and dynamic instrument.