The road to success as a musician begins with learning how to hold your instrument properly. Always remember that the goal is to support your brass (also called brasswind) instrument, not to strangle it. Keep your hands and arms relaxed. Many music teachers speak of “cradling” the instrument, which is a great word because holding an instrument is not unlike holding a baby.
Tips for Holding Specific Brass Instruments
It is particularly important to remember to cradle the trumpet since it is small and would be easy to grab too strongly. Place the large pad of your left thumb against the back of the first valve (the one closest to the mouthpiece). Now wrap your hand around so that your index and middle fingers are cradling the far side of the third valve. Your fourth (ring) finger should be placed, appropriately enough, into the ring beyond the third valve. Your left pinky will then rest nearby, wherever it is comfortable.
Now place the tip of your right thumb between the first and second valves and slide it up until it is touching the lead pipe. Rest the pads of your index, middle, and ring fingers on top of the valves, with your index finger closest to the mouthpiece. Finally, rest your right pinky on top of the pinky hook, rather than hooking your finger inside it. Hold the trumpet with the valves vertical to avoid wrist strain.
Begin by holding the trombone vertically, with the bell pointing downwards. Wrap your left thumb securely but gently over and around the horizontal bar just above the bell. The middle, ring (fourth), and pinky fingers of your left hand should wrap around underneath the bar just below the mouthpiece. The pad of your index finger should rest against the lead pipe, next to the mouthpiece. Now tilt the trombone upward until it is horizontal, with the mouthpiece near your lips. You should find that the weight of the instrument rests primarily on your left palm, especially on the large muscles just below the base of your thumb.
Now gently grasp the slide with your right thumb, index, and middle fingers. Curl your right ring and pinky fingers in toward your palm, that way they will be out of the way when you move the slide.
The French horn is known as the “backward” brass instrument, because it is the one instrument in the family that is traditionally supported by the right hand, while the left hand operates the valves.
Begin by resting the horn on your lap with the mouthpiece on your left, pointing straight upward. Place your left pinky under the hook below the valves. The pads of your left index, middle, and ring fingers should rest on the valve levers, with your index finger closest to the mouthpiece. If you have a single-wrap horn, you will place your thumb inside the ring above the valves. Double-wrap horns have a thumb trigger, and you will rest your thumb there.
The other odd thing about the French horn is that your right hand goes inside the bell. Don’t stuff your hand in there—its purpose is to hold up the horn, not block the airflow. You should feel like the hand is on the verge of “falling out” of the bell. The knuckles at the base of your thumb and index finger, along with the next knuckle up on your index finger, will bear most of the instrument’s weight as you bring it to your mouth and prepare to play.
Euphonium, Baritone, or Tuba
Your left arm should wrap around the instrument as if you’re giving it a gentle hug. Your hand can wrap around any pipe(s), as long as you feel comfortable supporting most of the instrument’s weight with your left hand and arm.
Now bring the mouthpiece close to your face so that you can start the proper placement of your right hand. You will see that your instrument either has a thumb hook to the left of the valves or a pipe crossing behind the valves. Hook your relaxed right thumb under either the hook or the pipe, whichever you have. Now place the pad of your index finger on the first valve (closest to the mouthpiece) and your middle and ring fingers on the other two valves. Your pinky will simply float nearby.
Proper Holding Technique Matters!
Remember, using good technique when holding your instrument will make it more fun to play, and will also protect you from injuries.
Make sure you’re well supplied with brass accessories so you can give your instrument the loving care it deserves!