How to Improve your Dexterity on the Trumpet

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Why you need faster fingers

In my years teaching the trumpet I’ve had many students who pick up the instrument with many beliefs, one of them being that it will be easier than instruments with 17 or more keys. We only have 3 valves, what could possibly go wrong?!

Well, we get only 3 valves to play at least 31 notes. This means that we must not only learn how to change notes that use the same fingering combination, but also to be as fluid as possible when switching valves. This skill is separate from others, because it depends solely on your finger speed and strength. It has nothing to do with air, tone or tonguing. You can have a beautiful tone, but slow fingering will quickly stop you in your tracks.

Trumpet players need quick fingers to advance. Period. The demand for it begins rather early with the first set of sixteenth notes and never stops. Progress is highly dependent on this technique.

Learn how to improve your dexterity on the trumpet with the following tips, which I encourage you to implement slowly into your daily practice.


Too often beginner and intermediate trumpet players have lazy fingers, which results in valves not making it all the way up. When this happens, the transition between notes becomes smudgy and undesirable.

You can train yourself to not do this by purposely lifting your fingers higher than necessary. This acts as a double whammy exercise, because the extra muscle effort needed to do this strengthens your fingers, which in turn makes them faster.

Train the 3rd finger

That ring finger sure loves dragging itself and causing trouble!

This is due to the interconnection between the branches of radial and ulnar nerves hampering the complete independent movement of the ring finger. So, since anatomy is working against us, we must work that finger a bit harder than the others.

I recommend to focus on dexterity exercises that use the 123, 13 and 23 combinations. Going from 13 to 2 is especially difficult and therefore more important to spend time on. You can easily come up with exercises on your own. For example:

1) Set the metronome to 60.

2) Play D (13) to F# (2) in quarter notes for 1 measure.

3) Repeat the notes in eight notes for 1 measure.

4) Repeat again in sixteenth notes.

Chromatic exercises

These types of exercises, such as those found in Clarke Technical Studies 1, are incredibly helpful for improving your dexterity. However, they can be intimidating and simply too advanced for some. Instead, you can focus on two other exercises to work your way up to Clarke.

Use major scales in incremental speeds. First in quarters notes, then in eight notes etc. The goal is to achieve cleanliness and fluid fingers.

You can also use chromatic scales in the same manner. The key is to keep track of your tempo and go up when you are ready. Without tracking speed, you cannot see the progress or tempos in which you should spend more time.


If you want to take your lifts to the next level, you can not only lift high, but also slam down! You may be thinking I’ve gone off the rails, but this technique really works and is taught in the well-known Claude Gordon Systematic Approach to Trumpet Playing.

The idea is, again, that the added muscle use strengthens the fingers. And trust me, you want those fingers strong and quick!

The right hand grip is everything

The way you hold the trumpet with your right hand will make or break your ability to move your fingers freely, especially in the first 3 years of playing.

Make sure you do not:

1) Hook the pink into the hook.

2) Hook the thumb behind the first valve and under the lead pipe.

3) Press the valves with the middle of the fingers.

4) Keep your palm close to the valve casing.

Make sure you DO:

1) Free the pinky and allow it to float.

2) Rest the thumb under the lead pipe and between the 1st and 2nd valve OR under the lead pipe and in front of the 1st valve.

3) Press the valves with the balls of your fingers.

4) Leave space between your palm and the valve casing, as if holding a baseball.

Last thoughts

Good things come to trumpet players who work on dexterity! So get to work and avoid overwhelm by applying these tips incrementally into your daily practice routine. You absolutely shouldn’t throw them all in at once.

When in doubt, consult a professional instructor. I cover this and many more topics extensively in my trumpet lessons online course right here at THQ.

Please leave questions and comments below.


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Download the THQ Warmup Guide to learn eye-opening tips and lessons that will take your playing to the next level.

Maximize Your Trumpet Playing For Free

Download the THQ Warmup Guide to learn eye-opening tips and lessons that will take your playing to the next level.