The Snake Pit of the Trumpet

by Bobby Shew

Originally published to

Welcome to the “SNAKE PIT”!  I named this zone of the trumpet the snake pit because it is a region  of the register where we subconsciously start to make a compensation for one of the acoustical nightmares of the construction of the trumpet and the problems therein, at least as best as I understand.


From 4th line D and chromatically upwards to 1st ledger line A is the snake pit. It’s where we “get bitten”. What that means is that we start compensating our setting, making varied adjustments in order to get those damned notes centered and /or in tune. Without writing an entire treatise on acoustics here, I’ll try to summate.


For a few hundred years, we have been using an adjusted “tempered scale” because of the overtones being so mis-aligned and out of tune. The modern trumpet has 7 basic fundamental notes, i.e., from low F# fingered 1-2-3, and chromatically up to low C. The fingerings for those notes are the fundamental fingerings of the horn. The only of those notes that has an alternate fingering is the low A, using 3rd valve instead of 1-2. Back to the snake pit. Because of the alternate fingerings that we naturally are taught and usually must use, when we get to that pit area, every note is poorly centered and out of tune. We somehow sense this, both consciously and subliminally and thereby start pinching, twisting, pressing, etc., some sort of manipulation to get the notes to FEEL and SOUND right. But they DON’T! And it’s because they are all false or alternate fingerings. Usually these manipulations that we almost subconsciously make greatly affect our expansion to the upper register as well as our intonation, quality of sound, and endurance.


So, now that you know this (?), you can operate with a sense of predictability and start using your BRAIN to play them correctly, either by backing off rather than forcing, or by using an alternate fingering (usually problematic but very good in certain keys and based upon the function of the note in the chord). Am I losing you? Anyway, the double buzz means TWO airstreams, each creating a slightly different pitch / note in the cup. In almost every case, a slight opening of the aperture by jaw lowering will eliminate it. Trying to FORCE will only add to it as pinching occurs. By understanding this phenomena, you can learn to play right thru the snake pit and having extracted the venom, will not get killed by playing in this area. They’re just snakes, not necessarily something you cannot handle with ease gained from knowledge.

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