Do Sweat the Small Stuff, Part 2: Beginning Brass and Percussion

Do Sweat the Small Stuff, Part 2:

Beginning Brass and Percussion

By NAfME Member Meghan Cabral

This article originally appeared on the Band Director’s Talk Shop blog.


Have the students BUZZ

  • Just have them buzz. Buzz sirens, buzz their method book songs, buzz their band songs, buzz their solo music, have them buzz alone and with recordings—just have them buzz!
  • We could discuss whether it is right for the students’ success to buzz right from the first day. I know there are different philosophies on whether the students’ first “sound” should be on the mouthpiece or on the horn, but after they start—whichever way you start them—have them buzz.
  • Have students purchase a BERP (Buzz Extension and Resistance Piece) to help them buzz and finger at the same time.
beginning brass
Photo: Howard Rockwin, Musical Memories Photography

Hand position MATTERS

Trumpet players

  • Start their right hand curved onto the valves with pads of fingers on pearls and their pinky on top of the hook. (When students hook their pinky into side, we joke it becomes an “octave” key, because the student uses pressure to push the trumpet into their face for high notes.) Have them rest their pinky on top!
  • If the trumpet does not have a thumb holder for their left hand, place a piece of painter’s tape where the left thumb goes, in an effort to get students finger down on the trumpet.
Photo courtesy Meghan Cabral


All valve instruments

  • All fingers are curved around the valves!


  • Left-hand makes an L, and points across toward the mouthpiece
  • Right hand utilizes only two fingers and a thumb and is at the BOTTOM of the brace of the trombone
  • Place a sticker or piece of tape on the bottom of the brace, so students know where to hold it. This will help them pull their hand down on the slide. Utilizing painter’s tape helps, and it does not damage the instrument.


Photo courtesy of Meghan Cabral


Starting French horn players:

  • Sit sideways on the chair. Have students pull their right leg to the side of the chair and hold their bell on their knee that way. Utilize the right-left placement to change the placement of the mouthpiece to the student’s mouth.
  • Put tape in the bell of the French horn for hand placement.
French horn
Photo courtesy of Meghan Cabral


Starting Tuba Players? Check out this article.


Start your percussionists on mallets!

  • In an ideal world, they would start on small practice xylophones at home. I realize that our world is not ideal, which is why there is a bell kit!
  • DO NOT allow your students to utilize the stickers as cheats.
  • Have them memorize where the notes are on the keyboard, just like you have the students memorize the notes on all other instruments. (Don’t feel like you have enough time to reinforce? Utilize a flipped classroom video such as this—Percussion Keyboard Reading.)
Photo courtesy of Meghan Cabral


  • If you want a “cheat,” utilize painter’s tape on the first few notes without the note names on it! Just place tape on the key, and then after students get used to their hand position, remove it.
  • When holding snare mallets over the pad, tell students to make it look like a SLICE of pizza or pie.

Need hints for snare drum? This is a great article on using tape, and these two on the very first days of snare drum—Day 1 and Day 2!

Have you seen Part 1 in this series – DO Sweat the Small Stuff – Beginning Woodwinds?

About the author:

band directorNAfME member Meghan Cabral teaches middle school band and works in Carmel, New York. Meghan is a GRAMMY®-nominated quarterfinalist, has written for many music publications including The Instrumentalist Magazine, NAfME’s Teaching Music, Music Educators Journal, NYSBDA’s Band Stand, as well as NYSSMA’s School Music News. Meghan is an active guest conductor as well as clinician for music departments and at state conferences. You can follow Meghan on Twitter @band_mcabral, or Instagram @band_cabral or contact her at To find out more information about Meghan visit her website, or check out her new publication, “A New Band Approach,” which includes flipped classroom videos ready for day 1 of beginning band as well as more advanced flipped learning at

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