The Left Hand Grip

Over the past couple of years I’ve been dealing with some pain in my left thumb after holding my instrument for any length of time. I’ve got a similar issue in my right thumb and wrist that fortunately doesn’t bother my trombone playing, but it can become distracting at the end of playing a 3 hour gig.

There are contraptions that I know many players use to help hold the instrument for them, but I don’t feel that it’s quite necessary for me (yet) to go that far. In fact, I’m a little cautious about any change in how I’m holding my instrument because it is a very important part of playing technique. On trumpet and trombone, for example, the left hand pretty much holds the instrument by itself. The height and angle of the instrument as it contacts the lips is very much going to influence the embouchure technique (and in more ways than a lot of players seem to realize).

For most of my playing career I’ve been holding my trombone in the standard way, with my forefinger over the shank of the mouthpiece and my other fingers griping the instrument like this.

What I’m now finding is that that group keeps my thumb pulled away just enough to start hurting after a bit. But making a minor change by moving my middle finger on to the other side of the brace takes the pressure off my thumb.

It’s less of an issue when I play my symphonic horn with an F attachment. The nature of that grip is such that I can leave my second finger where it is standard or bring it on the other side of the brace like in the above photo, just with my thumb on the F trigger. It’s a little awkward that way because my 2nd finger might get a bit in the way of pressing the trigger down, so I tend to hold that horn traditionally. Both grips are close enough to each other that it’s not hard at all to keep my instrument at my lips correctly and consistently.

If you do an Internet search for “trumpet grips” you’ll find a lot more variations than you usually find with trombonists. Some teachers seem to make a bigger deal of holding the trumpet a particular way than others, but it of course depends a lot on the individual player’s hand size and, to a certain degree, the music that player performs. For example, a lead trumpet player specialist is not going to need to kick out the third valve slide as often as someone who plays more in the lower register, so you could argue that the former’s trumpet grip doesn’t need to concern that characteristic as much.

What I don’t advocate for is a grip or way of holding the instrument that is inconsistent. I believe it’s better in the long term for the musician to find a comfortable left hand grip that enables him or her to play everything that they may be asked to and keep it consistent. A consistent grip will go a long way to a consistent embouchure.

Lastly, for brass musicians who play tuba, horn, and euphonium/baritone horn you will need to do some experimentation to find a position of the instrument that is both comfortable for you to hold for long periods of time and also is ideal to match your physiology. Horn angles, mouthpiece placement, and other features of brass technique are personal. If a horn player, for example, rests his or her bell against her leg it may or may not put the mouthpiece on the lips at the right angle and height. He or she will also have some trouble performing standing up for a solo recital. It’s better to learn to play by holding the horn off the leg. Tubists and euphonium players might want to consider adjustable instrument stands to help hold the instrument at the correct height and angle to fit their body.

Want more on the left hand grip, but from the standpoint of a bass trombonist? I highly recommend you check out Doug Yeo’s article in his FAQ, “I’ve been experiencing pain in my left arm when playing trombone. What is causing it and how can I fix the problem?

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