You’re at such an important decision point! Choosing an instrument is such a big decision because you will be spending hundreds of hours playing it. So it’s a good idea to find out what you’re getting yourself into. Which is easier? The flute or the trumpet?
The trumpet is more difficult to start learning initially, but in the long run when comparing in all categories both instruments are of equal difficulty.
The trumpet’s main difficulty in comparison to the flute is the trumpet embouchure which requires intense coordination. The flute player requires strong breath support and strong proficiency in playing complex and fast rhythms.
So what does that mean for you? That it doesn’t matter? Sure it does. Let’s dive in to see what exact difficulties you might face with each instrument and what you feel most up for.
Difficulty of Flute And Trumpet Compared
So, pro tip. I can tell you how to predict the future.
“Peter”, you might think… “that’s impossible!”
Well, it’s not. Here’s the secret.
If you ask your friend who plays the flute whether the flute is harder than the trumpet, they will say the flute. Every time.
If you ask your trumpet friend whether the flute is harder than the trumpet, they will say the trumpet. Every time.
It’s because it’s difficult to truly answer the question because every instrument has its own difficulties and struggles. Hopefully by the end of this section you’ll have a better idea of what I mean. I’ll summarize quickly, though by saying that in the beginning trumpet players have some really tough difficulties to work through, but that the difficulty between the two instruments evens out over time.
Why Is the Flute Hard?
Flute players are incredibly talented and hardworking musicians. Unlike some instruments where the sound is made for them by simply pressing a key or pushing a button, the flute requires outstanding breath support and coordination to play
Embouchure is just a fancy way of saying the mouth and lips and cheeks all working together to make the sound of the flute.
The flute has a challenging embouchure–the lips have to be in a very controlled position at all times to produce a beautiful sound without squeaks.
Flute players play higher by adjusting their wind speed, and this is tricky for maintaining an embouchure because you have to use your diaphragm, your lips and your mouth all together to make this happen.
A tendency for new players is for the embouchure opening (your mouth) to be too big or too small, or to not be focused enough and for the air to leak. New players struggle to maintain their embouchure in a consistent way from note to note without resetting it all the time.
If you try and play a flute you’ll notice that you don’t get an instantly amazing sound (if you can make a sound at all). It turns out it takes a lot of practice to effectively (beautifully and efficiently play the flute.
One unique aspect of flute playing is that you are blowing into the instrument with very little resistance. What does that mean and why does it matter?
If you open your mouth wide and try and blow out all the air in your lungs as quickly as possible, you’ll notice it barely takes any time at all because there is no air resistance.
If you narrow your lips to as barely open as possible and then again you try and blow out all your air as quickly as possible you’ll notice your air lasts a lot longer because the air resistance from your lips was much higher.
With the trumpet you have the mouthpiece and the trumpet itself to provide some air resistance. With the saxophone you have the mouthpiece with its reed and the horn itself to provide resistence.
The flute is different. There is nothing to give you air resistance, except your lips themselves.
This means that good flute players have to be expert breathers. They not only have to tastefully breathe while playing but they have to learn to breathe in as much air as possible and use it as efficiently as possible.
This is basically true of all wind instruments, but the flute is next level in this requirement.
To make this even more difficult, the way to play higher is (in part) to breathe out faster! And guess what… flutes play high a lot! Otherwise they wouldn’t get heard. (read more about the tough role the flute plays to learn more)
I’m not sure why, but the concert flute has a peculiar design that requires the flute player to hold the instrument to one side. The weight of the instrument is to the side of the player and your hands are held above your shoulder. (which can stress the rotator cuff ) Playing the flute is not comfortable for this reason for beginners.
Eventually you get used to the position, but after extended use it’s very easy to let bad habits slip in because it takes effort to hold the flute in the safest way possible.
This study out of many I saw shows that flute players regularly suffer from back, neck and shoulder problems.
Tough Role Means Really Complicated Music
One reason why the flute is hard is that it is quiet.
You might think… flutes are quiet? Really?
Well, yes, a flute can play loudly, but in comparison to the rest of a band, the flute is often drowned out by the trumpets, the saxophones, the trombones–often it’s the flutes and clarinets filling in the gaps in a song and are often underappreciated.
Because of this, although flutes have a quite an expansive range, a lot of orchestral music for the flutes is in the higher range because the higher register will pierce through the mix and can be heard over the other louder instruments.
Think of it this way, if there was a child talking in a room with 20 deep-voiced adults, you would probably be able to recognize the higher-pitched if quieter voice of the child fairly quickly (because the child’s voice is in a higher register).
So, what does this mean? Why does this make the flute harder?
Because the flute is quieter, it’s often given music with more runs. What are runs? This is from the Hungarian Dance by Brahms:
This is the kind of music that flute players have to live with– super high, super fast runs that go up and down constantly.
Every instrument can see this kind of music as well, but because the flute is quiet it’s often used to fill in the space of the music. If trumpets or saxophones had these parts they would overwhelm the song and not sound as beautiful.
I’m not a professional musician, but from the years I spent in band, the flutes and clarinets constantly had really fast runs for long periods of time. This means lots of air. Lots of breath support required. Flute is hard!
Why Is the Trumpet Hard?
So the trumpet is also a difficult instrument, but for different reasons. The first reason I’m going to say here is the embouchure–now, this may seem like the same as the flute, but the thing is that the trumpet embouchure is also difficult for different reasons.
The trumpet embouchure is considered one of the most difficult out of the many wind instruments, and it’s really the main reason that the trumpet is a difficult instrument.
The trumpet embouchure in particular requires a lot of coordination, because unlike other instruments where the only output necessary from the mouth is air, the trumpet player is actually producing the vibration with their lips. In other words, if you were to play High C on the trumpet (which is around 1000 HZ), then you have to buzz your lips 1000 times per second.
This type of coordination requires countless hours of practice to get right and in fact this coordination has to be maintained in order to be able to maintain the playing range and endurance. If you don’t play trumpet for a month you won’t be able to play as you did a month ago without a ramping up period. This is similar to most athletic sports.
If you’re interested in learning more about the embouchure and its difficulties, check out my article here.
Braces are rough for any wind instrument. The embouchure for any flute player, saxophonist or trumpet player feels completely compromised when braces enter the picture!
However, trumpets are especially hard because the trumpet is placed on the players lips, which are against the players teeth. Although trumpet players should seek to play with as little pressure as necessary, pressure does happen.
Pressure on braces inside your mouth? No good. Trumpet players often play with wax while playing because of this. It can be very painful. It’s kind of rough too because you definitely don’t want to get that wax inside your instrument either.
So, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t play trumpet if you are going to play braces–but if you are planning on playing the trumpet for a long time, then you might think about getting braces sooner than later.
Trumpet players must buzz their lips as they play. This requires coordination and micro-muscle strength. This means that a trumpet player can run out of gas (proverbially) after a few songs because their cheek and face muscles can actually give out.
What’s worse is that when a trumpet player gets tired, they can get into bad habits, like using pressure from the trumpet to help form the embouchure or bad posture (bad posture is easy to get into when you’re tired for any instrument to be honest).
These bad habits can lead to embouchure damage and to reduced endurance from the next playing session. A vicious cycle. It’s one of the many difficulties that trumpet and other brass players face.
So, Which Is More Difficult? Trumpet? Or Flute?
So, that’s a lot of information. I actually wrote a similar comparison between the saxophone and the trumpet, and I found that a lot of these comparisons that were true for the saxophone vs. the trumpet were also true for the flute vs. the trumpet. Even though the instruments are very different.
In my opinion, because of the conditioning required for the trumpet embouchure I’d say the trumpet is slightly more difficult in the short term (first year or two of playing). After that, though, I’d say all of the other difficulties of the flute weigh in. The flute and trumpet are equally difficult instruments.