I’m with the Band – Part 1

Puppet bands are common in puppet ministry programs, so puppeteers are going to want to learn to work with instrument props.  It can be challenging to have our puppets play instruments and make it look believable.  In this series of blog posts, we want to share a few tips and tricks to help your puppets master their instruments.

Trumpets and other Horns

For many of our puppet instruments we use children’s toys.  They are the perfect size for puppets, not to mention the fact that they are a whole lot lighter than the real thing.  You can often find puppet sized trumpets at your favorite toy story, One Way Street also stocks toy trumpets.

The first thing we need to do, with any instrument, is look at how the instrument is actually played and try to duplicate this with our puppets.  In the case of trumpets, the musician presses the horn’s mouthpiece against their lips and blows air through the instrument.  Note: The mouthpiece goes against the lips of the player, not in their mouth.  So to stick the mouthpiece of our prop trumpet into the mouth of a puppet would be wrong.  However, it’s hard to keep the mouthpiece against the puppet’s lips.  So, our first step is to take a piece of a wooden or metal rod and glue it to the inside of the mouthpiece.  You want to have a good inch or two of rod sticking out of the mouthpiece.

This will give the puppet something to bite down on.  This will help the mouthpiece to stay pressed against the puppet’s lips.  For instruments like a saxophone or clarinet, use a popsicle stick.

Next we will want to attach the trumpet to a rod for manipulation.  Drill a hole somewhere in the bottom of the instrument.  For a trumpet it would probably be at the bottom of one of the valves.  Make the hole just big enough to insert a puppet arm-rod.

Then secure the rod by putting some hot glue in and around the hole.  Be careful when you do this, not only is the glue hot, but the glue will make the metal arm-rod hot too!

Now that we have the trumpet on a rod, we need to get the puppet attached to the trumpet.  The ideal way to do this, is to actually sew the puppet into the instrument.  Place the puppets hands on either side of the trumpet and use some thin invisible thread to sew his hands around the instrument.  Now, sometimes we need to use a quicker method, so we turn to good old rubber bands.  A trumpet usually has all sorts of open spaces which we can put a rubber band through.  Then we put the puppet’s hands through the rubber band on either side of the horn.  Ta-da…it looks like the puppet is holding the trumpet.  To operate the puppet’s arms we won’t need anything more than the rod that is attached to the trumpet.  Manipulating that, will manipulate the puppet’s arms.  This same method will work for other prop horns.

Once the puppet is rigged up, have the puppeteer who will be operating it spend some time looking at how trumpet players move their bodies as they play.  Notice how they lean back on higher notes.  Notice how they often sway the instrument side to side with the beat of the music.  Notice how they have to breathe between passages.  All of these things can be duplicated with the puppet.  Simply holding the instrument up to the puppet’s mouth is not enough.   This is a perfect opportunity for directors and puppeteers to work together to find the best result.

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