Trumpeter, Author, Educator




Tone Production

Producing a beautiful resonant tone is the most important aspect of trumpet playing. All other areas of playing, including range, articulation, dynamic contrast, as well as more physical aspects such as breathing and embouchure should derive from the sound that the player hears in his or her head.  If the sound that is produced is not musically acceptable then others issues such as the ones listed above will become more prominent.  This is not to say that a player should expect his articulation to be fast just because he has a nice sound when playing long tones.  But it does mean that without a clear concept of sound the results will not reach the desired level of achievement. The same holds true for intonation.  For a player to be perceived as playing in tune, a rich, ringing sound is of the utmost importance. 

Where does the sound concept come from?

Listening to recordings and live performances helps develop our imagination and concept.  This sound concept directly effects what comes out of our instrument.  This is a process that is constantly being refined.  It is important to seek out the highest levels of musicianship and listen constantly.  This applies to listening to other trumpet players as well as listening to vocalists, string players and other wind players.  The more one listens, the more the aural imagination will grow.   Many times I have heard conductors or teachers say to approach a passage in a way that imitates a singer or a string instrument.  Without a wide palate of aural concepts to choose from the analogy is lost.  One cannot play an accurate rendition of the Haydn trumpet concerto without some aural knowledge of music of that period.  The same holds true in jazz music.  It is an aural tradition that depends upon imitation of past musical ideas for the growth of new ones. Phrasing, articulation and tone color all derive from imitation.  

How and what to practice

The physical and mental make up of every player is different.  Practice schedules and what materials are used may change from day to day depending on performance demands. Because of these factors a player must be organized and efficient to produce the maximum results from personal practice.  It is my belief that a player benefits most from three to four practice sessions per day.   Each session should last somewhere between fifty minutes to an hour.  Sufficient rest should follow each session.   Each session should have specific goals.  It is important that these goals are clearly defined and the player has the flexibility to alter them accordingly.  The following is a suggested outline for a practice day. 

  • Daily Fundamentals

  • Etudes and Specific Fundamental Practice

  • Repertoire-both Solo and Ensemble

  • Additional Repertoire or Specific Technical Practice

The first session of daily fundamentals is a crucial part in the make up of a successful player.  Typically the session should cover the following basic aspects:

  • Tone production

  • Articulation

  • Flexibility

  • Scales and Technical Exercises

As a player begins this session it is important to start with a clear idea of the sound one desires to achieve.  I suggest two things should take place before a mouthpiece is placed on the face.  The first is listening to some music that one wishes to imitate.  This will serve as a stimulus and give the player a clear goal.  It is amazing how much this can influence the product one is producing right away. 

The second is to take a minute or two to sit quietly and let the mind focus on the task at hand.  So many mistakes are avoided if there is a high level of concentration. The fundamental session should not lack intensity.  The player is preparing for a wide range of daily tasks and having the fundamentals working is imperative. 

Mouthpiece buzzing is a subject of some controversy among trumpet players.  My personal feeling is if it helps the player it should be used.  If not, it is fine to start the day out without it.  If one chooses to start by buzzing the mouthpiece it important that it is done in a way that will translate as close as possible to playing the trumpet.  Holding the mouthpiece in one hand, while playing the notes being buzzed on the piano with the other hand is one way to achieve this.  Also one should pay attention to the volume of the buzzing.  If it is too loud it will spread the aperture and cause more harm than good.

Some type of long tone or sustained tone exercise is recommended to start the first part of the session.  The three methods I suggest are the Flow Studies by Vincent Cichowitcz, the long tone exercises in Michael Sachs’s Daily Fundamentals for Trumpet, or the patterns in the beginning of James Stamps Warm-Ups for Trumpet.   All of these studies should be played in a smooth lyrical style.  The player should decide how far to take these and what methods should be used based on how he or she feels on a given day.  It is important to keep in mind that brass playing uses a combination of sound and feel. 

The next area to address in this fundamental session is articulation.  Articulation should be clear and fluid.  I prefer to use the syllables Tu or Tah. Either of these will work and the player should decide what feels and works best for them.  All types of articulations and styles of articulation should be practiced here.  This should include multiple tonguing as well.  The primary methods used in this session are the Arban Complete Conservatory Method, Clarke Technical Studies, Gekker Articulation Studies, and Vizzutti Technical Studies. 

Lip flexibility or “lip slurs” are critical to brass playing.  This type of practice will strengthen one’s facility through the overtone series.  It is important to approach these types of exercises from a musical point of view.  If work in this area becomes too physical then bad habits will develop and the exercise will do more harm than good.  Players should try to keep a vocal approach.  Flexibility practice should start slow and gradually add speed and extended ranges. Suggested methods for this area of practice are: Bai-Lin Lip Flexibilities for Brass Instruments, Charles Colin’s Lip Flexibilities, and Irons 27 Groups of Exercises.

 A brief set of technical studies and scale practice should be used to complete the fundamental session.  Students should use methods from Clarke Technical Studies, Vizzutti Technical Studies or Gekker Articulation Studies.  It is a good idea to play through several keys of technical studies and scales. Players should also work in modes other than major to enhance technique and keep this part of practice fresh and engaging.  One way to do this is to assign one set of exercises per week and then change them the following week.  For example, play Clarke’s Second Study using the odd numbers for week one then change to even numbers the next week.  The following two weeks use the same concept this time in minor.  Varying articulation and rhythmic patterns should also be used, much of this can be left up to the creativity of the player.  Players should always use a metronome to mark progress and ensure steady rhythm.

The second session will address additional technical practice and etudes.  Within this session players should use some of the same methods (i.e. Arban, Clarke etc) to work on areas of technique. Additionally players should try to work on one to three etudes per week.  Etudes should address not only advanced technique but lyrical playing as well. This session should be one of short term goals.  By this I mean players should assign themselves specific items to practice for a period of time and try to achieve the best possible results in that specified time frame. Then the player should select new exercises that cover similar skills. This type of well planned practice will maximize results and prevent boredom and mindless playing which often results in detrimental practice habits.