Effective Practicing

July 1, 2014

            A consistent and well-structured routine is essential for developing players and professionals alike. A quality daily routine will cover all facets of trumpet playing, including: air flow, tone production, finger dexterity, flexibility, articulation, range, and dynamics. Each player is unique, and will need to determine for himself how to balance these fundamental areas. The guidance of a good teacher is a must, however, the student will eventually need to develop the ability to recognize his own needs and have the knowledge base to address issues as they come up.


A warm-up is… JUST THAT! So many people have the daily routine and the warm-up confused with one another, or believe that they are the same thing. This is simply not so. A warm-up should be a 5 to 10 minute session that orients the player to the trumpet. Different kinds of gigs require different kinds of warm-ups – I don’t worry too much about my extreme upper register when I’m sitting in an orchestral trumpet section, and you probably won’t hear me doing a lot of double tonguing prior to a jazz gig. The most important aspect of any warm-up, though, is the quality of the sound. 


The sound we make on the horn can be likened to the quality of paint a fine artist would choose for his next masterpiece. The sound of the trumpet is what we can craft, it is what defines one player from another, and it is the only part of a performance that the audience can take home with them (CDs, MP3 recordings, etc.) Also, from the player’s perspective, the quality of the sound is an indication of how correctly or incorrectly things are going. An experienced musician can let the sound they are making guide the direction of their warm-up.


Notice I have made no reference to feel. How something “feels” isn’t a great indication that things are working properly. “Feeling good” is a luxury that happens sometimes, and is a hot commodity when on the road for an extended period of time. This is why I have named the sound as the guiding force behind trumpet playing, and not feel. No bandleader or show, in my experience, has ever waited to start a gig because I didn’t feel good!


Beyond addressing the fundamental aspects of trumpet playing, the practice session should include music. No one pays to hear someone play long tones or chromatic studies, but they do come to hear music performed. As a multi-faceted trumpet player, I need to cover several genres of music each day. I make sure to spend time on my C trumpet, my piccolo, and my flugelhorn in addition to the B-flat trumpet. I improvise, play etudes, and work on the standard orchestral literature as well as solo trumpet pieces. It is also important to practice sight-reading. Very few gigs have more than one rehearsal, if they have a rehearsal at all. For certain styles, especially commercial and jazz, I try to keep my sight-reading ability at the same level as a well rehearsed performance. This may seem unrealistic to some, but reading is a skill that can be learned and perfected. You’ve read this article, something you could not do until you practiced reading English quite a bit. But reading, just as in any language, is not separated from hearing. Listening to music is as important to sight-reading as actually reading music is. You have to understand the musical context within which you are working. Listening to the masters will give you an understanding of how to work within a certain framework. Articulations mean different things from genre to genre, and from decade to decade, and so on. 


After a thorough practice session, or gig, it is always a good idea to warm-down. Do things that will put your playing back on track. Sometimes we do what we have to do in order to get through a passage, or a gig, and it’s not always ideal trumpet playing technique. Taking a moment at the end of a session to put yourself back together will make the next session much easier and more enjoyable. It will reduce swelling, and prevent the stiffening of the embouchure muscles.


Practicing is a means to achieve a successful, musical performance. It is easy to become obsessed over trivial things, so it is important to remember that the reason we do this is to play music. Exercises are just exercises, but music is ART! Create beautiful art every day and you will make our world a better place.

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