How not to get a trumpet job

IMG_3951From yesterday’s post, we know that trumpet unemployment in the U.S. is more than 87% for new college trumpet degree graduates. I think the real figure is more like 95%. But that’s okay, because today, I want to help those who do not want a full-time job or its equivalent in the trumpet world. Sorry this list is so long–but the journey toward unemployment is long.

  1. Before college, be satisfied with your public schools’ music programs for all of your trumpet needs. You should not feel the need for a private teacher. The professional orchestra performs nearby, but why would you need to hear them when you can hear your own band play every day?
  2. Don’t worry about your embouchure. If there are problems, then you can fix them later.
  3. Don’t listen to art music. Yes, you have to play trumpet for the school band and marching band, but when you are on your own, you want to listen to pop, rock and roll, country, or hip hop.
  4. Don’t have a favorite trumpet player or players. Again, who cares about music with trumpet? You just want to follow the hottest pop bands.
  5. Don’t enter solo and ensemble contests, and avoid All-District and All-State competitions. Those are on the weekends, and weekends are made for fun!
  6. Choose a college to go to because they have a great football team. Bonus points for choosing a college because it’s where your friends or family went. Go with the school that seems to be the most enthusiastic about recruiting you–you’ll be happiest there.
  7. When you’re are at college, major in trumpet performance because those band trips in high school were so fun and because the humanities and sciences are boring. 
  8. At college, choose the easiest music courses and teachers, because that will help your grade point average.
  9. Don’t practice more than an hour and a half per day. If you played it once correctly, then move on.
  10. Don’t bother ordering all those pieces that your trumpet teacher asked you to purchase. You can get a lot of music online. Also, you need to be working on wind ensemble and pep band music anyway.
  11. Study ear training only enough to pass the music theory exams. It’s really called, “ear straining.”
  12. Keep bringing in the same pieces to your lessons over and over. “I had a really hard time getting around to the new etude this week, but here’s Egmont Overture for the 10th time.”
  13. Join a social fraternity. Become popular.
  14. Don’t bother trying to get a C trumpet, a piccolo trumpet or an E-flat.
  15. Argue with your teacher. This shows your independence as a musician.
  16. When you finally get around to practicing excerpts, practice them only while warming up before band rehearsal–that impresses the other trumpeters. Just learn the excerpts and not the whole piece, because they will only ask the popular excerpts at auditions.
  17. Once you start practicing excerpts, decide that an orchestra job should really be your only goal (because it’s so hard to get in, it makes the job pretty exclusive).
  18. Do not practice technique, long tones, articulation exercises, or scales because those types of things are not needed at professional auditions.
  19. Don’t go to summer music camp.
  20. You’ll be more of an intuitive player if you don’t organize your practice. Play what comes to mind!
  21. Don’t bother building good relationships with your teachers. They’re very old and don’t matter. No need to offer to help with projects.
  22. When you get really close to your recital date, it’s time to start practicing 6 hours a day, so you can learn all of your repertoire.
  23. Don’t dress nicely for juries or recitals.
  24. Change your equipment to fix your sound. 
  25. Don’t listen to recordings of yourself.
  26. Don’t play with a metronome. It tends to speed up. 
  27. Don’t play with a tuner. 
  28. Don’t keep a journal. 
  29. Don’t sing your pieces. 
  30. Don’t bother learning to transpose.
  31. Don’t buzz your pieces with your mouthpiece.
  32. Don’t memorize your pieces.
  33. Don’t learn how to play other musical styles. 
  34. Drink heavily and try out drugs.
  35. When you go to an audition, realize that your whole life hinges on winning this audition–that will help you focus.
  36. For your first job, only try out for the top five orchestras–that’s where the money is! Please don’t consider joining a military band.
  37. If you win an audition, be sure to act haughty around your peers.
  38. Don’t speak with the conductor. If you do, argue with him or her. If you lose the argument, do what you want to do anyway at the concert. Because being passive-aggressive is always effective.
  39. There’s another audition coming up for a better job, so don’t waste your time practicing for your current job.
  40. If you’re a section player, be sure to show the principal trumpeter how strong your sound is and what a good leader you are. Blending is for sissies.
  41. Be sullen, unpracticed and unprofessional at pops concerts. Because you want to play classical music, not pops.
  42. Talk poorly about other trumpeters when they’re not around.
  43. Don’t try to create a new sound or a new group. 

Hopefully this list will prove helpful to those trumpeters who enjoy hanging out with their friends after graduation. You can’t really hang out as much if you have a job.

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37 thoughts on “How not to get a trumpet job

      • Sinfonia was born on October 6, 1898, at the New England Conservatory in Boston, when a group of thirteen young men under the guidance of Ossian Everett Mills “to consider the social life of the young men students of that institution [and] to devise ways and means by which it might be improved.”

        Phi Mu Alpha is a social fraternity.

          • Your mileage may vary re: how Phi Mu chapters actually operates. I’ve seen very professional chapters and I’ve seen chapters populated by some the heaviest drinkers on campus. On the chapter level, the experience is what you’ve made it.

      • Where I went to college Phi Mu Alpha sold itself as a professional organization, but was a social fraternity for all intents an purposes. Ironically, many of the best musicians did not join because it would cut into studying and practicing.

        • Phi Mu Alpha, at the two universities I have attended, has been comprised of the least dedicated musicians and heaviest drinkers. Enough said. Again the most serious musicians never joined because they actually cared about studying and practicing.

  1. Also, I’m sorry if it seemed I was overly critical of social fraternities. I just want to point out that it takes a lot of time to participate in a social fraternity, and my experience with trumpet students who joined a fraternity has shown that they did not do well as trumpet students–they were too distracted.
    I admit that it is POSSIBLE to be a member of a social fraternity and be an excellent musician. As mentioned above, Phi Mu Alpha is not a social fraternity (however, I am just a little concerned even with the distraction of that group).

    • I am a Sinfonian. We ARE a social fraternity. We were from the start until we went professional briefly but then we went social again and have been since the early 70s because we couldn’t be professional and avoid Title IX and because we were founded on social ideals. Chapters are still expected to handle themselves professionally. But our goal is building brotherhood and better me, socially, through music. We were founded on ideals that we are too much at each other’s throats and should remember we all have the same goals. We have had phenomenal performance students come through the chapter at UNT. It just takes the responsibility to handle more than going to class and practicing.

      If you’re not mature or organized enough to handle your major and a social life you should reconsider what you’re doing.

  2. Phi Mu Alpha was originally founded as a social fraternity. Sometime during the middle of the 20th Century (I forget the exact years), it became a professional fraternity. Then the U.S. passed a law saying that all professional organizations need to accept both men and women. Phi Mu Alpha then went back to being classified as a social fraternity in order to stay all-male (however, a couple dozen She-fonians do exist from this time period). At least at my chapter, we consider it a social fraternity with professional values.


      • The change wasn’t to get women out of the organization. There are many other things that are required of “professional” fraternities, that didn’t align with the original purpose of the fraternity. Because of that, they went back to being labeled a “social” fraternity.

      • That is what Sigma Alpha Iota is for. Professional fraternity for women in the field of music. We had wonderful time with making music together as well as social fun.

      • It’s a BROTHERhood. There are music fraternities for women too. I can’t join them because I’m a man. What a sexist move…

        See how ignorant that sounds?

          • Sigma Alpha Iota was founded in 1903, about 70 years before Phi Mu Alpha reverted to a social fraternity. They got their exemption from Title IX in 1981, just a few years after Phi Mu Alpha. At my university, our PMA chapter and SAI chapter do several activities jointly, including recruiting events and recitals. During recruitment, Sinfonians encourage women to join SAI, and vice versa. I would not consider PMA to be sexist.

  3. Wow. A lot of information on music fraternities that I didn’t know before. Thanks so much, Anonymous and others. I didn’t realize the history and complexity. I can see how a young musician (I guess male for Phi MU Alpha, female for Sigma Alpha Iota) might find a needed “family” at campus that will support them. Also, these organizations at least nominally focus on music. However, if someone really wants to master their chosen instrument so that they can stand a reasonable chance for a performance job, then there are just so many hours in a day. Where those spare hours are spent on a daily basis makes a huge difference in the striving for mastery.
    Again, I am not equating financial success with overall success. You can be poor and inwardly satisfied. But I hope most will recognize the need for a minimal amount of financial security, SO THAT one’s artistic goals can be pursued with minimal distraction. We all need to have money for things like college loan repayments, housing, medical insurance, food and musical expenses.

  4. I’m a professional trumpet player and a sinfonian. Yes, I pay my bills, and support my family, playing and teaching the trumpet. You can absolutley be a professional musician and join PMA. Just like you can be a professional musician and go see a movie, or a football game etc… I find the sarcasm of this blog troublesome.

  5. 44. Don’t develop personal relationships.
    45. Don’t enjoy making music socially.
    46. Don’t contribute to the community with music.
    47. Don’t enjoy college.
    48. Don’t acquire long lasting social and professional contacts.
    49. Oh yeah-don’t do your homework.

  6. Anon and Chaz, I hope I am not contributing to any perceived sarcasm on this thread. It sounds like you get a lot out of Mu Alpha Sinfonia. Some other commenters have a different perception of your fraternity–that it’s more about partying than music and that it’s sexist. I’m still cautious about the prospect of hours and hours of scheduled non-curricular fraternity commitments. Community, yes. Relationships, yes. Enjoyment, yes. But it’s less practice time for a would-be professional performing trumpeter. What about spontaneous relationships at the practice rooms? What about planning your own recitals to reach out to the community? What about learning to derive pleasure from incremental gains in mastery?

    • Absolutely not perceiving this as sarcastic.

      Our performance majors do an excellent job balancing practice, top ensemble rehearsals, lessons, and fraternity stuff. In PMA we require that probationary members hold their own recital. This can help them learn what all goes into planning one. Bros also perform solos and chamber music in recitals. You can also get page turners and a stage crew from your bros. Joining a fraternity is like adding one extra class. Gotta learn to balance and schedule everything. That’s life. You also now have a forum for discussing musical concepts, practice habits, and anything you want really.

  7. I would love to get some anecdotal examples of music fraternity brothers becoming professional performers. Can Zach, Annon., and Chaz give me examples?

  8. Geez, we’re all bent out of shape about the whole fraternity thing, aren’t we? Regardless of how Phi Mu Alpha was formed, I’m gonna take a stab that the author of this blog probably wasn’t referring to them when he used the term “social fraternity.” The point, I think, is that you shouldn’t join a fraternity or sorority (let’s not be sexist, right?) whose only ostensible function is to drink and party…take those hours that you would have spent building the homecoming float, and spend them in the practice room instead.

  9. Funny how quickly this discussion turned to PMA trashing. I think it’s highly ignorant to think that trumpet players, and musicians in general, should avoid social scenes and just be practice room hermits as this article seems to suggest. Social skills are some of the most important skills to have as a musician and artist, since being able to communicate is key to what we do. God forbid we try to become well-adjusted and practice being social as well as practicing to become better musicians. Also, the tone of this article is very off-putting and I don’t appreciate the smart-ass irony it is trying to convey. If you are trying to help people, don’t be an ass about it.

  10. Cletus, thanks for the list. I did not see many professional classical instrumentalists. No classical trumpet players and a few jazz trumpeters. There were a lot of government leaders and other great things. But the whole point of my article was that if you want to play as a fully-employed trumpet player, then you have to be more competitive than 90% of your peers. That requires immense focus and mastery. To get mastery, you have to put in more time and effort then others. You can add to all of that practicing all kinds of recreational and well-rounded activities. But it just makes it harder to gain the requisite mastery. I have had only one PMA student that took trumpet assignments as seriously as I expect. He is a very good music educator now, and I am very happy for him. But he is not a professional trumpeter. I have had not a single successful social fraternity trumpet student (not the PMA variety, but he other variety). Only disasters. This is my anecdotal personal experience in more than 15 years of teaching.
    I am truly sorry that some of you felt the tone of the article was off-putting. I only wanted to format the article to be a little lively and different.

    • Your mileage may vary. I’ve been to three different schools in my BA, MM, and DMA studies, and each one had a Sinfonian chapter that was professional and contributed to the music department. It’s unfortunate you had bad experiences, but that may be more a product of your school than the organization itself. Similarly, I’ve run into good KKPsi chapters and awful KKPsi chapters. It all depends on the atmosphere at the school where the organization is located.

      Also, that list isn’t all-inclusive. Orchestral musicians do not tend to be very famous outside of their specialty. So while you may know who the principal trumpet player of the Philadelphia Orchestra is, even if he or she were a Sinfonian, the list would not include them.

  11. I find it ironic that people spend so much time blogging and debating in online forums about the “best way to spend their time.”

  12. I’m just going to be honest about this, since sometimes we need to hear something other than what we WANT to hear. And what we need to hear, is that Phi Mu Alpha is a social fraternity first and foremost. Unfortunately, a vast majority of the chapters that I’ve seen in the four universities I’ve attended have been embarrassments to colleges of music and to the profession in general. One of those includes the chapter at the prestigious University of North Texas. Considering that very few of the members in that collegiate organization are anything resembling fine musicians and instrumentalists, I think that they could spare some of that party time of theirs for practice time instead. I’ve heard their performances, and they’re quite frankly a joke. They have a reputation on the campuses I’ve attended for being some of the worst musicians scraping by in the entire music department. Sorry if this offends you frat boys, but it’s the truth. Organizations like Mu Phi Epsilon and Kappa Kappa Psi have much better reputations and seem to attract more people who are serious about becoming professional musicians. So for those of you entering college in the coming years, please do yourself a favor and think about the company that you are planning to keep. The organization you join will speak volumes about you and your supposed values.

  13. Just your friendly neighborhood Kappa Kappa Psi bro here. Fraternities can be good, but don’t get crazy. One of my brothers went from not being able to play his instrument to being one of the best undergraduate trombonists in the state in only four years (now getting his Master’s in performance at Florida State), and ever since he taught me his practice methods I’ve undergone some great progress myself. We were both enriched by our membership in the brotherhood, but some people are irresponsible with it. A fraternity requires you to be responsible and make good decisions, just like anything else. Bam.

  14. I really enjoyed your blog. Much of what you said can be applied in any specialist career but so much more so for trumpeters. I’m glad you’re trying to reach at least some young people and start them out on the right path with the right mindset if being a professional trumpeter is their goal. The point of focusing free time on mastering the instrument rather than on pursuits that don’t increase capability was great. If one is going for a career that is so “90%”, then one’s time should be spent trying to separate oneself from the rest of the 90%.

    • Thanks for the comment, JimmyM. I have been feeling a little guilty for coming down so hard on students who want to have a little fun in college. But I am beginning to think that my post above is not really an admonition but perhaps a description, without all of the blame and guilt that accompanies an admonition. If a student finds that they are not 100% engaged in what they are ostensibly pursuing, then it could very well be that they haven’t actually found the thing that they truly love, yet. I would like to revisit this topic in the near future with this in mind. Because I believe we all should “follow our bliss.” We should regularly revisit that notion with ourselves–what IS my true calling, or love or bliss?
      If you enjoy putting on the trumpet hat, that’s nice. But the guys that really enjoy practicing and performing are the ones that LOVE trumpet playing.

  15. You guys are straining the point here. This is a list of time wasters and career killers, it is not a political statement, or anything else. If your personal life is getting in the way of becoming a monster player that someone would actually hire, you need to make adjustments. You need to get all in or get out. 30 hours per week of practice and 5 hours a week of partying is OK. 5 hours of practice and 30 hours a week of partying-you have a problem.

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