Why extend your phrases in practice?

In his book Daily Fundamentals for the Trumpet, Cleveland Orchestra Principal Trumpet Michael Sachs writes, “Avoid playing on one breath to the end of your air capacity. Playing on stale air leads to a squeezed tone and unwanted tension.”

I understand Sach’s advice and where he’s coming from. He doesn’t want you to sound tense, so he advises against playing to the end of your air capacity. But many decades ago, when technique was much more important to trumpeters, a different kind of breath control advice held sway. Here are some quotes from the good old days:

Herbert L. Clarke was amazing: he could single-tongue at mm. =160 for 90 seconds in one breath!

In Herbert L. Clarke’s Technical Studies, the famed cornetist writes: “Practice each exercise eight to sixteen times in one breath, keeping the lips and fingers flexible” and “Practice Etude III until you can play it in one breath” and “Mastery of the preceding material will have improved your breath control and endurance” and “Begin slowly and practice until you can play them many times in one breath.”

Claude Gordon, a go-to pedagogue that helped a lot of commercial trumpeters, said about long tones, “Hold the note as long as possible with a crescendo at the end. Hold the note until all air is gone and longer (until your stomach shakes).”

Rafael Mendez, one of the best trumpet soloists ever, was a fanatic breath control practicer. “Go at this practice with a vengeance. Don’t be satisfied until you are over the 100-second mark (of exhaling).”

I don’t think these masters of their instrument wanted to sound strained (as Sachs warns), but they did want to increase their capacity. If you practice H.L. Clarke in the way that he prescribed (in terms of breath control), over time, a few things will change that are very beneficial to your playing:

  1. You can play longer phrases.
  2. In order to play these exercises in one breath, you are forced to play softer. Softer playing is important in and of itself and, in turn, helps you play with more responsiveness in all dynamics. Softer playing also helps the lower register.
  3. You begin to focus more.
  4. You gain confidence.
  5. Your improved breath control improves your high range.
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Need motivation for practice? First things first.

Part of the problem of diligent practice, hours a day, carried out over many years, is that it does not feel good. There is a kind of arc which describes your natural tendency to be self-motivated.

  1. When you finally decide to play your instrument seriously, you have a honeymoon kind of motivation. Have fun with this, because it won’t last long.
  2. For the next decade or so, you will not feel very motivated if you are practicing in a serious way, because the improvement you get from purposeful practice does not outweigh the free time and relief you would feel if you were to stop playing in a serious way.
  3. If you stick with it, you get to a point where you are an expert. Your identity is intertwined with music. People recognize you for your achievement, and you finally understand that difficult practice is part of who you are. Also, your brain has actually been rewired to accept this practice as a norm. You will probably keep practicing once you reach this point.

Obviously, trumpeters may need help in the second step. One way is to set aside a dedicated practice time that will nearly always be there for you. The best time is the morning. Many of the best musicians get up early and practice before anything else happens in their day. Even though this practice time could happen later, the chances of some conflict with that later practice period are much higher. Having this dedicated practice time, especially if it is very early, will prove to be tiring, so you may want to take a nap in the midday.

I have benefitted from this motivation strategy perhaps more than any other one thing. I wake up at least one hour before the rest of my family. I have the coffee machine ready to go. I have my practice mute at the ready. It’s funny how this demanding commitment feels so great. It’s pretty close to bliss.

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An uncomfortable solution

What if you have reached a plateau in your playing? You simply can’t get that “Flight of the Bumble Bee” any faster. What can you do?

Try speeding up.


Try taking it to the next level, and see what goes wrong during your recordings of your attempts. Take note of the exposed weak areas. Devise exercises to pinpoint these weak areas, making sure that your exercises isolate in the most focused ways possible. During these pinpointed exercises, go very slow to get improvement, and gradually raise the metronome until you have reached your target tempo. Rest a lot in between your attempts.

When you incorporate the difficult passages back into the piece you are working on, you should now be a little bit over that plateau. Congrats.

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Three kinds of practice

K. Anders Ericsson, Swedish psychologist and recognized expert in human performance

I know–I’ve misused the word “practice” in these posts before–and for most of my life! But as I am reading more and more of the writings of Anders Ericsson (I’m reading Peak right now), I’m learning  how to distinguish the three different types of practice, and this turns out to be a helpful distinction for getting better in trumpet performance.

  1. Regular old practice. This is basically what most people talk about whenever they do talk about practice. Doing something repeatedly, hoping that it gets better. This is the least effective kind of practice. In fact, once you’ve achieved a certain plateau after initially learning how to do something, mere repetition of what you already know will, at the very best, keep you at the exact same level of expertise that you had. But what is more likely is that you will begin to loose your level of ability slowly over time. Trumpeters, be suspicious of that favorite routine that you play exactly the same way every day!
  2. Purposeful practice. This kind of practice seeks to get better ON PURPOSE, hence the name. There may not be a clear path to getting better, but you try different methods to see how effective they might be. You know your present level, and you strive to get better by measuring your efforts. You evaluate, and you try to fix problems. With purposeful practice you will get better, and it happens to be the best tool for fields of study that are new and unexplored. In terms of trumpet playing, this might be the method you use to get better at a new piece, especially one that uses extended techniques.
  3. Deliberate practice. This is the best kind of practice, because it can take you the farthest and the quickest to your goal of mastery. As in purposeful practice, you will need to engage the three “F”s: Focus, Feedback and Fix it. One difference between purposeful and deliberate practice is that not all fields of endeavor can be pursued with deliberate practice. The deliberate-practice field must be well-established, and it must have an accepted path to expertise (methods, books, accumulated advice). Fields such as chess, tennis and music are areas where deliberate practice can be used. These fields typically offer lessons with a teacher. Ericsson strongly encourages lessons with a good teacher to help tailor your deliberate practice and to give the best kinds of feedback. Even with the best kind of deliberate practice, you will need to spend thousands of hours getting to the point that you are a recognized expert. Why? This is simply because in fields such as chess, tennis and music, thousands of other people have put in these kinds of hours. So, in order to compete or play at their level, you have to do the same.

See you in the practice room. Remember the three “F”s!

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Summer study on the trumpet

This post was inspired by a recent post from the blog of Chris Carillo, trumpet professor at James Madison University. I thought it was so useful, I decided to ask him if I could steal adapt it for my blog! Thankfully Chris said “yes!” Credit also goes to his doctoral trumpet student John Nye. Thanks, Chris and John!

Summer Festival List for Trumpeters


Aspen Music Festival: Aspen, Colorado

Application Deadline: Tuesday January 8, 2018

Festival Dates: June 20 – August 19

Faculty: Karen Bliznik, Kevin Cobb, Louis Hanzlik, Raymond Mase, Thomas Hooten


Atlantic Music Festival: Waterville, ME

Festival Dates: July 1- July 29


Bayview Music Festival: Petosky, MI

Faculty: Brian Buerkle, Scott Thornburg


Brevard Music Center Institute: Brevard, North Carolina

Application: February 16, 2018

Festival Dates: June 17 – August 5

Faculty: Neal Berntsen. Robert Sullivan, Mark Schubert


Chautauqua Institution: Chautauqua, New York

Application: February 1, 2018

Festival Dates: June 23 – August 14

Faculty: Charles Berginc


Colorado College Summer Music Festival: Colorado Springs, Colorado

Application: February 15, 2018

Festival Dates: June 3 – June 23

Faculty: Kevin Cobb


Disney All-American College Band: Anaheim, California

Information on website


Eastern Music Festival:  Greensboro, North Carolina

Application Deadline: February 21, 2018

Festival Dates: June 23 – July 28

Faculty: Chris Gekker, Jeffrey Kaye, Judith Saxton


Festival Napa Valley:  Napa, CA

Application: Early January 15, 2018. Final March 1, 2018

Festival Dates: July 13 – July 29

Faculty: Billy Hunter, Adam Luftman


Hot Springs Music Festival:  Hot Springs, Arkansas

Application: February 15, 2018

Festival Dates: June 2 – June 16

Faculty: Scott Moore


Lake George Music Festival:  Queensbury, New York

Application: January 31, 2018

Festival Dates: August 12 – August 24

Faculty: NA


Marrowstone Music Festival: Bellingham, Washington

Application: March 23, 2018

Festival Dates: July 22 – August 5

Faculty: Roy Poper


Miami Summer Music Festival:  Miami, Florida

Application: Live January 15, 2018. Video Audition March 1, 2018

Festival Dates: June 27 – July 19

Faculty: Vincent Penzarella


Music Academy of the West: Summer School and Festival:  Santa Barbara, California

Application: Live Audition Request January 15, 2018. Video February 8, 2018

Festival Dates: June 18 – August 12

Faculty: Barbara Butler, Charles Geyer, Paul Merkelo


National Music Festival:  Chestertown, Maryland

Application: February 10, 2018 (rolling)

Festival Dates: June 3 – June 16

Faculty: Paul Neebe


National Repertory Orchestra:  Breckenridge, Colorado

Application Deadline: December 31st (Rolling deadline)

Festival Dates: June 4 – July 29


National Symphony Orchestra: Summer Music Institute:  Washington, D.C.

Application: January 22, 2018

Festival Dates: July 2 – July 30

Faculty: William Gerlach, Steven Hendrickson


The Philadelphia International Music Festival: Music House:  Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Application: February 28, 2018

Festival Dates: June 13 – June 29

Faculty: Anthony Prisk


The Pierre Monteux School:  Hancock, Maine

Application: February 15, 2018

Festival Dates: June 25 – July 30

Faculty: NA


Round Top Music Festival Institute:  Round Top, Texas

Application: Video February 19, 2018

Festival Dates: June 3 – July 15

Faculty: Matthew Ernst, Marie Speziale, Micah Wilkinson


Sewanee Summer Music Festival:  Sewannee, Tennessee

Application: Scholarship February 15, 2018. Final March 15, 2018

Festival Dates: June 23 – July 22

Faculty: Peter Bond


Spoletto Festival USA: 

Application: January 1, 2018 (but might accept late applications)

Auditions: from December 10, 2017 to February 23, 2018 in various locations

Festival Dates: May 25-June 10, 2018, Charleston, SC


Tanglewood Music Center: Lenox, Massachusetts

Application: January 22, 2018

Festival Dates: June 17 – August 11

Faculty: Thomas Rolfs


Texas Music Festival:  Houston, Texas

Application: Live January 19, 2018. Recorded February 23, 2018

Festival Dates: June 1 – June 30

Faculty: Mark Hughes. Thomas Siders


Brass/Trumpet Specific Programs


Boston Brass Summer Intensive: Laramie, WY

Tuition Payment Deadline of June 1

Festival Dates: June 18 – 24

Faculty: Jose Sibaja, Jeff Connor


Chosen Vale:  Hanover, New Hampshire

Application: No deadlines. First 40 accepted applicants taken.

Festival Dates: June 18 – June 30

Faculty: Edward Carroll, Jeroen Berwaerts, Marco Blaauw. Pacho Flores, Stephanie Richards, Clement Saunier, Tom Hooten


Le Domaine Forget: Brass Session Saint Irenee, Quebec

Application: February 15, 2018

Festival Dates: June 10 – June 17

Faculty: Philip Smith, Manon Lafrance


Raphael Mendez Brass Institute:  Denver, Colorado

Application: Rolling deadline

Festival Dates: July 8 – 14

Faculty: David Hickman, Alan Hood, John Marchiando, Ronald Romm, Joe Burgstaller


Spectrum Brass Seminar at the Bay View Music Festival: Bayview, MI

Application: Final April 1, 2018 (lower rates for earlier applications)

Festival Dates: June 16 – August 13

Faculty: Scott Thornburg, Brian Buerkle


University of Kentucky Summer Trumpet Institute: Lexington, KY

Festival Dates: June 11-14

Faculty: Numerous listed on website


Historic (Baroque Trumpet or Cornett) Brass Festivals

American Bach Soloists Academy: San Francisco, CA

Application Deadline: February 15

Festival Dates: July 30 – August 12

Faculty: John Thiessen

Baroque Performance Institute: Oberlin, OH

Application Deadline: May 1

Festival Dates: June 17 – 30

Faculty: John Thiessen

Brass Antiqua Workshop: Winchester, VA

Information to be posted soon

SFEMS Baroque Workshop: Sonoma State, CA

Workshop Dates: June 10-16

Faculty: Bruce Dickey (cornett)


Jazz Workshops

Jamey Aebersold’s Summer Jazz Workshops: Univ. of Kentucky

Workshop Dates: June 30-July 13


International Music Festivals


American Institute of Music Studies (AIMS): Graz, Austria

Application: March 10, 2018

Festival Dates: July 2 – August 12

Faculty: NA


Pacific Music Festival:  Sapporo, Japan

Application: January 17, 2018

Festival Dates: July 2 – August 2

Faculty: Tamas Valenczei, Mark Inouye

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