“I want to be able to do anything on the trumpet!”

I want to be able to do anything on the trumpet!” said my student to me in his lesson today. “I don’t want to be limited to the circle of fifths, or regular scales. I want to play whatever I think of.” Wow–that’s a tall order! This is a quest with no end, and he understood that. “I want to work toward this and be held accountable.” I liked that statement a lot, because he was getting a lot closer to solving his problem. In my opinion, my student also needed limitations on what he was going to work on, much like Stravinsky, who found it easier to compose when he had rules and limitations.

Igor Stravinsky
Igor Stravinsky

My freedom will be so much the greater and more meaningful the more narrowly I limit my field of action and the more I surround myself with obstacles. Whatever diminishes constraint diminishes strength. The more constraints one imposes, the more one frees one’s self of the chains that shackle the spirit.

—–Igor StravinskyPoetics of Music


To be fully capable on the trumpet actually engages many skills. Working on all of these skills in the right priority will bring wonderful results. In order to accomplish this Herculean task, you have to be enthused, ambitious, and organized. I think my student was already enthused and ambitious. So we talked about the organization part.

Our main tool for organization is keeping a journal.  A journal should have “to dos” for each year, semester (or month), week and day. And it should have space for a “log” describing what we actually did every day, of course. In your log, keep track of what you played, how long you worked on it, how you tackled it, and how effective were the results. I keep my “to dos” and “logs” on my electronic devices (computer and phone synced by the “cloud”). But you may find it easier and more intuitive to keep all of this in a paper notebook.

Your goals, as a trumpeter, could include the following items to cover every week or month:

  1. Ear training (intervals, chords, melodic dictation)
  2. Long tones (for strength, for tone)
  3. Articulation exercises (single, double, triple, and others)
  4. Flexibility (sequential, “wiggly,” lip trills, skipping over harmonics, etc.)
  5. Scales (there are many types of scales and always twelve keys)
  6. Technical studies (there are so many types)
  7. Etudes (what is the focus of the etude?)
  8. Transposition (classical trumpet transposition, jazz work in all keys, clef reading, etc.)
  9. Excerpts or “licks” (orchestral, band, jazz)
  10. Solos or tunes (should be diverse in genres and chronologic eras)

But since we have only so much “lip time,” we should vary our routine from day to day, so that we get around to all of our skill goals. Keep in mind that some of these goals address multiple skills. For example, technical studies can include flexibility, articulation and scale-like passage work.

If my student’s practice journal is simple it will be easily become a daily habit. If it becomes a daily habit it will prove to be effective. If effective, then he will be able to play anything on the trumpet! Okay, almost anything. 


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