Tuesday, November 24, 2015


This was floating around Facebook. It's quite an old piece, from BDG Magazine 1987. I remember reading this when it first came out in (I was in Grade 10) and I treated it like it was a message from god (Wynton was THE trumpeter for me at the time). I already owned an Arbans and bought the Clarke Technical Studies, Max Schlossberg book and the Colins Advanced Lip Flexibilities and started practicing more regularly. I wish I had paid attention to the part where he said "you don't want to kill yourself" because I always practiced until I ran out of chops, and it didn't teach me about air or breath control at all. It probably made most of my habits worse in some ways. Some lessons you have to learn the hard way...

Wednesday, September 2, 2015


"All music is played by ear."
- Hal Galper

What is your musical diet?

You know the expression, "you are what you eat." As a musician, you are what (and who) you listen to. So what kind of musical diet are you on? Too much junk food? Too much comfort food? Too much of the same kind of music? Too much of a single artist or style? Do you spend some time listening attentively and thoughtfully? Do you listen to the kinds of music you perform regularly (or want to perform)?

These are important questions to ask yourself, especially if you are a music student. It is impossible to become a good musician if you haven't spent a lot of time listening attentively. If you listen to something and don't like it, you should ask yourself why you don't like it? What exactly don't you like? If you do like it, what do you like about it? Specifically.

If your food diet primarily consists of hamburgers, hot dogs, and drinking pop, you will probably find eating sashimi and drinking sake unpalatable. But if you regularly experiment with new foods, eat slowly and with care, and keep an open mind, then your palate will evolve and become more sensitive and you will taste differently. This will then fuel a desire to try new foods and combinations. The same is true of your musical diet.

How do you listen to music? 

Do you listen in the car? While you are surfing the web? While exercising or jogging? Do you ever just listen with no distractions? You should. Just listen to the music and do nothing else. Close your eyes and let your ears wander. What images does the music evoke? What colors? How does it make you feel? Listen to one track two or three times in a row (or ten). Did you hear anything new or different? Write down some observations in your practice journal. You have a practice journal, right?

The key to improving your palate, for food and music, is to consume slowly, with a minimum of distractions, and with attentiveness and deliberation. Go to live concerts as much as possible. Allocate a portion of your practice time for attentive listening. Make a habit of it.

Hal Galper is world-class jazz pianist and educator. If you aren't familiar with him, take some time to check out his website. There is a lot of good stuff there. There are also a number of YouTube videos of his masterclasses, and I highly recommend them. This is one of the my favorites.

Your musical diet is what feeds your musical (aural) imagination. How you listen to music will have a profound and positive affect your diet, and this your musical imagination. Like Hal says in the video, "How many think you have trouble playing what you hear? Well you are all wrong. You are all playing exactly the way you hear."

Who have you checked out recently? 

I've been listening to Ibrahim Maalouf and I really enjoy his music. He has a beautiful tone, full of color and nuance. His music is an evocative mix of ethnic and modern, acoustic and electronic. It seems to be looking back and forward at the same time. He doesn't overuse the quarter-tones on his custom four-valve trumpet, and his ideas are never kitschy. His songs are beautifully constructed, and show a deep understanding of form, melody, rhythm, and space. Check him out!

Every great musician I know is always talking about their latest musical obsession. They are always recommending artists to their friends, peers, and students. I love this, and I write down all the recommended artists and albums in my phone or in my notebook. So don't be shy about recommending artists, or calling your friends and dragging them off to concerts. Or have a listening party!

Thursday, August 27, 2015


“Nostalgia is denial. Denial of the painful present. The name for this denial is Golden Age Thinking - the erroneous notion that a different time period is better than the one ones living in - its a flaw in the romantic imagination of those people who find it difficult to cope with the present.”
- Midnight in Paris (Woody Allen)
"Back in the day" is the most common opening line of the 'Golden Age Thinker'. You know, the person who brags about how their generation's music, politics, TV, movies, and/or culture was so much better than anything that has come after. They especially love criticizing younger people and "educating" them about the superiority of their generation's accomplishments. Golden Age Thinking is a mental affliction that can strike at any time after the age of 20, but the older you get the more likely you are to suffer an attack, and attacks have greater intensity and duration.

Musicians are especially prone to attacks of Golden Age Thinking. I can't count how many times I've heard:
"The scene is DEAD! There were so many more gigs 20 (30, 40, 50) years ago."
"Bands today all sound the same. Where is the creativity?"
"Young musicians are not as good as when I was coming up."

"The big labels don't invest in musicians like they used to."

"The internet has RUINED the music industry."

These opening lines are usually followed by a lengthy diatribe amid florid recollections of the "good ol' days." Example. Example. Example. It's really annoying. Please stop. For the record, I have suffered a few intense attacks of my own, but I'm in recovery.

Don't mistake Golden Age Thinking with thoughtful criticism of present conditions. It is necessary to analyze and criticize the current state of affairs in the music industry. Just don't mistake wishful thinking with criticism. The internet is not going away. The industry has changed a lot in the last 20 years; why not just deal with it and find ways to make it work for you? A lot of people are making it work for them. Maybe you can't just sit around and wait for the phone to ring to get gigs, like in the "good ol' days." Musicians today have be more tech savvy, diversified, resourceful, and enterprising. Maybe that is a good thing.

To be continued...

Tuesday, August 25, 2015


Playing the trumpet is easy. Learning to play the trumpet easily is hard.
A trumpeter friend recently asked me where the line between warming up and practicing a routine was. Good question. There really is no difference. For me, my warm up is just what I call my first practice session of the day. Its purpose is to remind myself of good playing habits, find my sound, refresh my technique, and mentally and physically prepare myself for the day's trumpeting. I usually do my "warm up" in four parts.
  1. Breathing/Stretching. I like to start with stretches and breathing exercises. I've had the great fortune to attend some breathing workshops by Patrick Sheridan, and they were fantastic. I highly recommend the Breathing Gym DVD and book, and I primarily use these exercises in my warm up. Here is a short pdf summary of some of the Breathing Gym exercises. This will give you the general idea, but you should really get the DVD and book.
  2. Flow Studies. I follow up my breathing/stretching by playing the trumpet. I used to start with mouthpiece, but I no longer do this and I think my warm up is much better now. I usually alternate between the Vincent Cichowicz flow studies and the Allen Vizzutti Method Long Tones.* I play slowly, take lots of breaks, and play with the most beautiful sound I can. I focus on my breathing and try and use my air flow to change the pitch and not my chops. My first trumpet teacher, Bill Dimmer, used to say to me "toil the air, spare the chop." I'm not sure where this saying originated, but it's right on. I like to play 5-10 minutes of flow studies until my sound is rich and easy, through my full range, and into the pedal tones. I carefully monitor my posture and breathing throughout so I am playing easily and correctly. If I'm having trouble finding my sound, I do some pitch bending exercises like these. I also like doing pitch bending as cool-down exercises.
  3. Flexibilities. I follow up my flow studies with 5-10 minutes of flexibility studies or lip slurs. The Arbans book has some great exercises (the link will take you to a free pdf), and so does the Schlossberg book and Vizzutti books. The Anthony Plog Flexibility Book is also great. I start out slow and play medium-soft, and play through all fingerings. I gradually add partials, speed, and volume to push myself, but never to the point where my sound is strained. Remember to focus on the air, not the chops!
  4. Technique (Fingers/Tonguing). I follow up my flexibilities with 10-15 minutes of technical exercises to work on my fingers and tonguing. For years, I played the H.L. Clark Technical Studies for Cornet, usually studies #1-5, but really any scales or technical exercises will do. The Arbans book has lots of good scales and patterns. I use the Allen Vizzutti Books #1-2 and his New Concepts for Trumpet quite regularly and I find the exercises are very well written and organized. Sometimes, I work through jazz patterns instead, or just improvise lines and play through the chord changes of tunes that I'm working on. I will usually do 5-10 minutes of multiple tonguing as well, usually out of the Vizzutti books or the Arbans book.
  5. Short Etude. I usually end my warm up by playing an etude or jazz tune. Nothing overly strenuous so I can really focus on playing beautifully and easily. Hopefully, everything is working well at this point.
What you practice is not nearly as important as how you practice.
The total running time for my ideal "warm up" is 40-45 minutes, and I like to take a 10-15 minute break after my warm up before I resume playing. Your chops shouldn't be tired after your warm up, so take as many short breaks as you need to ensure you are minimizing chop strain. If you focus on the air and your breathing, you won't even notice your chops.

I like to experiment with different exercises and different books during my warm up, but the order that I do these exercises is pretty consistent. Some days, I will take out my trumpet to go right into a tune or etude with no preparation. Sometimes it feels good right away. Sometimes it's a bit rough, but I try to find my sound while playing through the etude or tune without giving up. It can be a fun challenge, but I'm careful to avoid excessive strain. It's supposed to be a warm up, not a wear out!

"The single most influential element in your ultimate success or failure as a brass player is the quality of the time spent in the practice room. It is more important than talent, and it is more important than who you study with. You should constantly re-assess your practice habits and make sure that you are learning and growing with each session."

Monday, August 24, 2015


What is my favorite mute? I'm so glad you asked me! Why it's my coconut mute.

Yes, it is a real coconut. I have had this mute for 15 years or so. One of my trumpet heroes and friends, Bob Tildesley* has had one ever since I've known him, and I always thought it was the coolest.

While on a gig one day, I had forgotten my sewer plunger mute and needed it for the show. I didn't have enough time to go home and get mine, and I was beginning to panic. You can always use your hand as a plunger, but that is a sign of laziness or defeat. I remembered that there was a small supermarket near the venue and so I ran across the street and found that they had coconuts! I didn't even bother checking for sewer plungers.

Running back to the venue, I sequestered myself in the green room, hauled out my MacGyver knife and proceeded to try and saw the coconut in half with the little saw blade. I had about 45 minutes to downbeat, and I thought that was plenty of time. Coconuts are really hard. I sawed like a mad man, drinking the coconut milk (which is disgusting), and once I had sawed it in half I had to pry all the meat off and eat it as fast as possible. I was hoping to get two coconut mutes out of the deal, but I fractured one half in my haste. Still, I had my coconut mute (partly filled with coconut meat) for the gig and I was proud. Then I tried using it. It didn't respond much like a sewer plunger mute and I remember cacking a few obvious notes and cursing under my breath. I learned a valuable lesson - the bandstand is not the best place to test out new gear.

After the gig, I finished cleaning the coconut and put some black gaffer's tape (I always keep a roll of it in my trumpet bag) around the rim so it wouldn't clank against the bell. The hole in the functional pore of the coconut is small but sufficient to allow air through so you can play virtually closed with it. It is the coolest. And it is quite the conversation piece on gigs. "Hey, is that a real coconut?" "Why, yes it is!"

If you want your own coconut mute, you can actually buy them from this website. I just googled "coconut mute" for the first time and this website came up. I love his disclaimer at the bottom where he warns you that trying to make your own may result in injury or a lost finger. Ha ha! I'm not encouraging you to purchase a coconut mute from this guy, or endorsing his mutes. To me, the danger of sawing a coconut in half will only heighten the pride you will feel when you use it and show it off on gigs. How many mutes will do that for you? Unless you are Roger Ingram** and you build and restore mutes all the time. Then it probably happens regularly.

* Bob, you really should get a website; this was the best I could find.
** This is just another shameless name drop, because I like the way Roger plays, I like his blog, I like his lead mouthpiece, and you should too. Buy his CDs and get some mutes restored.


There are two kinds of trumpeters in the world: those who excessively and obsessively talk about mouthpieces with other trumpeters, and those who pretend that they don't want to talk about mouthpieces with other trumpeters. Okay, there are three kinds of trumpeters. The third is those who will shamelessly talk about mouthpieces with anyone who lingers too closely for more than a minute or two between meals.
"What mouthpiece are you playing on?"
Mouthpieces is simultaneously a trumpeter's favorite and least favorite sport, er subject. Favorite in that nearly every trumpeter I know is constantly searching for a "better" mouthpiece - those that say they aren't are either lying or far too easily satisfied. Least favorite subject in that many trumpeters are sick of obsessing about mouthpieces and would rather give a kidney than talk about them any more.

Why the obsession? Because playing the trumpet is hard and painful. And to the James Morrison's out there who have "virtually unlimited endurance"*, or the Rashawn Ross's who apparently have the exact same range of every mouthpiece**, all I will say to you is:

What is a "better" mouthpiece? Most trumpeters are searching for a mouthpiece that will give them a beautiful tone without sacrificing too much range or endurance. Some trumpeters, usually the first kind, have this backwards and are searching for a mouthpiece that gives them better range and endurance without losing too much tone or flexibility. This is one of the classic blunders. Learn the difference.

If you really want some advice on mouthpieces, you've come to the wrong blog. I'm one of the second types of trumpeters. This is a much better blog to learn about mouthpieces. Or go ahead and ask me in the comment section.

* With apologies to the actual James Morrison, who is an awesome trumpeter and never meant to offend all of us mere mortal trumpeters with his words of encouragement. The video I posted with James has nothing to do with mouthpieces, but you should listen to what James Morrison has to say because he is right. And getting one of his Schagerl Apredato mouthpieces is on my list. So, really it was just a cheap shot and a shameless name drop.

** With apologies to the real Rashawn Ross, who seems like a really nice guy and
also plays the crap out of the horn. Another cheap shot and shameless name drop, but I am jealous and resentful of anyone who can play a triple high C, nevermind on ANY mouthpiece. And you should be too.

Sunday, August 23, 2015


Most musicians have a lot of difficulty saying no to a gig. How many times have you been told to “always say yes” when a gig is offered. Well, I'm not so sure that is good advice. The first thing you have to ask yourself is:

Do I have the chops to play the gig? If you are asked to play lead trumpet in a big band, you'd better have some high chops. If you are asked to come in and sight-read a show, you'd better be able to sight read! Nobody can play it all, and I've seen many musicians say yes to gigs they weren't ready for, or didn't prepare well enough for. This can be extremely damaging to your reputation and your hireability. Before you say yes to a gig, ask yourself if you really can play the music you will be asked to play on the gig. Be honest with yourself, because your career depends on this kind of honesty. If you don't think you can do a good enough job, then let the bandleader know that this kind of gig isn't really in your skill-set, yet. This saves the bandleader time and saves you from embarrassment and possible career damage.

Now that the obvious is out of the way, here are three additional criteria I use when deciding whether or not to take a gig (as bandleader or sideman).
  1. Is the gig artistically rewarding? Nobody that I know got into music for the money. Music is soul food. If someone offers me a gig that I find artistically rewarding, I always say yes if I'm available. What is artistically rewarding music? Playing music that I love, playing with my favorite musicians, and/or playing music that demands a high level of artistry and will push me to learn new skills or sharpen my musicianship. There is a danger with this last criteria in that I have to be sure I have the chops to actually play the music (see above). But if I'm confident that I have enough practice time before the gig to get my chops together, then I say yes.
  2. Does the gig forward my career? If you are playing all the gigs you like to play in the venues you like to play them in, then this is criteria is irrelevant. If I'm offered a gig with new musicians and/or in new venues, then I usually say yes if I'm available. I usually do some research on the venue and musicians to see if there are any potential problems (this is very rare). Playing in new settings and with new musicians offers you a chance to extend your personal network and learn new tunes and styles. If you play well, act professionally, and impress, then more opportunities will undoubtedly come from this. But it doesn't always have to be new settings or new musicians. If you are consistently hired by the same bandleader, then it may be unwise to turn down too many gigs from him or her. They will get the impression that you'd rather be gigging with someone else, or that they're lower on your list of priorities. So do you take a new gig with a new band or stay with the same old band? You'll have to decide if the risks (artistic, financial, and social) are worth it. Be mindful of what you stand to lose as much as by what you stand to gain by saying yes or no to a gig.
  3. Is the gig financially rewarding? Last of my criteria is money. If a gig pays very well, or I really need the money and have no other conflict, then I will usually say yes to a gig. These gigs can be hard on the ego, so don't say yes to it and show up and be a downer (“I usually play with better bands,” “I usually make a lot more money than this on a gig.”), or an arrogant patronizing jerk (“You guys are lucky that I was available” “When I play this tune, we usually play the correct form.”). Be professional at all times! If you take the gig for the money and then act unprofessionally, it is very likely that this will get around quickly and you will lose far more money from the gigs you could have had if you didn't act like an entitled clown.
There it is in a nutshell. Most gigs usually score 2 out of 3. The best gigs score 3 out of 3, and those become career highlights for all the right reasons.