An aspiring jazz trumpet player's blog about jazz improvisation and ear training.

April 19, 2009 Trumpet Technique 16 Comments

Joe Gransden lesson, trying a Monette

As I’ve mentioned in my anniversary articles, I’ve struggled over the years to increase my range and endurance on the trumpet. My range has pretty much topped off at a C above the staff, and I can’t play that high unless my chops are fresh. Some days, I can only reach a Bb above the staff. Endurance is also a constant enemy, as my chops start to give out after just 15-20 minutes of jazz improvisation.

Hoping to strengthen my embouchure, I recently took a lesson with one of Atlanta’s best jazz trumpet players, Joe Gransden. Among other things, Joe advised me to spend some time buzzing on my mouthpiece every day and he also suggested that I play long tones at very soft volumes. The goal with both of these is to improve my airflow and focus my aperture. It’s only been a week since that lesson, so it’s too early to see any noticeable improvement, but I am optimistic.


While improving my embouchure was my primary interest for this lesson, I have to admit that a close second was the opportunity to play Joe’s new Monette Prana 3 trumpet (you can watch Joe trying his new horn at the Monette shop in this video - Joe's parts starts about a minute in). As you may know, Monette trumpets are handmade, very expensive, and are generally considered to be the finest trumpets you can buy. You’ll find Monette trumpets in the hands of many top trumpet players, including Wynton Marsalis, Irvin Mayfield, and Terence Blanchard. Never having played a Monette before, I think you can understand my desire to see if they really live up to all the hype.

monette trumpet

At the end of my lesson, Joe Gransden graciously handed me his Monette trumpet and one of his Monette mouthpieces (you have to use a Monette mouthpiece on a Monette trumpet). Unfortunately, the Monette mouthpiece was quite a bit larger than my normal 7C mouthpiece. Generally speaking, larger mouthpieces offer a bigger sound, but they also make it harder to play high. Having just played for an hour and using this larger mouthpiece, I wasn’t expecting much when I brought the horn to my lips. Oh, I should also mention that just moments before I was barely able to play an A above the staff on my normal trumpet and mouthpiece.

My first note on the Monette was a C in the staff. I began at a normal volume, but the horn was begging for more air. So, I took a deep breath and really pushed the air through the horn. The horn instantly opened up, producing a large warm tone. Starting at the same C in the staff, I then went up a third, to an E and then up to a G just above the staff. The G was strong, filling the room with sound. Almost without thinking I went from the G, up to a C above the staff. This was without a doubt, the loudest, fattest, high C I’ve ever played. I couldn’t believe it was me playing, nor could Joe Gransden, judging by the look of total surprise on his face! I was so shocked by the high C, that it didn’t even occur to me to try playing higher. I’m fairly positive, though, that I could have kept going at least up to a D. After the high C, I tried a little jazz improvisation on the Monette, but that didn’t go nearly as well. I felt like I was huffing and puffing to support the notes, but I just couldn’t get enough air into the horn.

I gave the Monette trumpet back to Joe, and picked up my Bach to compare my range. Had my chops miraculously strengthened, allowing me to play a strong high C on any horn? Nope. I couldn’t play a high C on the Bach, nor could I even play a solid G above the staff with my tired chops.

While it’s tempting to think that a Monette trumpet and/or mouthpiece is the answer to my problems with range and endurance, I think the take-away here is that I need to work more on air support. The Monette forced me to use more air. When I gave it the air it needed, the notes came out almost effortlessly, and when my air stream wasn’t strong enough, it was hard to play in any range. Hopefully the buzzing and soft long tone exercises will help to get me on the right track with air.


After receiving several comments suggesting that my 7C could be restricting my airflow, I asked Joe for the size of the Monette mouthpiece that I tried. It was a B2S3, which according to this chart is similar to a Bach 1 1/4 C. Interestingly, prior to my chop blowout, I always played a Bach 1 1/2 C. It wasn't until my second year of college that my trumpet teacher told me to start playing a smaller mouthpiece, a Schilke 15. During my comeback to the trumpet, I tried a few mouthpieces, and settled on my Yamaha 11C4-7C which I've played exclusively for a few years now.

I think I'll take your advice and experiment with larger mouthpieces. I can't find my old Bach 1 1/2 C anymore, though, and the next closest mouthpiece that I have is a Bach 3C which isn't very comfortable for me. Since I like the feel of my Yamaha so much, I think I might buy a new one of those that's comparable to a Bach 3C and/or 1 1/2 C. I'll definitely let you know how it goes.

UPDATE: MAY 13, 2009

I recently purchased a couple of used Yamaha mouthpieces on eBay. One of the mouthpieces, a Yamaha 14A4a is apparently similar to a Bach 3, but the "A" cup feels really shallow to me and thins out my sound. I don't care for the mouthpiece at all. I should have waited for a 14B4 to become available since that's Yamaha's equivalent to a Bach 3C (you can refer to this page for comparisons).

The other new mouthpiece I purchased is a Yamaha 17B4, which is similar to a Bach 1 1/4 C. The 17B4 is a real contrast from my normal mouthpiece (Yamaha 11C4-7C... too many numbers!). On the 17B4 I can get a nice big sound with a full lower register, and it feels good to get more air through the mouthpiece. Unfortunately it also requires a lot more work. Notes feel farther apart than on my normal mouthpiece and I find myself using more pressure against my lips for the upper register. That's no good. It may be a situation where I just need to give myself more time to adapt to the larger mouthpiece, but perhaps I'd be better off with something a little smaller. It is interesting, though, that after playing on the 17B4, my normal mouthpiece feels very restrictive, like I can barely get air through it.

I have also been experimenting with an old Bach 5C mouthpiece. On the 5C I feel like I can get a decent amount of air into the horn, but the mouthpiece itself isn't comfortable on my embouchure. Specifically, it feels like the inside rim isn't rounded off as much as the Yamaha rims, so the Bach creates more of a pressure point on my chops. Consequently, I can only play on the 5C for a few minutes before I start to feel pain and fatigue.

The search continues...

UPDATE: MAY 22, 2009

A few days ago I got a Yamaha 14B4 mouthpiece. Of the various new mouthpieces I've tried, this is definitely my favorite. I'm going to gradually spend more and more time on this mouthpiece over the coming weeks before coming to any conclusions.

September 19, 2008 Trumpet Technique 4 Comments

Atlanta Trumpet Festival #5, 2008

This past weekend, I attended the fifth annual (2008) Atlanta Trumpet Festival at Emory University. Below you'll find my review of the festival and some notes from the master classes. While this is no doubt of more interest to trumpet players, I'd encourage everyone to read the notes from Thomas Hooten's masterclass. His tips on getting the most out of your practice session apply to any instrument -- and just about any goal for that matter.

high school trumpet ensemble


The Atlanta Trumpet Festival has separate ensembles for middle school, high school, and adult trumpeters. As always, there are no auditions. Participants select the parts they want to play and are encouraged to play different parts on each tune. On one tune the best players might be playing 1st trumpet and on another they could be playing 6th or 7th trumpet. This rotation of parts allows younger and/or less experienced players to sit next to and learn from better players.

If you've read my review of the 2007 Atlanta Trumpet Festival, you know that last year was my first time playing the trumpet in public in over a decade. It was such a positive experience that I felt compelled to participate again this year.

While my range and endurance have improved since last year, I didn't want to press my luck when it came to picking music. So, rather than blow my chops away on the higher parts, I opted for the lower charts for every tune. Little did I know, the bottom trumpet parts were probably just as demanding. On one tune, for example, there were several entrances where we had to come in on a low G at a very soft volume. That's a lot harder than it sounds, especially when cottonmouth sets in.

Last year I addressed some of the shortcomings that I noticed about my playing during the Atlanta Trumpet Festival. Notably, I struggled with my limited range and found it hard to blend in with the ensemble. Since I stuck with low trumpet parts this year, I didn't end up testing my upper range at all, but it was definitely easier for me to blend in to the overall sound of the ensemble this year. Mostly this had to do with my improved ability to hear intonation issues between myself and the other players. I credit the jazz jam session that I've been attending each week for helping me with group intonation. No offense to that group, but it's quite common for one or more people to be significantly out of tune. That forces me to really pay attention to my pitch, adjusting as needed while we play.


Kevin Lyons, a member of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, led a discussion about being a versatile musician. Versatility will allow you to play a variety of musical styles (classical, jazz, salsa, etc) thereby increasing the potential number and types of gigs you can play in as a professional musician. A versatile trumpet player himself, Kevin Lyons spent a couple of years playing jazz with the Glenn Miller Orchestra prior to joining the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.

As Kevin Lyons pointed out, when learning various styles of music, the most important thing you should do is listen. If your goal is to play gigs in a salsa band, get some salsa recordings and listen to them over and over again. Listen closely to the phrasing, accents, and rhythms. Listening affords you the ability to really zero in on the nuances that identify a particular style of music. These nuances can't be taught in written music, you can only learn them through listening. Listening to recordings is perhaps the most frequent type of listening you'll do, but Kevin Lyons also stressed the importance of attending live concerts. At live concerts you'll not only get to listen to fantastic music, but you'll also learn how musicians interact with each other and with the audience. You'll also have a chance to meet local musicians and begin the valuable stage of networking.

kevin lyons masterclass

Once you begin to absorb the sound of a particular musical style through listening, the next step is to record yourself playing the music. Ideally you'll be able to record yourself playing a solo or phrase for which you also have a professional recording. You can then compare your solo to the original to ensure that you're closely emulating the style of music that you're trying to learn. If you don't sound like the original, the recording should help you to quickly identify those aspects of your playing that don't match up. As Kevin Lyons mentioned, recording yourself makes it much easier to find and fix problem spots in your playing. And that's precisely why I record my jazz improvisation solos.

I enjoyed Kevin Lyon's discussion and also appreciated his laid back attitude. It can be very intimidating for young and/or beginning players to talk with such accomplished musicians, but Kevin's friendly demeanor really took the edge off. I also liked it when one of the middle school kids asked Kevin to define the word 'gig.' Kevin replied, 'A gig is a professional job that you get paid for. And a professional job that you DON'T get paid for is called a gag.' Now there's something you don't learn in school!


Thomas Hooten is the principal trumpet in the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. He's also the best classical trumpeter I've ever heard in person. During his discussion, Thomas played an excerpt from Mahler's 5th Symphony that was so stunningly beautiful that I it gave me goose bumps. Thomas Hooten's brilliant playing was well matched by the insight he shared during his masterclass about getting the most out of our practice sessions.

Thomas began the discussion by drawing an image like the one you'll see below:


The dark circle in the middle of the diagram represents those things that we've already mastered in our playing. The large dotted gray area beyond that represents things we can do occasionally but with inconsistency and/or lackluster results. And the area beyond the large circle represents things we can't do at all. When practicing, many of us attempt to do too many things that are floating around in the middle of the dotted area. We'd have a much greater chance of success, however, if we focused on things that are right on the edge of what we've already mastered. For example, if I'm trying to learn how to improvise at faster tempos, I won't make significant progress if I start practicing Giant Steps at 300bpm. The mix of fast tempos and challenging chord progressions is setting me up for failure. I'd be much better off playing a tune I already know at tempos that narrowly exceed my current comfort level, gradually increasing the speed as my competency grows. This concept of setting attainable goals is nothing new, but it's still something most of us fail to do because we're in too much of a hurry to improve. Next time you find yourself trying to do too much too soon, remember this diagram and focus on the edge of that inner circle.

thomas hooten masterclass

Following are several more of Thomas Hooten's keys for success:

  • You Perform How You Practice - if you don't take your practice sessions seriously, it will be obvious in your performances.
  • Good Performers Are Consistent, Not Lucky ' when you're under-prepared you need luck to get through a performance. Proper preparation delivers consistent results.
  • Don't Judge Yourself ' when we play poorly we sometimes become angry with ourselves and overly critical. These negative emotional responses cloud our judgment and inhibit progress. When problems arise, focus on the issues without taking it personally.
  • Never Quit ' there's always a way to improve.
  • Use a Metronome and Tuner ' good time and good intonation never go out of style!
  • Practice Slowly ' don't play something at full tempo until you can play it at half tempo.
  • Make Hard Sections Even Harder ' Thomas Hooten demonstrated this one by playing an excerpt with a very challenging leap to a high note. Since it's such a difficult passage, Thomas will practice the phrase while jumping to an even higher note. After that, the real/lower note seems easy. This one only works, however, if you can actually play the intended note in the first place.
  • Take a Break After 30 Minutes of Practice ' after 30 minutes, fatigue sets in and it becomes harder to concentrate. Thomas actually sets a timer when he practices so he doesn't accidentally exceed 30 minutes. Once the time goes off he rests for at least 10 minutes, and sometimes for an hour or two.

  • Experiment, Be Creative ' you don't have to do everything the same way all the time. Experiment with new repertoire, new approaches to existing material, and add variety to your daily practice routine.
  • Keep a Practice Journal ' Thomas keeps very detailed practice journals so he can evaluate his progress over time.
  • Practice Active Listening and Record Yourself ' Thomas basically echoed the same concepts I mentioned from the Kevin Lyons masterclass.
  • Take Notes After Each Lesson ' if you're taking private lessons, your teacher may be telling you more things than you can remember during a lesson. If you record the lesson or take notes immediately afterwards, you stand a much better chance of retaining all of that information.
  • Dealing with Nerves: Be Over-prepared ' a good way of dealing with nerves is to be so prepared that you don't have to worry about whether or not you can perform.
  • Dealing with Nerves: Play for your friends ' many of us become self-conscious and nervous when playing in front of others. You and your fellow musicians can combat this by regularly performing in front of each other.

Here's one more tidbit about Thomas that I found especially interesting. While in college, Thomas said he had hit a wall with his playing. His teacher at the time, Armando Ghitalla, told him that he needed to change his embouchure in order to succeed as a professional trumpet player. On a leap of faith, Thomas took the advice, spent several months barely able to play as he adjusted to his embouchure, and look where he is now: principal trumpet of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra! This story interests me so much because I was a freshman at the University of Michigan when I first ran into major problems with my embouchure (the blowout). And guess who the head of the trumpet department was at the time? None other than Armando Ghitalla. I was a jazz studies major at the time and Armando Ghitalla primarily taught upperclassmen, but now I'll wonder how things might have turned out if he could have helped me with my embouchure back then. Of course, it's extremely unlikely that I would have become a fantastic trumpet player like Thomas Hooten, but perhaps I'd at least be able to play above the staff for 5 minutes before my chops give out! Sigh.


Given the trumpet's pivotal role throughout the history of jazz music, it seems important to me that jazz should be represented at any trumpet festival. At last year's Atlanta Trumpet Festival we did indeed have jazz performances and discussions, but this year it was strictly a classical production. Whether the omission of jazz was intentional or simply a matter of scheduling conflicts (the festival date changed this year), it was a missed opportunity to expose the young trumpet players to jazz. You never know, jazz might be just the thing that keeps some of them interested in playing the trumpet. It certainly keeps me coming back to the horn. Hopefully next year jazz will return to the Atlanta Trumpet Festival.

Update 9/23/2008: The Atlanta Trumpet Festival director, Kay Fairchild, has informed me that jazz will indeed continue to play an important role at the festival. They actually had two jazz trumpeters scheduled to appear this year but things fell through when Emory University had to change the date on short notice.


Attendance at the Atlanta Trumpet Festival was down a bit since last year's record size, but there was still a decent number of participants in the middle school, high school, and adult trumpet ensembles. Each ensemble played well during the final concert and I'm happy to report that I successfully made it through those soft low G's!


As always, I'd like to thank Kay Fairchild, her son David, and the Atlanta Trumpet Ensemble for all of the hard work they put into making the Atlanta Trumpet Festival possible. I look forward to participating again next year and hope more of my trumpet playing readers will attend as well.


All of my Atlanta Trumpet Festival reviews: 2006 - 2007 - 2008 - 2009 - 2011 - 2012 - 2013

November 13, 2007 Trumpet Technique 1 Comment

Atlanta Trumpet Festival #4, 2007

The fourth annual (2007) Atlanta Trumpet Festival took place this past weekend. This year, Scotty Barhnhart, Mark Clodfelter, and Kevin Eisensmith attended as clinicians for the festival. They were joined by approximately 175 festival participants, comprised of middle school students, high school students, and adult trumpet players.

high school ensemble

Unlike previous years where I simply watched from the audience, this year I registered and performed with the adult trumpet ensemble. If you're a regular reader of this website, you probably know that I haven't played the trumpet in public for quite some time. To be exact, 1995 was the last time that I played publicly. That 1995 performance was actually with a jazz combo, though. You'd have to go back all the way to 1993 for the last time that I played classical music in any type of group setting. As you can see, it's been almost 15 years since I had a trumpet playing experience that even remotely resembled what I'd encounter at the Atlanta trumpet festival. Needless to say, I was a bit worried about how everything would turn out.

Following is a review of the 2007 Atlanta Trumpet Festival and my experience playing in the adult trumpet ensemble:


The Atlanta Trumpet Festival began on Saturday, with a warm-up clinic hosted by the professor of trumpet at University of Kentucky, Mark Clodfelter. Having heard Mark's excellent solo performance during the 2006 festival, I was definitely interested to hear what he had to say about warming-up. The warm-up clinic began with a deep breathing exercise followed by a demonstration of some Cichowicz flow studies. Mark played each flow study on his horn at a low volume and then the entire group of 175 festival participants played the exercises together. I was already familiar with these flow studies, but I hadn't ever tried playing them at a low volume in such a relaxed manner. I'll definitely have to give that a try during my regular trumpet practice routine since it seems like a low impact way to both warm-up and improve my range.

Something else that was new to me was Mark's approach to playing high notes on the trumpet. I've known for quite some time that high notes require faster air, rather than simply more air, but Mark's suggestion to think of the syllable "HO" down at our diaphragm and "HEE" at our mouth was new to me. The idea is that the "HO" sound will produce the volume of air needed for high notes, and the "HEE" sound will force that air into a smaller opening at our embouchure, thus accelerating the air. Obviously you can't really say "HO" with your diaphragm, but having that sound concept in your mind should produce the desired result.


After the warm-up clinic, the festival participants were divided into their individual ensembles for rehearsals. This year's Atlanta Trumpet Festival had one middle school ensemble, two high school ensembles, and one adult ensemble. Mark Clodfelter conducted the adult ensemble.

One of the nicest things about the Atlanta Trumpet Festival is the fact that there are no auditions. You simply show up and you get to pick the parts that you play, with the understanding that the best players don't get to hog first part on every tune. Since my upper range is still rather weak, I opted for the lower parts on every tune. Here are some of the things I learned while playing in the adult trumpet ensemble:

  • My range is even worse than I thought - Since I started playing the trumpet again, I've struggled to expand my upper range. In my recent jazz improvisation solos, you'll hear more notes above the staff, but those are always played at full volume and they're all optional. In other words, I only play high notes when my chops can take it. Playing from written music, however, I don't have this luxury. Instead, I have to adhere to the dynamic markings of the tune and I have no option but to play each note as written. This really caused problems for me on the first tune that we played in rehearsal. The part I initially selected had 4 measures of G's at the top of the staff, all played at a very low volume. I flat out couldn't do it. And I knew that even if I could pull it off during rehearsal, there was no way I could play those notes if my embouchure was fatigued. Fortunately, I was able to switch parts and never had to play anything higher than an E in the staff during the rest of the tunes, but I was a little disappointed that my range had failed me so early on in the event.
  • I don't play well with others - When I started playing trumpet back in middle school, I always played in band class with many other people. It became second nature for me to blend in with the rest of the trumpet section, and it was easy for me to hear myself in a group setting. During the first couple of rehearsals with the adult trumpet ensemble, however, I could barely hear myself as I attempted to blend in with the rest of the players. There were times that I knew somebody was out of tune in my section, but I couldn't tell if it was me or not. Similarly, since I couldn't hear myself all the time, I didn't know if my tone was good or bad. These are all things that I used be pretty good at identifying back when I was in high school, but now that I've become so used to hearing myself as a solo voice I felt lost in the group. I guess like any other element of trumpet playing, playing well in a group takes practice.
  • My endurance is better than I thought - When I practice jazz improvisation at home, I tend to play continuously for 15-20 minutes at a time (sometimes even longer). By the end of these improvisation sessions, my chops are so tired that I can't play anything above the staff without excessive mouthpiece pressure. Since 15-20 minutes goes by quickly when I'm improvising, it's tempting for me to think my endurance is terrible. The trumpet festival, however, proved that my endurance is actually pretty good, at least for the type of music I was playing. During all the ensemble rehearsals and performances, I never once felt like my chops were tired. Not even a little. If anything, I was playing better by the end of rehearsals than at the beginning. While I might not have the endurance to play a solid night of jazz improvisation, it's definitely encouraging to know that I can get through an experience like the Atlanta Trumpet Festival without any endurance problems.
  • It's (probably) time to change my daily practice routine - I've been doing the same daily routine of warm-up and fundamental exercises for over a year now. In most areas, I'm pleased with my progress, but I really want to focus on exercises that will help strengthen my upper range. I'm not looking to play all that high. I just want a solid and controlled range that extends up to a C above the staff. I'll probably check out Trumpet Herald for suggested exercises, but if you've got any ideas, please pass them along.


Between rehearsals on Saturday, the festival participants attended a clinic with Kevin Eisensmith about conquering performance anxiety. Kevin Eisensmith is professor of trumpet at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Among other things, Kevin discussed the "two selves" concept that appears in the book "The Inner Game Of Tennis" by Timothy Gallwey. One of the two selves is that part of us who is capable of performing at our peak level. The other side is the critical voice in our heads that insists on telling us things like "I better play well tonight," "I hope I don't miss that high C," and "rats, I missed that high C, this is a disaster." It's that critical side that causes performance anxiety and it's the critical side that keeps us from reaching our full potential (I wrote briefly about that nasty critical side near the end of my four-year anniversary article).

To prevent ourselves from getting bogged down by negative and otherwise distracting thoughts, Kevin suggested that we develop a "Teflon Mind" where we let our worries and concerns fade away. Kevin also spent several minutes taking us through a meditation exercise that he does before every concert. He imagines himself in a serene setting, where he's perfectly comfortable and he then consciously relaxes each part of his body working from his head down to his toes. By the time he's finished, his mind is clear and the performance anxiety is gone.


The final clinic on Saturday was a fantastic presentation of the history of jazz trumpet by Scotty Barnhart. Scotty Barnhart is the featured trumpet soloist with the Count Basie Orchestra and professor of jazz trumpet at Florida State University. He's also the author of the book, "The World of Jazz Trumpet: A Comprehensive History & Practical Philosophy" which I reviewed in 2006. What would have been an interesting history lecture on its own was transformed into pure magic as Scotty, backed by a rhythm section of some of Atlanta's finest jazz musicians (Kevin Bales on piano, Justin Varnes on drums, and Robert Dickson on bass), performed each major style of jazz trumpet playing in the style of its original performers! Scotty's playing was incredible as he stepped into the shoes of Buddy Bolden, Louis Armstrong, Roy Eldrige, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Don Cherry, Freddie Hubbard, and Wynton Marsalis. That presentation alone was worth the price of the Atlanta Trumpet Festival!

scotty barnhart history of jazz clinic


Saturday's festivities concluded with a free concert featuring the Atlanta Trumpet Ensemble, the various festival clinicians, the Air National Guard Band of the South, and the Eagle's Flight Jazz Ensemble. Everyone played well, but I especially enjoyed the opportunity to hear Scotty Barnhart play a few more tunes with the Atlanta-based rhythm section. It was also great to hear Scotty and the other clinicians join the Eagle's Flight Jazz band during the final tune of the night, "April In Paris." Since he's the featured soloist in the current rendition of the Count Basie Big Band, Scotty maintained the time-honored Basie tradition of playing Thad Jones' "Pop Goes The Weasel" solo. He and the other clinicians ended the tune with a bang, outdoing each other with high note after high note at the end. It was a great performance and the audience loved it. I really hope jazz continues to play a role in future Atlanta Trumpet Festivals.


The second and final day of the Atlanta Trumpet festival began with ensemble rehearsals, both separately and as one large group. The group rehearsal was for the final tune of the festival recital: Verdi's "Requiem" performed by 175 trumpet players! On stage it was extremely loud, yet there were still 2 rows of trumpet players standing in front of me. I can't imagine how awesome it must have sounded from in front of the stage.

Overall, I think the final concert went really well. I made a couple of mistakes, but nothing that really stood out. But even if the mistakes were obvious, I doubt anybody would have minded. And that's one of the things that make the Atlanta Trumpet Festival so special. There's no expectation of perfection. Heck, there isn't even an expectation of good. The Atlanta Trumpet Festival is a low stress environment where trumpet players of any age and ability can come together to share the joy of playing the trumpet.


I'd like to thank Kay Fairchild, her son David Fairchild, the Atlanta Trumpet Ensemble, and all the other contributors for the hard work they put into the festival this year. This was definitely the best Atlanta Trumpet Festival yet! I'd also like to extend a special thank you to Kay. I wrote to her a couple of weeks ago stating my desire to simply watch the proceedings from the sidelines, but she encouraged me to perform with adult ensemble. Thanks to her suggestion, I had a great time performing with the adult ensemble and I'm already looking forward to participating again next year!


To learn more about the Atlanta Trumpet Festival, check out the introduction to my review of the 2006 Atlanta Trumpet Festival.


All of my Atlanta Trumpet Festival reviews: 2006 - 2007 - 2008 - 2009 - 2011 - 2012 - 2013

December 16, 2006 Trumpet Technique 7 Comments

The comeback journey

Having already shared my comeback story with visitors to this site, I get quite a few messages from other comeback players looking for advice and encouragement in their own comeback journeys. So, I thought it might be useful to write a blog entry that combines most of my advice (however good or bad it may be) so anyone can access it.


A comeback trumpeter is anyone who returns to the instrument after they stop playing for an extended period of time. From the messages I've received, most of us share a similar story: we played trumpet throughout high school or college, we then quit playing due to class-load or the start of our careers, and then several years later we got the urge to play the trumpet again. Conveniently, this desire to play again was strong enough for us to forget exactly how demanding it is to play the trumpet. Reality, however, sets us straight in no time at all …

Regardless of how well we used to play, we're going to sound terrible for the first few months as we recondition our embouchures. Not everyone is prepared for this fact, and it's during these first months that many of us will consider quitting once again. "I didn't think it was going to be this difficult," and "I don't think I'll ever sound good again" are pretty common thoughts, so you're not alone if they've crossed your mind once or twice, or even a thousand times! While battling these negative thoughts, it's important to remember that brass instruments, and especially the trumpet, are uniquely demanding in that the key mechanism we use to play them (a buzzing embouchure) isn't normally used in day-to-day living. Consequently, it's quite natural that our embouchure has atrophied through disuse and it's also natural that it will take time for the muscles to rebuild.


Speaking of time, it's about time I mention the greatest challenge facing comeback players: time. With a demanding career, a spouse, and children, it can be extremely difficult to find that hour or two we need each day for trumpet practice. I actually have it relatively easy since I work at home and I don't have any children. I can only imagine how hard it must be if you have a long commute and/or if you have kids that you need to feed and cart around (or whatever it is that you need to do with kids). Needless to say, it's A LOT harder to find practice time now than it was when we were younger.

Due to the scarcity of quality practice time, your rate of improvement as an adult will probably be much slower than when you initially played. I say "probably" since adults tend to focus better and generally take practicing more seriously than kids, but the fact is, if you can only practice 30 minutes a day every few days then your rate of progression will be slower than it was back when you could always practice an hour or two each day. In my case, while I almost always have time for my warm-up and fundamentals, I don't always have time to practice ear training or jazz improvisation. Last week, for example, there were only 3 days where I had enough time to practice jazz improvisation, and even then I was only able to practice improvisation for about 15 minutes each of those days. I'm confident that I can continue to improve at this rate, but I know it's slow going. Regardless of your exact situation, don't let your slow progress discourage you. Instead, relax and enjoy the journey.

I suppose one good thing about the trumpet is that it's actually best to practice in short sessions rather than one long stretch, at least while you're still building up your chops. So, don't worry if you don't have an uninterrupted hour to devote to the horn. In the beginning, two or three 15-20 minute practice sessions might be sufficient. In my case, I do my first two trumpet sessions (warm-up and fundamentals) between 7:30 and 8:30am. That's all I need to consistently improve my overall playing ability. After work, I'll add another session for ear training and I'll finish out the day with jazz improvisation.


One advantage to being a comeback player is that it affords us a stress-free opportunity to address problems with our embouchure that plagued us the fist time around. If you used to have an inefficient embouchure that limited your range, or if you used to have a weak/pinched sound, or if you lacked flexibility, well here's your big chance to develop a new and improved embouchure. And that's where the guidance of a great trumpet teacher is invaluable.

Regardless of how good you used to be, and regardless of how capable you feel on your own, I strongly suggest that you take at least a few trumpet lessons when you begin your comeback journey. Assuming you can afford it, these lessons should be with the best teacher in town, somebody known for producing the best students in the area. Ideally people will refer to this teacher as a "chop doc" who specializes in improving inefficient embouchures. Since you're essentially starting over again as a comeback player, you'd be doing yourself a disservice if you don't begin with the best possible embouchure and guidance.

Regrettably, I didn't see a teacher when I started my comeback journey. As a result, I wasted countless hours repeating old mistakes, fumbling from one embouchure method to another, as I struggled with range and endurance. Don't make the same mistake as me. Get a teacher!


Is all of the time and effort really worth it? It's easy for me to just say, "of course it's worth it," but really, it's up to each individual to determine. Personally, I've thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of my comeback. Playing the trumpet and making music are both the most challenging and rewarding activities in my life. If anything, it probably wouldn't be that enjoyable for me if it were easy (although I wouldn't mind having the opportunity to find out for sure!). Also, jazz improvisation is the most satisfying creative outlet I've ever found. On some level, I believe I need to play. So, my comeback has definitely been worth all the effort.

Will your comeback be equally as rewarding? Well, there's only one way to know for sure… try it!


For more about my comeback and how I've done over the years, you might want to read my anniversary articles:


Trumpet players are fortunate to have an incredibly large online community of trumpet players at TrumpetHerald.com. At the TrumpetHerald site, you'll find literally hundreds of thousands of posts on just about every imaginable trumpet topic. They even have a forum dedicated to comeback players. So, it's a good place to ask questions and get additional assistance. But, as with any online forum, the value of the information there varies widely. It takes a bit of sifting to find the good nuggets…

November 13, 2006 Trumpet Technique 0 Comments

Atlanta Trumpet Festival #3, 2006

This past weekend, Emory University hosted the third annual Atlanta Trumpet Festival. I didn't attend as a participant, however I did watch each of the free concerts.


Atlanta Trumpet EnsembleThe Atlanta trumpet festival is the brainchild of Kay Fairchild and her son David Fairchild. I've known about Kay Fairchild for a few years now, as she's a very well respected trumpet teacher in the Atlanta area and she's known for having some of the best students in the state of Georgia. A few years ago, Kay started the Atlanta Trumpet Ensemble as a way for her students to perform together at various regional events. The success of their trumpet ensemble prompted Kay and her son to try hosting a larger event for students throughout the Atlanta area. And thus the Atlanta Trumpet Festival was born.

The Atlanta Trumpet Festival has grown considerably over the past three years. The first year they had about 40 registrants, the second year they had about 60, and this year they had over a hundred registrants representing nine different states! Of the 100+ participants, about 25 were middle school students, another 60 were high school students, and about 25 more were adults (college and older). Each of these three groups met for ensemble rehearsals and performed on the final day of the festival.

In addition to the ensemble rehearsals, the registrants also participated in master classes with the festival's clinicians. This year the clinicians included Michael Anderson, Mark Clodfelter, and Vincent DiMartino. The three clinicians participated in both of the free concerts and on the first night they were accompanied by the outstanding Georgia Brass Band.


As I mentioned earlier, the festival registrants performed in their respective ensembles (middle school, high school, adult) on the final day of the festival. Prior to the performance, Kay Fairchild mentioned that none of the participants audition for parts. Instead, they are free to choose whatever parts they want, with the understanding that they'll switch parts for each tune. In other words, if somebody selects the first trumpet part on one piece, they'll need to play second, third, etc on the other.

Kay went on to explain that the decision to forgo auditions arose from something that happened during the first year of the festival. That first year, a trumpet player who was relatively inexperienced found himself sitting next to and playing the same part as a couple of all-state trumpeters. In his school, he would never have played the same part as the better trumpeters. In fact, he probably wouldn't have been in the same band class. But, since he had the opportunity to meet these players and play by their side during the festival, he became inspired to improve. With a new sense of determination, he practiced more and steadily rose through the ranks at his school, making his way into the top band. I couldn't quite hear the end of this story, but I believe he is now studying music at the college level.

One of the clinicians, Vincent DiMartino, shared another story about inspiration with the audience. Back when he first started playing the trumpet, he had the opportunity to see Louis Armstrong live in concert. Somehow he made his way back stage, hoping to get an autograph. When he knocked on Louis' dressing room door, not only did Louis give him an autograph, but he also spent twenty minutes talking with Vincent about music and the trumpet. During those twenty minutes, Louis Armstrong gave Vincent enough inspiration to last a lifetime. Vincent hit the practice room like never before and, as many of you know, he went on to become a top lead trumpeter and soloist, performing with numerous big bands, including the Lionel Hampton Band, the Clark Terry Band, and the Chuck Mangione Band.

While listening to these stories of inspiration, I couldn't help but think of the first time I really became inspired to improve as a trumpeter. It happened during my second year playing the trumpet, when I was in eighth grade. That's the first year I was accepted to all-state. At all-state, we listened to the top high school band and I couldn't believe how good they were. One piece in particular blew me away. I forget the name now, but I think it was "Scottish" something. It has a long trumpet solo and it goes up to a C# which is pretty rare for high school trumpet parts. Anyway, after I heard how awesome that piece sounded, I knew I needed to practice more. For the first time, I was really inspired to improve and that's when I increased my practice schedule to one hour every day (I'd later increase my practice time to 3-4 hours a day). And guess, what? not only would I go on to make all-state every year throughout high school, including all-state jazz band during my senior year, but I also ended up playing the solo trumpet part on that same "Scottish" song just a few years later!

What I'd like to emphasize here is that regardless of your skill level, there's always somebody who can inspire you to take things to the next level. And it's those experiences that we should pursue because they push us to be better musicians and better people.

Speaking of inspiration, it was clear that Vince DiMartino was an inspiration to the clinicians and adult players. During DiMartino's solo performance I glanced over at the other clinicians and they were grinning ear to ear as he effortlessly played the loudest and fattest high notes I've ever heard live. And it all came full circle as DiMartino seemed genuinely inspired by the fantastic effort put forth by Kay Fairchild and David Fairchild to make the trumpet festival a reality.

I'd LOVE to see an event like this for jazz!


If you're a regular reader of my jazz blog, you know I'm passionate about jazz improvisation and the creativity and personal expression it affords. I'm definitely not a trumpet screamer type, nor do I really identify with the "trumpet geek" ethos. But, with that said, I must admit to a certain degree of trumpet pride when the high school group of 60 trumpeters took to the stage. Before they played even a single note, the woman next to me put her hands over her ears and said quietly to herself, "sixty trumpeters, oh boy"...


All of my Atlanta Trumpet Festival reviews: 2006 - 2007 - 2008 - 2009 - 2011 - 2012 - 2013

June 18, 2006 Trumpet Technique 2 Comments

World of Jazz Trumpet - book review

World Of Jazz TrumpetI just finished reading "The World of Jazz Trumpet: A Comprehensive History & Practical Philosophy," by Scotty Barnhart. The book includes the history of jazz trumpet, interviews with several jazz trumpeters (Freddie Hubbard, Clark Terry, Wynton Marsalis, and more!), and suggestions for jazz trumpet performance, practice, and technique. I thoroughly enjoyed the book and would consider it a must-read for all aspiring jazz trumpeters. Heck, I'd even recommend it to non-trumpeters --it's about time you guys learn a thing or two about the most important instrument in the history of jazz!

While there are many books about jazz history, "The World of Jazz Trumpet" stands on its own thanks to the unique insight and experiences of the book's author, Scotty Barnhart, who also happens to be a professional jazz trumpeter and highly-esteemed educator. As a trumpet player, Barnhart knows precisely how difficult it is to play solos from the likes of Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie, and Miles Davis. He knows these founding fathers of jazz were enormously talented and treats them with the respect and reverence that they deserve. Barnhart doesn't just want us to learn their history, he also wants us to appreciate these musicians and their music as much as he does.

As a professional musician, Barnhart has had the opportunity to meet and/or play with many of the legendary trumpeters that he writes about. These experiences are shared throughout the book, adding a personal touch to each history lesson and a glimpse into what these musicians were like as people. For example, one story explained how Dizzy Gillespie was due to play at the Atlanta Jazz Festival in 1990. Somehow, festival organizers failed to pick Dizzy up from the airport and he was stranded. When Dizzy finally arrived at the event, he was tired, hungry, and clearly upset about what had happened (I'd be awfully mad too if I was stranded at the airport at 73 years of age!). As Dizzy sat down for a quick meal, a photographer butted in and tried to take some pictures. Irritated, Dizzy told him in no uncertain terms to leave him alone. Soon after the photographer left, a young boy approached Dizzy. Rather than shoo the boy away as he did with the photographer, Dizzy perked up, welcomed him over, and even showed him a few notes on his trumpet! It's great to know that no matter how Dizzy felt, he always had time to reach out to young people to get them interested in jazz.

Since this book focuses on jazz trumpet, Barnhart delves deeper into the lineage of trumpet players than do most jazz books. For instance, most jazz history books don't talk about ANY professional female jazz trumpeters. Barnhart, however, devotes an entire chapter to them, and mentions several that I hadn't even heard of before. Once such artist is Clora Bryant and her album "Gal With A Horn". As I type this, I'm listening to her solo on "Tea For Two". Damn! If I didn't know any better, I'd think this was Dizzy Gillespie soloing. Thanks to Barnhart, there are quite a few other musicians and albums I'm going to be checking out over the next few weeks. I feel like a whole new jazz world has been revealed!

After the history and interview sections, Barnhart devotes a few chapters to trumpet playing. Topics cover everything from playing in a big band (Barnhart is a featured soloist in the Count Basie Orchestra) to how to play with a plunger. Each section is informative and valuable to any aspiring jazz trumpet player. Once again, Barnhart's own experiences as a trumpet player and educator add value to the content. He knows his stuff!

As should be clear by now, I really enjoyed this book and especially Scotty Barnhart's stories and writing style. I thank him for sharing this with all of us and I encourage you to read it.

March 27, 2005 Trumpet Technique 20 Comments

My embouchure - range, endurance


Trumpeters have a tendency to fixate on their range. They're either proud because they can play higher than anyone they know, or they are frustrated because they can't play as high as they want. During my comeback, I've been rather guilty of the latter case.

For the first few months of my comeback, I could barely play anything at or above an E at the top of the staff. It has been a frustrating journey, but I've now got a (somewhat) solid range that extends up to a Bb above the staff. I can play higher than that occasionally, but I can't play those notes with enough power or consistency for them to be truly useable.

A Bb above the staff gives me about two and a half octaves to work with. That's enough notes to play most of the solos by Miles Davis, Kenny Dorham, Art Farmer, Blue Mitchell, Chet Baker, and many other great jazz trumpeters. I think it's safe to say I should stop worry about my range.


While my range is fine, my *real* problem lies with endurance. On a typical day, I've only got 15-20 minutes of solid playing in me, before I need to rest. Once fatigued, I can barely play an E at the top of the staff, and I have to use excessive pressure just to do that. Playing beyond 40 minutes in a single session (even with short breaks) is out of the question. At best, I can manage three or four 20-30 minute sessions throughout the day --usually two in the morning and one or two at night.

Since I'm still in the process of strengthening my chops, I have to devote a couple of these short sessions to fundamentals (slurs, articulation, etc). That leaves just one or two (at the most) short sessions for improvisation. This limitation is especially discouraging when you think about the great jazzers who honed their skills in marathon jam sessions and constant woodshedding. I'm already at a disadvantage talent-wise; I'd love to try and make up for that with extended weekend practice sessions, but my lack of endurance just won't let me.


I've been working on the Balanced Embouchure exercises for a couple of years now. The author claims that his method works for everyone. Well, either I'm doing it wrong, or I've got a good "truth in advertising" case against him! --just kidding. The author is a nice guy, and had graciously tried to help me when I was beginning BE. Regardless, I just don't think the Balanced Embouchure method is working out for me.

I've been working on Caruso and Flexus exercises for nearly a year now, and while I do think they have helped my overall playing and strengthened my range, I've yet to notice major improvements in endurance. The way I see it, I can continue with what I'm doing and hope that my endurance improves over time, and/or I can try something new. 2021 Update: As I'd learn in my lessons Nadje Noordhuis, I wasn't doing the Caruso and Flexus "6-note" exercises correctly... so no wonder they didn't help as much as I had hoped.

A visitor to this site (thanks, Peter!) recently suggested that I try superchops. I've also read quite a few posts about it at the Trumpet Herald. I do have some reservations; mostly revolving around the fact that I can't roll my tongue and therefore might not have the necessary flexibility to pull it off, but I must admit that I'm tempted to give it a try.

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