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

January 5, 2013 About Me 10 Comments

Ten-year anniversary

All of my anniversary articles: 2 years - 3 years - 4 years - 5 years - 6 years - 7 years - 9 years - 10 years - 11 years - 12 years - 13 years - 15 years

It's now been ten years since I started playing the trumpet again, after quitting for a period of seven years. I had hoped to write this article before the end of 2012, but with traveling, work, colds, and other distractions, I didn't make the deadline. Oh well, better late than never.


After my jam session with Tyrone Jackson at the 2012 ITG conference, I began memorizing jazz tunes with the goal of having 40 tunes memorized by the end of 2012. I was off to a good start, but taking time off to travel caused me to have to relearn most of what I had previously committed to memory. Consequently, I only learned 22 tunes by the end of 2012. I'm okay with that, though, since that's 22 more tunes than I knew at the start of 2012. I'm going to continue learning jazz tunes in 2013, but I'll set a more attainable goal of learning 50 total tunes by the end of the year.

Here's a list of the tunes that I've learned thus far: Recordame, Caravan, Footprints, Cherokee, Ladybird, Blue Monk, Bessie's Blues, Straight No Chaser, Nardis, Sweet Georgia Brown, El Gaucho, What Is This Thing Called Love?, Impressions/So What, Summertime, There Is No Greater Love, Oleo, Have You Met Miss Jones, Watermelon Man, All The Things You Are, Song For My Father, Stella By Starlight, Blue Bossa

For each of these tunes, I can play the melodies and I can outline the changes by memory. When it comes to improvising over the tunes, I still have to consciously think about the changes to most of them, especially the longer tunes like Stella By Starlight and All The Things You Are. I am, however, becoming gradually more confident with these tunes and I'm finding that the initially challenging sections are becoming easier with each review.


In October of 2011, I released an Android version of my "Play by Ear" ear training application. While all of my other ear training tools are free, I decided to charge $1.99 for the Android ear training application. The decision to charge for the app was made in part to compensate myself for building an application that I'll never use (I have an iPhone). But for most part, I charged money because I was curious to see how many people are actually willing to pay for an Android ear training application. As it turns out, not that many.

Thirteen months after its initial release, 773 people have purchased the Android version of Play by Ear. By comparison, about 45 people install the iPhone version every day (some days over 100). That's about 16,425 installs of the iPhone ear training app per year. From these numbers, I think it's safe to draw the following two conclusions. First, the audience for iPhone ear training apps is considerably larger than the Android audience. And second, people prefer free apps. No surprise there.

As a result of these findings, I've decided to discontinue development of the Android application. I know this might disappoint some of you, but I hope you'll understand that continued development isn't the best use of my limited time. Sorry!


When I wrote the article about traveling in 2012, I had only been back on the horn for a couple of weeks after not playing at all during the entire month of September. At that time, I couldn't play for more than 10 minutes at a time before my chops would give out. To be more specific, lately when my chops "give out," it feels like my upper lip stops vibrating. One minute my upper lip is responsive, and the next it feels flat and lifeless. I can't say for certain what's happening, though, and that's partly due to the fact that I never regained feeling at the very top of my lip (just under my nose), due to the root canal that I mentioned in my nine-year anniversary article.

As the recovery from my vacation continued, I practiced as usual but I wasn't improving at all. In fact, my chops were getting worse. After a few minutes of playing, I needed a lot of mouthpiece pressure just to play above a C in the staff. I still felt like my upper lip stopped vibrating, but for the first time I also felt like my mouthpiece (Yamaha 11C4-7C) was too small; as if it prevented me from buzzing. I'm guessing that after not playing for a month, my embouchure changed slightly, perhaps due to the root canal and new front tooth that I received at the end of 2011. Whatever the cause, my old mouthpiece wasn't working very well for me anymore.

The week before Thanksgiving, I visited Rich Ita's workshop to see if I could find a better mouthpiece. I initially tried some Warburton mouthpieces, but I couldn't find any combinations that worked for me. Next, I tried some Schilke mouthpieces. I didn't care for the first two or three sizes, but when I got to a Schilke 9, my playing really seemed to open up. The rounded rim was comfortable and it was easier to move around the horn. After trying a few dozen more mouthpieces, the only other mouthpiece that I liked was a Monette B7. The Monette B7 was even easier to play than the Schilke 9, but my tone sounded too thin. Unfortunately, that was the only Monette mouthpiece at Rich's shop, so I couldn't try any other sizes. In the end, I bought the Schilke 9.

I've been playing on the Schilke 9 mouthpiece for a little over a month now. At first, I liked the mouthpiece, but then I inevitably reached a period where it felt like it was harder to play than my old mouthpiece. The same thing happened with the GR mouthpiece that I bought in 2009. I did at least like my sound on the Schilke 9 (I don't like my sound on the GR), so I decided to stick with it for a while longer.

I've now reached the point where I mostly like the Schilke 9, but I'd also like to try some slightly larger Schilke mouthpieces, just to see if those feel any better. I already own a Schilke 15, so I know that's too big. Of course, I'd love to try another Monette, but I can't bring myself to spend all of that money on a mouthpiece unless I know for sure that I'll still play it after a couple of weeks.

Comment by Dan

Hi Rick: Congrats on 10 years! I love reading your blog. Quick question on learning tunes:

Do you learn them in all 12 keys? Like you, I'm also someone who neglected his ear when learning to improvise the first time. It seems to me that learning the tunes in all 12 keys would prevent any rote memorization "shortcuts" and really train your ear to learn the sound of the heads, chord progressions, bass lines, etc. What do you think?

Comment by Rick

Hi Dan,

My goal is to learn 50-100 jazz tunes so I can confidently play with others, without always needing written music. Learning and reviewing the tunes will prepare me for that, but it will also help make these tunes easier to play, so I can stop thinking about notes/changes all the time and I can start making music.

I suppose I could learn each tune in all 12 keys, but I'd have to ask myself... would I rather learn 12 tunes in their most commonly played key, or would I rather learn one tune in all 12 keys? For me, it's an easy answer. I'd rather learn the 12 tunes. Having said that, there are a few tunes that I do intend to learn in multiple keys. "On Green Dolphin Street" and "Just Friends" are examples, since they're commonly played in 2 different keys.

As for your thought about ear training and learning tunes in 12 keys. For me, ear training works best when I'm playing something spontaneous, like random melodies, or when I try to play along with a tune for the first time. If I were to repeatedly practice a tune in all 12 keys, then I'd inevitably start memorizing pieces (consciously or not) and I wouldn't be challenging my ear as much. Only the first couple of times might be challenging. I do, however, use my online ear trainer to practice improvising to blues, Cherokee, and rhythm changes in random keys. That isn't an attempt to learn the progressions in all 12 keys, though. Rather, I do it for ear training. I don't look at the changes at all and I try to rely entirely on my ear.

Thanks for writing,


One thing that has helped me tremendously in learning tunes and the chord progressions is to understand the chord movements. For example, the primary movement in All the Things You Are is that the chords move in fourths -- so, my goal is to not memorize the chords but to understand, and, more importantly, HEAR how the chords move from one to another -- so there are really two things we are learning here -- first, is what I will call the "color" of the chord. The color being, major, minor, or augmented, etc. Really what we want to be able to do is outline the chord with a triad at a minimum (as you get better, you'll be comfortable outlining the arpeggio from the root to the ninth) ... second, we are learning the chord movement -- e.g. with All the Things it moves in fourths Gmi, to Cmi, to F7 to Bb maj, etc.

Comment by Jim Zerbi

I only recently came across your web site. It is quite interesting. I have a similar history as you. I am 61 (soon to be 62 in April). I started playing in 5th grade. I did not seriously approach the horn until I was in 8th grade. I ended up as first chair in in 11th and 12 grade. During this time I did play 3rd trumpet in a local big band and learned a ton about Basie and Ellington music.

I went to music school as a freshman in college. Unfortunately, I listened too much to upper classmen play, got intimidated, lost my confidence and left music school at the end of my freshman year. I continued to play in fusion rock bands and old school R&B bands. As time wen t by, I played less and less and quit playing altogether when I was 32.

When I was 52 and just divorced, I decided to play again. This time, after spending about two years building up my chops, I got in the local blues scene, as there was several local blues jams I could play in. I have been attending blues jams ever since even branching out to doing some blues singing as well. For about 9 months in 2006 I was a member of a local blues band. We were paid to set up and take down, but played for free, lol. Artistic differences broke up the band, as is the norm for bands every where, lol.

Since then a few things have happened. First I got Bell's palsy in Dec 2008. it took me until Aug 2009 to begin playing again. Then I noticed, I was losing my hearing in one ear. So since mid 2010, I have resolved to depart from the classic loud Chicago style blues and branch out in to jazz in the hope of playing music at lower volumes to save my ears. I am quite fond of the small group jazz styles found from the mid 1950's to the early 1970's. But to play this style, I had to learn new theory. I could play the heck out of I-IV-V tunes, as I could use the blues scale on them. But II-V-I stuff had to be learned. So since then, I have been studying the heck out that area of theory and am now taking private lessons from a very good (but much younger) trumpet player.

So we have a similar, but different story. In regard to mouthpieces, I tried quite a few before I found what seems (at this time) to work for me. It is a a Curry 3M (aka Curry 3ZM). Not saying this mouthpiece would work for you, but Curry seems to have an extensive line of mouthpieces which address a wide range of playing styles and embrouchures. They have a wonderful mouthpiece comparison chart on the Mouthpiece Express web site (google mouthpiece express for the link). This chart helped me to select the mouthpiece which I ended up with.

As a footnote of interest, I play two horns (not at the same time of course, lol), a Schilke B6, which I bought new in 1967. It still plays great, most likely due to its 20 year retirement. In 2004 at a music consignment shop, I found a Martin Committee in quite good shape. I bought it for $325 (yes, no typo, similar ones on E-Bay at that time were $1,300, now upwards of $2,000). I checked its serial number against a list on the internet and found that it had been built in 1948. I never take them both to a jam. I take the Schilke to jams in larger venues, and play the Martin at venues with smaller rooms. They are different, but I like them both.

Good luck, keep playing, keep writing.

Jimi Z

In finding the "right" mouthpiece, you should determine exactly what inner diameter is your preference first such as a Bach 7C, 3C, 5C etc. That will help you narrow your selection process down significantly. Monette has Bach equivalents listed on his web page for his mouthpieces. I'd suggest trying a "Classic" piece first. If you are more interested in a warmer "jazz" sound ... you will want the STC-1 blank or LT blank. As far as the price goes, a Monette Classic is $252.00. Your Gr was $230.00? You can also wait and buy a used Monette from TrumpetHerald.com or TrumpetMaster.com. If you call or email Monette, they are very good at answering your questions etc.

A Schilke 9 is a .643 inner diameter. This matches a Monette B8 which according to them is about the equivalent of a Bach 10.5C. Good luck with your hunt. Again, decide on a definite inner diameter and try out pieces when you are able to. GR makes very good mouthpieces ... sorry that 65M didn't seem to work for you.





Hello Rick,

I just came to your site again when one of my students came into the lesson with your app. It reminded me about your website and I came by to see what you've been up to.

Man, about the chop stuff, you may want to check out my routine books (I posted the link above). One of the specific functions of my books is to help people return to playing after some time off. It doesn't matter if it's two weeks or two decades...the books help get you back into the game very quickly usually with no physical problems.

I used to follow your posts a while back because you helped me gain a better insight into the mind of the come back players. I guess I hadn't been back in a while because I now have more adult students than I do children.

Anyway, it was nice to visit your page again. Keep up the good work!

Eddie Lewis

Comment by John Cox


I just recently started serious work on playing jazz this past august. One thing I had to do was to figure out which horn and mouthpiece to use. I've got a bach, a schilke, a besson, and a bent up old Holton to choose from. I ended up choosing the besson. Then I went through all the mouthpieces I had. For a long time I used a GR MS65 but I was unhappy with the low notes from that. I had used a Bach 1C and Bach 1 1/2 C also but have around 20 mouthpieces I purchased or acquired over the years. So, being a scientist I set up an experiment where I played the same several pieces on each mouthpiece without knowing what the mouthpiece was. I recorded some of it but mostly went with ease of playing and sound of horn. I decided that the closest for me was a Schilke 18 or a Bach 1 1/2 C. I was still not happy though and ordered a Megatone 1 1/2 C. Man was that a good choice. I am so much happier with my tone and playing on this. The backbore is slightly larger and the whole thing makes me play more cleanly.

I would suggest that you just get a bucket of mouthpieces from friends if you don't have your own and run through them if you are still searching for "the one"

Comment by Kristian F. Thomsen

Hi Rick,

Your site is great ! Thank you for that :-)

I was wondering how do you get the chords to a new tune ? From a realbook or do you transcribe them from the recordings ? Transcribing them of the recording is great ear training I know, but I find myself spending a lot of time on one single tune when doing so :-) And an easy task with an untrained ear :-)

Comment by Rick

Hi Kristian,

Since I have the Aebersold recordings for all of the tunes that I'm currently learning, I typically go with the published chords in the Aebersold books. Unlike the (illegal) Real Book, the Aebersold charts are direct from the publisher and accurate per the original composition.

As you mentioned, if you have the time and you want to exercise your ears, transcribing is the way to go (and your speed will improve over time). It can be a little problematic, though, if you happen to pick a recording where the artists are playing a modified version of the original chords. With that in mind, if you do transcribe, it's best to pick one of the iconic recordings for each tune.


Comment by Vinny

Well I have to say I am shocked to read that you only know 22 tunes after a 10 year journey. I know about 60 or 70 tunes and I've been playing jazz for less than 5 years. My rate of learning tunes is increasing, not decreasing. Nothing has helped my jazz playing more getting a lot of tunes into my bones. Learn a tune a week...or at least two per month, and when you practice exercises (e.g. taking a motif through a tunes chords), always do it from memory...never use a leadsheet. Learn melodies by ear ALWAYS and give the chords a good college try before looking at a leadsheet. Get away from the sheet music within a day. This will really help you.

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