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

August 15, 2005 About Me 6 Comments

Three-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

This month marks the end of the third year of my comeback. I wrote a progress report last year, so I figured I should continue the tradition...


When I started playing the trumpet again, I had major range problems. Even after a few months of practice, I could barely play an E at the top of the staff. In my quest for a solution, I came across the Balanced Embouchure method. I bought the book, read it a couple of times, and started working on the various exercises. There were some initial improvements, but even after a year, my usable range (i.e. not just squeaks) was limited to notes in or below the staff.

To this day, I still include a few Balanced Embouchure exercises in my daily routine. Compared to where I was a year or two ago, my range is unquestionably stronger now. A year ago I mentioned that I'm most comfortable at or below an E at the top of the staff. Now, that same comfortable range extends up to a G. That's right: G is the new E!

From time to time visitors ask me about the Balanced Embouchure method, especially whether or not I'd recommend it. I would recommend reading the book, but I'd caution anyone from thinking it's a quick fix. It's taken me 2 years to be able to play comfortably with a (somewhat) rolled in embouchure. Even now I struggle to keep it up. But, it's an important shift that has improved both my endurance and range. For that, I'm grateful.

I'd be remiss if I didn't also give credit to the Caruso exercises I've been doing for a little over a year, and to the Flexus book. Both of those things have really strengthened my chops. Especially Flexus. Those "flexandos" are killers!


One of my earlier journal entries mentions advice given to me by teachers and other players, most of which failed to improve my range. I've come to appreciate the fact that pretty much nothing would have helped me back then, due to my reliance on excessive mouthpiece pressure.

Advice such as "Play more high notes. The more you play them, the better they get", and "Range will develop over time, just keep practicing" was and continues to be correct. In my case, the advice didn't help because I constantly played with excessive pressure. The higher I went, the more pressure I used, even during practice sessions. Consequently, I never gave my embouchure a chance to strengthen itself. Instead, I ended up weakening and damaging my chops more and more every day. Oops!

Even if I could have figured out a way to practice with less pressure, I would have inevitably done damage later in the day, while in concert band, big band, or in my funk band. All of these bands required that I play precisely every time. It didn't matter how high the note was, or how my chops were feeling -- I simply had to hit the notes.

Today, I don't have any performance obligations, so I never *have* to push myself with pressure. I still occasionally use excessive pressure when improvising, but those instances are fewer and farther between than they were in the past. Most often, when I realize I can't hit a note, I stop trying. I'll either take things down an octave, or I'll just put my horn down and rest. Now that I'm using less pressure, I'm finally building muscles rather than tearing them down.


For the past year, I've tried to spend at least 25 minutes a day on ear training. I start with intervals, move on to random melodies, and finish with simple songs. On a good day, I surprise myself with my accuracy. Just a couple of weeks ago during my random interval session, I listened to and played (by ear) at least 20 intervals in a row without a single mistake. Similarly, my accuracy with random melodies and simple songs continues to improve. Unfortunately, I still have bad days where I struggle to lock in pitches. I'm extremely encouraged by my progress, however, and believe that those bad days will diminish in frequency as time goes on.


In many ways, I feel like my journey with jazz improvisation is just beginning. I've only recently been able to play my ideas accurately by ear. This ability has given me greater control over my playing and simultaneously given me the freedom to take more risks when I improvise. This is all very new for me and very exciting. I can't wait to hear my playing years from now!

Comment by Ian

Hi, I just came across your site while googling Laurie Frink (who I've been fortunate enough to study with on and off). The site's very well put together, and your clips sound good.

One thought about jam sessions--not all are created equal, of course, and sometimes the last thing a developing musician needs is to get his a$$ handed to him in public--but just be careful you don't get caught in the trap of only playing out when you feel you're totally prepared and there's no risk of messing up. I only say this because I believe I wasted a lot of time, when I was younger, waiting to be "ready" when I could've been gaining experience and, most usefully, getting used to not thinking of playing as a "big deal." Because obviously the best music happens when you're not thinking or feeling stressed, and it takes time to develop that degree of not-giving-a-sh!t while playing with other jazz musicians.

Anyway, best wishes,


Comment by Logan

Hey, I found your site after a google search for "trumpet blog". I'm a classical freelance trumpet player in Chicago. Just wanted to say nice idea/site and best of luck with your improvement....

By the way, I'm impressed with your ear training software. I teach some beginning students and have been toying with the idea of a Flash app to teach fingerings.


Comment by Rick

Ian: I don't know if you've read some of my other posts on this subject, but there are two main reasons that I'm not playing out now:

1) I still don't have enough endurance to play well for a couple of tunes (including improv). For instance, I could totally blow my chops trying to play the head on a tune like "Blue Bossa". Granted, I could ask to play a tune in a more comfortable range, or I could take a high tune down an octave, or I could get someone else in the band to play it, etc... But still, I want to be confident of at least a basic level of performance.

2) I'm still unable to accurately play what I hear. As I've written recently, I'm narrowing the gap between what I can and can't play, but I've still got a long way to go. Until I'm where I want to be on that front, I'll stick to the practice room ;-)

BTW, I checked out your jazz blog. Do you have any audio clips? I didn't see any on your site, but would like to hear you and/or your quintet. If so, feel free to send me an email or post the link(s) here.

Logan: Thanks for the compliments. I think it's a great idea to build tools that make learning more fun and easier for people, so by all means give that Flash app a try. I do occasionally get people coming to my site after doing a search for "trumpet fingering" so I know there are at least a few people out there looking for help!

Thanks for writing, guys. I'm always glad to hear from visitors.


Comment by Ian

Hi Rick--

I can sympathize with your feelings about the jam sessions--have you met any other players around your level who you might be able to talk into playing (private) sessions? I definitely think that playing jazz with other people, in some form, is essential to a player's development.

Anyway, just remember that everyone else out there who's likely to hear you is probably so preoccupied with what they percieve to be their own musical shortcomings that they most likely won't even remember whether you played some clams or not. Or to simplify that--the catchphrase I tell myself is "Nobody cares if you sound good, nobody cares if you sound bad." Just a thought.


P.S. I've got a few clips up on my site now. Feel free to check them out.

Comment by David Long

I just recently changed my embrochure (May 2005). The resulting embrochure was almost the total opposite of what I had been playing with for eight years. I can now hit and hold D's above the staff with ease and my endurance is better than it ever was (I can play for periods of up to an hour and a half before feeling fatigued). I think this is mostly because of what my lesson teacher's first words were- rest as much as you play. He suggested playing and then resting for the same amount of time that I played. When you feel tired, then you have already pushed yourself too far. This has proven to be essential to my playing and my tone has only gotten better. Just a suggestion.


Just wanted to let you know that I have added a link to your site from mine at www.danjacobsmusic.com.

I like what you've done with this site and think that others might benefit from knowing about it.

As I'm getting about 20,000 hits a month on my site, you might get some increased exposure from this link.

Dan Jacobs, trumpet


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