“Amateurs Practice Until They Get It Right. Professionals Practice Until They Can’t Play It Wrong”

amateur-contest-thWhen I first ran across this statement, I knew I had to have it posted where I could read it every morning.

Comparing the two different work ethics can be a rude reminder that most of us are still amateurs.

On which side of the isle do you stand?

If you think you should be referred to as a professional, I would like to submit this challenge to you.

Below I have posted a simple passage which at first perusal might seem an easy collection of notes to perform. With closer investigation you might consider this example as possibly more difficult as you first judged. Now, my challenge to you is in line with the true meaning of the title of this post…..

“Amateurs Practice Until They Get It Right. Professionals Practice Until They Can’t Play It Wrong”.

If you consider yourself a professional, then you should have no problem performing this passage ten (10) times in a row, perfectly, at the tempo indicated.

I will even post a video of your performance on this blog if you send one to me.

Will the first challenger please step up?

The first successful performer to submit a perfect video will have his/her choice of any three (3) arrangements from our library at ….


Download exercise here- Amateur or Professional

Trumpet Hand Playing Position

Sometimes the obvious can be overlooked as in the case of your hand position while holding your instrument. If you search on line for pictures or video of successful trumpet players, you will find a variety of hand positions ranging from the normal to several extreme positions. Each performer has settled into his/her favorite hand position because of habit or preference.

Left Hand Playing Position

Trumpet left hand playing positions
Trumpet left hand playing positions

I have included normal as well as unusual positions and will explain the advantages as well as the disadvantages of each. It is not my intent to try to influence anyone into any one position, but knowing the strengths of each might be interesting.

The photo in the center is what most would consider a normal left hand position. The little finger is placed around the third valve casing and below the third valve slide. The ring finger is in the third slide ring so that adjustments can be made on out of tune notes utilizing the third slide. The thumb is in the first valve slide saddle for the same function on the first valve. The remaining fingers are placed below the bell section in a comfortable position. This left hand position is most common and works well for most players.

Many trumpet performers prefer the hand position in the photo on the right. The third ring is now manipulated by the first finger and all remaining fingers are together below the third slide. The thumb is again placed in the first slide saddle.

Very few players opt for the high position featured in the photo on the left. The reason I have included this position is to illustrate another possibility and list its’ advantages and disadvantages also.

Advantages of normal hand position-

  • Most comfortable of the three.
  • Easy to move first and third slide when needed.
  • Good grip on the instrument
  • Very balanced feel
  • Less fatigue than low position.

Disadvantages of normal hand position-

  • More mouthpiece pressure can be exerted because of the possibility of too tight a grip.
  • Uncomfortable stretch between little finger and ring finger after long sessions.
  • Fingers are bunched together under bell section.

Advantages of low hand position-

  • Lessen mouthpiece pressure.
  • Sustains endurance for longer periods.
  • Tends to bring horn up higher than other two positions.
  • Increases high range because of less mouthpiece pressure (eventually).

Disadvantages of low hand position-

  • Uncomfortable stretch between first finger and second.
  • More awkward when moving third slide
  • Second finger is the only finger supporting the instrument and becomes sore after time.
  • Horn is in a higher playing level (might be an advantage or not).
  • Tends to position the valves in a more vertical position.

Advantages of high hand position-

  • Tends to tilt horn more to the right.*
  • Becomes the most comfortable position after a while.
  • Lesson mouthpiece pressure than normal position.

Disadvantages of high hand position-

  • Placing your fingers on the bell affects the sound (good or bad).
  • Looks unusual.
  • Tends to move mouthpiece further to the right.*

Right Hand Playing Position

Trumpet Tilt and right hand playing postions
Trumpet Tilt and right hand playing postions

Most players agree when recommending a position for the right hand. Most agree to the following preferences:

  • Thumb under lead pipe and anchored between first and second valve casings.
  • First, second and third fingers placed on top of corresponding finger buttons.
  • Little finger out of hook and allowed to move freely.

Advantages of this hand position-

  • Most natural and comfortable
  • Fingers work easily when contacting finger buttons in this position.
  • Keeping the little finger out of the hook resists the temptation to pull and crush chops.
  • Letting the little finger float freely allows third finger to move more easily.

Disadvantages of this hand position-

  • None that I know of.

Tilt of Trumpet

The most common tilt is illustrated in the first photo and would be considered to best for most players. Notice that the right hand is in a very natural position for working the valves. Remember that the function of the left hand is to hold the instrument and adjust slides and the function of the right hand is to work the valves. The only time you will need to use the hook on topof your lead pipe is when you have to hold the instrument in your right hand as when inserting a mute, turning a page of music or letting the water out of your horn. From this angle you should be able to visualize a triangle formed with your hands and arms. The top of the triangle would be your hands and instrument. The other two points of the triangle would be your elbows. This is a very natural and comfortable playing position.

If the above is true, why even mention the extreme right tilt? The reason for this inclusion was to address a situation I found myself in a couple years ago while playing with the Vinton Orchestra. At that time, I noticed that my mouthpiece had moved more to the left than I was used to. This can sometimes happen if you are reading off a different side of your bell than normal. I decided to move it more to the center, left and right. I began thinking about the change and realized that when I tilted the horn more to the right, the mouthpiece followed. It wasn’t long before I had it back where I wanted it and the hand position I was using became my new hand position. This change included the extreme right tilt as well as the high left hand position. The importance of this position might be helpful to anyone faced with the same problem I had with mouthpiece centering.

Now Here Is A Great Idea!

tubOne of my very good friends is Jen Houck and when she sent me this picture of her new trumpet bathtub, I ask her to share her experience with our readers.

Please give it up for a great trumpet player and good friend Jen Houck

“I have been following Bruce’s Trumpet Blog posts for quite a while now and have really learned a lot of very useful information here. I am an “older” come-back trumpet player always on the lookout for ideas to make my life a bit easier. Recently he posted a video on how to correctly clean your trumpet. It may seem pretty basic but we all need reminding to go back to the basics now and again and cleaning your horn is one of the most basic chores that can really make a difference in your sound and intonation so if you haven’t cleaned your horn in a long time here’s one more reminder and a little trick that may make this chore a bit easier.

We aren’t all lucky enough to have a sink large enough to hold a full-size trumpet so we are forced to get down on our knees and use the bathtub. This isn’t as easy for the over 50 crowd and I have struggled with it since picking up my horn a few years ago after a 30 year break.

I was trying to figure out a way to transform a long tote into a tub that I could sit on top of my kitchen counter and was struggling with a way to add a drain in the bottom when my husband came up with the idea of using a baby bath tub. I went to the stores around us and all I found were these tubs with angled bottoms because as we well know, people now days can’t be trusted to give their baby a bath in a tub where the kid actually goes down in water. I then searched online and found some great flat bottom tubs but most were way too short for my “baby” Bach.

Tub 2I finally found one that fit the requirements perfectly. It had a flat bottom – was deep enough to cover everything and had a drain in the bottom. The price was ridiculous plus shipping. Who spends $70 on a baby bathtub? I continued to use my storage tote until one day I was at our local Goodwill Store and found the greatest baby tub ever. It is the Summer Soothing Spa & Shower.

Tub 3This great little tub has a battery operated water pump that swirls the water in a perfect whirlpool action. The little water jet outlet is perfect to hold your slides right up to for a good rinse out. The first time I cleaned my horn in this I just sat it down in the swirling water and was surprised at the slime that started floating out of my horn with virtually no scrubbing with any cleaning rods or wires. I let it sit in the whirlpool for a bit then finished up with my normal cleaning routine. The pump also has a reservoir for water and a little shower sprayer for rinsing so you don’t have to stay at the sink with the tub if that isn’t convenient. It runs on batteries and the whirlpool unit can also be set down into a regular tub if you prefer to get down on the floor. I love that I don’t have to lay down towels to protect from dings on a hard tub or sink because it is a hard plastic material that won’t damage your horn. You can find this tub online or on eBay but I have seen quite a few at the Goodwill and even at garage sales if you are cost conscious. I paid $8.00 for mine and it is worth much, much more. Whatever method you choose to clean your “baby” just don’t neglect this important chore and make it part of your regular routine”

Clark Terry (December 14, 1920 – February 21, 2015)

Clark Terry in 1981The following information was taken in its entirety from Wikimedia.com

Clark Terry (December 14, 1920 – February 21, 2015) was an American swing and bebop trumpeter, a pioneer of the flugelhorn in jazz, composer, educator, and NEA Jazz Masters inductee.
He played with Charlie Barnet (1947), Count Basie (1948–1951), Duke Ellington (1951–1959), Quincy Jones (1960) and Oscar Peterson (1964-1996). He was also with The Tonight Show Band from 1962-1972. Terry’s career in jazz spanned more than seventy years during which he became one of the most recorded jazz musicians ever, appearing on over 900 recordings. Terry also mentored many musicians including Quincy Jones, Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, Wynton Marsalis, Pat Metheny, Dianne Reeves, and Terri Lyne Carrington among thousands of others.

Clarke Terry and an All Star Band

Aretha Franklin & Guests, performing Clark Terry’s “MUMBLES”. Musicians include: Clark Terry, Herbie Hancock, Russell Malone, Ron Carter, Roy Haynes, Ron Carter, James Carter

I had the very good fortune to meet and spend some quality time with Mr. Terry during my early years at UNI when he performed with Mr. Jim Coffin’s jazz band on our campus. The thing I remember most was Clark knew how to have a good time after the concert and we all gathered for some liquid refreshments at Jim Coffin’s home. Those were great times. Thank you Clark and thank you Jim.

How To Learn A Solo (an easy way)!

This is the time of the school year when thousands of student musicians are spending countless hours in band rooms around the country trying to learn their solo for this year’s Solo Ensemble Contest.

Anxieties are starting to set in and each performer wonders how they will play and what grade will they receive at contest.

In order to help those faced with this nerve wrenching experience I will try to give a few hints as to how you can more productively spend your time preparing your solo.

Here are a few of my observations when judging a young student at Solo Ensemble Contest.

• Most students spend a great amount of time learning the notes and don’t even know the composer of their solo or in some cases even know the full name of their piece.
• Most students have prepared the beginning of their number but are less prepared on the material at the end
• Most students rush into their solo without first settling down for their performance
• Most students fail to prepare fully the black or faster areas in each solo
• Most students rush the slow sections and many times fail to observe the resting sections
• Most students fail to fully observe the dynamics
• Most students do not take enough time to tune to their accompanying instrument
• Most students enter the room with a defeated attitude
• Most students attempt to play all of the notes without playing in a musical style

Preparing your solo is much like building a house. Every house has different rooms and your solo is built the same way. Each section of your solo is different yet it is still connected to the adjoining room. When learning a solo, first identify each section and learn it by itself. Then learn another section and so forth until you are able to play each section correctly. Once you have each section learned, then you connect each section to the following section. Too often students are not able to see the connection of these parts and try to learn the piece from the first measure all the way to the last.

I have broken this well-known clarinet solo into several individual sections and have recorded the clarinet playing each section and along with the clarinet, I have included a click track so that the player can first hear the correct way to play each section and repeat as the player imitates the clarinet.

From the standpoint of a trumpet player, the sections prerecorded by the clarinet serve as an example of how it is to be played and at the same time gives the trumpet player a chance to rest. This concept follows my “Rest as much as you Play” philosophy.

The following material includes-

1. A printed copy of the original clarinet solo
2. A copy of the practice version of the solo broken down into separate sections for rehearsing purposes.
3. Three MP3 recordings of different speeds with a clarinet playing each section and a click track for the trumpet player to follow when repeating each section.
The advantages of this approach to learning a solo or any material is obvious for each section receives the same amount of attention and the solo will be more equally prepared. Learning through listening to the correct performance and followed by the students’ performance is the best way to prepare material.

Sonata in D Minor- Solo

Sonata in D Minor- Practice material

We Have Recently Lost Another Trumpet Great- Mr. Lew Soloff

The following was taken directly from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Lewis Michael Soloff (February 20, 1944 – March 8, 2015) was an American jazz trumpeter, composer and actor. From New York City, he studied trumpet at the Eastman School of Music and the Juilliard School. He worked with Blood, Sweat & Tears from 1968 until 1973. Prior to this, he worked with Machito, Gil Evans, Tony Scott, Maynard Ferguson and Tito Puente.

He was also a longtime member of the Manhattan Jazz Quintet and Mingus Big Band.
In the 1980s he was a member of Members Only, a jazz ensemble who recorded for Muse Records.

Soloff made frequent guest appearances with jazz orchestras all over the world such as the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra (directed by Wynton Marsalis) and the Magic City Jazz Orchestra (directed by Ray Reach).

Mr. Soloff died March 8, 2015 after suffering an apparent heart attack in New York City.

Can you cope with quarter tones?

Our harmonic and melodic system is based on half steps and other systems are based on quarter tones. When we listen to the quarter step system, we are uncomfortable because of this unusual pitch relationship. Our instruments are not capable of playing quarter tones. So why am I posting information on how to perform the imposable? I think you might find the exercise interesting, or even mind altering.

Our brass instruments are based on an overtone system which overlaps each fingering series, i.e. open fingering followed by 2, 1, 12, 23, 13, and 123. If you think of each series overlapping the next, you will realize that as we ascend the scales, this overlapping will create additional false fingerings. False fingerings are different fingerings for the same note. In the lower range, fewer notes have alternate fingering but as we ascend to the higher notes, more and more fingerings become available. Some of these alternate fingerings may be new to you and whether they have any use or value will be something for you to determine. The first page of material includes all of the notes and their alternate fingerings that I have used. The second page was written to utilize these fingerings in a series of exercises. Not every pitch will be exactly one quarter steps for each instrument is made differently just as every player will perform them differently.

As you play through the exercises, try to simulate a true quarter step difference. You will be tempted the first few times to play in half step intervals which will force your ear to incorrectly perform the exercises. With practice, you will eventually be able to relax your ear enough to get with the system.
If nothing more is gained than added knowledge of alternate fingerings, you will have not wasted your time.
If you would like to listen to true quarter tone scales, I encourage you to listen to the Don Ellis Orchestra which was equipped with true quarter tone trumpets. These instruments were designed to play true quarter steps and the unusual sound can only be described as bizarre. Each was designed with an additional fourth valve which lowered the horn one quarter step. How the trumpet players were able to adjust their ears to this system is a wonder.

Download exercise sheets here- Implied Quarter Tone Exercises
Listen to Don Ellis perform in quarter tones here

Better Living Through Chemistry


When the PBone first appeared on the market, many trombone players were very skeptical as to the quality and sound this plastic oddity represented. Gradually the response began to filter in and player’s acceptance steadily grew. More and more professionals began to show up on the stage with these less than average instruments and were seen in many well respected ensembles including the David Letterman show, the Boston Pops, and many other professional groups. Today, the original PBone has made its way into high school and college marching bands and the obvious advantages are well documented.

Advantages of the original PBone-
• It’s cheap
• It’s light
• It’s fun to play
• It comes in many colors

Disadvantages of the original PBone-
• No one should take it serious as a replacement for a real trombone
• The slide at its best is always a problem
• It can be easily broken
• The plastic mouthpiece should be immediately replaced with a traditional mouthpiece

Now you might ask, “What does this have to do with trumpet playing”?

It was inevitable that more pretend, plastic instruments would hit the market and now we are faced with the possibility of playing on a PTrumpet. For this I say “No Way Jose”!

Now you might ask, “Didn’t you say you play a plastic PBone”?

Yes I play a PBone in a Dixieland band and I love it. It does everything I want it to do and because of the weight advantage, I don’t intend to ever play a brass trombone. Last night we had a three hour rehearsal and I never tired of lifting it to my shoulder. The PBone weighs only 1.8 lbs. That’s less than my trumpet!

Now you might ask, “Will you be playing a PTrumpet”?

No, and here are the reasons I will continue with my traditional family of trumpets.

Why I don’t like the PTrumpet-
• It sounds like a plastic trumpet (it has a soft almost cornet sound)
• Intonation is not as good and there is nothing you can do to correct it as in the case of the PBone

• Valves are noisy when they come up

• When compared to a brass trumpet as in this duet at the end (00:44), the PTrumpet sounds like a toy

• Initial attacks sound thudish

Intonation discrepancies on a TBone can be adjusted with the slide whereas the Ptrumpet is less accommodating. Tone is something I am not prepared to sacrifice when playing trumpet and in the case of my trombone, I don’t care.

I would defend the PTrumpets’ use when marching in the northern states where is possible to freeze your lip to the mouthpiece and any damage to your plastic instrument can be solved with a little model car cement or total replacement at a modest cost.

Here is my final decision on the PBone and the PTrumpet

PBone B+
PTrumpet D+