What is a Flugel Horn and Do I need to own one?


The flugelhorn, also spelled fluegelhorn, flugel horn or flugelhorn has a long history in European countries but is relatively new to ours. Its popularity in the states probably dates back to the fifties through the use of such well known names in jazz as Shorty Rogers, Kenny Baker, Clark Terry, Chet Baker, Miles Davis, Freddie Hubbard, Lee Morgan, Nat Adderley and Art Farmer.

The purpose of the flugel was to give the player an alternative to the edgy, powerful trumpet sound. During the Bebop period (1945-1960) the trumpet was king, but when cool jazz started to gain a following in the music scene, the flugel was just the instrument to give the performance a less edgy tone. The flugel and cool jazz were meant for each other. If you have not listed to the flugel in the hands of an artist, I recommend that you listen to the examples listed at the end of this post.

The acoustical design of the flugel is basically a conical construction and the trumpet is based on a cylindrical design. When comparing the two, you will find that the trumpet has the same tube diameter throughout most of its length which is the reason its tone is more focused than its closest cousin, the cornet. The cornet is in between the trumpet and flugel which is the reason the cornet is more mellow than the trumpet and the flugel is more mellow than the cornet. Conical instruments such as the cornet and flugel have increasing tube diameters from the lead pipe to the bell which makes the tone in each more mellow than that of the trumpet. This is the reason that the flugel is so popular with jazz musicians for it gives them an additional timbre to utilize during their performances.

Inherent in most flugel horns is the problem of intonation. Much time and expense has been given to the improvements in trumpets but because of less volume of sales, the flugel has continuously been lacking in improvements. This situation will improve only if the demand increases or we have a super star surface to bring back national recognition to the instrument as was demonstrated by the increase in popularity of the flugel shortly after Chuck Mangione, in the 1970’s. led the charts with his recording of Feels So Good.

If you are contemplating the purchase of a flugel horn, my first suggestion would be to find someone who has one and would let you play theirs or visit a music store which has one on display. Buying a flugel horn without trying it would be a very bad move for even though everyone seems to be interested in playing one, not everyone would have a use for one. Playing a flugel is different than playing your trumpet and many times players are disappointed with the tonal differences. The trumpet is generally bright as stated before and it takes some time to get used to the darker tone of the flugel. Where you plan to play the instrument should also be considered. If you are not a jazz musician, your use is more limited. I’m not saying that the flugel will not fit into the same circles where your trumpet is currently serving but if you plan to play lead in a jazz band, rock band or similar ensembles, the flugel will not do the job. As an inner ensemble instrument, it is ideal. To give you an example of where the flugel is best suited, listen to this arrangement of Over The Rainbow which was recorded with four flugels. Notice that even when the melody goes up to a written A above the staff, the tone is still rich and warn with none of the edgy qualities that a trumpet would exhibit in the same register.
The flugel is a very flexible instrument in an ensemble because of its conical character. When used with trumpets, the flugel takes on a character all its own as in this example of Begin the Beguine. The first and seconds parts are written for trumpets and the third and fourth parts are played on flugels. The trumpets carry the melody as the flugels play the repeated bass figure as well as filling in the harmony.

Here is another arrangement for two trumpets and two flugels- The Beer Barrel Polka. The fourth flugel plays the tuba’s roll as the third flugel is used to represent a French Horn which leaves trumpets one and two available for the upper two parts.

As I have shown, there are many areas the flugel can enhance a performance. It works well as a solo instrument as well as a harmonic instrument. If you are interested in hearing some of the best in flugel horn playing, visit the examples listed below.
In my next post I will assume that you have access to a flugel horn and would like more information on how to play it and that will be covered in my next post. Stay tuned for more information on the wonderful instrument called the flugel horn…

Here are a couple examples of some fine flugel horn playing-

Ed Trujillo

Melodic Flexibility- Revisited

An easier way to better playing

Download text and exercises here- Melodic Flexibility

When something is accepted as new, others may point out that this revolutionary concept has been around for decades. With this in mind, I would like to say that what I am describing is new to me and I would like to share it with you.

Several months ago, I became bored with traditional methods for improving lip flexibility and finger coordination. As an older and supposedly more experienced teacher of the brass, I had enough with the Clarke Technical Studies and every lip flexibility book available to me. Practicing these repetitive patterns was like trying to take a bad tasting pill every day. I knew the exercises were of benefit to my playing but I was also bored out of my mind with these monotonous patterns and for that reason I began writing my own exercises to fill the need for both finger and lip exercises and that was how Melodic Flexibility began.

What is Melodic Flexibility?

Melodic playing has always been the most important phase of any musician’s development. The melody coming from the front of our instrument defines our ability as a musician. If we are unable to demonstrate fine melodic skills, few will be interested in hearing us perform. To perform a melodic line musically requires many independent elements such as, an acceptable tone, intonation, flexibility, endurance, knowledge of key signature, dynamics and all the other elements of fine musicianship. Melodic flexibility would encompass every element of musical playing. Unfortunately the exercises we have repeated over the past history of brass playing have been far from melodic. Most of our lip flexibility books sound like primitive bugle calls and possibly the finest finger exercise studies (Clarke Technical Studies for the Cornet) is only slightly melodic in nature. Even though we respect the vast library of books dealing with both lip and finger development, how wonderful it would be to combine both the lip and finger development into one exercise and reap both benefits as well as save time in our practice routine. In my opinion, Melodic Flexibility succeeds in this venture.

As with both traditional lip exercises and finger exercises, Melodic Flexibility requires repetition. The difference between the traditional and my exercises is that Melodic Flexibility is based on well known and/or recognizable melodic patterns. When performing a melody which is known to you, it is more like reading a story than just pounding out short, repetitious patterns. A melody has a beginning, middle and an conclusion. Traditional patterns have no plot, no story and are consequently boring. Each time I play an exercise from the Earl Iron, “27 Groups of Exercises” or the Walter Smith “Lip Flexibility” book it is like taking short jabs to the face. I know they are good for me, just as medicine is good for me, but these patterns are as far from music as anything could get. The same is true for the finger development exercises. After playing every day out of these books for most of my life, I have decided to stop. For me, Melodic Flexibility is a better way to spend my time.

How to Begin Melodic Flexibility

By combining the basic concept of repetition used in traditional methods with well known melodic phrases, I feel every musician would gain more in a shorter amount of time by using this approach. I am not here to sell my method for the concept is so easy anyone can develop their own material and begin experiencing the benefits. If you have a program such as Finale, Finale Songwriter or any similar music writing software, you are ready to begin.

You first need to decide on a simple four measure melody which is limited to a range of about an octave. In your exercise sheet, I have used the song “Humoresque”. This melody was ideal for it demonstrates a perfect melodic curve, beginning low, extending up an octave and eventually returning to the original starting note. One characteristic which must be in every song that you select is the element of familiarity. The selection of melodic material must be known to the performer for it is the known melody which replaces boredom with enjoyment while practicing. Notice that the melody begins in the low range. By starting low, the player will be able to relax and deliver a full, rich, warm sound. This is very important. The melody is then repeated up one half step. Notice that this is beginning to look very similar to the Clarke Studies with one big difference- the player is now performing a recognizable melody. By playing an actual melody, the player is drawn from the first note to the last in a musical fashion; not being forced to just bang valves down. How far you continue upward by half steps will be determined by the goal set and the limits of each player. Do not exceed the comfortable upper register of the player for discomfort is not what we are after at this point.

Once you have reached an upper register which is still comfortable to perform, it is now time to retrace our path back down to the low register. To do this we will now start a new melody. This time I have chosen “Happy Birthday” for our example. Begin in the upper register and descend back to the lower register. The reason for this is to let the embouchure gradually begin to relax. This “start low, work up, return to low concept” seems to work best for the gradual increase and decrease of your embouchure’s work load gives the lip a pattern of work and rest which is very beneficial in gaining both strength and flexibility. Pay close attention to the measures indicated for resting. Make sure that you “rest as much as you play”.

Slurring your material can not be stressed enough at this point. I have found that the more these melodies can be slurred, the more the air is allowed to flow through your instrument. The more slurring you do, the more relaxed your air passage will become. I have noticed that through the use of slurring, my tone quality has improved substantially. I am aware of more overtones in my tone than ever before. These additional overtones are good examples of an embouchure working more efficiently. As you practice these exercises, listen to the quality of your sound and if you experience more volume with less effort, you are beginning to use your air and embouchure more efficiently.

Gradually Increase the Work Load

Once you have established this basic concept, then you need to move on to more advanced levels. The example I have included at this point is the first phrase in an old melody called “Nola”. I was amazed at the difficulty of this simple melody. Even in a comfortable key, you may find this a challenge. While playing this tune, notice that your concentration is directed to the melodic line more than to the key or fingering. Let the melody draw you through the notes. Keep thinking melody, not pitches, key or fingerings. Concentrate on the melody for by doing so, you are forcing yourself to play music and not just playing notes. There is nothing melodic about the Clarke Technical Studies. Those exercises are just that, exercises. This melody on the other hand is music.

The Eventual Goal

Once you have become at ease playing the four measure melodies, then it would be time to increase the length and difficulty of the songs. In my next example I have used the melody to “The Nearness of You”. Because of the added length of the phrase, you will be required to use all of your air and take in additional air to complete the melody. The reason for this is to have you get used to longer phrases and also force you to use up all of your air and quickly refill your lungs to finish the example. This is a wonderful exercise to learn how to quickly fill your lungs.

The Many Benefits from the Practice of Melodic Flexibility

  • Improved desire to practice
  • Improved ability to play in all keys
  • Increased playing efficiency
  • Increased lip flexibility
  • Increased finger control
  • Improvement in tone quality
  • Improved embouchure strength
  • Increased upper range
  • Decrease in practice time

If you have had experience using this concept, or a similar routine, I would be very interested in learning from your observations. By working together, we all might someday be able to be better musicians.

Which Comes First, Technique or Musicality?


This question is much like the chicken or the egg issue. Which should be taught first? One camp believes that without technique, nothing can be played and the other camp asks the question “what good is technique if it isn’t musical”. Both have their cases and in this post I will try to bring the two sides to a happy mid point.

Most of my early teaching was geared to the technical approach but as I increase candles on my birthday cake I must admit, all technique can have its disadvantages. One student who stands out as the most gifted technician on his instrument was without doubt the least musical that I have ever worked with. When assigned an extremely difficult solo or etude, this student would go home and the next week would come back and perform it perfectly. It didn’t matter how difficult the material was, within the week he would have it down. Unfortunately it would also be one of the most technically perfect and unmusical performances you would ever hear. On the other hand, I have had students who could bring tears to your eyes with the most heart wrenching performance of an assignment and miss half the notes. Could there be a happy middle ground in our quest for the perfect approach to musical playing? I do hope so and from what I have recently discovered, the answer may be within reach.

Last week I decided to arrange a composition which was far from the norm for my trumpet quartet. I decided to try to arrange the Second Study from the Clarke Technical Studies for Cornet book. This most recognized collection of finger busting patterns is one which proved to be a challenge. I found the repeated pattern to have a Baroque feel and that is how I decided to portray it. By the end of the day, it was arranged, printed and recorded. I was very pleased with the way it sounded. After recording and listening to the playback, I noticed that it began to have a life of its own. After many years playing these notes, I finally started to think of the melody as a melody rather than a finger exercise. Musical articulation and a new approach to the dynamics began to replace the boredom which I usually encounter while dutifully banging down my valves. Shorter phrases within the four measure melody began to surface. This perked my enthusiasm so I began to arrange other studies.

Shortly after posting the second study, I began to receive E-Mails of support from my readers. One such comment stated, “That….was….incredibly…beautiful”
This comment was an inspiration to me for my thinking was now substantiated by others. The technical can also be musical. After several orders for the Second Study arrived, I began writing arrangements for other studies. When considering the Fourth Study I was reminded of one of the comments which described my previous attempts as being beautiful. I had never considered Clarke’s book to be beautiful but after reading through the Fourth Study, I began to see the beauty in this pattern also. I then set out to arrange an even more musical version of Clarke’s material. I have included this arrangement for you and hope this will give you some thought as to the value of a more musical approach to the technical side of trumpet playing.

In closing, I must say that arranging Clarke’s Fourth Study changed my approach to technical practice. I have discovered another level of musicianship which is also reflected in my performances. Some may say this revelation was a religious experience, some may say that I finally got smart. I do know that each time I listen to my quartet arrangement of the Fourth Study; I ask myself, “Where did that come from”?

Listen to example-

The Clarke Technical Exercises written for a trumpet quartet are availabe as a set of #’s 1 through 5 at….

trumpetensemblemusic.com