Practice- Why

Why do we practice?

We practice to get better.

Why do we have to practice?

We don’t but if we didn’t we would not be pleased with our performances.

Why are we concerned about our performances?

We are motivated by pride, or fear of embarrassment.

Some people do not practice because of their lack of pride or share an attitude that playing poorly is not all that important to them. To the rest of us, we are driven to prove our value in music and because of this pride; we are determined to spend many hours alone in a practice room. There will always be C grade students, content to “just pass” each course. Their interests may be in sports, auto shop repair or any other life goals but to a musician, our focus is in the direction of music and music is not the easiest art form to achieve.

So why are we compelled to beat ourselves up behind the music stand. To perform well on any instrument requires training of many parts of our body and mind. To depress the trumpet valves in a coordinated fashion at the correct instant requires muscle coordination, speed, strength and timing. In order to hit the correct pitch requires the exact tension in the embouchure as well as the correct position of the tongue and jaw as well as the proper amount of air with the correct amount of force. All of these adjustments must also happen in a combined way in order to play just one note.

In many occupations, the coordination of so many elements is not required. For a carpenter to drive a nail into a board, only the muscles in one arm and hand plus the visual measurement from the hammer head to the nail is required. To replace a spark plug, the mechanic is required to cover the plug with the proper socket and turn counter clock wise with the handle. I do not mean to minimize the talents of either a carpenter or a auto mechanic but when speaking of muscle, eye, coordination, a musician is faced with a much more complex situation

Coordination, speed and strength of our body requires repetition in order to be certain that we will have the ability to achieve each task in performing our parts. These elements can only be improved through regular repetition and we achieve these abilities through regular practice. We learn to control our air and embouchure through slurring exercises. We learn to move our fingers in a coordinated fashion through finger exercises. The ability to read new music is developed through sight and past images of notes and endurance can only be improved through progressive studies which increase our muscle tone.

To my knowledge, there is no pill you can take to become a better performer. There is no mantra you can chant which will make you a better player. There is no fountain of youth or any other magic potion which can be substituted for regular practice. If there were, I would be the first in line to get started. I hate practicing but the alternative is not worth the pain and embarrassment. I am a musician and I will continue to pound away my hour a day until someone comes up with an alternative.

Now that we have addressed the issue of why we practice, we will address the more practical issue of practicing which is when to practice and what to practice.

Practice- Why, When and What?

One of the most distasteful and laborious chores I endure each day is practice. Whether you play a trumpet, trombone or the kazoo, we are all faced with this task if we want to improve or even retain what abilities we have.

If you have ever been out for sports, you will remember those early morning routines on the track or the warm-ups you religiously participated in on the baseball field, football field or tennis court. When participating in sports, whether high school, recreation department teams or in a foursome on the golf course, you were motivated by the people around you. Your coach was there to make sure you were at the field on time. Your basketball team was there to join you in practice sessions. Your usual foursome was there to encourage you on your next putt. Through all of these practice sessions you were given support and that support made the practice session all that more easy to get through.

Now you are expected to practice on your own with your instrument in order to improve your art. Practicing an instrument is like shooting free throws with no one there to feed the ball back to you and that is the reason most of us have a hard time getting the instrument out of its case every day. Friendly encouragements on the field will make your work a little easier than if you were alone. Seeing your friends working hard during a practice session helped you go that extra mile. This is not the case in a practice room when you are alone. Whether you are a student in high school, college or a musician playing regularly in shows, the motivation needed to spend countless hours practicing your instrument is not easy. It isn’t easy for me either, but it is one of the unchanging facts in life- “If you don’t practice, you don’t get better”.

In this series, I will try to address several issues related to regular practice and it is my wish that some of this information will help you in your efforts to practice and improve on your instrument.

My next post will address the issue of “Why do we need to practice”. The next will cover a seldom motioned topic, “When is the best time to practice”, and the last will deal with “What you should cover during your practice session”.

Can I Play Cornet Solos On My Trumpet?

Of course you can. And you could hunt elephants with a 22 caliber rifle also, but I wouldn’t recommend either.

How are cornet solos different from trumpet solos?

Literature which has been written especially to be performed on a cornet usually follows these characteristics-

• Melodies are most often very lyrical and smooth.
• Traditionally more vibrato is used in cornet solos.
• Cornet solos many times have drastic tempo changes with grandiose retards and sudden accelerandi.
• The cornet solo gives more liberties in the musical interpretation than in the trumpet literature.
• Most cornet solos draw from a more romantic period.
• Dynamics tend to be on the softer side when compared to the trumpet literature.
• Many of the cornet solos were written in a Theme and Variation form which illustrates the many subtle effects capable when playing a cornet.
• Even when double and triple tonguing during a solo, the cornet retains its smooth and connected tonguing style.
• The cornet exemplifies the extremes in playing, i.e. soft-loud, fast-slow and lyric-bombastic.

Who should I listen to in order to understand how to play cornet solos correctly?

There are many recordings available of previous and current cornet players but if you really want to understand the fine art of cornet playing, I would recommend that you visit this site The James F. Burke Tribute Page for not only will you be able to hear wonderful examples of cornet playing, you will also be able to learn everything you need to know about one of the modern greats of the instrument, James Burke 1943-1974).

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.

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

Motivation- Where Does It Come From and How Can I Get Some? Part 2

I have found it interesting working with many musical groups each year and as I observe each ensemble I have mentally noted the results of motivated directors as well as less motivated directors. Each ensemble seems to reflect the influences of their director. The most proficient and musical ensembles will always have an energetic and inspired director on the podium. The bands which exhibit respect and professionalism in their performance will invariably have directors who reflect these same characteristics. The only exceptions were the bands who had recently replaced less than adequate directors with improved models. It will take a couple of years to undo damages done by bad band directors. Did I say BAD DIRECTORS? Trust me, they are out there.

Motivation is infectious and the attitude of the director is most often seen in the students in their bands. The first indication that the band will perform well is the respect and control exhibited by their director. Most band members are respectful and polite. Some members are rude and unruly and in most cases, their poor playing is a result of this fault. After meeting their director, I usually see the same faults as are in the students. It is obvious the influence every band director has on his/her students.

As an example of this influence, I worked with a group which was the most difficult to handle. The students were constantly talking and playing their instruments as I addressed them in my clinic. It was obvious that they were not used to being respectful or even under control in their rehearsals. During their rehearsal, little was accomplished and at one point, I thought there was going to be all out fight between the director and one of his/her students. The director accused the student of playing the wrong note and the student responded with “no I didn’t, that was a figment of your imagination”. As the rehearsal continued, tensions increased and I was caught in the middle. Needles to say, the band did not perform well.

Another example of how the director’s attitude can motivate his/her students happened this year also. As the band mounted the stage, each performer was quiet, polite and focused on what was expected of him/her. During the rehearsal, their director spoke softly with constructive comments and as each comment was made, the ensemble continued to improve. Was the difference between the two directors a result of their education? Was the difference because of an age differences? The reason was obvious. One director was motivated in his/her position as an educator the other hated every minute of his/her job. If the director enjoys working with students, the students will feel it and work harder to please him/her.

These two examples were used to describe the effect a director can and does have on their ensemble but there is also a level of motivation which I have recently observed. While working with another band, one student in the percussion section caught my eye. Everything this student did was thought out and for a reason. During their rehearsal, I made a mental note of his actions and later in the afternoon I called the director to the side to question him/her about this student. The director told me that this young man was the most involved student in the band. Later, I pulled him aside to visit and was very impressed with his decisions for his future. He wanted to be a musician and had been looking into schools for his post high school days. Visiting with him was like visiting with a very intelligent adult for his motivation to become a great musician was evident. His director was of the same mind set for the director ran his/her band with purpose and confidence, unlike the previous example.

I was reminded of a Jazz festival I judged many years ago in Iowa. At that time we were expected to make our comments on audio cassettes (remember those?) and as the first band mounted the stage, my eye again was caught by a young bass player. As she prepared for their presentation, I knew that she was a player. Even before this young lady played a note on her bass, I mentioned on the tape that there was something special about this musician and at the end of the contest, we presented her with the “outstanding musician” award for the day. Before she played a note, I knew she was motivated. If I remember correctly, the band was also outstanding.

In closing, I would like to share my observations on how to motivate students. Band directors and teachers in general who love their job and enjoy working with students will instill motivation in their students to a tremendous degree. Teachers who moan and complain all the time will drive our good students out of music. Even if the student is not interested in music as a career, a bad teacher will negatively influence that student’s general appreciation of music and thus lessen many more people’s appreciation of our art form.

Motivation- Where Does It Come From and How Can I Get Some?


1. inspire, drive, stimulate, provoke, lead, move, cause, prompt, stir, trigger, set off, induce, arouse, prod, get going, instigate, impel, actuate, give incentive to, inspirit His hard work was motivated by a need to achieve.

2. stimulate, drive, inspire, stir, arouse, get going, galvanize, incentive How do you motivate people to work hard and efficiently?

Most teachers are familiar with this term and are striving daily to prompt this action in their students. Everyone’s life is effected by the amount of motivation they posses. If you are on the low side of this characteristic, you are said to be lazy. If your actions indicate that you are more to the top of this scale you are accused of being an “over achiever”. It is not my intent in this post to make any distinctions as to where a person should be on this measurement for that is up to each individual. My reason for today’s material is to address the more important issue- How are people motivated and how can we as teachers do a better job at inspiring our students. A second benefit from this material may be helpful to understand what motivates us as individuals.

Before we can start to understand how to improve motivation in our students and ourselves, we must first understand the causes for motivation in our lives.

Is motivation instinctual?

No! The act of over eating may be an environmental or a habitual problem but the action of choosing to loose weight is caused from a deep motivational decision. Some may argue that animals instinctively hunt for food to which I would argue, animals are motivated to hunt because of hunger.

What are the reasons we are motivated?

• Fear/ embarrassment
• Financial needs
• Self gratification/ improvement
• Pride
• Lack of self respect and confidence
• The desire to please others
• Ego
• Competitive attitude
• Guilt

Before we address the student in this discussion, we need to first look at ourselves. Most people who know me would agree that I am a very self motivated person. While writing this post, I became more aware of the reasons for my limited focus and drive. I have enjoyed many activities in my life and for that reason; I have worked extremely hard to achieve my goals in each area. As a young boy, I became interested in archery. Eventually I placed 2nd in my division in the Illinois State Field Archery Tournament. Later, I became interested in wood carving and most particularly carving birds out of wood. I soon became, as stated in the The Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum’s Birds In Art Catalogue, “One of the premier bird artists of the Western World”. My interests in trumpet playing eventually took me twice to the stage at the International Trumpet Guild’s festival of trumpets and my interest in teaching students the art of Dixieland music ended in Chicago when my student Dixieland band, “the UNI Bearcats” were one of three university Dixieland bands to compete for “the best college Dixieland band” in the nation. Everything I have seriously undertaken, I have done well in. Even this blog illustrates what motivation can do if directed in the right direction. I began this and another blog approximately four years ago and from then on, I have dedicated between eight to fourteen hours everyday to their success. I am not sharing this information because of my ego for in every area that I have done well, I still feel that I never really reached the top. The real question at this time would be what motivated me to work so hard in these several areas in my life and I have to admit I was influenced by every item listed above.

How does this relate to instilling motivation in students?

For a student to become motivated, they must have the following attributes-

• Interest- Without interest, there will not be motivation.
• Talent- Without talent, motivation will be difficult.
• Inspiration- Each student must have a role model to look up to and respect.
• Instruction and direction- Enter the band director.
• Time and energy- Both are required to reach the goal.
• Support from close friends- This would include fellow students as well as family.
• Determination- This is almost synonymous with dedication.

For music teachers to be able to motivate his/her students they must have the following attributes-

• Interest- You must let your students know that you really enjoy working with them.
• Talent- Know everything you can learn about your craft.
• Inspiration- Be an example of what a musician and teacher should be.
• Instruction and direction- Enter your classroom each day with a definite goal to achieve and achieve it.
• Time and energy- Use your time wisely and make every minute count.
• Support from close friends- Communicate with other teachers on more effective ways to teach.
• Determination- You are under paid! You do put in long hours! You aren’t given the respect you deserve! If these things are more important to you than your students, GET OUT OF MUSIC!

Don Smith- One Of The Greats

Don Smith passed away February 13, 2010 after an extended battle with cancer. Don was born July 15, 1934 in Los Angeles, California. To the younger trumpet players, the name Don Smith may not register, but to the veteran musicians, the name is spoken with great reverence for this was one of the greats who played with such big bands as Les Brown and Harry James, and backed celebrities such as Ann-Margret. He also performed with the Air Force “Airmen of Note” and the N.B.C. staff to name but a few.

I first met Don shortly after he moved to Branson to perform with the Les Brown Orchestra. Don’s history with the band dates back to the Les Brown Sr. days which means that Don has been playing “Leap Frog” (the orchestra’s theme song) for over 50 years, and even up to his final performance, Don made sure that frog was still leaping strong.

I recently visited with Betty Smith, Don’s wife of 49 years and enjoyed many stories and gained more insight into what she and Don had experienced in their lives together. Don was a dedicated husband and father of four providing for his family through what he did best and as Betty shared, “My husband got to do what he wanted to do his whole life and took care of his family”.

I asked Betty what Don’s first trumpet job was and she told me with her charming manner, “Don was ten years old and played bugle for the local Boy Scouts”. It reminded me of the beginning of another great trumpet player, Louis Armstrong who also began on a bugle. She laughed when she remembered when Don was performing in a Latin band. She was pregnant with their first child (Brian) and throughout the evening the “soon to be born” kept kicking to the beat of the band.

A good friend of mine who played with Don while performing in Branson shared that Don had performed in nearly every chair in the trumpet section of Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show Band. Don was best known for his rock solid lead playing and from a section player’s point of view this is the best kind of lead player and Don was one of the best. When you played in Don’s section, you were never in doubt as to how it was to be played. He always played it the same way and he always played it right.

He also had a dry since of humor as I remember from a rehearsal we played together. We were in the middle of the rehearsal when suddenly he picked up his lead part and tossed it onto my stand. I looked at him puzzled and he shot back at me “here kid, it’ll be good for you”. That sounded strange for he and I were not that many years apart in age. But when you think of his achievements and mine, I guess I would be considered a kid, comparatively speaking.

Watch and listen as Don performs “Nutcracker Suite”

Don is gone but will never be forgotten in the world of music.