A Trend In Trumpet Playing

I have found that in recent years there seems to be a trend for music students, in particular, students of the trumpet, to strive for music careers that encompass and embrace a wider variety of musical styles. Perhaps this is due in part to the fact that the freelancing musical climate has changed from one where a player could more easily make a living doing just studio work or symphonic work or playing in a big band. No doubt players that have earned strong reputations and acclaim as versatile performers such as Wynton Marsalis, Arturo Sandoval, Vince DiMartino and Lew Soloff to name a few, have greatly influenced the next generation of trumpet players. Highly focused “specialty” gigs still exist, but today’s trumpet player is much better “armed” with a larger assortment of musical “tools” at their disposal.

Personally, I did not start out with the intention of becoming a versatile player.  At different stages of my development, I was very focused on pursuing a career as a jazz player, then later a symphonic player, then a chamber player/soloist. During the time I was especially devoted to these particular genres, I studied privately from players who were specialists in their field of expertise and did what I could to totally immerse myself in that particular style.  An enormous amount of listening, both live and recorded was involved with this process.  This also meant that the years I was in my “symphonic mode”, for example, I was not taking jazz or latin gigs and vice-versa.  These eras coincided with my education: undergraduate – jazz, masters-  symphonic, and DMA – chamber/solo.  It wasn’t until I finished with my formal schooling that I began to draw on all of my musical influences and experiences to support myself as a freelance musician.  This is when my real musical education began.  (This is said with the utmost respect for my former educational institutions.)  It was during this time (1993-2000) that I was juggling the schedule of playing in four regional orchestras (two of which was/am principal), working in a wedding band, salsa band, brass quintet, jazz combo and first call show trumpet for a performing arts center that regularly gets the Broadway show tours out of New York.  Now that I am teaching trumpet and jazz studies at a university, my musical schedule is not quite as crazy but it is still very diverse.  (This gives me some time to reflect on some things and put them in this blog!)

Now to the heart of the subject:

How does one maintain and/or develop an approach to the trumpet that accommodates the varied demands of today’s freelance lifestyle?  One of my biggest fears as a musician is to be thought of as a “jack of all trades, master of none”.  No matter what musical situation I may be in, I always want the listener to feel sincerity and conviction from my performance.  Looking back on the all the wonderful teachers I’ve had the opportunity to study with there are many consistencies in their teaching philosophies.  One such constant is the need for a warm-up routine to develop consistency, monitor progress and isolate problem issues.  The brass world has been blessed with many wonderful playing philosophies passed on to us by such teachers as Arnold Jacobs, William Adam, James Stamp, William Vacchiano, Carmine Caruso and Charles Schleuter to name only a few.  All of these approaches, though unique, have stressed in one way or another, a consistent routine the player should incorporate into their daily playing schedule.  This develops a solid playing foundation from which the player can branch off to different stylistic specialties.  Another consistency I have gathered from these approaches is a relaxed approach which is achieved through good, deep breathing habits.  You can learn a lot about great breathing by taking a few yoga classes.  The yogic approach to breathing makes a lot of sense to me and has worked well for me and my students that use it.

Once the player has created a stable foundation of sound playing habits and fundamentals, branching out into specific areas of interest becomes more of a matter of changing certain techniques.  Another way to think of it is, “I have this long list of techniques that I have worked on at my disposal.  Which ones will I need to call upon for this particular musical situation?”  I often compare acquiring different musical skills/techniques like learning the game of golf. Each articulation, ornament or stylistic nuance is like a different golf club.  “You could play an entire round with just a 5 iron but certain clubs make certain shots easier. Likewise, you may never use your pitching wedge, but you’ll be glad you have it when you need it.”  You might not transpose up a third every day but if you freelance long enough you will eventually find yourself in a situation where you need to do this.  Another good analogy is cooking with spices and continually adding to your spice rack.

Practice Suggestion

Create a list of tools that you think you need in order to be a successful trumpet player.  (This is after your core work of sound, endurance, range, flexibility…)

Categorize them into stylistic specialties and make sure you give each of them some attention in your daily practice/development routine.

Here are some of the tools I am dealing with this summer;

Multiple tonguing, not just all double or all triple but mixing them up to play 5s and 7s, etc.

Sight reading


Jazz Improvisation; currently focusing on creating bi-tonal lines.  Please see Recycling in Jazz Improvisation

Switching between horns quickly; flug>C>pic, etc.


There are tons of techniques out there and my list changes and evolves all the time.  The more I listen to other players the more I find new techniques to try to incorporate in to my own playing.

I would love to hear about other techniques you have found useful to have in your arsenal (golf bag, spice rack).

Jazz Improvisation-related links


Jazz/Classical Practicing

Improvisation Practice idea

Recycling in Improvisation

Juggling Versatility


The Phone Book Method