It is my sincerest hope that those of you who have found their way to this site and are taking the time to read this particular article do NOT need an introduction to trumpet great, Lew Soloff.  I am going to continue on the assumption that those of us in the trumpet world realize what a master musician and trumpet virtuoso we have in Lew Soloff.  For those of you who might need a Soloff refresher course visit or his website at

I had the privilege of working with Lew one summer out in Aspen, Colorado.  We were in a jazz ensemble hired to be entertainment for the highly reputable, Aspen Music Festival (a summer-long classical music camp).  Lew was not only a great hang and fantastic person but an unbelievably consistent and accurate player.  The rest of us in the section talked a lot about how much of a machine he was night after night yet still effortlessly musical and incredibly creative in his improvisations.  It was a fantastic lesson in stunning musicianship; one that I will never forget.

There was an ironic twist about this Aspen situation in that we were surrounded by classical trumpet players who obviously took their trumpet playing very seriously.  For example there was a young Tage Larson joining us in that particular section who was also participating in the camp.  Tage went on to play in the DC Marine band, then St. Louis Symphony and now in the Chicago Symphony.  My point is there were some very heavy trumpet players attending this camp.  There is a perception that classical players take their craft very seriously and “jazzers” just show up and blow.  Classical players are very concerned (if not obsessed) about developing their sound, technique and accuracy, perhaps more so than your typical jazz/commercial player.  In this pursuit for perfection many of the great warm-up/development routines were developed by and primarily for classical players.  Having worked with great players from both “worlds” of music I can easily say that Lew Soloff was as consistent, accurate and exciting a trumpet player I’ve ever had the privilege of working with or hearing live.

As someone who also does a good deal of freelance work (nothing to the extent of Lew) I completely understand and appreciate his approach to developing a versatile routine.  I find that when I’m in the middle of classical rehearsal/performances I will warm up differently than when I am in a stint of jazz or commercial gigs.  This warm-up adaptability just makes sense to me.  So, without further ado, Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you, Mr. Lew Soloff.

Warming Up

Lew Soloff

One way to illustrate the importance of a warm-up is to think of a Karate expert.  Someone with a black belt in karate can take four of five guys out on the street in an instant.  He’s not going to say, “Excuse me, I have to warm up.”  But, when he practices, what does he do?  He trains his body.  He nurtures his muscles.  He gets his muscles ready to make those spur-of-the-moment moves.

The trumpet is a physical instrument.  The kinder you are to your muscles, the more consistently responsive they will be.  There will be times where you miss a plane or it doesn’t take off and you get to the gig two seconds before it starts.  If you’ve conditioned yourself properly in your practice, you’re going to be fine without warming up at all.

On the first job of the day, I never know what I’m going to walk into.  It could be the easiest thing in the world, or it could be very, very hard.  When you’re playing in a symphony orchestra, you know that today you’re going to play Mahler’s Fifth, and three weeks from now you’re going to play the Jupiter Symphony, etc.  You can warm up with a particular piece in mind.  When you’re in the freelance world – as I am – you get hired for doing all kinds of different things that require a lot of versatility on the spur-of-the-moment.

The first thing I do when I warm up is just buzz my lips for short periods of time, maybe seven to ten seconds at the most, and I try to produce the highest buzz that I can.  If you can’t get a high buzz, don’t worry about it.  It’s the intention of trying to do it one note higher than you actually can that keeps the lips together.  I buzz for maybe two or three minutes in seven to ten second spurts, just getting used to the feeling.  Then, I play some music on the mouthpiece.  I believe that the majority of practice should be musical rather than technical.  Instead of playing lip slurs on the mouthpiece, I might turn on a CD that I like and just play along with it as if I have a trumpet in my hand.

Most trumpet players know that some days you pick up the horn and your tone resonates right away.  Other days, you pick it up and you feel like somebody stuffed a cotton pillow into your bell!  When you play the mouthpiece, you don’t hear whether your sound is stuffy or not.  You automatically begin to ignore the mouthpiece sound and to conceive of the sound that you really want.  I try to play the mouthpiece this way for at least 15 to 20 minutes a day.

Then I do the same thing on the trumpet, slurring mostly, and staying away from hard tonguing.  The most important things to me are flexibility and the resonance of the tone.  I try to get a very liquid, fluid, easy type of feeling even when I’m improvising ideas.  In other words, I don’t strain.

After I’ve done my basic work on the mouthpiece and trumpet, I do my scales to build up my range.  I start on a low F# and play a one octave major scale, at a dynamic between mezzo-piano and mezzo-forte.  Then, I take the mouthpiece off my lips, reset, and play the G scale with the same relaxed feel, then the A-flat scale, etc.

Why bother to take the mouthpiece off and reset?  Let’s say you’re a trumpet player who has a consistent high E-flat, and has trouble with a high E.  Your E-flat scale comes right out, with no straining.  Chances are, on the E scale, where you know you’re going to miss the top note, almost every note before it will sound completely uptight.  You’ll be tense way before the high E; you’ll be tense up on the F# or the G# or A of that E scale.  It’s ridiculous, because if you were using some of those notes in a D scale, you’d be completely relaxed all the way up to the high D!  The purpose of taking the mouthpiece on and off is to try to match each scale to the one below it, to re-concentrate and prevent tension.

Whatever your range is on a particular day, work where it feels comfortable.  Don’t strain to push your limits.  Ideally, you should practice in a very relaxed way so that when you get on a job and see a high note and start to get tense, part of the relaxation of the practice will stay in your mind.