Tuesday, August 25, 2015


Playing the trumpet is easy. Learning to play the trumpet easily is hard.
A trumpeter friend recently asked me where the line between warming up and practicing a routine was. Good question. There really is no difference. For me, my warm up is just what I call my first practice session of the day. Its purpose is to remind myself of good playing habits, find my sound, refresh my technique, and mentally and physically prepare myself for the day's trumpeting. I usually do my "warm up" in four parts.
  1. Breathing/Stretching. I like to start with stretches and breathing exercises. I've had the great fortune to attend some breathing workshops by Patrick Sheridan, and they were fantastic. I highly recommend the Breathing Gym DVD and book, and I primarily use these exercises in my warm up. Here is a short pdf summary of some of the Breathing Gym exercises. This will give you the general idea, but you should really get the DVD and book.
  2. Flow Studies. I follow up my breathing/stretching by playing the trumpet. I used to start with mouthpiece, but I no longer do this and I think my warm up is much better now. I usually alternate between the Vincent Cichowicz flow studies and the Allen Vizzutti Method Long Tones.* I play slowly, take lots of breaks, and play with the most beautiful sound I can. I focus on my breathing and try and use my air flow to change the pitch and not my chops. My first trumpet teacher, Bill Dimmer, used to say to me "toil the air, spare the chop." I'm not sure where this saying originated, but it's right on. I like to play 5-10 minutes of flow studies until my sound is rich and easy, through my full range, and into the pedal tones. I carefully monitor my posture and breathing throughout so I am playing easily and correctly. If I'm having trouble finding my sound, I do some pitch bending exercises like these. I also like doing pitch bending as cool-down exercises.
  3. Flexibilities. I follow up my flow studies with 5-10 minutes of flexibility studies or lip slurs. The Arbans book has some great exercises (the link will take you to a free pdf), and so does the Schlossberg book and Vizzutti books. The Anthony Plog Flexibility Book is also great. I start out slow and play medium-soft, and play through all fingerings. I gradually add partials, speed, and volume to push myself, but never to the point where my sound is strained. Remember to focus on the air, not the chops!
  4. Technique (Fingers/Tonguing). I follow up my flexibilities with 10-15 minutes of technical exercises to work on my fingers and tonguing. For years, I played the H.L. Clark Technical Studies for Cornet, usually studies #1-5, but really any scales or technical exercises will do. The Arbans book has lots of good scales and patterns. I use the Allen Vizzutti Books #1-2 and his New Concepts for Trumpet quite regularly and I find the exercises are very well written and organized. Sometimes, I work through jazz patterns instead, or just improvise lines and play through the chord changes of tunes that I'm working on. I will usually do 5-10 minutes of multiple tonguing as well, usually out of the Vizzutti books or the Arbans book.
  5. Short Etude. I usually end my warm up by playing an etude or jazz tune. Nothing overly strenuous so I can really focus on playing beautifully and easily. Hopefully, everything is working well at this point.
What you practice is not nearly as important as how you practice.
The total running time for my ideal "warm up" is 40-45 minutes, and I like to take a 10-15 minute break after my warm up before I resume playing. Your chops shouldn't be tired after your warm up, so take as many short breaks as you need to ensure you are minimizing chop strain. If you focus on the air and your breathing, you won't even notice your chops.

I like to experiment with different exercises and different books during my warm up, but the order that I do these exercises is pretty consistent. Some days, I will take out my trumpet to go right into a tune or etude with no preparation. Sometimes it feels good right away. Sometimes it's a bit rough, but I try to find my sound while playing through the etude or tune without giving up. It can be a fun challenge, but I'm careful to avoid excessive strain. It's supposed to be a warm up, not a wear out!

"The single most influential element in your ultimate success or failure as a brass player is the quality of the time spent in the practice room. It is more important than talent, and it is more important than who you study with. You should constantly re-assess your practice habits and make sure that you are learning and growing with each session."

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