Solo and Orchestral Trumpeter and Educator

Thoughts on music, trumpet playing, and education from Eric M. Berlin, Professor of Trumpet at the University of Massachusetts and Principal Trumpet of the Albany Symphony and Boston Philharmonic Orchestras.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Practice Space - Key Ingredients

Practice Space - Key Ingredients

I tell my students that I did not figure out how to practice until I was 30 years old, and I mean it. Some may be surprised that my practice experience as a child was far from exemplary. My mother loves to tell this childhood story. Hearing the same mistake over and over again, she opened my bedroom door to find me listening to my first attempt repeatedly on a cassette through my stereo while reading a book. A very funny story and an ingenious way to avoid the unpleasant task, I was not mature enough to really "practice.

In college, I "played" all day long - rehearsals for wind ensemble, orchestra, quintet, jazz band, during the day and duets, quartets and excerpts with friends any time I could find a willing victim. The "practice" that I did do however, was mostly random repetition, not focused on specific areas of improvement.

At the age of 30, several important things intersected to help me make some remarkable progress. These I believe are the key ingredients to cooking up real and rapid improvement. 
  1. Reality check and objective assessment 
  2. New ideas to activate curiosity
  3. Structured practice routine (maturity)
  4. Practice buddy 
1 - Reality check and objective assessment 

After 4 placements on the alternate list in previous years, I finally attended Tanglewood as a Fellow. Surrounded by incredible colleagues, gaps in my playing, which I didn’t even know existed, became painfully apparent. These players, all much younger than I, were at the top of their game and able to play with clarity, precision and ease which I had failed to achieve. Ripped from the protective cocoon which let me feel satisfied with my playing, I understood that I could articulate more cleanly, play softer, access the upper register with less tension and generally be a much more consistent player. 

In addition to a new clearer idea of what was possible from my peers, I began to use a recorder in earnest. When I was at NEC, we were all amazed by the “Walkman Pro” and the quality of sound we were able to get with a good microphone on a cassette. Today’s students have unprecedented technology available in the form of flash drive recorders with great built in microphones which give a clear and realistic sound we could not imagine two decades ago. The hardest thing to impress upon my students is the importance of recording oneself. There is no other way we can get close to an objective assessment of our playing. Internal pressure from playing as well as the fact that we are on the wrong side of the bell makes truly hearing yourself in the moment impossible.

Lets face it, nobody likes to hear themselves sound bad. However, you can avoid the unfortunate reality check which I faced if you do as Tom Hooten says, "swallow the honesty pill" in the privacy of your own practice room. Listen carefully to yourself without having to also play the instrument at the same time and you will find lots of room for improvement. 

2 - New ideas to activate curiosity

While at Tanglewood, Tom Rolfs became a tremendous mentor and falls into the reality check category as well. At a masterclass, I played the opening of Bizet's Carmen Prelude. For those not familiar, it is a sustained theme signifying fate which descends to a low concert Eb (F on Bb trumpet) in unison with the cellos. After playing it, Tom said "Great. Can you play it without vibrato?" My immediate and honest response was "I was using vibrato?!" Among those colleagues, it remains a humorous incident, but to me it was an embarrassing illustration that I was not aware of what was coming out of my bell! With his great ears and honest feedback, Tom continued to be a great role model and wonderful audition coach throughout the next decade. 

Shortly after the conclusion of the festival, I made the phone call to Vince Penzerella which a friend suggested I make over a decade earlier. It is hard to adequately describe the impact which Vince had on my playing. By delivering similar concepts that I had heard from my previous teachers in a very different way, he brought into sharp focus things that I thought that I knew but didn't fully understand. With this new understanding, I couldn't stop looking to find more layers of detail that I had missed. 

Let's face another simple truth, there are more similarities to the way we all play trumpet than how we explain it. The same concepts of air support, embouchure and articulation can be explained in three (or more) very different ways by three different players. Each of us as humans has a unique way of experiencing the sensations of playing the trumpet and different weaknesses which we focus on to improve. These things define how we verbalize the experience. It is of vital importance that we seek many different opinions, not only of style, but of explanation of technique, to make sure that we have a better chance of finding the combination which works best for our unique mind and body.

Although Vince did wonderful work with me on air and gave me a new understanding of embouchure, the most valuable gift he gave was the following:

3 - Structured practice routine

Vince gave me the most concise and no-nonsense approach to improvement that I have ever heard. I will present it with more detail in another post, but in its simplest form it is:  
  • Define your ideal sound 
  • Record and play along with your ideal without judgement
  • Listen back and compare the recording with your ideal
    • Assess strengths and weaknesses 
    • define goals for improvement
  • Address issues (traditional woodshed with clearer goals) and start again
There is no better way to improve. The first point is so vital, but most often gets lost among more pressing concerns as  "putting in the hours" or "building up endurance" or "building muscle memory". The second is training us for the real job of performance. For many young players, the first time they play through piece without stopping is in a lesson or in a concert. The third part is impossible without a model to compare to.

Most trumpet players are willing to put in time, but few have the discipline to follow this routine. To really invest in this process takes a level of maturity which I did not have while in school. I hope you can find it earlier than I did, but whenever you do, it will pay dividends.

4 - Practice buddy

At Tanglewood, a fellow trumpeter and I began to work together toward our mutual improvement. Back in Boston, practicing in a church or gymnasium several nights a week, sometimes 5-6 hours a night, this relationship combined the previous three points and over the next few years resulted in the most dramatic improvement that I have ever known.

Not only were we recording, but there were objective ears that could listen to us "live" in the moment to give an immediate impression. Recording allows us to relax and stay in the moment when we play, but our own ears become accustomed to what we hear on playback. In a buddy session, the recording (at that time, a portable DAT or minidisc recorder) was a great way to play back and study what our partner heard so that we could recognize it in the future. Instead of shame and embarrassment when my practice buddy called my attention to something I missed, I was elated! From that knowledge came the ability to address a weakness and create a stronger total package. A partner who you can trust to honestly assess areas of improvement without "beating around the bush" is a Midas touch for your career. Be sure to be that honest partner in return.

We believed so strongly in the power of our practice routine that we brought it along to auditions. At one audition, even though we had traveled separately, we were in the same town a day early. What did we do? Bought a small recorder at a Sony outlet store and headed to a famous outdoor amphitheater to practice. We both made it to the finals.

Conclusion: The ability to improve comes from the clearest picture of what your skills and weaknesses actually are. "Swallow the honesty pill" and record yourself, play for different people for new ideas and listen objectively to target areas of improvement. With a structured practice routine which begins with a clearly defined ideal goal, you should find your way to rapid improvement. Good luck!

Monday, September 3, 2012

Wrap up of 2011-12

Life has been extremely busy during the past year and I feel bad to have neglected this blog. I promise that there are some trumpet articles in the very near future. Just so you don't think I have been dawdling...

UMASS Trumpet Studio with Vince DiMartino and Jeff Holmes
The UMASS Trumpet Studio hosted its first Trumpet Day with guest artist, Vince DiMartino. All day event with recitals and clinics by Vince, me and my incredible colleague Jeff Holmes. Seniors John Mange, Steve Felix, Allison Cockshaw and Dan Fleury all performed and gave a district solo prep clinic as well. We thank our our piano faculty Nadine Shank and Ludmilla Krasin as well jazz faculty Tom Giampietro and our Jazz Ensemble 1. Kudos go to the studio for making it happen, especially Ann Dorgan and Dan Fleury who were indispensable.

In addition to my regular orchestra work, I had a wonderful opportunity to play with Mannheim Steamroller in some concerts in New York state. I grew up listening to this unique approach to hybrid Renaissance rock in high school. Not only great music, but really great people all around.
The Methuen Memorial Music Hall Organ

The Christmas season is kicked off with an annual tradition of a recital in the Methuen Memorial Music Hall with good friends Richard Watson and the amazing Doug Major on the old Boston Music Hall organ. It is a magnificent space for this incredible instrument. If only we could magically raise the pitch 20 cents!

I was lucky enough to play a few concerts with the Boston Symphony and Boston Pops at Symphony Hall this year, and the Christmas Pops shows are always a treat. Well programmed for families and it was great to hear several different folks on lead.

Julian Wachner's hands flying over the keys at Trinity Wall Street

Majestic Brass has strong relationships with two of the best church music programs in the country. In Boston, we perform regularly with Scott Jarrett, Justin Blackwell and the amazing choir at Marsh Chapel at Boston University. Inspired music making with wonderful people in the best music program in Boston can be heard every Sunday morning on 90.9 WBUR or around the world online. At Christmas we have performed for the past few years at Trinity Church on Wall Street in New York City with Julian Wachner. A friend of nearly 20 years, he directs a program which is the center piece of the lower Manhattan music scene. We look forward to seeing our friends at both churches later this year.

UMASS Emeritus Faculty Charles Bestor wished to include his Concerto Piccolo for Trumpet and Electronics on a new disc of his electronic works. This has already been released on my first CD "End of the Matter", but given the option, I chose to record it again and in the process, revise a few issues with the written part. It is a great piece which I love to perform and it has now been released on Albany Records.

I don't often have time to enjoy listening to a concert as I am so often performing on my own. This January, I knew that I couldn't miss the opportunity to hear Hakan Hardenberger perform the Turnage Concerto live with the BSO. His Virtuoso Trumpet disc inspired me as a conservatory student to push the boundaries a bit and explore new music. If you have not heard this disc, you really must!
Post Concert with Hakan Hardenberger
It was also a nice time to enjoy dinner and the concert with my mentor Charles Schlueter.
Hakan certainly did not disappoint and gave a fantastic performance. Nice to connect with this incredible musician.

There are certain opportunities in a musical life which stand to change you forever. New perspectives, fresh insights, and a rejuvenation of the musical spirit can come from a change of scenery. I was fortunate enough to make a trip to Los Angeles which did all of these things.

Playing with a great orchestra is always a thrill, but this was a very special treat for many reasons. Sitting in a section with my good friend Chris Still for the first time in a decade was really like coming home and hearing "Mr. Clean" - Jim Wilt effortlessly sing a beautiful Mahler 6 was incredibly inspiring. Meeting new friends Mike Myers, Rob Schaer and Ryan Darke made for a wonderful hang as well. However, to see that Gustavo Dudamel really and truly IS all that he is cracked up to be, was amazing. He possesses the young charisma which one would expect from a 30 year old, but a true connection to the deepest parts of the music which one rarely sees except in old school maestros. Watching him over develop over the next 4-5 decades will be fascinating.

The Mahler Project in itself was a monumental task for the orchestras involved, but a seemingly overwhelming task for one conductor to pull off. All of the Mahler symphonies with two orchestras and one conductor, both in LA and Caracas is an enormous undertaking for the entire organization and they deserve kudos for a job well done. Principal Horn Andrew Bain and Principal Trumpet Tom Hooten were simply stellar throughout. The Simon Bolivar trumpets were inspiring with their no holds barred approach. Bravo to everyone!

Rick Baptist and Rob Schaer
Aside from the performances, the trip to LA was filled with re-connections with dear old friends and some other great experiences. I got to enjoy the music industry's big annual event, NAMM and visit Bob Malone and the great folks at Yamaha. Always fun toys to play with whenever I visit! Thanks to Rob Schaer, I was able to observe my first Hollywood recording session at the Clint Eastwood Recording Stage. It was a thrill to meet legendary Hollywood trumpeter Rick Baptist at the session. (Check out the Super Bowl Commercial for Toyota Camry to see what I heard!)

I hung out with Matt Von Roderick (Matt Shulman) to catch up on the new directions that he has taken his career. Find his videos on youtube to see for yourself!

Students from Cal State Long Beach
A highlight was working with the students at Cal State Long Beach. Many thanks to Rob Frear and the great kids for a fantastic day. Also got to see many old dear friends and former students too. What an incredible trip!

Alex Baille after doing battle in Lutoslawski's Cello Concerto for the last time.
The meat and potatoes of my orchestra life is usually provided by Ben Zander and the Boston Philharmonic. Another killer season with huge rep which included Mahler 7 and Heldenleben also introduced me to a great work of the 20th century with which I was unfamiliar.

Lutoslawski's Cello Concerto is now among my very favorite works. Written for Rostropovich, it pits the soloist as a solitary soul against the orchestra in a way which makes you feel the oppression of living in Soviet times. Powerful aleatoric writing for the trumpets tries to crush the individual who eventually prevails. A wonderful performance by Alexander Baille was inspiring.

The LA Phil tour to Caracas was nothing short of mind blowing. We arrived on the day of primary elections and were able to see the celebrations of the winner in his neighborhood from the bus from the airport. Despite the armed guards who surrounded us throughout our trip, the Venezuelan people were incredibly warm and welcoming. The music making was incredible as was the food! A trip to a sugar plantation, complete with a real south american barbecue, was our opportunity to see the rural Venezuelan countryside.

Of particular interest to me was the ability to observe and work with students in the El Systema program. This is rightfully a point of great pride for the nation and an beautiful example of investment in the arts and understanding its power to change lives. 1200 singers and the Simon Bolivar Orchestra, the pinnacle of El Systema training, joined the LA Phil for the performance of Mahler's 8th Symphony, the "Symphony of (more than) a Thousand". The impact of the opening bar in the hall was something visceral which words cannot adequately describe.
Amazing to see 1200 singers on stage for Mahler 8
LA Phil section for Mahler 6
The best part of the whole trip was ability to perform with such incredible musicians. To this outsider looking in, the whole orchestra exudes a sense of optimism as well appreciation for the gift of being able to make great music for a living. Thanks so much for the opportunity!

March was a big month for the me and the UMASS Trumpet Studio. The UMASS Trumpet Ensemble advanced to the semi finals of the National Trumpet Competition with great piece written for them by my colleague Jeff Holmes. Check out the piece and their preliminary recording here: 

David Miller, George Tsontakis and Silas Brown

While my students were competing, I was premiering and recording True Colors for Trumpet and Orchestra by George Tsontakis. I wrote about the genesis of the piece in an earlier blog post, but to be brief, the Albany Symphony commissioned this work for me and I am grateful beyond words for the honor. Finally realizing the sounds which George committed to paper in the gorgeous acoustics of the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall was the satisfying culmination of years of anticipation and I could not be more pleased with the work.

Thank you to David Allan Miller for investing in me, to George for writing such a beautiful and personal work, to Silas Brown for capturing the sound with his golden ears for posterity and to my colleagues in the Albany Symphony for their artistry and total commitment to the mission of this great organization. The recording should be out in a couple of years on Naxos.

The remainder of my spring was filled again with performances, student recitals and a little down time. Particularly enjoyable was a Sinatra show with Steve Lippia where I got to live out my childhood dreams of playing lead on those great Nelson Riddle charts. Also had a great thrill playing in a section with a former student in his new job as Principal Trumpet of the Springfield Symphony. Tom Bergeron is a simply phenomenal all around musician who you must watch for. Check out his solo CD and find him performing and teaching as a fellow at the Carnegie Hall Academy.
Fenway Park from the field

There are few things more American than baseball, and nowhere is it more authentic than Fenway Park. A big thrill was joining members of the Boston Pops to play the National Anthem from the field on opening day. This hallowed turf was so immaculate, so beyond perfect and greener than I could have imagined!

My orchestra season ended with the Albany Symphony's American Music Festival. This annual event is a celebration of what makes this orchestra unique. With a commissioned premier on nearly every program, the ASO has a special relationship with music of our time. Cultivating new works with commissions, fertilizing relationships with young composers and documenting the music of our time with recordings establishes the ASO as a driving force in contemporary classical music.

Michael Daugherty, Joan Tower and Aaron Kernis
This year's festival featured music by three of the most influential voices in contemporary American music. Michael Daugherty, Aaron Kernis and Joan Tower. We recorded Aaron's work "Valentines" with Soprano Talise Travigne and it was a stunning performance. Debussy with 21st century vocabulary is the best way I can describe it. I cannot wait to hear it upon release.

I am so grateful to host Rob Murray for allowing me to present "True Colors" at this year's International Trumpet Guild Conference. It was an honor to share the stage with one of my all time heroes, Ronald Romm, David Krauss and the incredible presence which is Andrea Giuffredi.

Ronald Romm and Andrea Giuffredi

The ITG Annual Conference is always a great event to see friends and geek out on trumpet. This was also my first conference as a member of the Board of Directors. My hat is off to my colleagues on the board and especially President Kim Dunnick who quietly serve with such distinction and humility in service to our instrument.

Chautauqua Auditorium - Boulder

My summer is spent primarily in Boulder, CO as a member of the Colorado Music Festival Orchestra. Playing tons of concerts with an all-star orchestra drawn from all over the world in the Rocky Mountains for 7 weeks each summer is a real blessing. My good friend and colleague Jeff Work sounds truly spectacular on Principal and it was great to see old friends stop by to help us out as extras and just to say hello.

For a life rich with great music and great friends I am forever grateful. Looking forward to a new year with my students at UMASS and incredible colleagues in all parts of my career.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Archives - How do you judge your progress?

For some reason, students have a difficult time embracing recording in their practicing. At this time of the year, my students are in the midst of a mad rush to create a recording for a competition. It is always a struggle for some to get it done, but it's eye-opening for them when they do.

The other day I pulled out a treasured find to play for a student and it was incredibly enlightening not only for him, but also for me. Many moons ago, I was working in building operations at my alma mater, New England Conservatory. A good friend and I were given the task of cleaning out a basement room in the office building across the street. While we were there, we browsed through a treasure trove of records in filing cabinets including the file of one of our most notable alumni, Adolf Herseth! Yes, grades, GI Bill paperwork, letters from Georges Mager etc. I wish I had thought to photocopy it for Bud! Someday I will get back there and find it again.

Among the things marked for trash were several boxes of cassette tapes. Still in the era when this was the standard recording medium, we decided to walk a couple of blocks over to my apartment and "dispose of them" to my living room. Later that night we sorted through these to find the "hi bias" and "metal" tapes to reuse and discarded the rest. Most of these tapes were audition tapes, but there was also one marked "Philadelphia - Brass" and on the side was printed "Eric Berlin - Trumpet". It was an amazing find.

This recording of my live audition for NEC is a priceless time capsule of a 17-year-old me. Is it perfect playing? No. I often pull out this recording or my senior recital recording from NEC to show that you don't have to start out life as a superstar to succeed. I laugh at some of the musical choices that I made without the benefit of a conservatory education and cringe at a few less than beautiful sounds that I produced, but it is still unmistakably me. There was a fearlessness in the playing which I think most of us lose once we begin to believe that playing trumpet is hard!

It is impossible for us to judge our playing objectively while performing. We are hyper-aware of our mistakes and what we are trying to improve. The only thing that we can hope for is that we are on an upward trajectory. My primary teacher through Junior High and High School, David Rentschlar, was very keen to point out that learning is not just a straight upward trajectory. It is filled with peaks, some valleys, and lots of plateaus. It is only from a distance that we can see the true landscape of our progress.

When you look back 10-20 years from now, how will you judge the work you are doing today? Will you have any way of knowing whether you have gotten better? A regular habit of recording your practice as well as archiving performances for future reference will allow you to more objectively see your progress. I imagine that you will be pleased.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Practice Space - To Err is Human

This is a trumpet blog, and this idea is something that trumpeters have to accept. "I play trumpet, and therefore, on occasion, I miss." We sometimes miss more often than we would like of course, but we must accept this possibility if we are going to actually say something which anyone wants to hear. Too often, we get so caught up in hitting the right buttons and "not missing" that we forget that the point is to express something. Nobody pays me to merely get the right buttons down at the correct time. That sounds like math class! I used the band room as an escape from math class as often as I could! There must be something more to music or we would have been replaced by MIDI orchestras long ago.

When the wheels start to come off with my playing, my brain is most often wrapped in knots focused on "not screwing up". In these moments, there is no flow, no expression, and certainly, nothing worth listening to. While in this place, I can usually recite a laundry list of what I should NOT do and the consequences of FAILING to successfully navigate this minefield.

In those moments when I find myself so wrapped up in what "not to do", I try to catch myself and take a piece of sage advice from my mentor, Charlie Schlueter: "give yourself permission to screw up". When I was missing everything, he could sense where my thoughts were. This simple reorientation of thought got me out of my own way and allowed the music to finally flow. The result of that permission was not only more accurate playing, but more engaging music making. It worked while a student and still does today.

In your practice, make a point of setting aside a large portion of your session to just perform. This is a time to completely let go and trust the good work you have done. If the first time you do that is on stage, it will be a completely foreign experience. During this portion of your practice, allow yourself to truly separate yourself from judgement of good or bad and engage in "playing" your instrument. Experiment and see what you can come up with. See how many ways that you can shape that phrase. Charlie constantly encouraged us "never play it the same way twice". That experimentation is how you define who YOU are as a musician. Vince Penzerella used to say to me "If you don't have your own personality, it is wrong." "Playing" your instrument is what we did as kids. Stay in touch with the essence of what made us love playing our instruments in the first place.

The act of reaching toward perfection is admirable. This can be your practice room priority when you are working on your technique. But let us not forget that the purpose of perfect technique is its ability to communicate that which is uniquely human. That human component is what makes music art.

The regular rattle and hum of my refrigerator as I write this, is not something that I consider music. There may be some that challenge this, but to me, music is a method of communicating. As with any art, it begins as a picture in one person's mind, transmitted through an instrument such as a paint brush, pen, trumpet, or voice so that it can meet the eyes or ears of another human so that the image can be shared.

What makes a Mahler symphony transport us to another plane of existence? Could it merely be the elevation of the notes that Maynard Ferguson played which grabbed me or the incendiary spirit and passion which simply refused to remain silent?

As I write "To Err is Human" and suggest that humanity is what separates music from noise, I must also ask the questions - "Just what is humanity?" and "What does it mean to be Human?"

When I need a definition, my first stop is Merriam Webster. I must admit that a personalized edition sits on my shelf as a gift from a dear friend and fellow trumpeter who is an editor at large. Thanks Peter Sokolowski!
1: the quality or state of being humane (Humane: marked by compassion, sympathy, or consideration for humans or animal)
2a: the quality or state of being human (Human: susceptible to or representative of the sympathies and frailties of human nature)
2b: plural : human attributes or qualities humanities
3: plural : the branches of learning (as philosophy, arts, or languages) that investigate human constructs and concerns as opposed to natural processes (as in physics or chemistry) and social relations (as in anthropology or economics)

These definitions describe what is most meaningful for us as artists. Ponder them and how they can be expressed through your art. As you strive to build your technique, make sure that you keep in touch with the purpose behind it all. Force yourself to say something meaningful and unique when you have the horn on your face. Push yourself out of your comfort zone and "Give yourself permission to screw up". If you say something meaningful, the message will resonate whether or not you have perfect spelling, grammar and punctuation.

To those in my life who exemplify this higher consciousness and live in the world of endless possibilities, I give you an A. There is nobody I would rather make music with and I am thankful for the opportunity to study at your feet.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Practice Space - The Warm Up

Many clinicians used to come for masterclasses armed with a sheet of whole notes and arpeggios to distribute. The "Bob Smith" warmup works for Bob and may work for you if you are thinking with "Bob's brain". My teacher Vince Penzerella used to respond to the question "What do you do for a warm-up?" with

"What does my warm-up have to do with you?"

The notes of my warmup may have some similarities from day to day, but what remains constant is the intent behind them. What any given person needs to play to be ready to perform on a given day will vary and what notes you play is not nearly important as what you are thinking and whether you are intellectually engaged in the process. You will see that I will not give you any specific notes to play, but an insight into what motivates my choice of what and how to play. Use this as an outline to suit your own needs. Make sure to keep it fluid and flexible to address problems that arise from one day to the next. Beware of a “routine” as it can become just that, routine.

What is a warm up? The purpose of a warmup is to get your body and mind ready to perform. A good warmup will make the physical machine of your body work smoothly and efficiently and will strengthen connections from the mind to that machine. Both are important! My mentor, Charlie Schlueter used to call his warmup "checking the templates". Hearing him warm up backstage at Symphony Hall was very enlightening.

When I watch athletes of just about any sport before they play, I see common elements.

- Stretching and form (posture)
- Easy isolated function
- Calibration (for this we need a constant)

I believe that these three elements also apply to us as brass players.


Anyone who has observed a sporting event would have seen athletes slowly stretching the different muscle groups needed for their specific sport. This is of course to gently prepare for activity and prevent injury. What are those muscles for a brass player? Immediately most people would think of the small facial muscles, however there is a much more basic function earlier in the chain. Before the lips can produce a vibration, there must be fuel provided to them. Delivering air to the lips in the most efficient way should be your first order of business.

During one of my first lessons, Charlie drew this diagram in the front of my Arutiunian Concerto.

This is a great illustration of how to most efficiently move air. When most people hear "use more air" they assume that it means to use more effort and blow harder. With a full breath, we create much more power by allowing the fully expanded torso muscles to simply come back to rest. Charlie’s solution to nearly every difficulty you encounter is TAKE A BIGGER BREATH! It always works for me…

There is no way to expand your lungs' capacity as they could already expand well beyond the boundaries of our bodies. However, we can make sure that they expand to their maximum by reducing muscular tension and using proper posture.

The easiest and most helpful stretch is simply bending over at the waist and trying to touch your toes. (Object of this stretch is not to touch your toes, but to stretch the muscles of your back. Even if you cannot touch your toes, you will receive much benefit from this exercise.) Make sure to let your head hang so that your chin touches your chest. See how far your fingertips are from your toes. Now begin breathing slowly with the sound OH and release when you are at capacity by saying TOH. Imagine the air filling the spaces between your ribs, the kidneys, and the area under your arms. Do this for a few minutes and be aware of the tension that you feel in your neck, back and shoulders etc. Direct the focus of the air to those places and see if you can feel them expand and release. You may notice that your fingers have moved closer to your toes as a result of this. This is an exercise that you should do every day and often throughout the day. Incorporate other stretches for the rest of your torso into this part of your warmup as well.

With your body prepared to expand, you will want to take full advantage of this added capacity. Proper posture is vital to allowing you to breathe with maximum efficiency and to allow your body to resonate fully while playing. The goal is to allow your skeleton to support itself so that the muscles of your body can relax. Think long and tall with little to no muscular tension.

While standing, place your feet shoulder width apart with the outsides parallel. Unlock your knees and move your hips forward and back until you feel your weight evenly distributed between the balls and heels of your feet. Now allow your head to gently lift off of your shoulders with your chin remaining down closer to your chest. While sitting, strive for this standing posture above. Your feet should be parallel and your knees should be directly above the feet.

I recommend studying Alexander Technique as a way to improve your muscular function in all aspects of your life. It has been extremely helpful to me. You can also find similar benefits with most types of yoga as well.

After all of that, we are ready to build good breathing habits for your day. Keep track of your body tension and stretch throughout your practice session. Also be vigilant about your posture. With proper posture, you will find an immediate increase in the size and resonance of your sound. These are new habits that must be reinforced with repetition.

Isolated Function

One of the best things that I learned from Vince Penzerella was the concept of isolating the different components of playing to more efficiently address issues. I break them up into these three.

a) Air - causes vibration

There is no shortage of discussion of breathing in brass pedagogy. I would recommend studying the teachings of Arnold Jacobs as the most influential teacher of wind instruments of the 20th century. There is a lot of great information on the website devoted to his teaching Check out the videos and try some of the breathing devices. You may also wish to check out a wonderful series called The Breathing Gym with Patrick Sheridan and Sam Pilafian.

Simple breathing exercises such as ladder breathing to a metronome is helpful and doing ANYTHING represents a significant advantage over nothing. Regardless how you get there, the goal of this part of your warm up is to get free flowing efficient air movement. Using the simple syllables "OH" for inhalation and "TOH" for exhalation is a great start. Remember that the inhalation is a mirror image of what you wish to exhale.

b) Tongue - defines the duration of the vibration (articulation)

I gained quite a bit of speed and clarity in my articulation merely by practicing in the car. No, I did not have my horn on my face, but just doing "wind patterns". I believe that this term originated with Vincent Cichowicz and it is great practice for airflow and to practice different types of articulation. My own priority with articulation is to make it as simple as possible. I want the vowel sound from a sustained pitch to always remain, even in notes of shortest duration. And I want the consonant T or D in the articulation to be clear and firm, and release to that vowel as quickly as possible.

With a full breath, just begin to articulate one of your favorite excerpts or etudes (without the instrument). For me, Ravel Piano Concerto in G or Charlier Etude #1 are two good examples. Remember that we are now isolating the articulation from pitch. Avoid trying to producing an audible contour, but rather make each note sound the same. Slurred and repeated pitches should sound like one longer note. This will encourage a consistent articulation when you bring it back to the horn.

c) Lips - change the pitch of the vibration

My approach to pitch is that we play a fretless string instrument. Our instrument is simply singing with the vocal chords on the wrong side of the mouth! As with a string instrument or the voice, we can produce every small microtone between pitches as we buzz the mouthpiece.

This part of my warmup can start a variety of ways, but usually, I do the opposite of what most of us have learned. I start high and work low. This may take a moment of explanation.

The low and middle registers of the trumpet have the largest margin for error to still allow successful tone production. (I illustrate this playing off to the side or using my tongue as my bottom lip.) As we learned as children to play a low C or G and then filled in the gaps and ascended, we often play in the lower register with a less refined embouchure and less attention to pitch. This also sets us up to make the upper register difficult for young players to attain.

Some players even develop a second set to play in the upper register. This is usually a smaller aperture than the low set. Using two sets often gives a break between registers, which is difficult to traverse. With my own practice and what I advocate for my students, I use a high register set and bring it into the low register.
Buzzing the mouthpiece is the best way to isolate pitch production from the rest of the functions and also addresses the final part of the total warm up process - calibration. To calibrate anything, we need to have one fixed constant. In this case, I want absolutely constant air flow to fuel the pitch mechanism.

Beginning on any easily produced higher register pitch, buzz slowly down two octaves (for example High G to Low G) in a glissando at a MP dynamic. The slower that you perform the glissando, the better as you will feel the "breaks" and be able to connect through them. One of my former colleagues and good friend Matt Gaunt called this "the stupid exercise". It is important to be able to again re-ascend to your starting pitch so take a big breath. If you find that you are unable, it is likely that the intensity of your air stream has decreased as you descended or that your embouchure has shifted to a more open set along the way. Stretch each end of the scale a bit but don't worry too much about buzzing up to high C. A little above the staff, the mouthpiece shank begins to act as its' own bugle and tries to force you into a fundamental making buzzing up here very difficult.

Once we have connected high and low registers with glissando, we can begin to calibrate by using real tunes. This is the purpose of all of this work anyway!


Taking simple tunes such as those Arban's art of phrasing, buzz them without articulation. Be expressive and connect across the rests to keep constant air. Remember, this is isolating the pitch part of the process, so continue to glissando and don't worry about articulations. Think of a great singer as you do this.

What we are doing here is calibrating the muscles to move precisely in response to the pitch signal in our heads. Just as we sing with the voice, we need nothing more than the picture of a sound in our heads to sing with the lips. Once we put the trumpet on, most of us become less concerned with that primary image and worry about all of the physical feelings and external judgement. The more time we spend buzzing the string instrument without the "frets" of the horn, the more we reinforce a strong connection from song in the head to an automatic body response to it. Then the trumpet doesn't have to bully us into a slot, but rather merely amplify a pure signal. This results in faster response and a sound which is more pure in all registers.

These principles should be revisited throughout your session and will become problem solving tools as you

Best wishes and happy practicing!