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January 8, 2013

It’s now my tenth year at Indiana University.  This semester I’m taking my first sabbatical.  The idea behind the sabbatical is to allow time for research or creative activity that can be nearly impossible to find during the course of a regular semester.  My project is to arrange music for trumpet ensemble.

I know…thrilling.

But I’m hoping to make the music fun to listen to as well as challenging and interesting to play.  Most of the music I’m arranging comes from the jazz and big band worlds.  Over Christmas break, Bloomington got snowed in for a couple of days.  During that time, I made a little preview to see if my idea might work.  Here it is:


What you’re hearing are 3 Bb trumpets, 1 flugelhorn, 1 alto trumpet, and 1 bass trumpet.  If you know me, you know that I start my day by playing all of the trumpets I own- from piccolo to bass.  I think combining the different trumpets in different styles will make for some great music.

As I finish each chart, I’ll be posting snippets here to get some feedback, so please let me know what you think.



November 27, 2012

Last night a friend sent me a video of a gentleman playing the trumpet by holding it with an elastic band so that he could play with minimal pressure.  I found this funny for two reasons:

  1. He starts on a third space “C” with a two-handed death grip on the elastic band just over his leadpipe.  He shifts up to an “E”, and then a “G”, and each time he changes notes noticeably is pulling his hands backwards, increasing the pressure as much as he can.
  2. When he is “finished” with his demonstration, he plays an arpeggio starting on the “C” above the staff with a completely different sound than he had with the elastic band.  

While I enjoy the, what I find to be, very funny internet videos (thanks John!), there are still a lot of trumpet players that worry that they might be using too much pressure.  We’ve all heard about or seen similar demonstrations by hanging a trumpet from a string.  So let’s start with this:  

These kind of demonstrations are useless, as playing with “no pressure” isn’t the solution.

Trumpet players tend to head to the extremes right away.  I don’t believe that playing with “minimal pressure” is the solution.  The solution is to play with the right amount of pressure. I don’t subscribe to “play the smallest mouthpiece you can handle” or “play the biggest mouthpiece you can handle” philosophies for exactly the same reason.  It’s like saying you should be driving either a Smart Car or a Humvee.  They are extremes that might work for some people.  But for most of us, the answer is somewhere in the middle.  

So let me ask the question:

How much pressure is the right amount?

We need enough pressure so that the mouthpiece remains on the face and the lips remained sealed, but not so much that the sound becomes thinner and flexibility is compromised.  

Pressure is just one aspect of playing that needs to be coordinated with all of the others.  It’s a balancing act.  Minimizing one part won’t necessarily make another part any better.  



Back to School

August 21, 2012

It’s that time of year again. This is the beginning of my tenth year at Indiana University.  It’s a great place to work, being surrounded by energetic students and devoted faculty.

I’ve had a terrific summer.  Among the highlights are soloing with the IU Summer Concert Band, playing with Michael Feinstein and the Cincinnati Pops, performing a few weeks including July 4 with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, teaching at the IU Summer Music Clinic, and of course teaching and performing at Birch Creek.

Now that the school year is underway, it’s time to make a plan for what to accomplish this year.  There are probably a lot of demands on your time during the school year.  That’s precisely why it’s so important to have an idea of what you want to do.  Among the many built in activities such as band, orchestra, jazz band, classes, lessons, friends, and other very important ways that people spend time, like watching basketball (necessary), football (enjoyable), and Fringe (a show you should be watching), it can be easy to lose focus.

Here’s what I want you to do:

  • Make a list of your biggest technical weaknesses.
  • Make a list of music you want to learn.

Put these lists somewhere you see them every day. 

If you really work addressing both lists, at the beginning of next semester you should be able to make two new lists.  If you’d like, please leave your lists in the comment section, and we’ll come back in January and see what the new lists look like then.

Okay, get to work.


Please think- and play.

May 16, 2012

We’ve all heard this phrase:

“Don’t think-just play.”

This phrase has bothered me since the first time I heard it.  Without thought, it’s not possible to get better or have your best performance.  There are certainly people that practice their technique by just going through the motions.  And then play music by taking their best shot without a lot of thought.  This seems like a risky (and ineffective) way to go.  

So let’s figure out what to think about.  

When practicing fundamentals, think about:

  • perfecting technique.

When practicing music, think about:

  • any technical problems that need to be addressed to be able to play the piece
  • all musical decisions to be made for performance

Now that you’ve practiced this way, it’s time for the performance.  This is the only thought I want in your head:

Here’s how I want this to sound

When it’s time for a performance, think about the music you want to create.  If you’ve practiced effectively, you’ve addressed all of the technical issues and made all of the musical decisions.  The only thing left is creating music.  So think about exactly how you want it to go.  

So please think, both in your practice and your performance.




May 1, 2012

Last week, in a lesson, I told a student that I knew she could play the piece in question great.  But the look I got back from her reminded me of the second hardest part of teaching:

There are times where the teacher has more belief in the student than the student has in her/himself.

As I think back to when I was in school, the one thing I never lacked was belief.  And it played an enormous part in my growth.  When I was in high school listening to records, my thought was “I want to sound like that.”  That’s what drove my practice.  When I was in college and starting to think about what gigs I’d want, I thought big.  After all, someone has to get that gig.  Why not me?

Too often, students are encouraged to play it safe.  As hard as it can be to have the success you dream about, it’s even harder while playing it safe.

Which brings me back to belief.  It’s a very difficult concept to teach.  Try this:  picture a player that you admire.  Now you need to know that that player was once a beginner.  That player was not born playing at a world class level.  That player had to learn fundamentals and music just like everyone else.  And on the first day of playing did not sound like a professional.  So if that player can do it, why not you?

Not every player comes from the same background.  Every story is unique.  You don’t have to be from a certain part of the country, study with a certain teacher, or attend a certain college.  Not every player is on the same clock.  Some have success very young, while others have success later in life.

And success can mean different things.  A lot of trumpet players I went to college with wanted to play in an orchestra full time (and a lot of them are doing exactly that!), but I never wanted that.  Does that make me wrong?  No! (like I’d ever admit I was wrong…)

So here’s what I need for you to do:

  1. Dream big.  Think of what you want to do, not what you’d settle for.
  2. Realize that someone gets to do that, so it could be you.
  3. Get working, because it’s unlikely anyone is just going to hand it to you.  You need to earn it.

But most importantly, believe in the possibility.  Like most things, this becomes a logic problem for me.  So follow me here:

  • If you don’t believe, your chances of success are virtually zero.
  • If you believe, your chances are now higher than zero just based on the acceptance of the possibility of success.

I’m not saying that if you believe, success is guaranteed.  There are no guarantees.

What I am saying is your best chance for having your dream career lies within you and your belief that it is possible.


The Case Against Warming Up

April 24, 2012

I know, I know, it’s been a long time since my last post.  This school year has been full of change for me, which we’ll discuss another time.  Today the subject is “Warming Up.”  

I stopped “warming up” years ago.  While teaching at St. Joseph’s College, Tuesdays and Thursdays were the long teaching days, with rehearsal ending at 5:30 p.m.  At that time, the Buselli/Wallarab Big Band played at 7:00 Tuesday nights at the Jazz Kitchen in Indianapolis- about a 90-minute drive from St. Joseph’s College.  After discussing the problem with the bandleaders (as being late makes me crazy), they told to get to the gig as soon as I could, and if it’s a tune or 2 late, it would be okay.  This meant that on Tuesdays, my regular schedule was to teach up until 5:30, hop in a car, drive 90 minutes, walk into the Jazz Kitchen (where they band was usually playing, or just about to start), sit down and play lead all night. At the time, I was worried that without time to warm up, I wouldn’t sound good, or even that I might hurt myself.  But you know what I found out-it didn’t make any difference.  

Let me make clear that on these Tuesdays I was practicing.  I start my day with a long practice session of fundamentals.  Part of my job at St. Joseph’s was teaching trumpet lessons, so I certainly would be playing throughout the day.  

So I started experimenting.  My practice stayed the same.  I start the day practicing fundamentals on all of my horns.  Later in the day I practice music.  But when I go to gigs, I set up my stuff and walk away until downbeat.  And it works great.  

As I thought more and more about this and talked to colleagues and students, I discovered why the term “warming up” bothers me so much:

Players can use their warm up time as an excuse to not sound good.  Since warming up is getting ready to play, the sounds that come out of the horn at that time “don’t count.”

Here’s the problem: It counts!  When I come into my office at 7:00 a.m. to start practicing, I try and make that first note of the day (and every one after it) sound as good as I can.  There should not be a time when playing that the goal should be anything but sounding great.  

So stop “getting ready to play” and just play.