Base Building

Policeman Guard Pyramid Cheops Khufu


Let’s face it, trumpet playing can be complicated.

You’ve been practicing regularly for months and you can’t seem to break through the plateau to a higher level of existence.

What can you do?

For starters, you can thank your lucky stars that complex problems do not require complex solutions.

Remember the swiss cheese model? By identifying and addressing a fundamental weakness you are able to improve the integrity of the whole. This generates added levels of complexity to your skill sets which heightens creativity in performance. By freeing up processing power from the nuts and bolts of playing you can focus on the music.

Imagine you’re having difficulty playing through an etude from top to bottom. How can you improve endurance? The best way may be to isolate a fundamental skill which is lagging rather than running the piece over and over.

Embouchure endurance has more to do with muscular efficiency than actually trying to play longer phrases. Efficiency is improved by identifying areas where you’re using a surplus of energy and streamlining through practice.

To understand how the pieces affect the whole please note the following fancy graph:

Skill Graph

The numbers on the left represent units of achieved skill. So your K tongue is at a 1.5 units, flexibility is resting at 3.5 units, ear training at 2 units, and single tongue at 2.6 units.

Let’s assume that your overall skill level cannot exceed 2 units above your weakest area. This means at 3.5 units your flexibility has hit diminishing returns and isn’t making noticeable improvement anymore.

To make the most noticeable gains in your playing you’ll need to address your greatest deficiency. This is likely the technique(s) that tires your chops most quickly. In the above example your greatest area for improvement is the K tongue.

Practicing your K articulation until it becomes a strength raises the ceiling for your muscular control as a whole.  This control leads to freedom of function which is directly related to ease of tone production and further technical advancement.

In this scenario you’ll be able to advance your K tonguing skills to a level of about 4 units until it becomes necessary to improve your next structural weakness (in this example ear training).

Committing to Practice

Having identified a fundamental weakness it’s now time to PRACTICE. The key to releasing ease and creativity in performance is slow, thoughtful repetition of the hard core basics. Aim to develop the rudimentary skill so thoroughly that its execution becomes completely automatic.

Start Arbitrarily, Simplify Systematically

In the beginning make it a point to shed any idealist attitudes. Skill acquisition is about doing things so don’t worry too much about where you’re starting. Every first step is a right step so make the decision to practice and do it.

The exercises you choose will be a) simple and b) physically moderate. You’re goal is to get as much quality repetition as possible while maintaining muscular and psychological freshness. Remember that success begets success so go slow and take it easy.

Set a start and stop date for practicing a skill – aiming for at least a few weeks. The idea is to work a few drills long enough to realize why/how particular approaches do and do not work for you. Develop an understanding of how you internalize material so you’re able to whittle down the regimen to those practices which are most effective – then work these ideas as frequently as possible.

Divide and Conquer

Getting the results you desire quickly rests upon your ability to focus on your selected weakness. This implies putting other areas of achievement on the back burner and being content to take things one step at a time.

Your belief in practice will naturally develop once you begin experiencing the fruits of your labor. Trust that diligence will get you there and don’t stop until you can feel improvement in your bones.

The initial skill becomes almost irrelevant in comparison to the insight you gain about the learning process. By developing your ability to focus on a singular issue you discover that with enough practice and a little faith in time you can achieve anything. This gives you the confidence to identify areas for change in your life and move toward your goals knowing that you will achieve them.

In Summation

You have an astounding capacity to learn so get to it!

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3 thoughts on “Base Building

  1. My son plays the French Horn but also likes to play the trumpet in Jazz band. A few folks have told us that playing both instruments will adversely affect his embouchure. Is this something we should be concerned about?

    He is in his first year of high school and has been playing french horn for 5 years and the trumpet for the past 2. He’s also plays the Mellophone in the marching band but from what I’m told that’s similar to the french horn.

    I don’t think he has plans to be a professional musician but does plan on playing and studying music through college.

    Just curious – thanks!

    • H Ken,

      I’ve never heard of anyone doing damage to their embouchure by playing more than one instrument. It is true that each mouthpiece is going to feel different from his embouchure’s perspective but this is true from one mouthpiece to the next on a single instrument just as it is on various instruments (trumpet mouthpieces come in TONS of shapes and sizes). Switching back and forth between the two quickly can have a brief effect on his playing simply because the gear feels different to the muscles and we need to re calibrate. Aside from that there isn’t any need for concern. There are plenty of fantastic multi-instrumentalists who play all the main brass instruments with no problem (and if they can do it so can we). Check out James Morrison on YouTube he does it all.

      If your son is enjoying himself he’s on the right track.

      All the best,


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