Saturday, February 04, 2023


My wife and I were students at the Cleveland Institute of Music, and the orchestra had just finished an amazing performance of Mahler 5. All of us were walking on air, ready to take on the musical world. It was a great concert! No nerves, no fear, just genuine enthusiasm. We had just conquered the great Mahler Fifth Symphony! Life was good indeed! 
But then came that one-sentence lesson I had not expected and which I have not forgotten. The principal horn of the Cleveland Orchestra stopped me backstage and said, "having a good sound is not enough, you know!" 

I shrugged and tried to dismiss that comment, but he was right. Soon enough we all learn that our strengths alone won't carry us very far. Weaknesses must become strengths. A one-trick trumpet player won't last long. We need a whole bag of tricks. 

In addition to a pleasing sound, we need a great sense of rhythm, unobjectionable intonation, outstanding musical instincts, and not least of all, a generous portion of people skills!

Our best lessons are often unexpected and unwelcomed.


Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Job-winning skill #1

Job-winning skill #1. GREAT RHYTHM!

The good news is that a beautiful tone is not required for this skill. Neither is stunning dynamic control, perfect intonation, or sensitive phrasing. In fact, you don't even need your trumpet! You just need to develop the unshakable skill of rock-solid timing.

When under pressure, this is often one of the first strikes against us. While concentrating on accuracy, we quickly forget about timing. Or while focusing on tone, we rush and slow down unintentionally. 

One dreaded comment from the audition committee: "We would have advanced you were it not for your poor rhythm." Superior tone, phrasing, intonation, and articulation are useless without a steady pulse. 

Since our instrument is not needed to develop this skill, we can work on this anywhere. This should be a fun game. We learn to quickly nail every tempo, maintaining rhythmic consistency under the steady hand of our professor, the metronome.  

Again, we don't need to be in the practice room to perfect this skill. When our rhythm is solid, it is ready for music-making. Rhythmic security should be automatic. 

Don't let the trumpet rob you of being able to demonstrate great rhythm.  

Friday, October 14, 2022

Your best lesson!

Your best lesson should not cost you anything! No travel expenses, no fees! All you need is your undivided attention, your music, and some great recordings!

Analysis, instructions, and detailed strategies are fine, but the best learning happens when we just listen. Sit down with your music, listen, and pay close attention to what you are hearing. Then copy that!

A trumpet colleague of mine in the CSO used to have the three-choir Gabrielli recording playing as his students arrived for their lessons. He simply said, "now play like that!"

Don't sound like a student! How well we play is a reflection of how carefully we listen. 

Friday, September 02, 2022


"Intonation, trumpets!" Panic! I know I'm the problem. It's me who's out of tune, but am I sharp or am I flat? That's the question I asked a colleague in Cleveland years ago, to which he coldly replied, "you're not sharp and you're not flat, you're just out of tune." What?

Instead of mentally adjusting the notes and trying desperately to please the next guy, just place the notes exactly where they belong. Use your musical gut, not your questioning mind.  Your sense of pitch should be developed so that you can depend on your instincts to play in tune. 

Don't follow, lead! Find the core of each note and drill it down the center. This should fix your intonation problems. 

Our one-sentence lesson: Don't chase the notes, place them! 


Saturday, August 27, 2022


This one got my attention! Mr. Robert Vernon, former principal viola of the Cleveland Orchestra and amazingly successful teacher had this to say:

These are the five skills that win jobs: Sound, Intonation, Articulation, Rhythm, and Direction.

It was hard to tell which job he was best at, orchestral principal or college professor at CIM. A who's who in the viola world will show that many of his students currently have prestigious orchestra jobs. Consequently, any advice from him is gold.

An audition committee listens for a beautiful sound, unobjectionable intonation, clear and appropriate articulation, an excellent sense of timing, and musical sustaining of phrases. 

Daily practice lists should have check boxes for each item. Consistent and fastidious attention to these five elements of music will put you in the finals. Check each box constantly. Keep a sharp ear for these job-winning skills. It pays well. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2022


"That sounds like it's really hard to play!" 

That was the response after my valiant attempt at the difficult slow passage near the end of Strauss's Death and Transfiguration.  It's supposed to be smooth, lyrical and flowing even though the melody line jumps all over the place and demands some very long sustained high notes. But no. My most critical listener, my wife Sandy, had the correct assessment. "That sounds like it's really hard to play!"

Yes, it should look easy, but much more importantly it must sound beautiful and effortless. It should look like we are playing a single long tone, but it must sound smooth, singing, and expressive.  

Clarinet players always have this skill on display with every lyric line. Take their solo in Pines of Rome, the one accompanied by the chirping birds. No matter how wide the intervals, they dazzle the audience with seamless legato technique. That's the goal: no bumps, no fluffs, no questionable intonation, and no strain! 

So, that was my most recent one-sentence lesson. Don't let others know that it's difficult. Instead, we want to hear, that's fantastic, and it sounds easy! 

Wednesday, July 20, 2022


"Great trumpet players can play soft!" That was the advice from one of the most powerful players on the planet, Mel Broiles, first trumpet at the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra for 45 years. 

I remember him for the three P's, passion, power and pizzazz. Endurance, transposition, and volume were the goals at every lesson. A well-bruised embouchure came to be the mark of honor for all of his students.  Nothing was to be played with tentative shyness. He exuded a confidence that was off the charts. I left those lessons loaded for bear and ready to unleash electrifying heroics for the neighbors! 

So, to hear this one-sentence lesson from him some years later was a stunner. I wish he had stressed the soft end of playing as much as he did the aggressive dynamics. As we all eventually learn, the soft stuff can kill us easier than the blasting. Good quiet playing will actually help the loud playing. 

A few notes on practicing the soft stuff:

  • Increase your amount of quiet practice.
  • Don't lose expression when playing pianissimo. Increase it.
  • Go from loud to soft constantly.
  • Practice fortissimo passages in pianissimo.
  • Pretend you're practicing so as not to awaken the baby.
  • Rest more. Take a day off.
"Great trumpet players can play soft!"