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!"

Wednesday, June 15, 2022



A disaster of monumental proportions was about to happen to me in the summer of 1966 at the Interlochen Music Camp. It was time for our weekly challenges for section placement. By a majority vote it was either "move him up or move him down."

I had reigned in the coveted first chair position all summer. On that dark day in July, however, I received the dreaded verdict: "MOVE HIM DOWN." Dethroned in an instant! I felt like the kid in the movie Christmas Story who not only got pummeled by the neighborhood bullies, but also had to endure "awh, what's the matter, kid!" 

Not handling the setback well at all, I moped around all week fuming about everything. Finally, a wise counselor pulled me aside and offered some much-needed advice. What he told me didn't stop the emotional bleeding at the time but has helped enormously in the many challenging situations that followed.

"Phil, a chair doesn't determine your value."

He also pointed out that I was no less of a musician in the second chair. The vote he said was correct. I not only needed technical improvement on the trumpet, but also a healthy jolt of humility. Maturity doesn't come without many painful trials. 

Sometimes a defeat is our best teacher! Whether I sufficiently learned my lesson that week or not, I reclaimed the first chair the following week!

Pictured below: Ken Gross, Doug Myers, Jim Thompson, Doug Sturdevant, Larry Hodges, me, and Mr. Robert Grocock. Dr. Gorden Mathie tallied "the vote" in the photo above. Mr. Grocock was rightfully annoyed at the guy playing backwards in the bottom pic. Note: Jerry Hey was third in line in the first pic. Wow! 

Thursday, May 26, 2022

One-Sentence Lesson #16

The Promenade from Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition is the trumpet player's signature excerpt and the one usually heard first on every audition. That famous opening solo is expected to sound great, to be in tune, in time, and flawless. Hence, our total focus on polishing every one of those 54 notes! 

After recording a recent practice session of this excerpt, I asked for some feedback. I heard this comment. "It sounds like you don't want to be in the art gallery."  

Definitely NOT the advice I wanted to hear! Yet that honest assessment was the one-sentence lesson I needed. The opening requires not only secure technique, but a bold splash of vibrant sound expected by the rest of the orchestra and by the whole audience! More drama, less trauma. 

It should sound like you are thrilled to be there!   

Wednesday, February 23, 2022



The conductor looked annoyed and kept tugging at his ear as he glared at the trumpets. Finally, he stopped the rehearsal and said: "One of the trumpets is sharp!" My colleagues knew who it was, but wisely refused to look at me. Gulp. I received a painful but effective lesson that day!  

So, how do we fix our faulty, bone-jarring lack of correct intonation?

First, acknowledge that the problem may actually by our own, not the other guy's. 

Next, determine to examine each note with the honest help of a tuner. 

Then, correct the pitch without losing the rich core of the sound.

Play musically but play in tune. Playing musically but out of tune is not playing musically. Unfortunately, this is a lesson that must be relearned daily.