Tuesday, December 28, 2021


"You are spraying the air with thousands of notes of highly questionable value!" (Mel Broiles)
  • Quality beats quantity.
  • Quality wins jobs.
  • A few minutes of gorgeous playing is better than a whole hour of mediocre blasting. 
  • Big bucks for good notes. Big fines for bad notes. 
  • Ensure that all notes are "usable."

Monday, December 13, 2021


As a junior in high school, I was super excited about my first lesson with William Vacchiano. On my new C trumpet, I had prepared #6, molto veloce, from Caffarelli's Etudes de Perfectionnement. The lesson that day was not at all what I expected, but one that I will never forget. 

After a rambunctious charge through my etude, I expected a smile or a nod of approval. Instead, there was no response. He told me to open my Arban book to page 125. It is one of those boring pages of staccato interval studies. Taking his pencil, he deliberately tapped a dreadfully slow tempo, and had me play line 1. I must have missed a third of the notes! Pathetic!

After several of my nervous attempts, he said: "Go home and practice; don't come back until you can play this correctly."

  • Humiliation can be the very experience needed to spark improvement.
  • Confronting weaknesses is vital.
  • Appreciate the value of a single lesson.
  • Prepare for performance.
  • Practice accuracy.
  • The control of a single note can be harder than a whole page.  
  • Practice what's not fun.
Note: I did return for my second lesson two weeks later.  His one-sentence lesson had been echoing in my mind for two weeks, and there was no way I was going to get that same lesson again. 

Nailed it!  

Saturday, November 20, 2021

Eyes on the Carrot

What should the serious trumpet student have in common with a rabbit, a mouse, and a fish? 

Answer: HUNGER. The rabbit is drawn to the carrot. The mouse is lured by the cheese, and the fish is hooked by the worm. Consider also the bull, who is enticed into a wild frenzy by the matador's crimson cape! That's the picture, an obsession to be captured by music! 

Great musicians motivate great students.  

Saturday, July 31, 2021


"Would you mind playing that again, please?"

Thomas Schippers asked that question in the Cincinnati trumpet audition in 1975. It was after one of those long grinding excerpts from Ein Heldenleben. I was a bit puzzled, thinking that I had just nailed it successfully. Later I learned that he was testing for endurance. 

At Tanglewood one summer we heard it again. Roger Voisin was conducting us on Fanfare for the Common Man. Right before we began the performance, he said "all right, boys, we're going to play it twice." (GULP!) Fortunately, we only played it once. He then smiled as if to say, "just testing you, guys." 

Lesson: Once is not enough, even if it's good.


Friday, July 02, 2021



"Try not to sound like a student!"  

Nothing wrong with being a student! Who isn't one? 

This advice years ago really helped bring some sanity to practice sessions. Instead of indiscriminate blasting, it brought an awareness that all notes matter. Music is about listening. "Try to sound like a great musician!" 

Monday, June 28, 2021


What does a xylophone have to do with trumpet playing? Not a lot, except when taking a closer look at the mallets. 

The "ping" produced by the striking mallet on the toy xylophone is how clear and precise trumpet entrances need to be.

The mallet is the tongue. The note is focused, clear, popping, ringing, and pinging. 

Saturday, June 26, 2021


Mel Broiles had just demonstrated how one of those opera arias in Arban's The Art of Phrasing should sound. Then it was my turn. (Yes pressure!)

Trying hard to reproduce even some of his elegance and power, I whole-heartedly plowed through one of those famous Verdi arias. I gave it my best but expected a grimace and shrug of disapproval. Instead, he exclaimed, "Spoken like a gentleman!"

Later I wondered if it was sarcasm or genuine praise. Praise was hard to get. I took it as a compliment which has served as motivation lasting for years. How important are the words we speak!

Friday, June 25, 2021


"Every piece of music has an important octave in it." (William Vacchiano)

That simple statement should launch a search for all the prominant and voluptuous solo octaves on the planet, starting from Over the Rainbow all the way through Mahler 9! 

Have a nice octave day! 

Thursday, June 24, 2021


"You must be able to come "bustin' in" at any time."

Armando Ghitalla said in one sentence what was needed to chase away timidity. A mindset that has no fear. An eagerness to make the grand entrance. A confidence that your first note will be attention-getting. 

You must have a reputation for confident accuracy! As a colleague once said, "It must be automatic." 


Wednesday, June 23, 2021



Me to student:  "If you can play this one line of music without a mistake, it's yours!!" 

I felt I was safe, knowing well my student's tendency to miss notes. As soon as he saw the money, however, everything changed. That twenty-dollar bill accomplished more than all of my talking. 

He then proceeded to play the line of music perfectly with nary a miss.  Reluctantly, but happily, I handed him his reward. "WOW! Gas money, he said! Gee, thanks!"

Saturday, June 05, 2021


Just as a great conductor can communicate with one gesture, so too the most memorable lessons can often be condensed into a single sentence, or even a facial expression. Effective lessons should be unforgettable and motivating. The art of brevity!

Lesson #2:

"Your passion for music must be greater than your fear of the audience."

Overcome fear with overpowering musicianship. Purpose to enthusiastically communicate, rather than just deliver notes. Prepare to entertain. Drama beats trauma. 

Wednesday, June 02, 2021


Just as a great conductor can communicate with one gesture, so too the most memorable lessons can often be condensed into a single sentence. Brief but powerful advice, unforgettable, effective, and motivational. The art of brevity. 

Lesson #1:

"I want you to practice this week as if I were listening to every note!"

Not much else is needed for this command to be useful. You can insert the name of your choice. Then invite your great artist/teacher to listen in. Accountability matters in daily work. 

Benefits: fewer wasted notes, less boredom, better quality, more musical interest, and it's cheaper!