Along the Road

Along the road it is not uncommon to experience what I refer to as the 3D’s: Difficulty, Discouragement, and Down Right Frustration. These feelings are common in whichever path one may select. I will even go as far to say that these feels are necessary to achieving success. Why do I say that? I’m glad you asked. When any of the above mentioned feelings are experiecned it stretches us outside of our normal comfort which in turn exposes us to an unknown state. Most people do not like change because it requires us to change as well. What we may fail to realize, or take longer to realize is this: when we are streched we expand, when we expand we cover more territory.

That being said, never be afraid to tackle challenges in life that may lead you to experience the 3D’s. Through this you can grow not only as a trumpeter, student, scholar, musician, etc…but as a human. Never be afraid to MAXIMIZE YOUR POTENTIAL!


-Love, Trumpetess




Pace Yourself!

I teach private trumpet lesson to kids. One thing that I come across more often than not is the “superman/woman” mindset. The kid picks up the horn and wants to do everything they can do, just because they can do it. This is a natural think and even a process of exploration so I most of the time allow it up to a certain point. But then there comes a point of realization in which the student must learn to pace themselves and allow their ability to fall in place based upon their practice regiment and technique.

My advice on this is simple, nothing too elaborate or deep: Slow and steady wins the race. A lot a certain amount of time to strictly working on a particular aspect of your playing. If may be playing notes with a constant, steady tone, articulation, strengthening your embouchure, etc… Take your time and really nit-pick so that you discover the issue and work towards correcting it.

I will end this tip with a quote from trumpeter Freddie Hubbard: “You can’t be out there blowing hard, you got to pace yourself.”

Lip Alignment and Trumpet Playing

Alignment of the mouth, lip, and face muscles are critical to producing a nice, controlled and well balanced sound.

Proper alignment is a lot easier to achieve than you may think. How? Well I’m glad you asked. Every human has a natural form and stance, that naturalness is found by simply being natural. Try this: Look into a mirror, while looking at yourself observe the natural position of you nose, mouth, lips and chin. You will find that there are in a relaxed unrestricted state. This is exactly how they should remain while playing trumpet. Unnecessary tension should not be place on these muscles.

To achieve alignment, practicing vibrating the lips loosely as if you are blowing bubbles, pay attention to how it feels and what muscles are working as well as how they are working. Then practice doing the same thing into the mouthpiece buzzing the pitch C, lastly do the same thing into the trumpet.


Article on the Brain and Improvisation

One summer at the annual Bremen Music Festival in Germany, Robert Levin, a classical pianist, was in the midst of improvising a passionate and wild cadenza during Beethoven’s “C Major Piano Concerto.” A cadenza is a passage in a concerto during which the orchestra ceases and a soloist strikes out on his own, improvising within the style of the piece. Up until the early nineteenth century, many classical composers wrote space for these cadenzas within their works. Levin is one of a handful of musicians who has taken it upon himself to revive the practice of classical improvisation. He is world renowned for his ability to effortlessly extemporize in the styles of several composers, including Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and Mendelssohn. In this particular concert, however, Levin had gotten himself into a bit of a pickle.

“I was going whole hog,” Levin said, thanks to the permission Beethoven gave his renderers to modulate or change keys during his cadenzas. “I had gone really far afield and was in F sharp major. That’s as far away from C major as you can possibly get because if you keep going, you start to get closer to the other side.”

“It’s like the world,” Levin said, drawing a parallel to the structure of musical scales. “You go more than 12,500 miles around the equator and you might as well keep going.”

At this point, Levin pounded some F sharp major chords, and for a split second, he paused. “I was shocked at how far off I was and how crazy this all was,” Levin said. “I thought to myself: ‘Oh my god! How am I going to get home?’ ”

Imagine the pressure: Levin is sitting at the piano. A full orchestra of musicians, with instruments poised at the ready, not to mention the conductor, Sir John Eliot Gardner, are waiting for Levin to finish out the cadenza, so that they can resume the piece. And then there is the festival audience of thousands, some of whom, according to Levin, had sensed his predicament and audibly gasped.

“I looked down at the keyboard and imagined myself saying: ‘Save me! Help me!’ ” said Levin. “And literally—I felt this—I thought the keys looked up at me and said: ‘You got yourself here. You get yourself out.’ ”

What happened next, Levin said, was truly miraculous. “I started to play again. And so to speak, I slid on the banana peel of a diminished seventh chord and through someenharmonic sleight of hand—it was not planned—I suddenly found myself within sight of my front door, and I got home.”

There is something fascinating about the act of musical improvisation—that moment when a musician departs from the score, embarking on a thematically relevant, yet wholly spontaneous composition. We normally think of it as the province of jazz musicians, conjuring the iconic image of a sax player wailing through riffs in a smoky, dim-lit club. John Coltrane and Bill Evans were masters. Miles Davis was never much for rehearsal. He used to gather his band in the studio, rattle off a few suggestions for the broad shape each track should take, and hit record.

But many of the early classical composers—Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, Liszt—were also known for improvising entire portions of their concerts. Liszt had a penchant for soliciting musical themes from his audience. Before a show, anyone could jot down a few bars of melody on a piece of paper. Some were original. Others were bits of recognizable tunes from the time, a popular symphony or aria. Liszt would then pull one of these melodies out of a hat and use it as a launching point. He’d reharmonize it or play it backwards, always wresting from it a spirited improvisation that could last for several minutes.

Regardless of genre, the appeal of improvisation is its danger. It’s an act of audacity, says Levin, but ultimately an act of profound humanity, given that it’s a communication between the performer and the audience. The musician takes a huge risk, trusting, hoping that his brain and fingers will successfully allow him to “walk the tight rope over the precipice and arrive at the other side,” Levin says. “Or you might crash and burn. You never know.” But the spectators, as they live vicariously through the musician’s adventure, love him for it.

How do musicians do this? When he’s ready to begin a cadenza, Levin says, he doesn’t have a plan. As many other seasoned improvisers claim, he just starts playing. It’s intuitive. But, Levin admits, he didn’t always know how to improvise. He had to learn. So the question remains: how can a skill that in its truest form is innate be learned?

Aaron Berkowitz, a cognitive ethnomusicologist, who took on the task of demystifying improvisation as the focus of his dissertation work at Harvard, has a theory. He likens the process of learning to improvise to that of learning a second language. Initially, he says, it’s all about memorizing vocabulary words, useful phrases and verb conjugation tables. Your first day, you might learn to say: How are you? I’m fine. “These are like the baby steps beginning improvisers take. They learn the structure of the blues. They learn basic chords and get the form down,” said Berkowitz. But they’re still very limited in what they can do.

A dedicated musician will immerse himself in the recordings of his chosen genre or composer, just as a language student might absorb foreign films or tapes of people speaking. Over time, both musician and student accumulate more phrases and ways to combine them. “But you still can’t really invent anything. [The language learner] can’t talk about politics or the environment,” Berkowitz said. “You’re still thinking: ‘Uh oh, here’s comes a verb. I have to put it in the past tense. I have to put it at the end of the sentence before I can say this whole phrase.”

But eventually, through constant practice, you get to the point where, scientists believe, these processes get pushed down into the subconscious. They don’t need to be consciously worked out anymore. They become a subroutine. Suddenly you realize you’re saying things you haven’t heard or memorized. You’re able to free-associate. Your brain begins exerting control at a higher level, directing bigger chunks of information that can be expressed as whole ideas….

I will stop here. Based on what we have read so far, how do you think that may relate to different instruments that are more physical? (sax, trumpet, trombone)

Visit Link Below to read article in its entirely:

“Lionel Ferbos: The Century Mark”

New Orleans Trumpeter Mr. Lionel Ferbos turned 100yrs old July 17, 2011 and he's still kickin' on the trumpet...Definitely something to live up to.

On Sunday, July 17, the incomparable Lionel Ferbos will be one hundred years old. In order to maintain his chops, he still practices his horn from 45 minutes to one hour every day. Musically, Ferbos goes back to another time, that critical formative era when jazz as we know it was beginning to take shape. The first recordings generally agreed to qualify as “jazz” did not appear until six years after he was born.

The trumpeter’s longtime bandmate, clarinetist Brian O’Connell, has suggested that his style of playing is what we might have heard around the turn of the last century, when ragtime was the rage. Ferbos has been billed as “the oldest performing jazz musician in New Orleans,” but he disagrees. “They think I’m a jazz player,” he says quietly, “but I’m not a real jazz player. I’m not much of an improviser, you know.”

Whether or not that is true, there is no doubt that he is an excellent reader. He can pretty much read anything that is put on the music stand in front of him. That ability is the result of his first lessons on cornet with the highly respected local trumpet teacher, “Professor” Paul E. Chaligny, at the age of 15 (1926) and subsequent work with the likes of Angelo Castigliola. Ferbos recalls that Castigliola “didn’t teach black people, but he said, ‘You’re advanced. So I’ll take you.’”

That year, 1926, was an exciting one in the early history of jazz. It was then that some of the first recordings from Jelly Roll Morton’s Red Hot Peppers and Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five were released, but those recordings do not seem to have had a significant effect on Ferbos. “It’s a funny thing,” he says many years later. “There were those real good blues players. I never had the feeling, and my mother didn’t like the blues records in the house. She wouldn’t have them, so all I heard was a nice type of music all the time.”

That—plus his reading ability—led to many jobs as a lead trumpet player in larger dance bands or society orchestras, not to mention his days with the legendary WPA Band during the Great Depression, but the money was never enough to support a wife and two children properly. Despite a desire to go to Chicago as so many other New Orleans musicians of his generation had done, he stayed close to home. To make money, he followed in his father’s footsteps by running a sheet metal business.

It was not until Ferbos reached his late 50s that his music career truly blossomed. Pianist Lars Edegran, leader of the popular New Orleans Ragtime Orchestra, was looking for a trumpet player to fill a spot in his band in 1970, and encouraged by the late Dick Allen, hired Ferbos. Edegran later recalled that “Lionel had been the best possible choice for that role,” noting not only his “excellent” reading ability but his “wonderful skills as a vocalist.”

Joining NORO opened an entirely new world for Ferbos. “We rehearsed a whole year to play one job, and after that everything started happening,” he remembers. It led to countless tours through the States and abroad, including his first trips to Europe; an appearance at the Newport Jazz Festival; films (including Pretty Baby, which he considers a career highlight); the hit show, “One Mo’ Time;” and numerous recordings.

Ferbos today plays Saturday nights with the house band at the Palm Court Jazz Café, and he appears occasionally with the core of that group under the name “the Louisiana Shakers,” a handle borrowed from a band formed and headed by the Captain John Handy in the 1930s. Ferbos started out as lead trumpet with Handy’s band at the age of 21.

Lionel Ferbos’ career has been long and distinguished. He has been the recipient of countless awards over the years, most recently being recognized by the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation at this year’s Jazz Fest. Despite occasional episodes of ill health and the loss of two of the people closest to him—his first son, Lionel, Jr., then his dear wife of 75 years, Marguerite—he continues to do what he loves to do. And there are no signs of his putting his horn down anytime soon.

I close on a personal note that illustrates his dry sense of humor. I dedicated my new book to him and wanted to get him to sign my personal copy, so I approached him at this year’s French Quarter Festival while he was seated in a wheelchair waiting to go onstage. I asked him if he could take a moment to sign my book. He looked at me in the eye sternly and said, “Don’t have the time.” Before I could slink off into hiding, he chuckled and wrote a nice inscription.

Check out Mr. Ferbos in Action:

There will be a birthday celebration for Ferbos on July 17 at the Palm Court Jazz Cafe, but it is sold out. Those wishing to extend birthday wishes can do so on the preceding evening, which is the trumpeter’s regular Saturday night gig at the Palm Court.

Article on Body Tension and Trumpet Playing by Eddie Lewis

What is “Body Tension” and how does it effect our trumpet playing?

Opposing Muscle Groups

Body tension is caused when opposing muscle groups are contracted simultaneously. An easy example to use to show this is the elbow. There are muscles which bend the elbow closed and muscles which bend it open. If you “flex” both sets of muscles equally, the elbow doesn’t move at all. The resulting firmness in the arm’s muscles is body tension. And the harder you flex those opposing muscles, the more tension you’ll have. 

Try It

Try it now. Try bending and straightening your arm, both at the same time. Can you see and feel how the muscles become firm and “tense”? Now try it with other various joints in your body. Try tensing your fingers by opening and closing them at the same time (notice that this creates more tension in your arm than it does in your fingers). Try it with your legs. 

The reason I say to try it this way is because it helps to recognize what “Body Tension” feels like. When I made this discovery and experimented with creating this tension on my own, I was able to recognize that feeling when it happened on its own. It helps when you can recognize it. 

But those were simple examples, involving only a few muscles at a time. There are some kinds of tension which involve literally hundreds of different muscles in your body. Think about it, every action our bodies are capable of performing also has it’s opposite action. We are capable of breathing in and breathing out. We are capable of standing straight or bending over. These are actions which require the use of hundreds of muscles and when we try to perform those actions while also performing their opposites, we create tension in hundreds of muscles.

Necessary Tension

Some tension is required for playing the trumpet. For example, in order to produce an embouchure, the obicularis oris (the lip muscles) must contract while it’s surrounding, opposing muscles contract away from it. Without this tension, we couldn’t form an embouchure. Without it, we couldn’t play the trumpet.

The trick becomes one of using the right tension at the right moments while not using other types of unnecessary body tension. 

Dealing With It

I believe that the first step in combating body tension is in learning how to recognize it. If you practice creating tension by flexing opposing muscle groups, you will become more familiar with that feeling and will eventually be able to recognize it in other, more trumpet related muscle groups. But I also believe that this is one of those things that you can’t just turn off, consciously. You can’t just say, “ok, I’ll stop flexing those opposing muscles”. It really doesn’t work like that. In a lot of cases, body tension is a very complex combination of different opposing muscles. It’s not as easy to stop contracting those opposite muscles as it is when you do the elbow experiment. 

And that’s precisely why I do not categorize this topic under a “Physical” heading. Even though the manifestations are entirely physical, the subject itself is not a physical one. It’s more of a mental subject and really belongs under the heading of performance. 

Opposing Thoughts

I believe that body tension is caused by contradicting thoughts, which then cause contradicting signals being sent to the body from the brain. It seems that most body tension is caused by emotions like fear and worry. 

Consider fear. Imagine trying to DO something that you are afraid to do. I’ve never been afraid of the dark, but there have been a few times when I was forced to walk in total darkness. This is scary because you have no idea what you will step on, fall on or walk into. So the conscious part of my mind told my body to walk forward while the subconscious part told it to STOP walking. The mixed signals caused opposing muscle groups to contract. The result is body tension.

Applying that same scenario to musical performances, we can see that our conscious minds are telling our bodies to play the trumpet, but the stage fright is telling the muscles in our bodies to stop playing.

Two Solutions

There are two things that I do to reduce body tension when I’m performing. The first is to unify my thoughts, rechanneling the energy and excitement so that it enhances the performance instead of contradicting it. The other solution is to train my body to play the trumpet in an almost mechanical manner, thus rendering it immune to conflicting signals from my brain. I’ll discuss this second solution first because it’s a long term solution that requires changes in practice habits instead of performance habits.

Mechanical REproduction 

I know what you’re thinking, “The last thing I want is to be a mechanical sounding player”. I agree with you. But I’m not talking about style or musicality. I’m talking about the physical process of REproducing the notes. I place an emphasis on “RE” in “REproducing” because everything we do in performance (from a physical perspective) is a REproduction of what we’ve done in our practice sessions. 

When I practice rudiments and technical studies, one of my primary objectives is to play them with NO unnecessary body tension. The idea is that, after countless hours of playing this way in the practice room, playing without unnecessary body tension becomes part of your overall mechanical process. Performing that way simply becomes a matter of “this is how I do it”. 

And I guess what I mean by “mechanical” is “subconscious”. Playing trumpet without unnecessary body tension becomes a mechanical function of the body and doesn’t require conscious thought control. When you practice this way, it causes you to be more resistant to “conflicting emotions”. In fact, I’m going to go as far as to say that, if you are not practicing this way, you probably will never be able to perform without unnecessary body tension. How could you? 

Unifying Your Thoughts In the Practice Room

Unfortunately, mechanical REproduction isn’t enough for many people. I’m one of those many. I remember the mid 1980’s when I was a bundle of nerves, even in the practice room. Playing the trumpet had become a huge head game for me and I couldn’t even relax while I was practicing. 

One of the things that changed that for me was when I learned how to rest while I practice. Before then, practicing always felt frantic. I remember comparing it to a drowning sensation. I was always gasping for that next breath of air, not literally, but emotionally.  When I began resting as long as I play, within the actual practice sessions, it helped me relax, step back and approach the horn in a more positive light. 

I also believe that the entire Physical Trumpet Pyramid concept helped too. There’s something about focusing on the air stream that helps narrow your thoughts to exclude unnecessary thoughts and emotions. And that’s exactly what I’m talking about……..unifying your thoughts into one, positive thought – producing one unopposed physical action.

Try it! Pick up your horn and play a long note, but concentrate on just the air stream and nothing else. When you do this, focus on steadiness instead of volume. A steady air stream produces a steady tone. Now, after you’ve done that, try applying that same feeling to a “flow study”. Think about it. Isn’t that what the entire “flow study” concept is all about? ……..removing unnecessary body tension? The objective is to play those studies with that uninhibited feeling…..THEN……retaining that same feel, apply it to other music. 

Unifying Your Thoughts In Performance

I wish it wasn’t so, but sometimes, even with everything I’ve covered here so far, it just isn’t enough to combat the fierce emotions we experience in performances. I think the tendency here is to reach more into the abstract and spiritual for answers to this more severe problem. I’ve written two essays which explain my feelings and ideals on this subject: Trumpet and Religion and An Expression of Grace. But let me also say that this is a highly personal thing. It has to do with concepts and ideology and stuff like that. The objective is to focus all of your mental energy in one positive direction so that you eliminate the “conflicting signals” from the brain.

I’ve heard of people who use mental imagery, zen, affirmations, meditations, rituals… name it. You really have to find what works best for you. The main point of even mentioning it here is to make it clear to you what the objectives of these things really are (aside from religious objectives). I hope you understand by now that it’s the conflicting messages, thoughts and emotions which we are trying to get rid of because those are the source of body tension. 


Conflicting thoughts and emotions cause the brain to send conflicting signals to the muscles in your body. Unify those thoughts and emotions and you remove the conflict, thereby curing the body tension.

Hello world!

Welcome to TrumpetessAMusic Blogspot…

I am excited to have you join me. This space will be used to network and make musical connections, as well as serve as a space where musicians, scholars, and music enthusiast can teach, learn, and share. So feel free to post things relevant.

An idea of some things to look for: tips for trumpeters of all levels, facts about musicians that have influenced the art form, and discussing the art of trumpet playing from emotional, mental, physical and sociological stand points.

Again I welcome you and I look forward to hearing from all of you. Enjoy the blog.

Musically Yours,

“Trumpetess” A

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