Developing good habits as a trumpet student is far easier than trying to fix bad habits later. It's easy to pursue the exciting stuff about playing trumpet—Higher! Faster! Louder!—but here are some key issues that often get overlooked as we're developing our skills.
- Sound—One of the things people tend to overlook is the quality of their sound. We are all unique, and everything from our lung capacity, lip structure, jaw structure, mouth cavity, tongue size, etc., all contribute to our actual tone. Only you can get your sound, so only you can make it it's best. Students often aim for playing high, loud and fast and ignore the very basic issue of tone. How you sound can make more of a difference in your artistic expression than what you play. Miles Davis could play one note and you knew it was him. One note! Trumpeter Allen Vizzutti states that he tries to make the very first note he plays on the horn each day a beautiful one. This means you don't just pick up and start blowing, but you prepare mentally, breath properly, relax and approach your very first note as if it were on stage in front of an audience. If you focus energy on your actual sound, you can develop a beautiful tone that is uniquely yours.
- Warm Ups—I had the great opportunity to spend some time with the legendary trumpeter, Freddie Hubbard. Sadly, while he remains one of the best to ever play the horn, his last decade of life was plagued with lip problems and he was a mere shadow of his former self. I met him on a session and noticed that he started blowing pretty hard right away. After talking with him for a while, I realized that he had not been very diligent about warming up his lip before he played, at least not recently. He told me he didn't really have much of a warm up routine and that for years he played so much that he felt like he was always warmed up! We got together a few times to practice some warmup routines. This experience caused me to reevaluate my own warmup routines. Warming up is probably the single most important thing you can do every day. Even if you don't play a full practice time, warming up can keep your lip in far better shape. And, of course, when you do have to play a lot, warming up properly may be the only way to get through it. Begin to look at various warmup routines and find the ones that really get your lip feeling great—then do those every day. Remember, your lip is a muscle, and just like a runner, you've got to warm up the muscle if you intend to finish the race and win!
- Styles—A well-rounded trumpet performer needs to be familiar with many styles of music. Don't fall into the trap of only pursuing the styles you enjoy. Get familiar with all the styles you might be called upon to perform, from classical to jazz to pop to rock. Even polka, marches, country and many other less common forms deserve your attention. You may even find music you had no idea you'd enjoy!
- Listen—Listening to other players is essential. And, just like point #3, listen beyond your favorites. Everyone can show you something new, even if it's something not to do! Listening to players over a wide genre of styles can greatly enhance your capabilities. You can't get much different than comparing Louis Armstrong and Miles Davis, but both are essential listening for any trumpeter. So, too, are hundreds of other players out there. You'll be surprised at how many different approaches there can be to the same instrument. Recently, I discovered a player named Arve Henriksen. He plays the trumpet like a wooden Indian flute! Wow—I'd never heard anything like it! And while I may not pursue that style of playing, it does open up many possibilities I'd never considered. I'd never hear new things if I only listened to my favorites all the time.
- Experiment—This one took me years to learn. For many years I'd simply find a horn and mouthpiece I liked and play on them until the tread was worn on the tires. It wasn't until later in my playing that I began to experiment with different mouthpieces and horn sizes. Again, this is a great way to find all sorts of abilities you may have lurking in your arsenal. You may find a fatter sound, and extended range, a clearer tone, better intonation, and more simply by trying different equipment as often as you can. Eventually, you (like many pros) may find yourself owning several horns and several mouthpieces that you use interchangeably.
If you are a student, these are little goldmines of information that, if you pursue them now while you're young on the horn, can take you a long way. There is, of course, much more you can and should be doing. Teachers and peers can be a great benefit to you—take every advantage and ask every question. Enjoy the process!