by David Allison

Developing a balanced practice routine is essential for every trumpet player, from the middle school beginner to the professional. The goal of these practice sessions should be quality, not always quantity; I often tell my students to “practice smart, not hard.” It is important to develop a routine that will streamline warm-ups for maximum effectiveness without sacrificing good habits, a routine that will enable players to maintain, in a limited time frame, embouchure, endurance and flexibility.

Set the Tone
Good tone is the foundation, the “kickoff,” so to speak, for everything a trumpet player does, so developing a good basic tone should be a young player’s first priority. A good tone is focused, centered, clear, and resonant, projecting rich sound vibrations. This takes time to develop, but it is well worth it, as getting the right tone is the foundation for good intonation, good nuance, and good balance in the band. Then, as the player adds fingerings, he or she can continue to work on intonation, flexibility, range and so on.

Many young players start their warm-ups by playing the same scales they play in band class for whole-band warm-ups. But practice should always begin with long tones first. Long tones build tone and focus. They develop breath support and control of dynamics and intonation. When playing long tones for eight, then twelve, then sixteen beats, practice expanding the volume while maintaining tone and intonation throughout — a good chromatic tuner is a must. Then add a crescendo/decrescendo, again maintaining tone and intonation.

Basic Playing Techniques
Lip slurs develop flexibility. Excellent studies can be found in such books as The Secret of Technique Preservation by Ernest Williams, 27 Groups of Exercises by Earl D. Irons, The Grande Methode by Alexander Petit, and Flexibility Studies by Max Schlossberg. Each professional player has his favorites, and these are a few of mine.

Arpeggios are used to develop range, flexibility and accuracy. They require the musician to control interval leaps with smooth and accurate execution. Use tongue placement, raising the tongue as the notes go up (“eee”) and lowering the tongue as the notes go down (“ooo” - “aah”).

Tuning the thirds correctly for major and minor chords, and achieving a good octave should be another goal. Play whole notes, adding one note of the arpeggio at a time; start with the tonic each time. Then, start on the top note and add one note at a time, returning to the top tonic after each note, and descend. This will promote accuracy when starting notes above the staff.

Always anchor the mouthpiece on the bottom lip and feel the weight of the pivot on the bottom lip as the notes go up. This allows the top lip to buzz freely. The idea is to use very little pressure on the lips; what pressure there is should be centered on the bottom lip. As notes go down, the jaw drops and a slight upward pivot results. This should be done not by moving the trumpet up and down, but by the changes in jaw and oral cavity as the different ranges are being played.

Technique studies include scales and scale studies, articulation studies, fingering exercises, and so on. Excellent technique studies can be found in The Petit Method, STP, Schlossberg’s Flexibility Studies, and The Twenty-Minute Warm-up by Alan Ostrander.

Etudes will help build endurance. Arban is a great source for these, although it is rather dense. Other good sources for etudes include Sigmund Hering’s Forty Progressive Etudes and Charlier’s 36 Etudes Transcendantes. This is also a good time to work on transposition skills. Start with easy etudes, church hymns and the like. Facility will increase with practice of this skill.

Any time a student player is learning a new or difficult passage, it is important to first determine what exactly about the passage is causing difficulty. Is it the articulation? Range? Fingering? Isolate the trouble spot. Refer to an arpeggio or scale that is already familiar. Then, make “practice loops” and repeat the trouble spot over and over. Then add on only the previous and following measures until you are comfortable with these few measures. Start very slowly and gradually increase the tempo. Be careful not to play so fast that what is being played is not done accurately or correctly.

Solo repertoire is like the “Grand Finale” of practice time. Whether it’s an audition piece, something a teacher has assigned, or one of the many wonderful pieces that make up the body of “standard” trumpet literature. This is where “all the pieces come together” and the player will be able to enjoy the results of his or her hard work. Musical style, phrasing, and virtuosity are achievable goals with a balanced practice routine!


David C. Allison is in his 21st year as Principal Trumpet for the South Carolina Philharmonic. He is also band director at Spring Valley High School and Summit Parkway Middle School in Columbia, S.C. He holds a Bachelor of Music degree from Ithaca College, a Performer’s Certificate from The Eastman School of Music, and a Master of Music degree from USC. He can be reached via e-mail at

Recommended Materials

Arban: The Complete Conservatory Method
ed. by Goldman and Smith (Carl Fischer)

Orchestral Etudes
by Vassily Brandt (International)

34 Studies and 24 Last Studies
by Brandt, ed. Vacchiano (Belwin-Mills)

36 Etudes Transcendantes
by Theo Charlier (A. Leduc)

40 Progressive Etudes for Trumpet
by Sigmund Hering (Carl Fischer)

Double and Triple Tonguing for Trumpet
by Sigmund Hering (Carl Fischer)

27 Groups of Exercises
by Earl D. Irons (Southern Music)

The Twenty-Minute Warm-up for Trumpet
by Alan Ostrander (Charles Colin)

Grande Methode
by Alexander Petit (A. Leduc)

Daily Drills and Technical Studies
by Max Schlossberg (Baron)

The Secret of Technique Preservation (STP)
by Ernest Williams (Charles Colin)