Notes on trumpet playing

With a series of clinics in Malaysia and Indonesia during October, I have been gathering some of my thoughts about trumpet playing, music, art, and practice.  The notes that I have compiled contain very little, if any, new information but have been collated from various lessons, discussions, and readings over my years as a trumpeter. They are intended to be supported by discussion and demonstration, but some of you may find them interesting and/or useful so I'm reposting them in full here.  Let me know what you think in the comments section. Cheers -iii<

Notes on trumpet playing: 

by Adrian Kelly


the goal of the warm up is to prepare the body and mind for the day

  • start in the middle of your usable range and expand outwards, add vibrato to encourage resonance in the tone
  • warm up to just beyond the range that you will require for the day
  • once the muscles feel flexible and strong, then your warm up is finished!

concentrate on the flow of air in and out, and producing a resonant tone

Daily routine:

the goal of the daily routine is to maintain and develop technical facility, and through repetition discover any areas of weakness in your technique

  • be consistent; do the same (or similar) routine each day, so that you may easily discover any areas of weakness that may appear and/or require attention. Use the routine as an opportunity to teach yourself.
  • cover all aspects of technique:
    • fingers
    • range
    • flexibility
    • articulation
    • sight reading
  • push the limits of your technical facility.
  • always remain aware of the air stream (in and out) and embouchure.

perform exercises, don’t just play them.  

rest often to maintain the feeling of being fresh and in control

always maintain a beautiful resonant tone.


the goal of daily practice is to develop new techniques and greater facility, learn new repertoire, and to build and develop STYLE, MUSICALITY, AND ART

  • set a goal each day
  • achieve something today that you couldn’t do yesterday
  • build upon the known to discover the unknown - progress steadily with dedication

some examples of some goals to practice:

- attend to weaknesses discovered during your daily routine

- develop greater rhythmic dissociation and internalised sense of time and tempo

- extend aural skills (solphege, sight singing, mouthpiece buzzing)

- application of music theory (e.g. learn new arpeggios or scale patterns)

- learn new repertoire*** (don’t limit yourself to one genre of music)

- extend range of musicality and expression (try applying acting methods to your music making)

- develop greater stylistic awareness (discovery through imitation and assimilation)

practice the way you perform, and always with a beautiful resonant tone


always use the correct tool for the job!

  • use the equipment that allows you to create the most beautiful, creative, and musical performance in any given situation
  • to develop facility and sound on the smaller trumpets, play the passage on Bb trumpet first, and then get smaller.
  • the high register of one instrument is just the low register of another
  • use the best quality instruments you can afford
  • a different mouthpiece or instrument won’t make you play higher/faster/louder
  • play chromatics over the range of the instrument(s) to secure the intonation of your mutes. File the corks if necessary to ensure the low F# speaks clearly.
  • experiment with different brands and materials to find the right mute for the music
  • learn how to use a microphone effectively
  • know how to set a basic foldback mix, and how to set the EQ the way you like to hear it
  • understand how different microphones colour your sound
  • get a good set of headphones, or in-ear monitors, that you feel comfortable with

you don’t run a marathon in dress shoes!

always remember that the music takes precedence over everything else

Public performance:

the end goal

  • forget the practice room and focus entirely on the breath and the music
  • mistakes happen, observe them and then let them go; don’t react to mistakes (yours or other’s) 
  • great playing doesn’t happen without risk. Don’t be timid.
  • be excited to share your gift, and enjoy the act of performance
  • music is not a competition; play for the audience, for the art, and for your own satisfaction.
  • be yourself


playing trumpet is an athletic activity; being an artist is a lifestyle choice

  • exercise regularly to keep aerobically fit
  • stay well hydrated and eat a balanced diet
  • your lungs are the trumpet’s engine - don’t damage them by smoking!
  • be aware of the ‘music’ around you
  • be actively interested in other artforms and disciplines
  • challenge yourself at every opportunity
  • Live!

                                                                    -iii< -iii< -iii<

***Learning repertoire

  1. break down and understand the rhythm
  • first mentally
  • second by tapping/singing/buzzing
  • finally on the instrument
  1. learn the notes
  • sing each interval
  • buzz each interval
  • play each interval
  • play through the passage without rhythm, then with dotted rhythms, and finally with the notated rhythm
  • to practice difficult fingering patterns, use the left hand
  1. add dynamics
  • remember - only half the dynamic contrast that you think you are doing reaches the audience
  • play pianos soft, and fortes loud!
  1. add additional elements (accents, articulations, etc)
  • translate ALL instructions on the page
  • respect the composer’s wishes
  • use the ‘best’ copy of the score you can find
  1. add personality and style
  • experiment with different ways to perform any given line
  • visualise your audience
  • visualise the performance space
  • don’t forget the intention of the composer
  • take clues from the structure of the passage and of the composition as a whole
  • record your performance and critique it
  • listen to as many performances (live and recorded) of the repertoire under consideration as possible. What do you like/dislike? What can you do differently?

some notes on learning jazz repertoire:

  • first learn the piece aurally from a number of different sources, and only then take out the sheet music
  • internalise the harmonic structure and rhythmic structure
  • scat and mime through the entire orchestration to feel your part within the whole

                                                                    -iii< -iii< -iii<


Seoul Duo

Adrian and violinist, Erica Lee, have begun a productive collaboration creating new works for trumpet and violin.  Colleagues for some time in the City Chamber Orchestra of Hong Kong; what started as a whimsical experiment has blossomed into a major project, after both were astounded at how well the two instruments complimented each other and how little repertoire existed for the duo combination. The first of these new works will be premiered in Seoul later this month, with recordings and publishing of the new compositions to follow.

Coming soon...

Adrian has been hard at work writing new music, and programming tracks, for a new show featuring strings.  New compositions and new arrangements aim to break down preconceived notions of style and demolish the barriers imposed by arbitrary labels.  Expected premiere of this new show, entitled :: E S  C   A    P     E :: is in Hong Kong in late March, and then in various cities around Asia later in the year. Stay tuned for dates.