Mind over trumpet


On the horn

Mind over trumpet! As I’m getting addicted to practicing the horn, I am finding that there are measurable improvements that I’m achieving on the horn. Taking into consideration that I’m trying to tell my story, these blogs are meant to put my story and thoughts on paper, or the screen rather, and have a documentation of my progress from day job to musician. In no way do I wish to come across as having an ego or a “HEY, LOOK OVER HERE WHAT I CAN DO” and hope that readers interpret my writing as such.

So now to mind over trumpet. I started thinking about this as over the past two weeks it became obvious that others around me are also noticing the fruit of my labour. I must admit, practicing every day and having a well thought out approach has made playing the trumpet a lot more enjoyable as the skills are augmented by my efforts. The one question that has come up a lot is “Hey man, so what are you doing these days in your practice sessions?” I thought about this question and here is my answer:

“I’m thinking about the mental aspect of playing rather than the physical”

What I mean with this is that I’m paying more attention with my mind whenever I’m physically playing trumpet. It’s no longer a question of “Am I in shape”. By this I mean that I know I’m going to the trumpet gym every day, lifting weights (playing), and having a well thought out routine. My “cage” as some people refer to this is set up, and while it’s not fully developed yet seeing as it’s only been 2 months of solid practice, I have a level of confidence that I have not had in many years.

There are of course still good and bad days. Yesterday and today during my usual warmup session in the morning I would say that things are more of a “bad” day. However, I’m learning how to manage bad days. For this, I have come up with a “Mental Checklist”. Keeping with my theme of ‘trumpet self discovery’, I will talk about what my mental checklist is, however, I would think that everyone’s mental checklist looks a bit different. There are four areas that I think about when I am analyzing the feel of the day when playing trumpet. Of course, there are more elements to playing the trumpet and this list will change with time:

Lips: I have gained an understanding of what is meant by “cage” or “gripping” the mouthpiece with your chops over the past little while. Mentally I now focus on engaging muscles in and around my lips so as to get the most efficient means of generating a pleasant note on the horn. This for me typically means focusing on the muscles of the corner of my lips/cheeks, as well as muscles underneath my lower lip. When this is in place, I almost feel like my lips are pushing the horn away from my face. What might really be happening is that I’m providing a bit of a better cushion of tissue for the mouthpiece to be placed on.

Shoulders: I have noticed that when I’m tired or I’m putting in more effort than I should or not sounding well, my shoulders might be in a forward and down position. When this is the case, I almost feel like there is unnecessary force placed on the area where my lungs are. By rolling my shoulders forward, up, back, and down (sorry, hard to put into words), I get a feeling of the area of where my lungs are as being more free and at the same time supported.

Arms: At times my arms seem to be pointing down and towards my body. Some days this doesn’t seem to matter, however, there are days where this is a definite impact. When I watch other players with what I consider “good posture”, I get a sense that their arms are further way and up from their body, almost as if they are resting their amrs on a beach ball. After I mentally focus on my arms being in this position, I again feel as though my upper body is further free but supported and doesn’t seem to produce any “negative tension” which impacts the ease of how I play the trumpet

Lower body: When taking a lesson with Paul Baron, he described to me his posture as one that resembled a bellows, which is a device used by blacksmiths to force a strong blast of air. The nozzle of the bellows is a point on stomach, for me just below my rib cage and above my belly button. This is where I try to create compression when needed for higher notes on the horn. Even when playing lower notes, I try to be mentally conscious of this point.

Once these elements are lined up, I am able to execute on the horn with more ease than not mentally focusing on these points.

On a last point, I have always been able to “squeak out” certain notes, but this was done by not properly focusing on this newly developed mental list. Some players have told me “a squeak will develop into a note”. I often felt that this wasn’t the case with me as I was likely using a different approach to get these squeaks. By focusing on my mental checklist, I was able to do a range study well above what I had been able to do previously and now feel that the “squeaks” I’m getting might develop into a note. This might indicate that a player who’s getting squeaks might also wonder about the type of squeak. Am I doing something different to achieve this squeak? Does it sound/feel drastically different than the notes I can play? This is an area which I will focus on over this week’s practice sessions. For a reference, I have recorded some of my practice sessions and have a clip of what I mean. While I’m not overly comfortable posting this as I don’t want to be perceived as someone with too much ego, I think it might support my point a bit better of what I’m trying to put into words:


Off the horn

The past week I completed what I call the “Church Campaign” in my pursuit of finding playing opportunities. It took many hours of researching online, however, I was able to find almost 150 churches in my target area online. I then went on each website and obtained an email address for each church. Last, I put together a small video as well as poster and packaged everything into an email ad campaign. 2 churches replied about a day or two after the email went out, and one church expressed strong interest in booking me for two upcoming services. I now have an email list which I am intending to utilize in the future in hopes of getting church service bookings, something I actually enjoy a lot!

My next campaign will focus on putting together my own trio as well as focusing more on getting workshops in schools as I love being able to add to the community of music education.


On a business note

Creating your own gigs is important if one wishes to be in the artistic business sector. What are you doing to create your own gigs? This for me means building contacts/networks, focusing on proper marketing, and making sure that I have a product that can be delivered to the right audience. Interestingly I find myself doing as much off the horn with my business endeavours as I do practicing the trumpet.

I am putting together a list of ideas for myself for the business aspect of being a musician. Including this blog, I so far have:

  • Don’t say NO to opportunities just because they seem to be outside of your comfort level.

  • Set a standard for yourself and uphold it!

  • What are you doing to create your own gigs?

On the horn / Off the horn 20160125


On the horn

This week has been a busy week on the trumpet, filled with great practice sessions, rehearsals, workshops, and gigs.

My routine so far looks like this:

  • Dunlop Warmup (usually takes 10 to 15 minutes now)
  • Clarke Study 2,3, and 4
  • A segment of Paul’s adaptation of the Bill Adam routine

I am now looking at what I do on days where I don’t have an evening rehearsal or gig. For example, Paul’s first study is essentially a long tone study moving up and down the horn. Today being a day where I don’t have to play at night I decided to do this in place of the Dunlop #1 study. It’s early in my practice session, however, I went up to the F# before feeling “out of balance”, meaning if I go further I would likely put too much pressure against my lips in order to get the next note.

I’m also seeing a trend in the Clarke Studies and am noticing that I am able to play the studies in the keys I’ve bene able to get to 7 to 12% faster while keeping the sound clean and focused. Here is a sample of my chart:

Clarke #4

First Attempt Second Attempt



Clean Tempo Target Tempo % (clean/target) Clean Tempo Target Tempo

% (clean/target)

Quarter note = Quarter note =


A 84 144 58% 92 144 64%


E 100 144 69% 116 144


81 A 100 144 69% 104 144


  • There was about a 2 weeks time difference between the first and second attempt, so over a two week period I could see a minimum of a 3% improvement

What I’m trying to record and observe is measurable improvement on the horn. I am interested what happens after collecting this data for a longer period of time, perhaps over a year. My hypothesis is that the trend will be similar to the stock market over the past few decades. While there are ups and downs in a short time period, over a longer time period I should see an upwards trend. This will provide me with a clear indication on how I am progressing.

As I am now feeling stronger physically playing the horn, I am now able to focus on the musical aspect of the trumpet. As such, I’m going to incorporate elements of jazz studies into my routine. While I feel that I now have a good daily routine going, I will focus on a bigger picture and develop a weekly routine, where I might only do certain elements on a specific day during the week.

Off the horn

You can learn something from anyone, anywhere! I’m bringing this up as I overheard a person say “Oh, I don’t think I’ll take a lesson from mr.X as all he says is blow harder”. Well, perhaps this might be true, however, there can be a take away from anyone that applies to you if you just open your mind and truly listen to what they have to say.

I have recently come across James Morrison’s DVDs, and while some may say that their only take away is that James’ is saying “Blow Harder”, I thought I would share my point notes taken while watching the DVD. I’ve included my nots for Part 1 and 2 and would love to hear your opinion on the James Morrison DVD.

Notes on James Morrison’s video

Part 1: Breathing

  1. Relaxed breath in, focused breath out
    1. Practice by emptying the body of air, holding the breath for a few seconds, and letting go. Notice how the body inhales air without much thought or involvement
  2. Full control of Air
    1. Think of a lithium battery. The energy stays at a steady level at all times. When the energy runs out, the power completely stops
  3. Don’t blow the Trumpet without having focused air as the sound will suffer

Part 2: Sound

  1. Pre-hear before you play what it is you wish to play
    1. Hearing the pitch is important, however, not the only aspect of the sound
      1. Hear the pitch, the sound you want, how that sound fits into the room, etc.
      2. Be as detailed in your pre-note as you can
    2. Hear what you will do before you do it
      1. Might be a bit mystical, however, the fact is that you will have a better chance (99.9% for some) of getting the sound
      2. The actual technical aspect of playing the trumpet (measurement in newton meters, etc.) cannot be measured and the player usually doesn’t know what the values are, however, the masters know the “feeling” of a note, phrase, sound, etc. Leave the technical aspects to the sub-conscious. In the conscious mind, focus on the “feel”.
  2. Get used to a sound in each venue you play in so that you can pre-hear properly in the venue
  3. If you blow the trumpet without pre-hearing, you are not in control and at the mercy of the trumpet

On a business note

I truly believe now more than ever that the process to becoming successful in this business has a lot to do with self discovery. Just like when you play your horn and find a routine that works for you, so must you self discover your way in the business. The truth is, as confirmed recently during a discussion with Steve McDade via Facebook, that one can no longer rely on the phone to ring. It seems that everyone from someone like me who just decided to do music full time to seasoned players such as Steve McDade need to expand on more than just the technical skill on the horn. Be that a niche such as Brownman, a successful trumpet player in the Toronto and New York area, who runs his own groups and is well known as being involved in the hip hop community amongst others, or someone that is versatile in various genres, such as Steve McDade.  For me, the words of Al Kay rang true. As I took private lessons with him, he continuously referenced the idea that you cannot be a one-dimensional player. I am holding this true on and off the horn. In fact, over the past two weeks I have been asked to transcribe horns from recordings for a Latin band and just yesterday, for a three horn band playing Sammy Davis tunes. I have the tools to do this, thanks due to my great education at Humber, although I don’t do this a lot and feel it is a bit outside my comfort level. However, I cannot say no to an opportunity that will allow me to expand on my skills and make me a multi-dimensional carrier musician. I am also going to be in front of a band conduction, which is something I’ve enjoyed during my high school days. The point and my motto is, don’t say NO to opportunities just because they may seem to be outside of your comfort level.

If you’d like more information or to hear the players mentioned in this blog, please visit their websites:

Steve McDade – www.stevemcdade.com *Check Steve out live with the Dave Young Quintet at the REX this Thursday January 28th at 9:30pm

Brownman – www.brownman.com

Alastair Kay – www.alkay.ca

On the horn / Off the horn 20160117


On the horn

I have been giving some thought this week about routines. As mentioned in my previous blog, I have been going through Clarke’s Technical studies, focusing more on playing the studies clean vs as fast as I can without regard for fluffed notes. I feel this has helped me focus on dexterity and while I believe it will take more than a week of this, it gave me a good sense of how much time it takes to go through each study.

I have always felt overwhelmed by all the routines out there. Clarkes, Schlossberg, Charlier Etudes, Arban’s, Claude Gordon books, etc. The list goes on and on. My nature was always “give it all or don’t bother”. However, the past two months of practicing every day, some days more than others, have made me realize again that playing the trumpet, and perhaps any instrument, is a path of self-discovery. In that spirit, I have made my own routine book. I’ve always had what I dub the ‘Dave Dunlop’ warm up, since he’s the one that showed me this. That’s what I do every day no matter how I feel. To this I’m now adding two keys of Clarke 2, 3, 4. My next plan is to pick a routine/method and follow that method for one week to really get to know it. Now, I’m not going to master the method in one week obviously. It’s more about saying “Hey there, what’s your story” to the method and seeing what I am drawn to in the method and how I can incorporate that specific method into my own routine.

This upcoming week I am going to focus on a version of the Bill Adam routine, as adapted by Paul Baron. I took a lesson with Paul and thought it was one of those eye opening lessons. This is the routine he uses. I am skipping Clarke study 1 as it is similar or almost the same as number 2 in Paul’s routine. I will keep track of what is similar in each routine so as to always have material that address a fundamental but in a different approach. For example, Clarke study 1 is similar (or the same) as study 2in Paul’s routine, therefore they are interchangeable when I built my own routine book.

As before, I am tracking my progress in a spreadsheet to see if I have improved when I repeat a study/key. In the end, I will pick and choose different elements of the various methods and build a routine that makes sense for ME. This after all is what is most important in my opinion, the process of self discovery and progress. In the end, I have my idea of what kind of trumpet player I want to be, and I will work towards that for as long as I’m able to breath.

Off the horn

I have mainly focused on my private teaching goal this week. In fact, I had a student this week in my newly setup lesson space. Creating a well thought out space has proven important to my practice/lesson sessions. This might be obvious to some, however, to me I never really focused on putting thought into how I want to use each space. When I took lessons from Chase Sanborn, I was always impressed with his organization of space. He took me through lessons, never wasting time on looking for material that applied to the lesson, and always gave a print out of lesson notes and next steps. I thought this was a great way to organize a lesson and wanted to imitate this concept. I made a template which incorporates some basic concepts.

I’ve created two spaces, one for lessons/practice without electronic distraction and one for doing work that requires a computer or other electronic equipment.

Practice/Lesson Space:


  • Space for a printer/laptop to take notes and create custom print outs of lessons for students to take homre
  • A keyboard
  • A mirror
  • A metronome/tuner
  • Wall space that is geared to brass playing/music theory

Work Space

trumpet practice, media edit, recording, transcribing

Work Space

A computer with essential software

  • TASCAM US-1800 interface to record session (a great interface by the way)
  • Yamaha Studio Monitors (Thanks to my father-in-law)
  • All books/sheet music organized and readily available

I also spent some time going through my neighborhood handing out flyers. As my wife says “you got to pound pavement”. Even in our digital age, this seems to be a great way to generate some business. In fact, with a new student I just got we had an initial consultation meeting. This was a great way to seeing how teacher/student mix and if the goals of the student would line up with the style/experience of the teacher.

Lasts, in order to have access to the information I’ve gathered throughout the last 20 years of playing trumpet, I have created a spreadsheet of all my material. Method books, Jazz/Latin books, General music books, Composing/Arranging/Theory books, Sheet Music, Classical pieces, Transcriptions, etc.. The idea being immediate access to information. I have wasted so much time looking for something that I want. To take this wasted time, make it more efficient, and use that ‘gained’ time to do something else, for example practice or write a blog, adds up to a lot. Kind of like “Watch your pennies and the dollars will come” or to update the saying to modern day “Watch your nickels and the dollars will come”.

Since I am a bit older now, it’s all about time efficiencies. I have to practice to up my playing ability, and thus I need to find time that was previously spent in other ways. I don’t look at this as a negative or dwell on this situation. I just have to have a strategy in order to be able to achieve my goals.

On a business note

On a business note, I have listened to a lot of players, especially over the past two months. Players that have been in the industry for many decades to players that are relatively fresh. There probably isn’t one defined path that will make a player successful in the industry. That is part of what draws me to being a “carrier” or professional player. Figure out what makes sense for me and come up with a business strategy. There for sure is a new way of doing business with social media being a main differentiator between now and what happened before now.

I have come up with a price sheet for the various services that I get asked to do, for example how much I charge for doing church services, remembrance day, trio gigs at restaurants, etc. My thought is that if you don’t have a price for each service, the price you give to a client will be dictated by the mood of the day one is in. The standard that a lot of seasoned players quote is “union scale”. I have not been in the union for over 5 years. The discussion on the music union is one that I’d rather not get into here, however, my approach is that I have set my own “scale” that I will stick to and that makes sense for my situation. For example, I have played in pro-am bands and rehearsal bands for many years. This entails playing gigs for free at times. I have always not felt right about this, but especially now that I want to be honest to myself and make music my livelihood, I don’t want to do gigs for free. I have set a minimum amount that I need to get in order to play a gig. There have been two people in the past two weeks that called on me. I gave my price to one person and they said “Great, we can do this”. The second person said “I’ll look for someone else.” Both of these answers are fine with me. I am desperate for money, however, it’s important to set a standard for yourself and uphold it.

Thank you for reading. I look forward to next week’s blog where I will have completed putting my thoughts together on the James Morrison DVD amongst other things.

On the horn, off the horn

When someone suggested I start a blog, I though who would even read this. However, I believe that my story of day job to music is one that might be good to document. I am finding thinking about what to put in a blog a great way of organizing my thoughts. I am going to call my blog “On the horn, Off the horn” as I would like to talk about my approach to becoming better on the horn as well as what I am doing on the business side.



On the horn

One challenge which I’ve always faced is the shear amount of material available to practice. I found old practice logs where I would plan out every minute of the day. While this approach has some benefits, I believe it’s a question of quantity vs quality. This week what I wanted to focus on was my dexterity, something that I’ve always admired about other players.

I decided that I would use Clarke’s Technical studies to improve my dexterity. Everyday I picked two keys to work on and went through all 10 studies in those keys (where applicable). I developed a spreadsheet to keep track of my progress. This spreadsheet lists all 190 exercises, the key of each exercise, the tempo I could play the exercises cleanly at (clean tempo), a target tempo based on the marking of the exercise, and I calculated a percentage, for example if the clean tempo is 50bpm and the target tempo is 100bpm, I am playing the exercise at 50%. As the next few weeks go on, I am interested in seeing how I progress and getting my clean tempo closer to the target tempo. Contact me if you’re interested in seeing this spreadsheet.

Klaus Anselm School Poster

Off the horn

The first order of business for me was, well, business. The past roughly 10 years I have spent working for a company where you have to have a business plan in place. I know how to create this and wanted to apply the past decade of learnings to my new music endeavor. A friend of mine sent over a great video pertaining to business. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F06ePJZEmK0 , https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8CWD3KSaeVs). One take away from this video was the difference between working in an office and working as an individual in a home business, music in my case. I was always accountable to someone at the day job, to set targets or have targets set for me and needing to reach those targets. As an individual, I am only accountable to myself. This was one of the first challenges.

I was no longer needing to get up early enough to beat the dreadful Toronto traffic to commute from Ajax to Etobicoke. A little extra sleep, not needing to necessarily change, were great luxuries for the first few days of being freed from a demanding day job. However, I quickly realized that I need to get up early (a 2-year-old son makes sure that is done), and I need to get dressed. I do this to be in the right mindset.

I was lucky to have a friend help me develop a business plan. My friend Jeff had one benefit which I didn’t realize was a benefit at the time. He wasn’t a musician. He is a dedicated visual artist with a passion for business. One question he asks me was simple to answer at first, but rather hard to focus in on: “Who is your target client”. One answer I had was people that want to hire me for gigs. This is such a broad answer which took a bit of thinking to focus in on. The real question might be, what do I want to do with my passion for music? For me, I want to play trumpet in a diverse array of settings and I want to focus on private teaching. I love teaching one on one.

I addressed the latter by researching private music schools in Toronto. I made a spreadsheet to keep track of where these music schools are, when I contacted them, if there was a reply, when I did a follow up. My goal was to get a list of 50 music schools. Of course, the issue was timing as I was in December contacting music schools. However, the point here is to put some tangible targets down, come up with a plan, and following through. It’s important to me to measure success, which is why I wanted to go a step further and keep track of who got back to me and/or who I’m sending a follow up email to.

My immediate goals or targets and my strategy are:

Private teaching: I made a spreadsheet to keep track of where these music schools are, when I contacted them, if there was a reply, when I did a follow up. My goal was to get a list of 50 music schools. Of course, the issue was timing as I was in December contacting music schools. However, the point here is to put some tangible targets down, come up with a plan, and following through. It’s important to me to measure success, which is why I wanted to go a step further and keep track of who got back to me and/or who I’m sending a follow up email to. Other strategies included putting up Kijiji/craigslist ads, print and distribute flyers in my neighborhood. I have started to volunteer at a high school, given that my current resource that I have a lot of is time for the time being. I am also setting up my home studio, a discussion I will expand on in next week’s blog.

Church Gigs: As with the music school strategy, I am in the process of finding 50 churches in my neighbourhood and putting together a package to send out to them. This package will include a write up of my experience playing in churches over the past 10 years and a video of me playing at a church. This brings up a discovery I made this week. I ran into a posting by another trumpet player who also wanted to target wedding ceremonies. In this player’s posting, a youtube link was included with instructions to go to a specific minute mark in the video. When I did this, I discovered that the video was of this player in an orchestra. I found it odd that the target audience is wedding ceremonies and made me realize that a package that is meant for a specific client target needs to make sense. If I wanted to sell a car, I wouldn’t put advertisement in place picturing motorcycles. While the two are related, it doesn’t seem to attract the right clients.

Trio: I’ve always wanted to put together my own project, and while this isn’t an urgent goal, I have decided a target audience and am putting material together that makes sense for this target audience. More on this over the next couple of weeks.

Next week I will go into greater detail on setting up and organizing my music studio and will expand on my business plan.

Thank you for reading my blog and I look forward to having you join me next week.

“Maybe you should do music and I should find a new manager”


 With these words in November of 2015 I made the decision to leave a corporate job that paid fairly well and was somewhat satisfactory in the passion department to go back into a world that I care about, makes me happy, love, and am passionate for, music!

To provide some context into who I am, music has always been part of my journey since moving from Germany to Canada at the age of 12 back when the Blue Jays last won the World series, 1993. My English was rather limited if none existent. I was certainly not able to communicate to peers at the new school that I was attending. One morning, a marching band gave a presentation at my school, which I thought I should join so that I can at least have something to do. This was an introduction into the world of trumpet, an instrument that has been part of me ever since. I was lucky to have attended a high school with a rich music program, providing me with life long learnings, which I am just realizing now. Skills like team work and leadership come to mind.Of course there was the music aspect. We attended a lot of competitions, in fact I was part of a student run organization that put on the regional Music Fest in 1998. As part of the music council, serving as president for two years, we put together trips to California and Florida to name a few.

After high school I attended a community college and studied Civil Engineering Technology. This was in part due to the social pressure and stereotype of music not being a future. Of course at this stage of my life any potential future was measured by earning potential, something that I have learned is not the only life ruler to be measured by. After two years of attending classes which I wasn’t really passionate about and still doing gigs in Kingston, I decided to follow my heart and moved to Toronto to attend Humber College. While attending Humber I always had part time jobs, usually 2 or 3. I also wanted to be active in the music scene outside of Humber, something that I encourage anyone attending a music school to do. I had some great playing opportunities including touring with a circus band one summer and playing with Dan Aykroyd. Still, the attractiveness of a steady paycheque kept me partially in the 9 to 5 world and partially in the music world. This, as anything does, has its pros and cons. I typically never worried about cash flow. Every two weeks I got an adequate paycheque that covered my lifestyle at the time. However, I never had enough time or energy to focus on practicing the Trumpet. Any trumpet player will tell you that if you don’t practice, the trumpet will not be too kind to you. Still, I always managed to find gigs here and there and have reasons to keep my chops in shape enough to play these gigs at a reasonable level.

The struggle of these two worlds has always been in my life and I didn’t mind this, until a year and a half ago, when there was a change in leadership at “the day job”. This new person was extremely corporate minded, to the point where I was expected to sacrifice time with my wife and son as well as music. “Maybe you should do music and I should find a new manager” were the words that made me realize I am at a fork in the road. To the left was a job that paid well and had all the promise in the world to be lucrative if I was willing to give up time with family and music. To the right was music and the ability to spend time with my family. I spoke to my wife who is the most supporting person in my life and we decided that music was the road we needed to travel on at this point in our life. With this, I handed in my two-week notice and started making plans to focus on my music career.

The purpose of the blog is to tell my story and discuss the transition from corporate to music life, merging the business learnings I have gained and transposing them to music.

Thank you for reading my blog. Over the next coming weeks I will be discussing my approach to music life, both on and off the horn.