Here I will answer some common questions about when to begin activities with a brass instrument. I will update this post as more common questions come up.

When can my child start playing a brass instrument? (usually trumpet)

  • Whenever they have front teeth! I know it sounds funny but you cannot play a brass instrument effectively if you are missing one of your front teeth.
  • Most parent wait until the child has their adult front teeth which roughly corresponds to when brass instruments are offered in schools (about 4th grade age 9/10 years). This prevents students from having to take a break from trumpet when their teeth fall out. Additionally, their attention span is strong enough at that point that practice sessions can be highly productive and the student will progress faster and more consistently than if they began playing at younger ages.
  • That being said, I have had students as young as 5 who had an interest in the trumpet and were very successful.

When should my child start private lessons?

  • Private lessons are beneficial at any stage. However, setting up your ability to play is very important so I recommend at least 3 months of lessons at the very beginning of learning to play a brass instrument.
  • If your student is not in school music weekly private lessons are important to keep your student improving consistently and if you want to be a strong player private lessons will accelerate your learning with instrument specific and player specific knowledge.
  • Private lessons are imperative to continue to improve quickly on the instrument. If you find your progress slowing, you are unsure of what to practice to fix something, you can’t do a specific skill, or you can’t figure out what to do next find a qualified private teacher!
  • I have had students as young as 5 in private lessons and as old as 74! There is never a bad age. However, lessons are most effective when a student can focus on a task for 30 minutes or more. I have found that around age 8 students begin to have consistently highly productive lessons

When does my child need their own instrument? (Vs using the schools or renting)

  • I encourage parents to purchase students their own horn when the student has decided that an instrument will be a long term activity.
  • Purchasing a very inexpensive instrument can also be worthwhile if your student is young and the instrument total cost is below a few months of a rental cost. However, these instruments are low quality and the student will outgrow them quickly (6months – 1year of playing depending on progress and student age) so expect to replace this instrument quickly unless your student is very young. Inexpensive instruments are also harder to play due to poor construction and can hold your student back from improving.
  • Buying guide for trumpet blog post coming soon! Will be linked here.

Have any additional questions you think would go well on this list? Let me know in the comments and I will answer them!

Before you read anything watch the linked youtube video below.

LA Phil Rehearsal Video

There is something that happens in the first three seconds of this rehearsal video that is incredible.

Did you catch it?

The orchestra goes from laughing to serious in less than a second and an amazing sound erupts from the orchestra as soon as Dudamel drops his baton. This orchestra (the Los Angeles Philharmonic) has a unique skill. They can “flip the switch.”

“Flipping the switch” is the ability to change from focused to relaxed and back to focused again with no loss of productivity or excellence. It is not an easy thing to do and it requires that every member of a group makes the decision to “flip the switch” every single time. However, when your group is able to do this rehearsals become not only productive but also fun.

Think of it this way. If a director can not trust their group to get back on task after he or she tells a joke then why would they tell it? The potential loss of time is too big of a risk to take. When a group is unable to “flip the switch”, directors often feel like they have to rule the group with an iron fist in order to keep the rehearsal on track. This means no jokes, breaks, or any other distractions. In contrast, if a director knows that the group will “flip the switch” every time then they can use jokes and other potential distractions as a way of getting what they want out of the group (much like Dudamel did in the video).

How do you get a group to be better at this? Great question. I don’t have all the answers but I have found that if I explain the concept of “flipping the switch” (and the benefits) to the groups that I work with they start to do it automatically. Having a specific name for the phenomenon rather than just a general label like “discipline” seems to plant the idea into their minds. If they start to trip up a quick reminder of the concept goes a long way to restoring order.

Have any ideas on this topic? Let me know in the comments.

– Troy

Storytime:

The year is 2017 and I am in my final semester of my undergraduate degree at CSUF and I am getting ready for my graduate school auditions. I had one audition near enough where I lived that I could simply drive to. However, I had several auditions on the East Coast of the United States in New York, Chicago, and Rochester. Out of these traveling auditions, one trip really stands out as a case study for why we as brass players need to have lip balm. I want to tell you a very brief version of that trip. The audition in question is my audition for the Northwestern Bienen School of Music in Chicago. The audition occurred in the beginning of February.

The day of my flight was pretty standard. Got to the airport several hours early, checked in, grabbed something to eat, killed time, and finally boarded my flight. After a four hour flight in some of the dryest conditions known to man (airline cabins typically have less than 20% humidity) I stepped into Chicago O’Hare airport. When I stepped outside the airport to get into an Uber I was blasted with 1000MPH winds and -100 degree Fahrenheit weather. Ok, I may be exaggerating a bit, but it was nothing like the nice mild California “winter” that I grew up with. It was freezing cold, windy, and DRY. I could feel the wind taking the moisture out of my mouth with every breath. Luckaly I was able to get into my Uber quickly and the driver was BLASTING the heater. I warmed up as we headed to my hotel and talked about jazz albums. The heat felt great but I was draining my water bottle to keep my voice from going scratchy and raw.

I made it to my hotel room, checked in, dropped my things, and braved the Chicago weather for a walk to find dinner and grab a few snacks. My audition was the next day. One Uber ride later I made it to a very well heated school and I went and played a successful audition that I was happy with (at least according to my notes, I barely remember it) and flew home.

SO WHAT?

Seems pretty uneventful, right? However, there were lots of oppurtunites for my audition to be derailed because of my environment before I ever played a note. Almost every step of the way there were opportunities for my lips to be damaged. Dry environments on an airplanes, the rapid change in environment from LA to Chicago weather, the heater in the Uber, the wind and weather on my walks to run errands, and the central heating at Northwestern all potentially could have damaged my lips in various ways. BUT THEY DIDN’T. “Why?”, you ask. I was using lip balm to protect myself against every one of those senarios.

Have you ever tried to play with really chapped, sunburned, or wind damaged lips? To say it isn’t fun is just about the biggest understatement of the century. Playing on damaged lips is AWFUL. Luckily, high quality lip balm can protect and nourish our lips so that we can deal with damaged lips as little as possible.

Why use it?

Our lips are particularly vulnerable to damage due to the fact that our lip tissue is only 3-5 layers deep. This is extremely thin compared to the rest of the skin on your face which has around 16 layers. In addition, your lips contain no natural sweat or oil glands to protect the skin like the rest of your body so a good lip balm is necessary to protect you from potential hazards related to dry air, extreme cold, wind, and sun damage (if it has SPF).

A lip balm with sunscreen included is especially important because burned lips will not vibrate as easily and can cause playing issues. Your lip balms should have SPF included when you are going to be spending time outside and it doesn’t hurt to have it all the time.

Overall, the greatest benefit of using a lip balm consistantly is your lips will be in the same condition regardless of what is going on around you. However, in addition to the protection lip balm offers, it also can enhance our playing.

Playing benefits:

– Makes our lips more supple – Since a brass instrument works by vibrating our lip if that tissue doesn’t vibrate easily it makes brass playing more difficult. Lip balm keeps our lips as soft and responsive as possible.

⁃ Consistancy – Does a woodwind player use a different brand of reed every day? Why would we have our reed (our lips) in different conditions every day? Lip balm keeps our lips in a stable and protected position that stays as close to the same day to day as possible.

⁃ Helps with injury healing – Lip balm (especially medicated varieties) will help you to recover faster if you do damage your lips.

What makes a good lip balm?

– makes YOUR lips feel good

– contains sun protection (if you will be outside)

– daily use lip balm should not be overly medicated (but have a medicated option when it’s needed). You shouldn’t use a fully medicated option daily for the same reason you don’t always take benadryl. It’s great when you need it but hurts when you don’t. Medicated lip balms should be used when you are not in the sun and when you have a skin injury. (cut, burn, etc)

At the end of the day. Find what works for you and stick with it.

Recommended Brands for Daily Use

DCT by Blistex

Chopsaver Gold (with SPF version)

Burt’s Bees with SPF

Other brands are great if they work for you. These are only those I use or have friends using professionally.

Recommended Medicated Brands

Lip Medex by Blistex

Burt’s Bees Medicated

Other brands are great if they work for you. These are only those I use or have friends using professionally.

If you have any questions, comments, concerns, or ideas please do not hesitate to throw them in the comments. Did I miss anything? Let me know!

– Troy

It’s your first year in high school or maybe it’s just your first year in a marching band and you’ve been told that you have to attend band camp. Maybe you are a returning member and you are excited for the new season. Either way, there are some important things to keep in mind when you are attending band camp that will help your program improve as fast as possible and will help you have the most fun. Hopefully this article helps your camp be a little different than the image below.

For the brand new:

What is band camp?

Band camp is a one to three week camp that takes place at your school before your school year starts. Camp days are generally long (somewhere between 6-12 hours) and will typically have a lunch (or dinner) break in the middle depending on length. Camp generally consists of visual and musical rehearsals with the goal of preparing your show for the upcoming season.

Why do we have band camp?

In general, Band camps have several purposes:

1. Introduce new members to the staff and returning members

2. Introduce new members to the culture of the group and make sure that everyone is on the same page of how things are run.

3. Teach everyone marching technique

4. Work on the overall instrumental ability of the group

5. Begin to learn the show

  • Generally including both the show music and the show drill (your positions on the football field)

Essentially, the overarching purpose for band camp is to get the group ready for the upcoming year. Band camp typically comprises the vast majority of the technique teaching time that a group will get in a given year and is vital to setting the tone and trajectory for the upcoming season. Make sure that you attend EVERY day. There is no (non emergency) reason to miss a day of band camp. Schedule appointments, vacations, and other things around band camp. Remember that every other member of your organization is counting on you to be there and to do your best. Do not let them down.

What should I expect?

Every band camp is different so ask your directors or older members for specifics. However, there are some general expectations you can have for any band camp

1. A lot of information.

  • First and foremost band camp is about getting you the information you need to succeed in the marching activity. I tell my students you will get more in a week of band camp than you will in a year of middle school band. Plan for a bit of overwhelm and do your best when it comes. The staff and student leadership are there to help you. If needed, ask them questions or for extra help.

2. Lots of time outside

  • Indoor rehearsal space is often limited or inapropriate (like for marching).
  • This is an outdoor activity so plan to spend the vast majority of your band camp hours outside. (advice on how to prepare for this later in this post. Keep reading!)

3. Lots of time on your feet.

4. A lot of fun.

  • While this activity is highly demanding it is also a lot of fun. You will make lots of good friends and will have a great time as long as you are properly prepared.

For everyone:

How can I prepare beforehand?

  1. Practice your instrument through the summer to keep your ability improving through the break
  2. Get used to the sun early in the summer (if possible) by getting into the sun for a few minutes everyday
  3. Get lots of sleep (especially the week or two before camp)
  4. Drink water long before rehearsal to start rehearsal hydrated

What should I bring?

1. Sunscreen

  • Sunburn during band camp is miserable. I have done it so you don’t have to. Bring strong sunscreen (I bring SPF 30+ when I teach) and reapply it thought the day. I like spray sunscreen because it allows me to reapply quickly as needed without interrupting.

2. Lip Balm

  • With sunscreen in it!
  • Sun or wind damaged lips make playing any wind instrument (much less a brass instrument) much more difficult and often painful. Protect those lips!
  • I personally use DCT by Blistex and can recommend Chopsaver or Burts Bees as well. (I seem to be allergic to beeswax so I can’t use those personally)
3. Half a gallon or more of water
  • I highly recommend a gallon as you will likely find yourself refilling with a 1/2 gallon bottle.
  • You need to be responsible for your own water. Do not plan on sharing water with anyone else (although please help your friends if needed).
4. Hat and Sunglasses
  • Hats are absolutely mandatory sun protection at any band camp. A baseball cap is a “C-“. You should try and find a true “floppy hat.” Straw hats work great for this purpose. Remember you are looking for sun protection not to look cool.
  • Sunglasses are highly recommended but not required
5. Activity appropriate clothing (see below for more detailed info) 6. Instrument 7. Printed music
  • In a binder so the wind doesn’t blow it away.
8. Pencils
  • Mechanical pencils are highly recommended so you don’t have to worry about sharpening.
  • Don’t forget an eraser as well

9. Tuner and Metronome

What should I leave at home?

1. Sugary drinks
  • Something for lunch is fine. However, drinking sugary drinks (soda, fruit juice, Gadorade, etc.) while playing your instrument will damage your instrument and can cause the insttrument to rot from the inside out. Water only during rehearsals.

2. Extra electronics or expensive materials

What should I wear?

1. Athletic Shirts

  • No button down shirts
  • Ideal shirts are sports jersey like materials in light colors. However, long sleeved ATHLETIC ONLY shirts may be appropriate if you are sunburned and need to cover up.

2. Athletic Pants

  • No jeans / chinos / slacks
    • Yes this really does happen. You are going to get hot and possibly pass out.
  • Ideal pants are shorts in an athletic material. Think basketball shorts or workout shorts. However, long ATHLETIC ONLY pants may be appropriate if you are sunburned and need to cover up.

3. Athletic Shoes

The general trend here is athletic. Remember this is a movement based activity where you are spending time in the sun. Wear clothing that will let you move and will keep you cool.

Anything else?

1. Be on time!

  • There is a saying in the music world: 15 minutes early is on time, on time is late, and to be late is to be fired. This applies for band camp and any future rehearsals as well. Plus it’s just a good professional habit to be in.
  • If you are late: you should be RUNNING (safely) to wherever you need to be.

2. Be welcoming to everyone around you.

  • The people around you are your collegues. Get to know everyone and become friends. You are going to be around them a LOT. I still have great friends from high school. (all from band)

3. After a break get refocused immediately

4. If an instructor or student leader is talking you should not be.

  • As I say: “there are many of you and one of me” instuctions or information that is necessary for your success is going to be missed or ignored if you are talking over it. Keep your attention at the task at hand, I promise you will get a break regularly so you can relax.

5. Remember that you are a part of something larger than yourself and the people around you are counting on you. Do not let them down.

I hope this guide to band camp helps. Returning members (or staff), did I miss anything? Let me know so I can add it in! If you have any questions please do not hesitate to ask in the comments.

– Troy

If you are my student, chances are I have given you a bit of important information that was unfortunately misunderstood, missed, or even forgotten. It happens to everyone (we are not perfect after all) and it’s certainly happened to me.

If you aren’t my student. Chances are there is some aspect of brass / trumpet playing that you are having trouble understanding and can’t seem to find an answer. That’s happened to me too and is probably actively happening to me as you read this.

I hope this section of my website can be useful to you in either case.

This blog is dedicated to sharing information that I feel is important to being successful as a brass player. Specifically, information that is extensive, has nuances that are difficult to compleatly communicate on the fly, or things that I find myself explaining repeatedly. Basically, anything I think needs to be in your brain I will write about here (eventually). While this may be targeted at my students, anyone and everyone is absolutely welcome to read, comment, and ask questions.

My goal here is to create a repository of pedagogical ideas and concepts that can be referenced anytime. I also want to write these things out for my own sake so I can refine my pedagogy further and see how my own teaching and ideas are developing overtime. I also plan to link to other blogs, videos, and posts that have related ideas so that my students can get good information from multiple sources easily. I am NOT the “be all end all” of brass playing by any means. However, I believe my ideas can help.

I’m sure some of these posts will be delightfully short while others will be frustratingly long. I promise to work to write in a way that is as clear as possible while fully covering the issue. If anything isn’t well explained please comment and I will discuss and edit as needed. I also plan to write as informally as possible however, I know some of my readers will be my younger students and so I will be sure to keep things “PG.” I also can’t promise that I will write new posts on any particular schedule due to my other responsibilities (or running out of ideas). Please subscribe to the blog if you want to be kept 100% up to date. Otherwise, please check in regularly.

If you have any topics you would like me to cover in a post please comment below. I hope you find the information here helpful.

With all that in mind, thanks for stopping by!

⁃ Troy