What To Practice

The following is intended to show how to apply all the information covered in the first article entitled How To Practice. Since playing a brass instrument is a physical experience it is impossible for anyone to completely learn and understand the first article on the seven items until they have experienced them through daily structured practice. There will be those who “try” some things and then say that it does not work for them. The truth of the matter is that they never understood what they were “trying” to do. As we practice we are in the process of building a foundation that will enable progress and ease of playing for years to come. 

Those that become impatient with physical development and want to advance to difficult solos will in actuality be regressing. It is similar to a builder attempting to erect a large building and becoming impatient with all the “boring” steps that will never be seen and skipping steps or doing a sloppy job. When the building is done and painted it may look great. But those unseen things that provide a solid structure will become evident and the building will either be condemned or require more time to correct those problems.

Do not be impatient! Everyone develops at a different rate on different items. The best players have all had to work through difficulties in their practice and life’s circumstances. Don’t make excuses for yourself. Time is your most valuable possession and how you use it will show where your heart really is. Keep your focus on being the most excellent player possible and enjoy the process of getting there. Avoid discouraging people that tell you that road is too hard. Nothing worthwhile and satisfying comes easy. Read the stories of successful people from all professions and how they overcame obstacles.

Practice Routine Outline:

When multiple books are listed they are in order from the easiest to the most demanding. Remember that your daily practice routine should be manageable to get trough everyday and make you feel good at the end. A metronome should be used frequently. Your practice should be progressive, gradually increasing in difficulty, but with enough time spent on each exercise to allow for natural comfortable development. Most exercises will need to be played a minimum of one week and some for months and a few for years. Be patient!

The order of each type of item is very important.
You must have a written practice routine and stick to it every day.
There is no such thing as a summer break for a player.

Breathing Exercises

(The is to develop the habit of “Big Breath, Chest Up”.)
See Physical Approach To Elementary Brass Playing (p. 12, 23) and Brass Playing Is No Harder Than Deep Breathing (p. 18-19).
5 Sets of 10 breaths (Do with palms out and shoulders slightly back.)
5 Walking (To be done at least one square city block)
5 Steps Inhale Through Nose in equal spurts
5 Steps Hold Full
5 Steps Exhale Through Mouth in equal spurts
5 Steps Hold Empty
Each Month increase one step until reaching 10 Walking, then do Jog 5-10.

Start with flexibility (i.e. tongue level)
Also do them single tongued “K Tongue Modified”

Daily Trumpet Routines (up to page 31) Use all models (i.e. Articulations)
Arban’s Complete Conservatory Method (p. 125-130) (With at least all four models.)
Saint-Jacome's Complete Method For Trumpet or Cornet
p. 15, 19, 24, 49, and 68(With all 7 fingerings, slurred and tongued)
p. 157-165 (You must use at least all the models plus K tongued)
Walter Smith’s Lip Flexibility On The Trumpet (first ten studies, slurred and tongued)
Earl Irons' 27 Groups of Exercises
Del Staiger’s Lip Flexibilities
Charles Colin’s Advanced Lip Flexibilities, Volume 1, 2, and 3 (Add Pedal Tones to etudes.)
Bai Lin’s Lip Flexibilities (This is similar to Charles Colin’s Advanced Lip Flexibilities)
Max Schlossberg's Daily Drills and Technical Studies (This demands more control.)
Claude Gordon’s Tongue Level Studies
Ralph and Michael Colicchio's Nu-Art Technical Exercises (Arpeggio Tongue Level Studies)


Treat as a separate item or incorporate with Tongue Level or Technical Studies.

For learning “K Tongue Modified” use Tongue Level Exercises by Claude Gordon p.
Arban’s Complete Conservatory Method p. 13-16, #11-27 (As Written and Subdivided into sixteenth notes)
Herbert L. Clarke's Setting Up Drills #38 after two times through Clarke's Technical Studies
Saint-Jacome's Complete Method For Trumpet or Cornet
Ernest Williams' Complete Method For Trumpet

Technical Studies for fingers ("Lift Fingers High, Strike Valves Hard!") and Wind Control

Chromatics and major scales every day
Arban’s Complete Conservatory Method (p. 76-86, majors on p.59-75, and minors on p. 75.)
Herbert L. Clarke's Technical Studies (Cover the complete book annually.)
Write in all the alternate fingerings found in Claude Gordon's Systematic Approach To Daily Practice
found on p. 20, 22, 24, 26, and 30.
Each Lesson for four weeks:

  • Week 1: Single Tongued (“K Tongue Modified”)
  • Week 2: K Tongued
  • Week 3: Double Tongued (TK) or Triple Tongued (TTK)
  • Week 4: Slur as written

Etudes in Studies 2-8 must be practiced “How You Practice!”
The first time through should be a mf volume!
Remember to “Kick the air on the upper notes.” - Claude Gordon
Repeat book again and work for a little more speed and more times in one breath never softer than you can get a sure sound.
Exercises can be extended higher if comfortable.
Here are some ways to do Clarke’s Technical Studies:
Each note Triple Tongued 3 times
Each note Double Tongued 2 times
The entire book every day
A different model every day
Play a series of studies every other day
Play the entire book every other day
Play a study in place of a range study

Clarke’s Setting Up Drills should be done after a few times through his Technical Studies.
Also cover other scales: Minors (Natural, Harmonic, Melodic), Blues, Whole Tone, Diminished, Modes of Majors and MInors
Wonderful scale studies are found in the other method books below.


This should take up no more than one third of your total practice.
Sigmund Hering Etudes (Arranged in a progressive manner)
Clarke's Characteristic Studies
Wait until after the first time through Clarke's Technical Studies.)
You must do “How You Practice!” on each etude, 
then gradually build the speed with a metronome.
Gatti Grand Method (Scale Studies and Etudes in all Major and Minor Keys)
Aaron Harris' Advanced Studies for Trumpet and Cornet (Studies and Etudes in all Major and Minor Keys)
Walter Smith's Top Tones For The Trumpeter (Etudes in all 30 Major and Minor Keys)
Gatti’s Studies in Perfection
Arban’s Complete Conservatory Method (Pub. by Carl Fischer)
Ernest Williams' Complete Method For Trumpet
World’s Method
Saint-Jacome's Complete Method For Trumpet or Cornet
Theo Charlier's Trente-Six Études Transcendantes Pour Trompette (Lyrical and technical etudes written in an appealing manner)
Bordogni 24 Vocalises (Lyrical etudes incorporated with transposition)
Marcel Bitsch's Vingt Études pour Trompette

Solos (optional depending on time)

Solos should not take away from the amount of time spent on a complete routine.
Solos should take no more than one third of your total practice routine.
The solo should also be technically easy enough to play under any circumstance.
You may use “How You Practice!” if necesary.
Solos should not be used in place of systematic work through exercises.

School Music (optional depending on time)

Work on problem passages only.
As your skill increases you will need less time to prepare all kinds of music.
You may use “How You Practice!” if necessary.

Orchestral Excerpts (optional depending on time)

Beware of switching between keyed instruments too much.
I recommend keeping the same mouthpiece for higher pitched trumpets.
Listen to the entire composition several times before playing.
Technical passages can be worked out with “How You Practice” (see explanation)
Learn what is standard for the excerpt. (i.e. articulation pattern, what horn to play)

Jazz Improvisation

Range Study (Down Routine and Up Routine)

This must be played once every day to push your limit.
Make no more than 3 attempts for the highest note. “Three Strikes And Out!”-CG
This can either start or end the practice routine, but you must rest 60 minutes after.
Short rests (10-15 seconds) between each exercise must also be observed.
The “Long Hold” must be played correctly.
Pedal Tones must be played correctly.
Physical Approach To Elementary Brass Playing by Claude Gordon
Claude Gordon's Systematic Approach To Daily Practice and study the practice routines.
Claude Gordon's Thirty Velocity Studies (much later) Use all the models.
“Relax Lip”
This is a 2 octave (or more) Major arpeggio from C in the middle of the staff down to Pedal C (or lower) for trumpet. 
This is a warm down to be done after completion of the range study.
This relieves any tension in the lips and helps the player to be less tight, fixing problems caused by buzzing.
It should be adjusted for the other brass instruments:
Horn (5th Lower), Trombone (Octave Lower), Tuba (2 Octaves Lower)

Play the entire routine only once per day.
Beware of over practice and not enough rest between exercises.
“Build up. Don’t tear down.” - Claude Gordon

The routine can be applied to all the brass instruments as follows:
Play everything sounding an octave lower than the Bb trumpet.
Transpose down a whole step adding two flats to key for Bass Clef.
The fourth valve should be used (i.e. 4=13 and 42=123).
Some of the books are available in Bass Clef
Play everything sounding an octave lower than the Bb trumpet.
Play Pedal Eb to B without F attachment.
Some of the books are available in Bass Clef
Treble Clef studies may be played like Tenor Clef and add two flats to key
Other etudes may also be substituted
Right Hand needs to have quick accurate movement with a supple wrist.
Similar to Euphonium except down two octaves
The fourth valve should be used (i.e. 4=13 and 42=123).
French Horn
Trumpet Tongue Level studies
Played down a fifth on the Bb side of double horn, same fingerings (Open instead of Thumb&1&3, and 2 instead of Thumb&1&2&3), and sounding an octave lower than Bb trumpet pitches.
Left Hand Fingers are the same in using the ball of the fingers.
Right Hand Position in bell is very important.

Additional Information:

Alternate fingerings serve a primary purpose of improving each finger’s action independant of the other fingers. Some fingerings will be more difficult and not the typical choice in a playing situation, but essential in the practice room. The results will be obvious if practiced properly, striking the valves hard and lifting the fingers high.

Testing Pedal F through C#

“How You Practice!” was a phrase Claude Gordon would use to refer to a specific way of practicing certain etudes in reverse order. The purpose was to practice consistently accurate so many times in a row that the chance of any kind of mistake was virtually impossible. Begin by playing the last beat four times in a row perfectly, removing the instrument from you mouth between each attempt. Next back up one beat from the end and play up to the first note of the last beat four times in a row perfectly. Next play the last two beats four times in a row perfectly. Continue in this manner until you have done one or two lines for the day. The second day play the new material up to the first note of the material from the previous day. When the second days material is done then link it to the end four times in a row perfectly. This is very tedious, but if you are very critical of all mistakes (i.e. cracked notes, bad attack, unclear tone, clumsy fingers, etc.) then you should never make a mistake again. This must be practiced with correct hand position and remembering to “Lift Fingers High, Strike Valves Hard!” Failure to do this will reinforce bad habits.

Pedal tones are to be played with a full free sound. Their purpose is to correct and improve your embouchure resulting in a freer vibration. Don’t play them too loudly. Playing pedal tones correctly will result in being able to turn more air into sound which will make everything better (i.e. sound, endurance, power, range, control, accuracy and comfort). This will also result in playing more relaxed and less tight. Mouthpiece buzzing and “long tones” tend to do just the opposite. If you learn how to play easier, then endurance will no longer be a worry. Those who play correctly can play for hours without the slightest fatigue because of this. At first notes from Pedal C to Pedal F# tend to be very flat for most everyone (on trumpet only). Do not worry about playing them in tune! If you play them in tune with a buzzed kind of sound you are doing them wrong. Do not use different fingerings (i.e. 123 for Pedal C)! Notes from Pedal F down to C sharp may tested an octave higher to hear the pitch because those notes never lock into a “slot.” Pedal tones are to be played as part of the range study only once per day. In time pedal tones will become just another part of your playing range and should not be thought of as “false tones.”

Mouthpiece Buzzing is something I oppose just as Claude did because it does not feel like playing the instrument and it tends to make people tighter. This practice also results in a preoccupation with the lip as producing the higher notes with more tension instead of coordination of the Tongue Level and Wind Power. There are some fine players and teachers that promote buzzing. But their amount of buzzing in comparison to their total playing on their instrument everyday usually is insignificant. Playing the instrument feels different than buzzing because of a variety of factors. The one positive thing from buzzing is ear training, which can be better developed by singing and some knowledge of piano and harmony.

Long Tones as practiced by most people tend to be stagnating and stiffening. Some believe Long Tones help your sound, but a player’s sound is improved as the they play easier and more flexible. The “Long Hold” markings serve a different purpose as a means to develop Wind Power, when they are done correctly as an isometric type of exercise to squeeze out all possible even after the sound stops to the point your muscles shake from the forceful squeeze. You will also notice that all the “Long Hold” markings in the Gordon books (i.e. Physical Approach To Elementary Brass PlayingDaily Trumpet Routines, and Claude Gordon's Systematic Approach To Daily Practice) and Clarke’s Setting Up Drills (p. 6-7) are after some movement around the instrument and are always in the middle to lower register. You are to never play high notes with less than half full of air.

Control over your sound is a by product of correct easy playing. A mouthpiece or some other piece of equipment will not do as much as your concept in your head and how well you can make the instrument work. The tongue’s shape in the mouth plays a big role in being able to change things for the desired sound. If you want a bright sound to play lead trumpet, you will not get it by a smaller mouthpiece. Small equipment just inhibits the free flow of air and the free vibration of the lips, resulting in a thin small sound. You must listen to the best players to know for what you are striving. 

Claude Gordon was a great at knowing just what to say and what not to say. The following were some of the most repeated phrases that stated things concisely.

Claude Gordon’s frequent phrases explained:
“It’s how you practice that counts.”
“Without technical proficiency there can be no music.”
“Think when you practice.”
“Always practice in a happy frame of mind.”
“Brass Playing Is No Harder Than Deep Breathing.”
The title of Claude Gordon’s book and taken from Clarke’s Elem. Studies, p. 3.
“99% correct is still 1% incorrect!” (From Clarke’s “How I became a cornetist” book)
“Let The Air Do The Work.” (See Wind Power and Wind Control in first article)
“Let The Air Save Your Lip.”
“Fill up all the way.”
“Step On The Gas When Going Up.”
“The Air Does The Work, The Tongue Channels The Pitch.” (Wind Power & Tongue Level)
“Hit It Hard And Wish It Well!” (Don’t be afraid of missing and don’t make excuses!)
“You Must Drive All Fear Out Of Your System.”
“Don’t Worry!”
“Forget About Your Lip!!!” (Claude’s students were never allowed to talk about their lip.)
“You could have a lip strong enough to lift a piano and still not be able to play.”
“Breath with your lungs, not your stomach!”
Would you say eat with your lungs? Why say breath with your stomach?!”
(This was to illustrate the thoughtless falacy of diaphragmatic breathing.)
“Big Breath, Chest Up” (This was rubber stamped onto every sheet of music.)
“Watch The Tongue” (Stamped onto every Tonguing, Tongue Level, and Range Study)
“Three Strikes And Out!” (Make only 3 attempts at highest note in daily Range Study.)
“Lift Fingers High, Strike Valves Hard” (Stamped onto every scale and arpeggio study)
“KTM” or “K Tongue Modified” was his term to describe how to single tongue as if doing K tonguing (in middle of the tongue) modified to the front middle of the tongue, with the very tip lightly touching the top of the bottom teeth always, when tonguing or slurring.
“You must use models.” (See St. Jacome’s page 157.) This trains your tongue.
“Rest as much as you play.” (Forget the no pain no gain way of thinking!)
“If you feel tired you failed to rest enough along the way and are tearing down.”
“You play by feel not by theory.”
“Too much analysis causes paralysis.”
“A baby crawls before it walks” (Keep this in mind always, especially with range.)
“More teachers have ruined students than helped them.”
“Nobody can make you a great player. I can only show you how to practice.”
“It is not crowded at the top. It isn’t hard to make a living when you are at the top.
It’s crowded in the middle level of mediocrity.”
“Don’t stop where I have, but go further.”
“Get the sense of things.” (Study every book to get the author’s intended meaning.)

Don’t skimp on buying books. If you are serious as a player you must develop a complete library of books and recordings. They are your most valuable assets if used properly. Don’t repeat others mistakes and struggles, learn from the great methods. Use your brains in understanding the purpose, approach, and application of each book into your practice routine. Some books require more than just a sequential order through the book. Find a good teacher, listen, think and practice. Be humble, yet discerning!

Where to buy music:
Support your local music store.
Click the "Method Book" tag in the lower-right of this site and links to purchase are on each page about the books.

© 2002, Jeff Purtle

Method Book Summaries in 60 Seconds