Friday, February 22, 2019
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Thoughts on Warm Ups, Air Flow, and Biblical Trumpet Playing


by Cynthia Thompson Carrell

The setting: a school band hall, just before rehearsal. Students are rushing in, stowing their books, assembling their instruments, organizing their music. Chaos and cacophony grows as more and more players attempt to clear the cobwebs from their lips with various blats, blasts, honks, and the occasional haphazard concert B-flat scale . . .

Sound familiar? Of course it does! This is a familiar setting for band students everywhere.

The problem? The seemingly carefree, careless warm up has reinforced the worst habits instead of the desired best!

I have observed this scenario repeatedly over the years and have often been known to exclaim, “You don’t need to practice sounding BAD--You’ve got that down pat!” At first, students react with, “Teacher, don’t be so mean!” Then I explain that we really do not need or want to practice anything but our BEST sound if that is the sound we desire to make. Why would we practice making a bad sound? Why would we want to reinforce anything but our BEST? We play and perform however we practice!

Your warm up counts! Truthfully, there is no such thing as just a warm up, for EVERY sound we make is practice for some performance.

The blats, blasts, and honks from the scene above must be replaced with your best attempts at your best sound. Sit down, take a deep breath, and blow a full sound, making the first sound of the day the best possible. Continue through a thoughtful sequence of long tones, lip slurs, scales etc. to get the air and sounds flowing through the horn.

You are what you eat is a well-known saying that applies to the musician in the form, You perform however you practice!

A similar scenario often occurs just previous to a solo contest performance. Again, a student hurries into the room, sets up the music stand, makes a few sounds on the instrument, and announces that he is ready to perform. If there is a tuning note, it too is done with a careless, poorly-supported sound. Is there any wonder why the subsequent performance is less than the best?

The moral of this story? Make every sound your best because EVERY SOUND COUNTS!


As wind players, we spend a lot of time talking about and dealing with wind: moving air. I’m sure you’ve heard a band director or trumpet teacher say, “use more air,” “take a bigger breath,” “blow harder,” “use faster air” etc. . . .

Sometimes it may seem that those instructions are simply cop outs for the teacher not knowing what to do to help you, but in all reality, air flow is truly the answer to most of our problems. I often tell my students that moving more air will help every playing problem except wrong valves!

Having said that, here is another way to approach air flow to improve your performance. Let’s discuss the musical phrase.

A musical phrase is like a sentence in music; it is a complete musical thought. A phrase usually ends with a sustained note, a rest, or a breath mark. Sometimes you will have to play or sing the music to see if you can hear where the musical thought concludes.

Simple Steps to Musical Phrasing
1) Familiarize yourself with the phrase in question to the point that you are able to sing it. 
2) Experiment with singing it musically. (You may need to add words in order to make sense of the phrase.)
3) Sing it as if you were performing it for an audience.
4) Observe how you connect the pitches with your singing voice. 
5) Notice where you naturally crescendo and diminuendo.
6) Next, try playing it on your trumpet just as expressively as you sang it.

Make the pitches connect just as your sang it. Crescendo and diminuendo just as your sang it. Did you notice a difference in your playing? Did you notice that not only was it technically improved (because you used constant air flow), but also it was musically better? Accuracy and musicality enhance the experience for you, the performer, as well as for your listener.

If you use this musical approach, many of your technical problems can be overcome PLUS you are more aware and capable of playing musically. Musical phrasing is the same flow of energy as the air flow needed to play the trumpet. In this way, the music equals your air flow.

Biblical Trumpet Playing

Whether you’ve read it or not, you probably know that the Bible is a book widely recognized for its wisdom and insight into most aspects of life, but did you know that the Bible can teach us about trumpet playing? Let’s look at two verses that can be used (stretched!) to help us.*

The first selected verse implies that one must always make the best, well-supported sound in order to communicate effectively. Too often players start without a full breath and then make a sound that is less than desired. (Making and developing this sound will be discussed in another article.)


For if the trumpet makes an indistinct sound, who will go forth into battle? (I Cor 14:8)

A second verse concerns musicianship, if one stretches the words a bit! There are players everywhere who are capable of playing music correctly, yet it is less common to find one who also plays musically. To play a piece correctly, yet not musically, is to miss the point! A machine might be devised to play the correct notes and rhythms, but it takes a human musician to turn these sounds into music. A musician must play the notes and rhythms as well as add meaning, portray emotion, and communicate with the listener. The player must know what he is trying to say and then shape the phrases to impart that to the listener. This phrase shaping includes dynamic shadings, careful articulation, and thoughtful timing. Many less easily defined aspects of interpretation must be learned in order to communicate successfully. Anything less is pointless, yet this is often the end product of a performance! Following is a Bible verse that speaks to this musicianship and a musician’s paraphrase.

I may speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but if I do not have love, it is nothing more than the sound of a clanging gong or cymbal. (I Cor 13:1)

Even if I can play higher, faster, louder, if I do not make music, it is nothing more than a lot of noise!

*These verses are taken out of context and reinterpreted by the author. They are used here to make points useful to the trumpet player/musician, not for spiritual instruction. Please forgive the light-hearted use of Biblical texts.

About the author

Cynthia Thompson Carrell earned the DMA in trumpet performance and MS in Music Education from the University of Illinois, studying with Michael Tunnell and Ray Sasaki. She also earned a Music Education bachelors from the University of North Texas, studying with John Haynie. She currently teaches high brass, freshman theory, and music education courses at Harding University in Searcy, Arkansas in addition to performing as Principal Trumpet in the Pine Bluff Symphony. Carrell won 1st place in the 1998 ITG Orchestral Competition.

About the Editor: Lisa Blackmore is Adjunct Professor of Trumpet at the University of Missouri-St. Louis and Adjunct Professor of Trumpet and Horn at East Central College in Union, Missouri where she also teaches Music History and World Music. She is a member of “Cadre” at Missouri Baptist University, teaching trumpet and assisting with the concert band. Lisa earned a Doctorate of Musical Arts (D.M.A.) in Trumpet with a minor in Music History at the University of Illinois-Urbana/Champaign, where she received the Graduate College Dissertation Award in Musicology. Dr. Blackmore also holds degrees from the University of Missouri-Columbia and SUNY-Stony Brook. She previously served on the faculty at Lindenwood University and under her direction, the Lindenwood Trumpet Ensemble performed at the 2007 ITG conference at the University of Massachusetts―Amherst. Her private studio teaching has resulted in students performing in the St. Louis Youth Symphony and various Missouri All-State ensembles.

Lisa is a member of the Stonehenge Brass Trio and Confluence Brass. She was a bugler with the Missouri Military Funeral Honors Program from 2008-2013 and performed Taps at over 350 military services for Missouri Veterans. She performs with the Compton Heights Concert Band, and she is principal trumpet in the St. Louis Wind Symphony. She serves as a trumpet adjudicator for the Missouri All-State groups.

Lisa lives in Wright City, MO with her husband, Mark (also a trumpeter!) and their two cats, Chet and Ella. In her spare time she makes practice mutes and also enjoys reading and traveling.

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