A powerful tool of musical expression, the trumpet is capable of performing in nearly every genre of music. Yet, many trumpeters are limited by the mechanics of the instrument and technical aspects of their playing. To build these capabilities, a solid daily routine is the essential foundation of a trumpet player’s practice schedule. This established, predictable, and thorough set of exercises not only sets the trumpeter up for success throughout their musical day, but improves performance over time as well.
I was fortunate to learn the Bill Adam Daily Routine while working on my undergraduate degree in music. Mr. Adam is the legendary trumpet professor from the University of Indiana, and his students now teach at some of the most prestigious universities throughout the United States.
We were encouraged to incorporate ear training whenever possible into our daily routine. The Adam Method teaches that you should rest for as long as you play, giving you the window to work on other aspects of your musicality during practice. By taking deliberate steps to use ear training principles during the daily routine, the trumpeter will simultaneously improve their audition skills as well!
All you need is your trumpet, a tuner, a metronome, and an additional instrument (piano will be your best bet). The literature for this lesson is among the most standard in the trumpet library — including Clark Studies, Schlossberg Daily Drills, and The Arban Method.
So grab your axe and prepare to enter the woodshed — where ear training meets daily routine!
1. Long Tones
Nearly every method has some form of long tones, which is typically the best place to begin your daily practice. This is also where you can make giant strides in your awareness and mastery of interval ear training.
Starting with G on the staff, play long tones, with pitches expanding up and down through the effective range of the trumpet. G to F# is a descending minor 2nd interval, of course. Now instead of playing it, first sing G to F#: the distance between these pitches is internalized. If you have trouble recalling the next note, use the piano (remembering the transposition!) to hear the pitch prior to singing it. Then play the interval on the trumpet. This is process is repeated throughout the entire exercise.
One of the additional advantages to singing intervals when playing your daily long tones is that the scale eventually moves past the one octave range into the extended scales. Sure, most of us can readily sing the Perfect 5th interval, but what about a Perfect 13th? Or a Minor 9th? Singing throughout the two octave range of this exercise (and more if you go into pedal tones) will expand your ability to master intervals.
2. Chromatic Scales
Ah, the neglected chromatic scale. Often so unappreciated, especially where ear training is concerned.
Chromatic exercises are incorporated into daily routine through Clark Exercise #1, starting with F# on the scale and expanding in the same fashion as the long tones. Singing consecutive Minor 2nd intervals, ascending and descending, sounds like an easy task — but many will struggle to maintain consistency. Alternate between playing and singing to both develop the ear and give you rest time.
An additional learning point that can be incorporated during chromatic exercises is the dreaded tri-tone. Often called the devil’s interval, this can be tricky to sing, even if most instrumentalists can recognize it almost immediately when they hear it. Perhaps that awkwardness of the interval makes it difficult from the ear training perspective.
But, what if you can approach the tri-tone from the chromatic route? Clark #1 ascends and descends to a tri-tone, making it a perfect opportunity to internalize the relationship between the starting pitch and highest pitch of each iteration of the exercise. Singing the exercise prior to performing each line will help you in both chromatic runs, and to internalize the relationship between Do and Fi in the tri-tone.
3. Pitch Accuracy and Intonation
Translating interval ear training to the trumpet can be difficult, especially when so many pitches have the same fingering. Fortunately, we have many exercises that can be used to practice landing in the center of the pitch.
I prefer Schlossberg exercises for this purpose. Schlossberg #31 is a great example of an exercise that will not only challenge your ear, but translate ear training into trumpet performance.
It seems so simple. An ascending Perfect 4th followed by a descending Perfect Octave. But the difficulty lies in the execution and intonation of the pitch. Before each iteration, sing “Sol, Do’, Do” with the tuner in front of you, concentrating on being perfectly in pitch at the beginning of each note, rather than adjusting pitch to center the note. Internalizing intonation and landing in the center of the pitch will give you the freedom to move all around the relative pitch of the instrument with confidence and consistency.
This is not only good from an ear training perspective, but also for trumpet performance. Far too many trumpet players feel that they need to radically change their embouchure to move from C on the staff to middle C. Concentrating on the center of the pitch will permit the performer to blow through the interval, rather than move down to the lower pitch.
It’s not just semantics: the quality of control over intonation and pitch will greatly improve as these intervals become intuitive.
4. Rhythmic Ear Training
Who ever said that ear training was only about pitches and intervals?
We can borrow rhythmic syllables from Kodály when singing rhythms in our daily routine.
Within the Arban Method Book, find the studies on the various rhythmic figures that are commonly within music. For example, if you are working on syncopation in your current repertoire, flip to the syncopation studies.
Prior to playing each of these exercises, sing the main rhythmic figure. Always practice rhythmic singing with a metronome to help you keep the rhythm as accurate as possible. By design, most of these rhythmic exercises are rather simple from a melodic and technical perspective, as the performer is to focus on rhythmic accuracy as they play each figure.
5. Sight Singing
What daily practice would be complete without sight reading?
Within the Arban’s Method Book, there are over 100 songs available for sight reading. These songs slowly increase in difficulty, but are all very intuitive and follow standard 20th century classical melodic rules.
Mr. Adam stressed that the trumpet player must be able to sing what they are about to play, and the Arban songs are a great way to incorporate sight singing into your routine. Rather than just fumbling through the fingerings and rhythmic figures, would we not be better served by being able to sing a melody before we begin playing it?
In the same fashion, sight-sing using the Getchell First Book of Practical Studies. But, add another degree of difficulty to begin working on transposition with this literature! After you are comfortable with all the songs in B♭, sing and play them in the key of C. And so on to other key signatures…
6. Melodic Expression and Trumpet Literature
All of the practice, ear training and daily routine only matters if it can be transferred to trumpet literature, and the mastery of the techniques needed for optimum trumpet performance.
Within the literature, there are standards that each trumpet player must master if they are to be considered proficient on the instrument. For Études, I can think of no better example than the 36 Études transcendantes by Théo Charlier. This masterful book is filled with some of the most complex, technical, yet simultaneously melodic and beautiful études. If you have followed the ear training techniques listed previously, you will be able to navigate your way through these difficult exercises in due course.
From Mastery to Freedom
Remember why you first wanted to play trumpet? Are you longing for that freedom of musical expression that you experience when listening to the greats?
The playing of any musical instrument is greatly benefited from solid ear training. However, for the trumpeter, ear training is absolutely indispensable. It may seem like an extra chore at first, but once you experience the results of combining ear training with your daily routine, you’ll be hooked.