John Hagstrom on Teaching, Learning, Listening, Motivation, and Persistence

Notes from Lee University Trumpet Lab September 27, 2021

  • Teachers: it’s about who they are not what they teach
  • Value relationships with fellow students.  They will not necessarily remember how you played, but will remember how you treated others.
  • Be a role model for others now.
  • Learn from others around you, just like members of a good orchestra listen and learn from one another.
  • Bad teachers help us to become extra good students.
  • Customize your time as a music student.  Invent your own pathway for success.
  • We can become a good teacher by becoming a good student.
  • Georges Mager’s insightful (over)statement: “There is no such thing as good teachers, just good students.” 
  • Teach students to become good students.
  • Be stubborn.  Don’t give up.
  • “$800 Kleenex” – anything is available if you’re willing to pay for it.  Is it worth it?
  • It’s not innate ability that’s important.  Instead, it is your ability to invest in your learning.
  • Ask yourself, how do you awaken the feeling for what you want to do?  Figure out what motivates you.
  • Most people don’t try very hard.  Imagine yourself at 26 years old still working hard towards your goals.
  • Envision being invested long after others.
  • Prepare by adding up the hours over time.  It’s not about the practice right before the recital.  Rather, who is practicing 6 Tuesday nights before the recital?
  • Listen with undivided attention – active listening.  Stay with the story. 
  • Build literacy.  Be like the baby listening and trying to figure it out even if they don’t yet understand.
  • When you were a child, you had no attention or desire to watch a sitcom made for adults.  You were satisfied by cartoons.
  • Go to a professional orchestra concert!
  • Stick with listening to long pieces of music. 
  • Whether you like it or not, learn from it!
  • Studying music requires a presumption of expertise.  Expect transformation.  There is greater art out there beyond what I currently know. 
  • Learn how to learn.
  • Come wanting to learn.
  • Be prepared.  What if you showed up to rehearsal and were ready to perform?  That’s what professionals do.
  • Play “Stop and Drop” (studio class activity where, if you stop, you are done until next time)  – keep going no matter what, raising the standard for professional music making.
  • Vulnerability – willingness to work and share with others.
  • Section playing – how to give when you aren’t being recognized for it.
  • Sousa’s bass drum player:

from John Philip Sousa: American Phenomenon by Paul E. Bierley, 1973

A Step-by-Step Process for Learning to Double and Triple Tongue

Double and triple tonguing can seem like a very difficult circus trick for trumpet players.  How can I make my tongue go that fast???  But it’s easier than you might think if you approach it like developing any skill.  It takes little bits of intentional practice built up over days, weeks, months, and even years.  Here are two, three-step processes that I use to teach my students:

A. Say it-Blow it-Play it

  1. Say It – It’s a tongue twister, for sure.  So begin by simply saying it slowly and steadily.  “TaTaKa-TaTaKa-Ta” for triplet and “TaKa-TaKa-Ta” for double tonguing. 
  2. Blow It – Now tongue the same pattern while blowing the air, like you’re blowing through a straw.  In fact, you could use a straw or blow through your instrument without buzzing. 
  3. Play It – Finally, put it together on one long tone through the instrument.  Don’t try to change pitches yet.  If you have trouble getting it going, start making a sound simply by playing a whole note and then add the tonguing combination.

Once you have the basic habit of the syllables without stopping your air or buzz, this next process involves honing the syllables.  The key is listening closely so that the “T” and “K” syllables are indistinguishable from one another and they are evenly spaced in time.

B. All T’s-All K’s-Multiple Tongue

  1. Play all “Ta’s” – This is simply single tonguing like you’ve always played.  This should be your model of clarity and control.
  2. Play all “Ka’s” – The key to multiple tonguing, of course, is the syllable “Ka.”  Develop the confidence and fluidity to execute this with as much clarity as the “Ta.”
  3. Multiple Tongue – Now put it together (either “TaTaKa” or “TaKaTa”).  Slow is good for now.  Listen for evenness, making sure that neither the “Ta” or “Ka” sticks out in volume or jumps ahead in time.

Additional challenge:

In the second process, between steps 2 and 3 add inverted multiple tonguing that begins with the “Ka.”  For triple tonguing it will be “KaKaTa-Ka” and for double tonguing it will be “KaTa-Ka.”  It seems crazy and will certainly throw you for a loop at first, but it 1) forces the “Ka” to be as strong as the “Ta” and 2) makes the final step seem like a piece of cake!


  • Start with a note in the middle register, such as an F or G near the bottom of the staff.  Later, you can develop tonguing in the lower and upper parts of your range.
  • If you’re just learning to multiple tongue, start with the first process and then go onto the second one.  But don’t hesitate to go back to the first process even if you’ve been double and triple tonguing for a long time.
  • The essential challenge for all of us is making sure the air moves past the tongue to reach the lips and instrument.  Oftentimes, when we focus so much on our tongue, the air goes on vacation.  No air=no vibration=no sound!
  • Go slowly and steadily, listening for evenness every step of the way.  Play long on each note.  (I know, it seems counterintuitive.)  If it sounds like it is galloping or one syllable is louder than another, slow it down further until it’s all in control.
  • Never use “tut.”  This actually doubles your effort by starting AND stopping each note with your tongue.  The end of one syllable is actually the beginning of the next.
  • Keep the “K” forward.  Don’t let it get stuck in the back of your throat.  Instead, it should be as forward as possible, just behind the “T” using the front-middle of your tongue. 
  • Try less explosive consonants like “D” and “G,” especially as you speed up.  Stay firm with these consonants, though.
  • For triple tonguing, I teach “TTK” rather than “TKT.”  Eventually, both are useful, but the latter lends itself to being uneven.
  • For that reason, it’s best to learn triple tonguing before double tonguing.  Why?  Because if double tonguing comes first, the triple tonguing usually happens by adding a “T” to the end of the “TK,” resulting in an uneven, galloping sound that becomes a habit you will have to break.
  • Perhaps that is why Arban’s Method presents triple tonguing before double tonguing.  These exercises are great for the further development of multiple tonguing.  Start by doing it all on one note and then expand to changing notes between each sequence, first by step (such as “TaTaKa” on each step of the scale) and then by leap.  Then, add steps (such as up or down a scale) and, finally, leaps within the sequence.

Duet part to Arban’s Theme from Caprice & Variations

Jean-Baptiste Arban

Duets are a fun way to work on so many things, including sight-reading, rhythm, intonation, dynamics, and basic ensemble playing. It’s best done alongside a friend — a trumpet player or any musician, really. But with technology, we can play duets with just about any recording. In order for my students to work on this theme from J.B. Arban’s Caprice & Variations (found in the back of your Arban’s method book), I wrote a little duet part and recorded both parts. You can download the duet music here and play along with either part here. So find a friend to play along or just play with me!

Original Theme (you play duet part)

Duet Part (you play the Theme)

Don’t Be a Button Pusher

Too many of us learned to play trumpet like this: “Press 1 and 2 for ‘E.’” or “’C’ is open.”  Of course, this is all true, but we all know that simply pressing the valves doesn’t get the note out.  Unfortunately, many students try to play as if that’s all that they need to do. 

Pressing down the correct fingerings make it possible for our instrument to vibrate at the desired frequency.  However, without the correct vibration, it won’t quite work.  Sure, you might get a sound out and the instrument may get you close to the pitch, but we want something better, right?

Tips for recovering button pushers

  • Sing – Yes, the only way to really verify that you know the pitch you want to make is to sing it.  Practice this:
    • Finger a line of music on the trumpet while singing it.
    • Sing the first note of a line, then play it through.
    • Stop before a specific note and sing it instead of playing it.
  • Buzz – Our lips can too often become passive spectators in the process.  They must be an active part of the process.  Much like singing, practice these things:
    • Finger a line of music on the trumpet while buzzing it.  (You’ll need a B.E.R.P. or similar device to do this.)
    • Buzz the first note of a line, then play it through
    • Stop before a specific note and buzz it instead of playing it.

I still remember my shock when I fully realized the challenge of playing trumpet.  I had to know — hear! — every pitch that was supposed to come out of my instrument.  There began my journey towards not just getting the notes if I was lucky but confidently hitting the center of each pitch and fully resonating on every note.  There are a lot of benefits to playing this way including increased technical speed, endurance, range, and more.  Join me on this journey that’s part of my practice every day as a trumpet-playing musician — not a button pusher!

Seven Steps to a Successful Audition

Over the years, I’ve helped numerous collegiate and high school trumpet players prepare for auditions of all sorts.  Whether it’s a major career audition or the annual audition for your school’s band,  here are seven practical suggestions that capture the process from preparation to audition to reflection:

  1. Practice creatively.  Use all of your “tools” to practice good rhythm, pitch, sound, articulation, dynamics, phrasing, etc.  Clap, sing, buzz, say, and blow the music to hone these things.  Slow the tempo down until you can play it perfectly, and practice small sections at a time.
  2. Perform often.  Make time in your daily practice to simply perform.  Stop trying to fix things and simply focus on making music.  Ask your friends, family, band director, dog, and others to listen to you play.  Even more important than getting their feedback is the opportunity for you to have an audition experience.  (Plus, Mom will always think you sound great!)
  3. Record yourself.  Certainly you’ve heard a teacher say, “You can’t be listening to me if you’re talking, too!”  The same is true with an instrument. While we’re playing we can’t listen as well as when we only listen.  Plus, it gives your chops a needed break to listen back to what you’ve played.
  4. On the day of the audition only think positively.  While you’re preparing for the audition in the weeks and days beforehand listen critically to yourself most of the time.  Then on the day of the audition vigilantly dismiss the voice inside you that offers doubts and criticisms of your playing.  Remind yourself of what you do well.
  5. Don’t try to win the “warm-up competition.”  Listen to your warm-up, not the others’.  The other guy always sounds great warming up, but that doesn’t matter.  What matters is how you play in the audition.  Don’t play too much before the audition, and focus on preparing yourself to share enjoyable music!
  6. Focus on breath.  Breathing fully and comfortably not only keeps us relaxed, but helps the production of sound to work freely.  Make sure to add breath marks to your music and practice these ahead of time.
  7. Learn from the experience.  Take some time after the audition to reflect on what went well, what didn’t, and why.  Regardless of the outcome, take something away that you can use to improve your music for the next performance.

Let me know how these help you not only audition well, but more importantly, become a better musician!

auditorium chairs comfortable concert
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