Effective (& Enjoyable) Ways to Practice Sight-Reading

1.     Play something new.  Every day, read a piece of music that you’ve never seen before.  Your goal is to get through it, not play it perfectly.  And it doesn’t have to be challenging.  In fact, it’s better if you start with things that are one notch easier than what you might take a few or a few to learn.  

2.    Electronic resources.  SightReadingFactory.com as well as several other websites and apps provides great material.  If you’re studying music in school, be sure to play your aural skills exercises on your instrument.  Sight-singing texts provide well-sequenced material for developing this skill.

3.    Learn musical patterns.  The most obvious pattern in music is the scale, but even scales can be reimagined in different ways (for example, in thirds or the patterns in Clarke’s Technical Studies).  Try playing basic rhythmic patterns on each note of the scale and imagine what it would look like on the page.

4.    Find patterns in your music.  Good music readers see groups of notes, not individual pitches.  Music Speed Reading by David Hickman presents a unique method for learning to recognize rhythmic groupings and melodic patterns.

5.    Isolate pitch or rhythm.  Get good at reading just one of these, before putting it together.  Any piece of music can become a rhythmic exercise by playing it on one pitch.  Or play the pitches at a single steady pace without the rhythms.

6.    Use a metronome.  It can be painful, but the metronome is a good teacher, forcing us to maintain the steady pulse in the music we are reading.

7.    Play duets.  Find another trumpet player or another player on any instrument to play stuff together.  Playing with someone else keeps you from stopping and provides real-life accountability for rhythm, pitch, and intonation.

Amazing Grace Lip Slur

I try to approach even warming up and technical work with as much musicality as possible. It can be difficult to “feel it” when we’re playing lip slurs, in particular. But since the voice was our first instrument, songs are helpful at moving us away from managing the trumpet to making music through it. I realized that much of the first phrase of the well-known hymn, Amazing Grace, is a lip slur. So, I thought it would be a great way to approach what is a daunting task for many trumpet players.

Play these through with all fingerings, noting where valve changes are required. I included the first line text to remind us of how it goes. For even better results, sing each phrase through before playing.

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)