A Major & Minor Scale Routine

Once you’ve become familiar with all of your major and minor scales*, it’s a good idea to keep playing them often.  Here’s a plan that can help you do that.  Rather than going around the circle of fifths or chromatically, we’ll follow this sequence of scales:

Major scale → Relative minor: Natural → Harmonic → Melodic →

Parallel Major → Relative minor: Natural → Harmonic → Melodic →

Parallel Major → Relative minor: Natural → Harmonic → Melodic →

Parallel Major → Relative minor: Natural → Harmonic → Melodic

You’ll notice that if you continued you would be back to where you began.  It looks complicated at first but it’s actual quite logical and takes advantage of two important music theory concepts:

  1. The major scale and its relative minor scale in natural form share the same notes, just a different pitch center (aka “tonic” – the first and last note of the scale)
  2. The melodic minor and the parallel major scale share all of the same notes except for the third.

In all, there are three groups of these four major/minor scales.  Here is the sequence of the actual scales:

Remember, each minor scale should be played in three forms (natural, harmonic, and melodic).  For example, group 1 would be:

C Major → a natural → harmonic → melodic minor →

A Major → f♯ natural → harmonic → melodic minor →

F♯/G Major → d♯/e natural → harmonic → melodic minor →

E Major scale → c natural → harmonic → melodic minor

One of the nice things about this system is that it pairs scales that tend to be more familiar (like C or F) with those that are likely to be less familiar (like F♯ or C).   

Depending on your facility with all of these scales (and practice time available), you can fit them in a six day practice week routine by doing them all either once a week, twice a week, or every day.  Here are the three options in a schedule:


  • Don’t forget to play these with a metronome.  Regardless of whether you can play them fast or slow, it will help you chart your progress and develop consistency.
  • Play each scale in one breath.  This forces you to maintain a steady tempo and develops consistency of approach.
  • Rather than starting scales from the bottom (up and back down again), try starting them from the top (down and back up again).  Why?  It develops a different kind of familiarity with the scales and increases your confidence in starting in the upper register.
  • Vary the articulation in every way imaginable, especially when you start knocking these all out every day.

*Use this handy Scale Journal to keep track of your progress learning your major and minor scales. It’s best to memorize your scales, but if you’re not there yet here are scale sheets for major scales and minor scales.

Practicing through Focused, Purposeful, and Creative Repetition

No matter how you do it, practicing is about doing something over and over again – repetition. I’ve found that there are three important ingredients that make repetition work for me. Rather than mindlessly hacking at a passage, I make sure that I’m approaching it over and over again with:

  1. Focus
  2. Purpose
  3. Creativity

I explain more and demonstrate the approach in this video:

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