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.

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

Why it Might Be Worth Memorizing Your Next Solo

sheet-music-1229481_1920A few years ago, if you had asked me to memorize a piece of music I probably would’ve quickly dismissed the idea. Other than marching band, a few orchestral excerpts, and some warm-ups, I played very rarely without music. More recently, however, I’ve come to realize what I had been missing by not getting away from written music at times. Here are a few things I’ve discovered:

1) The process of memorizing makes learning the music more important than learning how to play the music. Here’s what I mean: too often we focus on the challenges that a piece demands of us, like the fingers, tongue, range, speed, endurance, etc. Of course, we have to work on these things, but when we are working to make music away from the page, we’re more focused on getting the sound of the piece inside of us. Recalling the musical story becomes the goal rather than overcoming any technical hurdles involved.

2) Memorization can free us up to pay attention to the other parts of a piece of music. Single line instrumentalists and vocalists too often forget that there is more to a musical work than what they hear in the practice room. The fact is that our part in most pieces works together with other parts, such as a piano or ensemble. A great benefit to memorizing AND a solid way to build memory is to get to know the other parts that work together with ours.

3) Once we start memorizing a piece of music we can practice it anywhere and anytime, with or without our instrument or music. My eight-year-old son who studies with the Suzuki method goes about many days singing or whistling the pieces he is working on. I’m convinced that even though he doesn’t know it, he is essentially practicing at these times. Subconsciously, he’s working out the details of the sounds, patterns, rhythms, phrasing, etc. This is a great advantage, especially for those of us who have limited practice time with our instrument.

4) It’s an empowering feeling of accomplishment when we really know a piece of music, not just because we can read it from the page. We’re no longer dependent upon something like a teleprompter to feed us our lines in performance. Plus, we now know the piece better than we ever would have with the music staring us in the face for the thousandth time.

If you were like me and rarely have committed music to memory, why not try it? Let me know what you discover along the way.