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How to Oil Your Trumpet Valves

General Tips

  • Always oil your valves before important performance events, such as concerts, rehearsals, and lessons. Even if they're working well right now, they could start sticking at the worst possible moment. As they say, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."
  • If one of your valves is sticking, OIL ALL THREE! If you oil only the one that's sticking now, you can almost guarantee that another will be sticking very soon.
  • Keep your valves (and the whole horn) clean. You can oil your valves ten times a day, but if there's a cat hair or fragment of last week's pizza in there, they're going to stick.
  • If your teacher tells you a different way to oil your valves, try their way and my way and choose whatever method you prefer. There is more than one way to get the job done!

Preparing Your Oil

It may sound silly, but you really don't want to get your valves halfway disassembled before you have your oil ready to go. Take a moment before you start to get out your valve oil and open the bottle. You'll have one less thing to fumble with while your delicate and expensive to repair valves are vulnerable. If you happen to be running low on oil, I recommend Hetman No. 2:

Holding Your Instrument

Before disassembling your valves, hold the trumpet in your non-dominant hand at about a 45 degree angle (see photo at right). This will help insure that the valves stay in position while you oil them instead of either falling out or back into the horn.

Pulling Out the Valves

Unscrew the valves caps on all three valves at once, then pull each valve PARTWAY out, as in the photo.

Be careful not to rotate the valves as you pull them. They must go back in the same orientation they were in before in order to work properly.

Applying the Oil

Put a few drops of oil on the smooth exposed area of each valve. Three to four drops per valve is usually about the right amount, but vary that as needed for your instrument.

You don't need to oil the spring, or the part of the valve that holds the spring. The only area that needs oil is the part that comes in contact with the valve casing (see photo).

Reassembling the Valves

Carefully slide the valves back into position, taking care not to spin them out of alignment as you do. On most trumpets, there is a number stamped onto the valve near the top that tells you which valve this is (1, 2, or 3). This number usually faces the mouthpiece, but on some horns it's the other way around.


If you have any trouble getting them back into position, gently, slowly, carefully wiggle them back and forth and up and down. This will usually do the trick. Some valves are more finicky than others... just be patient.

Once the valves are in position, carefully screw the valve caps back on. They should be only "finger-tight." Remember that you will need to unscrew them again the next time you need to oil your valves!

Final Testing

After everything is back in place, it’s always a good idea to blow some air through the horn and make sure everything is working. If you can, play a note or two to make sure they come out. If you’ve accidentally put a valve or two in backwards, you’ll discover it now instead of during your performance!

Becoming the Productive College Student

I recently came across a really good blog post on The Productivityist, one of many blogs I follow these days. It’s a guest post written by Ryan McRae, titled “Becoming the Productive College Student.” It’s a pretty quick read, and well worth the time for anyone who’s looking to be more productive in their college years (and beyond!). Here’s my take on what he has to say:

Master Your Calendar

The first part of McRae’s post is about what he calls mastering your calendar. He says to look ahead at your assignments over the upcoming semester and put reminders in your calendar for when to begin working on them. For us musicians, of course, these assignments would be our upcoming concerts, auditions, juries, etc.

I actually use the Structured Practice Method for this purpose in my own practicing: When I know I have something coming up in the future, I create a practice item in SPM and set it’s “Start Date” to the date I’d like to begin working on it. I did this recently with a concert I have coming up with the Flint Symphony. We’re going to be performing Mahler’s 3rd Symphony, which has some major work for the principal trumpet, so I know I need to work on it in advance. Back when I got the season schedule, I set up a practice item for the symphony, and set it’s start date for a few days after I returned from my recent vacation. Sure enough, a few days ago it popped up on my daily practice list and I got to work. Knowing myself as I do, I’m certain I would have forgotten to get to work on it for at least another week or two if I didn’t have that reminder set up, and I would have been less well prepared for the first rehearsal.

Plan Your Practice Time

One thing I would add to McRae’s advice is to also master your schedule. By this I mean to look at least a day ahead and figure out when you can fit your practicing in. It’s just a fact of life that we often fail to hit our daily goals with regard to practice time. Set times in your calendar and treat them like fixed appointments. If you have an appointment with someone important at 10:00am, you’re not going to hang out in the student lounge until 10:30 (well, you shouldn’t, at least). Do the same with your instrument!

Plan to practice at a specific time and place, for a specific length of time. When that time comes, bite the bullet and go to the practice room and get to work, whether you feel like it or not! This gets easier the more you do it, I promise!

Of course, it pays to make your practice appointments reasonable. Don’t forget to allow yourself some down time now and then, and remember to include time to get from one place to another. Also, if your current average daily practice is 30 minutes, don’t schedule 3 hours right away. Work your way up to it. If you’re not sure how quickly to increase your time, talk to your teacher!

Control WHERE You Practice

McRae talks about making the Library your “sacred” study space. Obviously this won’t work quite so well for musicians. I’ve heard that librarians frown on students who practice Ride of the Valkyries in the library, though I haven’t tried it myself. Our sacred study space is the practice room.

We don’t typically have much control over what practice spaces are available to us as music students, but when possible I recommend trying a few different spaces. During my undergrad we had a few different types of practice rooms available, and I realized I was much more productive in some than in others. Figure out where you get your best work done and use it to your advantage!

It’s also worth keeping an eye on where you are when you miss the mark. For me, I found I would often miss my practice appointments if I headed to the Campus Restaurant for coffee and a sweet roll (this was very popular among my school’s music majors, as the restaurant was directly across the street from the music building). I eventually figured out that I needed to have at least a half hour free, or I just had to skip the hang-out. My trumpet, wallet, and pants size all rewarded me for the missed social time.

Play Hard. Work Hard. It Can Never be Both.

This is McRae’s final point, and we should all etch the above headline deep into our brains.

I know. We all believe we can surf Facebook while we practice our scales. But I can tell you, based on extensive personal experience as well as mountains of scientific research, that it’s really a bad idea. When you’re practicing, practice. Period.

Four Tips to Avoid Practicing on Auto-Pilot

Remote Practice Shed

Remote Practice Shed

I consider practicing fundamental technique to be a hugely important part of being a musician. As a result, I practice my fundamentals as close to daily as I possibly can. For trumpet, that includes “multi-tonguing,” or double and triple tonguing. Multi-tonguing is a skill that you need to practice regularly in order to maintain a high level.

I was recently working on my double tonguing and noticed my sound quality deteriorating in the upper register on certain passages. This is not uncommon, and it’s one of the reasons I practice that particular exercise. But what was weird was what I did next:

Click here to continue reading on the Structured Practice Method blog!

Announcing: Dr. Flegg’s Structured Practice Method!

Well, it’s been a long time since I’ve written a post to this website. I’m happy to report that I continue to get close to 2,000 visitors every month in spite of this. But, it’s time to explain why I’ve been so quiet (I have a really good reason!).

Some Background

I’ve been performing professionally on the trumpet for a little over 30 years. This means that for the past 40 years or so, I’ve practiced the trumpet. Nearly every day. For many, many hours. But in spite of (or perhaps because of) my vast experience with practicing, I’ve always believed I could do better… be more efficient, more thorough, more effective.

I’ve read countless articles, papers and books on the subject. I’ve taught hundreds of students over the years, seeing again and again how we all struggle with similar challenges. I’ve studied with many of the world’s finest trumpeters. In short, I’ve studied practicing very deeply.

One thing you’ll see again and again if you read about practicing: Most people recommend you keep a practice journal. What most people don’t talk about, is HOW to keep a practice journal. I’ve tried journalling off and on for years, but paper journals seemed cumbersome. Yes, it’s helpful to write things down, as that process definitely focuses and refines your thinking, but what if you’re working on something specific and want to track your progress, or quickly refer back to the notes from the last few times you practiced that passage? With a traditional journal, you end up flipping all over the place trying to find the two or three sentences you want to see.

About two years ago I started experimenting with different ways of solving that problem. Eventually, I settled on a system where I used a collection of folders and documents in Google Docs. By the Fall of 2013, my system was working quite well for me, though I still knew it could be better.

Toward the end of 2013 I decided the way to take my journalling system to the next level was to develop a computer program to automate it. I began work in January of 2014, and the project has been my main professional focus ever since.

It turns out there are a lot of things to learn and do if you want to produce a high quality web application, especially if all of your professional training is as a trumpeter! I have learned an enormous amount over the past year about programming and about the interwebs. It’s been a fascinating and exciting journey for me, and it’s nowhere close to being finished.

That being said, I’m very happy to announce to the world that my Structured Practice Method is now available to the public.

Dr. Flegg’s Structured Practice Method

I’ve actually been using it in my own practice since May of 2014, and all of my students at Wayne State University and Saginaw Valley State University have been using it since the Fall Semester 2014. It has been incredibly helpful. I have definitely noticed that I am a more effective practicer than I was previously, and the difference in my students has been even more significant.

As of today, I’m opening up the “Public Beta Testing” phase of the application’s development. I’m accepting a limited number of new subscribers in order to really run the system through its paces. I think most of the kinks have been worked out by my students, but in computer programming, I’ve learned that there’s always another bug in there somewhere!

I also hope to get valuable feedback from musicians who are not my students. The dynamic of the student/teacher relationship can make it difficult to offer honest criticism and suggestions, especially when at the end of the semester I’ll be giving out grades.

If you’re a musician who practices, please stop by Dr. Flegg’s SPM and sign up for a free beta tester account! I promise you you’ll be glad you did!

PS: I have big plans for the future of this application. While it currently allows teachers to monitor their students’ practicing from within the app, I’m already working on adding some great additional features to help teachers guide their students in their practicing. Stay tuned to the Structured Practice Method website and this blog for more announcements!

PSS: I also would like to give credit where credit is due. My step-daughter, Katherine Perkins, has been incredibly helpful in developing the public face of the SPM. Among other things, she designed our logos and has been a great help and encouragement in my work. And, she uses the app herself to track her workouts! Perhaps more about that at a later date.

Finally, I’d like to publicly thank my wife, Betsy, for putting up with me over the past year. I’ve put a LOT of time in on the computer when I could have been taking the trash out, or doing laundry, or… Thanks, Honey, you’re the best!

-Mark Flegg

Triage in the Practice Room

Imagine a busy hospital emergency room. An ambulance roars up, and paramedics quickly unload a patient, clearly in distress. A doctor runs up, takes a quick look, and says:


“I see you’ve been stung by a bee!”

“Yes, but..” the patient responds, weakly.

“Well, let’s get some ointment on that and see if we can get you feeling better.”

At this point one of the paramedics speaks up:

“Doctor, what about the stab wounds?”

Continue reading

How Much Should You Practice?

Students and parents often ask me how much time every day should be spent practicing. I usually answer that as a very general rule of thumb, if you take a 30 minute lesson once a week, then you should practice at least 30 minutes every day. But that is a very generic response. It’s really much more a matter of HOW you practice that makes the difference, and probably 60 or more percent of time in lessons we work on practice technique.

I just found this article through a friend’s facebook post: How Many Hours a Day Should You Practice?

It’s a great overview of some very useful ideas on how much time to spend in the practice room, and even more importantly, how to spend that time. It’s well worth a read!!

How to Clean Your Trumpet

Cleaning your trumpet is a basic part of routine maintenance. If you want your instrument to sound its best and last a long time, you need to clean it regularly. I generally recommend that my students clean their horns out once every 6-8 weeks. You should plan to spend around 30 minutes or more the first few times you clean your trumpet. As you get used to the routine, it will take you less time. I can usually do the job in about 15 minutes including set-up and clean-up.

Although I don’t give instructions for it here, you should also clean your mouthpiece out with a Mouthpiece Brush. You should do this more often than cleaning out the entire horn. Once a week is a good rule of thumb.

Before you begin, it’s a good idea to prepare your workspace and assemble all the tools you’ll need for the job:

  • Sink or tub filled with moderately warm water — not too hot to touch, not too cold to be uncomfortable (I use a kitchen sink, but a bathtub or laundry tub works too… basically you need a space large enough to fit your entire trumpet and get it mostly under water). I usually add a small amount of dish soap (hand dish-washing soap, not dishwasher detergent, which can damage the plating)
  • Snake, for cleaning slides and leadpipe tubing.
  • Valve casing brush, for cleaning the valve casings (I prefer the H.W. Brass Saver Trumpet Cleaning Brushes for this)
  • Lubricants ([amazon_link id=”B0002E51XU” target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]slide grease[/amazon_link], [amazon_link id=”B0002F7IZ8″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]valve oil[/amazon_link]).

Cleaning Tools

Shown here from left to right: HW Brass Saver valve casing brush and snake, regular snake, and regular valve casing brush.

Valve RemovalOnce you’ve got everything in place, it’s time to disassemble your trumpet. Start by removing the valves and setting them aside in a safe place (for me, this means out of reach of cats, who think it’s a lot of fun to knock them over and watch my entertaining reaction).

Next, remove all the slides. In the picture below you can see my C trumpet with the valves and slides removed. You can see the first, second and third valve slides, as well as the main tuning slide. Note that if your trumpet is a Bach Stradavarius Bb, the third valve slide can be separated into two parts.

BE CAREFUL WHEN REMOVING YOUR SLIDES! If they’re stuck, don’t force them out, or use pliers or other tools. It’s really easy to pull the tubing apart in places you didn’t intend to (ie: at the solder joints) and spoil an otherwise good day. If you can’t pull the slide out with medium level effort, finish cleaning your trumpet and take it to a professional repair person to have the slides pulled.

Watch out for small parts that are easy to lose while you’re taking the trumpet apart, and set them aside in a safe place. These parts can include third valve slide stopper nuts and screws, bottom valve caps, clip-on pencil holders, etc.

Disassembled Trumpet

Now that your trumpet is in pieces, it’s time to start cleaning. I like to start with the slides first, soaking them in the water for a minute, then pulling the snake or brass saver brush through the tubing:

Slide Cleaning

After snaking out each of the slides, carefully rinse them with fresh water to remove all soap residue, then dry and set them on the towel.

Next, place the main body of your trumpet into the water. Make sure the tubing fills with water and let it soak for a couple minutes. Then, clean out the various tubes. I like to use the snake on the leadpipe, an the thin end of the Brass Saver valve casing brush on the smaller tubes that enter the valve casings. Finally, I use the big end of the valve casing brush on the valve casings.

Valve Casing

After you finish cleaning all the tubing, you can drain the water from your sink and carefully rinse the trumpet body. I find the spray nozzle on my kitchen sink works great for this, but be carefull not to splash water all over the room!

Gently dry the trumpet and set it on a towel along with the slides. It can be helpful at this point to arrange the slides near the spots where they belong, especially if you’re new to the trumpet and aren’t totally sure where they go.

Before reinserting the slides, you’ll need to put some slide grease on them. I typically use two types of slide grease on my horns: For the main tuning slide I use [amazon_link id=”B003K7QIK6″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]Hetman Tuning Slide Gel[/amazon_link], and for the first and third valve slides I use [amazon_link id=”B0002E51XU” target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]Hetman Light Slide (Lubricant #4)[/amazon_link]

When you finish re-assembling the trumpet, it’s time to clean the valves. I like to use just a little dish soap and warm running water for this. It’s very important that you NOT get the top part of the valve wet! This is the part with the felt pads on it. If those felt pads get wet, they can compress and cause your valves to become misaligned. The only part of the valve that needs to be cleaned is the bottom section with the ports (those are the holes that line up with the various slides on the trumpet).

Make sure you carefully rinse of all soapy residue from the valves. DO NOT DRY YOUR VALVES! Drying the valves can end up leaving small traces of lint on the surface of the valve which can make them stick or slow down later on. Put a few drops of oil on each valve and carefully place them in their proper place (for more information on this, see the article “How to Oil Your Valves” elsewhere on this site).

At this point your trumpet should in great shape for your next practice session! Don’t forget to clean everything up behind you, and check the sink or tub for leftover trumpet slime.

Motivating Your Child to Practice

Motivating Your Child to Practice

Here are some excellent writings on this topic by the real experts (parents!)…

This first item was posted to the Trumpet Players’ International Network internet discussion group by Bryan Edgett. This is posted here with the author’s permission.

I am vitally concerned about this issue. This forum has proffered many “how to-s” for getting kids to practice. Some positive comments have included taking them to concerts, playing duets, some form of extrinsic motivation (new this or that, trip, etc.,) buying them CDs, and listening to them perform at home. These may or may not work depending on the child. I am concerned by the philosophies that drive the statements below excerpted from some posts to this thread:

  • “Make it fun!…If you demand it of him, he will ultimately turn away from it.”
  • “My recommendation is don’t push it, or put bluntly, let him quit if he wants to. If he is not behaving badly in other aspects of his life, then let him make his own choices.”
  • ” I WILL NOT fight/force/threaten anyone to practice. The second you do that is the second you lose them to music, maybe forever!”

Among the most troublesome issues I see today is the view that people think that “I am the center of my world.” That begins very early in some families. Children grow up believing that the world owes them something, that they should make most of their own choices, that they have few if any responsibilities, that everything must be fun and that if they don’t want do do something, they should not be made to do it.
I have a technical term for this, but list rules preclude its use. Malarkey will have to do.
As much as I love music and eagerly desire for my daughter to do well in it, some life lessons carry far more gravitas (Do you remember when that word simultaneously appeared on every news talk show on the same day?) in terms of importance. In my view they are these:

  1. Parents are in charge. Authority exists for a reason. It derives from its root, author, but I won’t elaborate on that now. In our home, if mom or dad establishes a policy, we expect it to be followed. We promise to do what we believe to be best for our daughter. We listen to her and we hear her concerns. As she demonstrates maturity, we release some controls on her life. But with our family, what we say goes. And it hasn’t made her neurotic; it’s kept her sane. I have confidence that she will have a proper view of authority throughout her life.
  2. Parents should be parents; kids have friends to be friends. By this, I do not mean that we should be detached, aloof, and unfriendly with our kids. But parents should be wiser, know more, approve better things, and make better decisions than children do. It seems to me that training our children requires us to evaluate what is best for them and to lead them in that way. Sometimes, that sets us at odds with our kids. They may be mad at us. We’re the grown-ups; we brought the kids into the world; we need to suck it up and have backbones that handle childhood irritation.
  3. We believe that God gives gifts. In our family, telling God that you are unhappy with what he has given is not a viable option. My students who come from a similar religious background to mine frequently hear me say, “God has gifted you in music. It is not respectful to tell him through neglect that you do not want the gifts he has given.”
  4. Lots of things in life are not fun. A talented, artistic, and strict viola professor who taught at one of the schools I attended posted a sign outside her door with a message that read “perhaps the most valuable result of all education, is the ability to make yourself do the thing you ought to do, when it ought to be done, whether you feel like it or not.” At times, practicing can be a pain in the rear. Each of us knows that. Anything that becomes part of the routine of life can become mundane, boring, and, by consequence, not fun. Many times, overcoming the part of an activity that made it not fun, turns out to be more rewarding than doing those things which come easy. But even if not, maturity and character are developed through endurance. They allow us to deal with that which is not fun.
  5. Excellence is its own reward. This speaks for itself.
  6. Coolness is way overrated. Many kids quit band in junior high because it’s not cool. Helping kids to see the shallowness of “cool” is among the most important tasks for parents of teenagers. Coolness often causes kids to avoid lots of things that are tremendously beneficial while encouraging them to pursue many things that are detrimental. Folks for whom cool is king pay a steep price when they grow up. Often, they spend money they don’t have, to buy things they don’t need, to impress people they don’t even like. The earlier this self-destructive attitude can be curtailed, the better.

My daughter is 13, a 7th-grade trumpet player and a very normal teenager. I have been her teacher since the 4th grade. I believe that teaching is among my jobs. Teaching one’s own kid has some challenges, to be sure, and I know that it does not work for everyone. And I have my moments, too.
I bought her an excellent horn (She’s played a Bach Strad almost from day one.”), I take her to concerts, we play together frequently, and I practice with her almost every day. She has hours of homework on most evenings, much more than I remember having at her age–certainly more an I ever did. That leaves early morning as our practice time. We practice together from 6:30 or 6:40 to about 7:15 each weekday morning. On Tuesdays, she has jazz band at 7:15 AM (I know, that’s nuts!) so we only get to warm up on those days. It is a sacrifice for me. I’m up at 5:45 after teaching at the university some evenings until 9:00 PM. But I care about music and I am certain that Bethany benefits from warming up with me.
She has the same rhythm problems that beset students her age. She is an average reader. But she does play with a good sound to a” most days and to c”’ on some. We don’t fight about practicing. In fact, her mistakes irritate her so much that she gets mad while practicing. But she will continue to play, at least through high school, for reasons we’ve discussed here before.
At the same time, we’ve told her that music need not be her thing just because it’s our thing (my wife is a hornist.) But we believe it to be a vital part of a child’s education. And we sacrifice some for it to be vital to her.
Children of junior high school age need structure. Their shoulders are not sufficiently strong to carry all of their own weight. Part of good parenting, in my view, is the willingness to look to the kids’ best interests even if they may not like it. Practicing falls into that category, as I see it.

This second peice comes from Michael Anderson. As with the piece above, it was originally posted to the Trumpet Players’ International Network. It is posted here with Mr. Anderson’s permission.

I have a 13 year old, 7th grade son who plays trumpet. He has more natural ability on the horn than I ever had or ever will. He also plays the piano very well.. however – he says he ‘hates’ it all.

You have to realize that this difficult situation is made worse by the fact that I am a musician and eat, sleep and breath it. On the surface our kids simply don’t want anything to do with what we love. My wife and I are both music professors and professional musicians – this is what we do.. My son wants to play baseball for a living. 🙂

Here’s how we handle the practice situation….

From the VERY beginning we told our kids that they MUST have music in their lives. They were told when they were 6 or 7 that they really had no choice in the matter. My son was really into sports and we made sure he knew that to be in sports he also had to do music. Because they both took piano before starting band in school it was clear to them that ‘doing music’ meant more than just playing in band. 15 minutes of practice 5 days a week was required.

Now that they are teenagers this becomes more and more difficult to maintain. My son made it into the Omaha Youth Orchestra program as a 7th grader and did it all this year.. he said he ‘hated’ it, but I know there were times when he loved it.. he would just never admit it to me. I would have killed for an opportunity like this when I was a kid… he could care less (on the surface). He knows that he is required to audition for the group next year. He knows that he is required to go to band camp this summer. He knows that practicing is required.. he doesn’t like it and fights it, but I think he knows its just gotta be.

Fortunately, he has had EXCELLENT band directors who know a little bit about motivating a kid.. especially one with ability. Like me, sports is diminishing in his life because he isn’t top-shelf material in that area in our town. However, he is experiencing great success in the area of band – kids look up to him there..he has status there – and that’s a great motivator.

Another factor was our middle school has a jazz band that is pretty good and he just loves that kind of playing. Jazz band saved us in the area of trumpet practice. He had to play a couple of solos there and practicing – memorizing them was something that kept the horn on his face. I bring him jazz etudes to play – or solos from actual jazz band tunes… this helps. Now his teacher has him taking a solo to contest.. i don’t know how she talked him into it, but she did. I wouldn’t have picked this solo, but since she did, he thinks its ok to work on it. 🙂 I’m staying out of it and even not coaching him on it (much).

Another thing I did and something you might want to consider is I made a deal with him – yes, call this a bribe, but it works and I’m not ashamed to have done it. He loves skateboarding and a lot of his friends skateboard. I agreed to keep him in high-quality skateboarding stuff if he practices 20 minutes a day, 5 days a week. This works. It has cost me about 0 in the past year, but it has been worth it. He gets something that he loves, which provides him entertainment and great exercise, and he continues to practice regularly.

You have to be very, very careful how you push them. It is really helpful if you can have another authority figure they respect push them too. I would talk privately with your kid’s band director and ask them to encourage him to work on and play solos. If the band director can provide situations that require him to do more than just play in band that is ideal.

Motivating your own kids is an uphill battle.. be creative.. find out the ways to keep them at it… I firmly believe that eventually, my son will really turn on and motivate himself to higher levels of playing… in the meantime, it’s up to me to do everything I can to just keep him going so that he doesn’t quit and waste such potential. At this age I would never just leave it up to him to decide if he keeps going or quits.. no way. He is simply not mature enough or rational enough to make a decision like that.. this is what parenting is in my mind.

He went to see Maynard Ferguson about a month ago… he was in our small town – he noticed that most of the guys in the band went to school at North Texas.. the other day he says to me: “Dad, do I have to go to college at Dana (my school) I said: ‘Not necessarily.’ He said: “Good, because I want to go to Denton and play jazz!” This blew me away. Maybe there’s hope that he will do this on his own soon

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