"Like Chet Baker, Cooper stays on an even keel, although he'll surprise you with twists and leaps into the upper register or blistering high note patterns. No matter what he tries, he never looses his balance."

Isthmus Magazine

David Cooper is an Eclipse Artist and plays Eclipse trumpets and flugel horns exclusively.

Juggling Versatility

Written by Dave Cooper
Friday, 21 March 2008 15:10

I have found that in recent years there seems to be a trend for music students, in particular students of the trumpet, to strive for music careers that encompass and embrace a wider variety of musical styles. Perhaps this is due in part to the fact that the freelancing musical climate has changed from one where a player could more easily make a living doing just studio work or symphonic work or playing in a big band. No doubt players that have earned strong reputations and acclaim as versatile performers such as Wynton Marsalis, Arturo Sandoval, Vince DiMartino and Lew Soloff to name a few, have greatly influenced the next generation of trumpet players. Highly focused "specialty" gigs still exist, but todays' trumpet player is much better "armed"with a larger assortment of musical "tools" at their disposal.


Personally, I did not start out with the intention of becoming a great versatile player. At different stages of my development, I was very focused on pursuing a career as a jazz player, then a symphonic player, then a chamber player/soloist. While I was devoted to these particular genres, I studied privately from players who were specialists in their field of expertise and did what I could to totally emerse myself in that particular style.An enormous amount of listening, both live and recorded, was involved with this process. This also meant that the years I was in my "symphonic mode", for example, I was not taking jazz or latin gigs and vise versa.These eras  coincided with my education: undergraduate jazz masters,  symphonic, DMA, chamber. It wasn't until I finished with my formal schooling that I began to draw on all of my musical influences and experiences to support myself as a freelance musician. This is when my real musical education began. (This is said with the utmost respect for my former educational institutions.) It was during this time (1993-2000) that I was juggling the schedule of playing in four regional orchestras (two of which was/am principal), working in a wedding band, salsa band, brass quintet, jazz combo and first call show trumpet for a performing arts center that regularly gets the Broadway show tours out of New York. My musical pallete was and still is very diverse and for that I feel very fortunate.


Now to the heart of the subject: How does one maintain and/or develop an approach to the trumpet that accommodates the varied demands of todays freelance lifestyle? One of my biggest fears as a musician is to be thought of as a "jack of all trades, master of none". No matter what musical situation I may be in, I always want the listener to feel sincerity and conviction from my performance. Looking back on the all the wonderful teachers I've had the opportunity to study with there are many consistencies in their teaching philosophies.One such constant is the need for a warm-up routine to develop consistency, monitor progress and isolate problem issues. The brass world has been blessed with many wonderful playing philosophies passed on to us by such teachers as Arnold Jacobs, William Adam, James Stamp, William Vacchiano, Carmine Caruso and Charles Schleuter to name only a few. All of these approaches though unique, have have stressed in one way or another, a consistant routine the player should incorporate into their daily playing schedule. Once the player has created a stable foundation of sound playing habits and fundamentals, branching out into specific areas of interest becomes more of a matter of changing certain techniques. These techniques and style changes are gained largely by intense listening. I often compare aquiring different musical skills like learning the game of golf. Each articulation, ornament or stylistic nuance is like a different golf club. "You could play an entire round with just a 5 iron but certain clubs make certain shots easier. Likewise, you may never use your pitching wedge, but you'll be glad you have it when you need it."



A consistency I have gathered from these approaches is a relaxed approach which is achieved through the breath.


Creating music on the trumpet can be a daunting proposition to the young and not-so-young student of music. There are countless aspects to be considered and mastered when one thinks of the "simple" act of turning a phrase. To help us begin cutting through this fog, we can use principles in creative problem solving, namely, dissecting an area and focusing on a specific issue in that area. If we consider playing the trumpet an area, we can dissect it into four general parts. Sound, Strength-Flexibility, Technique, and Musicality.Obviously there are a myriad of issues in each of these four categories, but I believe these issues have consistencies that allow us to separate them into these categories.


When working with younger trumpet students, I have found it beneficial at times, to relate the physical and technical aspects of playing the trumpet to sports. After all, the two activities require good breathing, physical stamina and a basic understanding of the muscles being utilized.


Part I Sound


Playing long tones in an expanding succession (G, F, A, E, B, D...) is a great way to ease into the practice session while concentrating completely on ones' sound. This is a good opportunity to get the breathing going, work on vibrato or expand your dynamic range. Because this can get to be somewhat meditative, if done with earnest concentration, this is also an opportunity to work on mental imagery. Exercises in imagery could be; visualizing inhaling one color of air and exhaling another depending on the intensity of tone desired (or simply, changing tonal color); visualize projecting your sound to specific points in a room; visualize creating the buzz on different points of the lead pipe (extending the mouthpiece). These are just a few suggestions.This whole process of warming up with long tones can be likened to the athlete stretching out before the game/workout.


Part II Strength-Flexibility


The body consists of muscles that work in primarily two contexts. Slow-twitch muscles are used for activities that require a great deal of strength, and the Fast-twitch muscles are used for quick, repetitive or graceful maneuvers. Two sets of visual examples would be comparing an Olympic sprinter to a marathon runner or comparing a pro football linebacker to a pro tennis player. All of these examples are highly specialized fields and their bodies reflect in a general way how they use their muscles. Fortunately or unfortunately, trumpet players have to use the muscles in their embouchure for both circumstances. Range, endurance, intervalic flexibility, and sensitivity of response are all related to how the player has conditioned their embouchure. To build mass in a muscle the weight lifter lifts heavy objects slowly a few times and to build definition the bodybuilder lifts lighter weights many repetitions. So, to apply this to a warm-up I play lip slurs in basically two configurations; slow, moderately loud, going from low to high to low; and quickly, lightly and in closer intervals at a moderately quiet volume. Adding intervals to the slow arched-shaped lip slurs is like putting another weight on the barbell. Working for speed and accuracy on close-interval slurs will give the player agility, flexibility and help refine the players' response for very soft, delicate passages.


Part III Technique


Part three comprises quite a large area of information but it is all related to developing right hand technique and coordinating the right hand with articulation. In keeping with the idea of focusing on a minimum number of variables, limit the range of these exercises at first. Play scales from root to fifth, slurred, as quickly as possible, while maintaining control and accuracy. Concentrate on good hand posture while repeating the different scale patterns over and over. This will develop muscle memory to the different finger patterns and eventually alleviate insecurities with the less common keys. This is also a good place to instill proper first and third valve trigger usage. The player can gradually add different articulation combinations and multiple tonguing exercises to fully round out their technique.

There are countless etude books dealing with technical issues. The player should always try to discover what the composers intent was for that particular etude or technical passage. Usually etudes have a technical "theme" or concept the composer is trying to stress and it is efficient practice for the player to identify and hone in on that particular concept.


  1. Thumb: between 1st and 2nd valve
  2. Pincky: NOT in lead pipe hook
  3. Fingertips: always as close to valve caps as possible


Part IV Musicality


This subject is too often overlooked or brushed-over by students. It seems that once a player learns all the right notes and rhythms the objective is complete. In my opinion, this is now the beginning! In our world of fast food and computers people expect results too quickly. At least in the music world. Turning a phrase in a natural, improvisatory manner takes time and living with the piece. Knowing the work so thoroughly that the work plays the player should be the objective. At this point, repetition of a phrase is not for learning notes but for ingraining the spirit and direction of the phrase. In most instances, this kind of musical confidence is brought about through experimentation with phrasing and time.




Dr. Cooper received his B.M. from the Lawrence Conservatory of Music, his M.M. from the University of Akron, and his D.M.A. from the University of Wisconsin - Madison. He is currently the trumpet professor at the University of Wisconsin - La Crosse.


His most recent recordings are “Festive Arias” for trumpet, mezzo-soprano and piano, “Bach Cello Suites 4,5 & 6 on Trumpet”, and “Petite Monde”, a collection of his jazz compositions.


His publications include; “Bach Cello Suites Transcribed and Edited for Trumpet”, two books of Tom Harrell jazz transcriptions, two books of multiple jazz trumpet artist transcriptions available through the Hal Leonard Corp. and “Festive Arias for Mezzo-Soprano, Trumpet and Piano”.


Dr. Cooper can be contacted at: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it