Trumpet Lessons from James Ackley

HEY EVERYONE, I've been meaning to do this for quiet a while now. Over my two years of trumpet studies with James Ackley at the University of South Carolina School of Music, I complied a short list of sayings and explanations that stuck to me. These are by far the ones that "clicked", the ones that took me a step forward and the ones I pass on to my students. Note that this list does not include the million hilarious anecdotes I had the pleasure of hearing in his lessons, perhaps if you study with him one day you will enjoy them!

Professor James Ackley on the far left and the USC Trumpet Ensemble in Orvieto, Italy.

Professor James Ackley on the far left and the USC Trumpet Ensemble in Orvieto, Italy.

Trumpet Lessons with James Ackley - compiled by Estela Aragon


  • One phrase, one blow.

  • There are 3 kinds of notes, to's, from's and at's.

  • Breathe from the FLOOR!

  • If you're not feeling cold air in the back of your throat when you breathe, then you're not doing it right.

  • When you perform, don't think. Turn it off.


  • Have a solid concept.

  • Spin the air to be in tune!

  • Energize the notes...always.

  • EARN the higher note by digging into the low one.

  • Dynamic markings are almost always suggestions...learn to feel it.


  • Listen and adjust.

  • Adjust with slides, not your face..With a couple exceptions.

  • Always focus on tone. It should always be beautiful.

  • WAKE UP.

  • Quit looking at the bark of the your ears and look at the forest in front of you.

  • A little bit of a lot is better than a lot of a little bit.

  • Let your air be your muscle!

  • Not every note needs vibrato. Let vibrato be the color on some note.

  • Practice performing

  • When playing romantic and passionate music, the loud notes or notes marked forte should do this (Prof. Ackley hugs you)...NOT slap you in the face -_- 

  • Blow DOWN on the horn. The more you pinch the sharper you will be, and as you pull out to adjust you will have to actually pinch even more...and that's a vicous circle. Push in, blow down and relax and you will be in tune.

  • Its good to be able to blow RED HOT!... but then you have to come back down!!!!

  • If it's out of tune, don't let it sit there...adjust quick!

  • If you adjust the wrong way, then at least you know that's not the right way to go....soooo go the other way!

  • If you  KNOW a note is out of tune, never EVER EVER be unprepared to play it right.

  • Have a solid concept of what the note sounds like and what the musical cencept of the piece is. That's the ONLY way to play artistically.

  • When you perform, the creative brain turns on and EVERYTHING else turns off.

  • Tapering the end of phrases is an ARTISTIC taper means no art, no music.

  • The trumpet is easy to play because everytime you play it, you approach it the SAME way. 


If you have any questions comment below :)