Teaching Philosophy

“Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent.”

-Victor Hugo

How do we improve?

Improving a skill requires building upon many correct repetitions through thoughtful, planned practice.  Nonetheless, the practice room is also a kitchen of sorts, where one tries many different ways to find the “recipe” that works, which is almost never the same for any two people.  Even with this diligence, we cannot grow if we do not have a model sound in mind.  As Arnold Jacobs would say, “The brass player in your head is most important.”  And through listening to recordings and live performances, this sound concept becomes clearer and more guiding.

Guidelines for Successful Practicing

Performing well on any instrument requires intense concentration and attention to detail, so quality practice is far more important than quantity.  Quality comes from having a clear goal in mind.  Again, this starts with listening.  As a general rule, I try to listen to great musicians that I want to sound like AT LEAST as much as I physically play the trumpet each day.  If you only have one hour to practice, spend 30 minutes listening.

Below you will find a list of some of the trumpet players and other musicians that have been influential to me in developing my own sound concept.  Perhaps you take note of these people to start with, but in the end you must find your own unique set of sounds that you want to emulate.

Classical Trumpet Players:

  • Philip Smith
  • Ray Mase
  • Kevin Cobb
  • Karin Bliznik
  • Armando Ghitalla
  • Thomas Hooten
  • Adolph “Bud” Herseth
  • Chris Martin
  • John Hagstrom
  • Michael Sachs
  • Steven Hendrickson
  • Alison Balsom
  • Tine Thing Helseth
  • David Krauss
  • Wynton Marsalis
  • Maurice Andre

Brass Quintets/Ensembles:

  • Empire Brass
  • American Brass Quintet
  • Canadian Brass
  • Mnozil Brass
  • Center City Brass Quintet
  • Boston Brass

Orchestral Trumpet Sections:

  • New York Philharmonic
  • Chicago Symphony
  • Los Angeles Philharmonic
  • Berlin Philharmonic
  • London Symphony
  • St. Louis Symphony
  • Cleveland Orchestra
  • Philadelphia Orchestra

Jazz Trumpet Players

  • Wynton Marsalis
  • Clifford Brown
  • Miles Davis
  • Louis Armstrong

Other Musicians:

  • Cecelia Bartoli
  • Itzhak Perlman
  • Gil Shaham
  • Joshua Bell
  • Yo-Yo Ma
  • Joseph Alessi
  • Arnold Jacobs
  • Jay Friedman

*Listed in no specific order
**These are by no means all-inclusive!

Setting goals for yourself may be the most ignored aspect of improvement.  Musicians and psychologists have written hundreds of books on this topic, and there are many proven techniques and systems with which you may want to experiment.  I can offer to you my own approach, which I learned from two of my undergraduate teachers, Tom Hooten and Jennifer Marotta.

Start out by listing your strengths and weaknesses.  Be honest, be humble, but don’t be afraid to give yourself credit…after all, knowing what you’re good at is equally important as knowing what you need work to work on!

After you’ve decided these skills, make a list, preferably in M.S. Excel or Numbers, with your weaknesses at the top, and your strengths at the bottom.  Then fill in the “middle ground” with any remaining aspects of your technique.  Refer to the chart I’ve included here:

Trumpet practicing grid

Your vertical columns will be numbered with the days of the month.  For each day, you can place a check or number in the box of whatever skill you worked on.

You may, at first, notice a pattern (I did myself): we tend to work on the things we’re good at.  Can you imagine what would happen to our set of skills if we worked more on our weakness than our strengths?

This way of tracking your progress is just a means to an end.  I am always trying new ideas to track my progress, and you should too.

For your convenience, I’ve included a blank grid here: Grid for Tracking Progress.  Remember it’s helpful to write down in prose what you’re spending time on also, so don’t allow the grid to be a limitation.

How Lessons Might Work

It is my primary goal as a teacher to help students achieve what they want to achieve.  If I am able to guide you in growing refined technical skills and musical intuition, I believe you can move in the musical direction that most interests you.  As musicians, we must have something to say to others, and it is my job to help you learn to articulate what you have to say in music.

At the end of each lesson, we will work together to create a list of assignments for you to work on until our next meeting.  Certain skills (perhaps many of those listed on your grid) will need to be maintained in some way (like warming up in the morning with long tones and scales).  While I will not list these on your assignments, I trust you to spend what you feel is an appropriate amount of time on them.  From lesson to lesson, however, I will try to assign materials that will be helpful to your long-term success.  Specific exercises, etudes, and literature can sometimes steer you into areas of your playing you are less comfortable with.  Fortunately, that’s why we meet again and figure out what you may need help with, and also reinforce good habits!

Remember, you are your own best teacher.  In the 30-60 minutes I hear you play each week, it’s almost impossible for me to assess how I can best help you with your trumpet playing.  Don’t be afraid to come in lessons with a list of questions, or contact me anytime during the week(s) between lessons.  Ultimately, I will do my best to offer you the knowledge where eventually you will no longer need my assistance.

Contact Information: 

John Thomas (“JT”) Burson
Email: johnthomasburson@gmail.com
Website: johnthomasburson.com


  • Please bring your notebook and all materials to each lesson.
  • Please arrive on time.
  • If you’re unable to make a lesson, please call or email, however I appreciate a minimum of one hour notice– if I travel to the lesson location and the student does not arrive, I may need to charge due to the time spent traveling.  If you have a last minute change, please call rather than email.


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