4 Pieces of advice for trumpet players from David Bilger

Nov 03, 2015

“Agility and power” these are just a few of the skills every trumpet player needs to master. But, playing the trumpet is not only about this obviously. You need to set your goals and think about what kind of job would make you happy. This is a tough task and probably some of you have faced these dilemmas before. David Bilger comes to the rescue and shares a few of his experiences and advice. Just in case you haven’t heard about him (which you probably have), David Bilger is the principal trumpet of the legendary Philadelphia Orchestra  and a well-known pedagogue and teacher. He is a great storyteller and while teaching, he loves to motivate his students by sharing his experience.

You can watch the full interview for free here   

1. How should one choose a trumpet?

Part of it is accepting that we are all different and knowing how our physicality is, how we approach the instrument, how we breathe, how we use air. We can have a more similar approach when we study with a teacher, but we all have our own ideas and that goes for equipment as well.

“We all have our own ideas and that goes for equipment as well”

So I don’t make my students play the same kind of instrument, because I think you have to find what works the best for you. Certainly there are ways to adjust equipment  to help overcome weaknesses or make the most of what you have. Personally I play mostly Bach trumpets and I own a few piccolos. As far as mouthpieces, I think if you talk to a lot of professional players, on b flat and c trumpets, things are pretty similar…

For you who maybe have to play orchestra, in a brass quintet or for recitals, the equipment that you play may be different than what I play, because my job is playing loud, long and all those orchestral sounds in the back. So, if I was doing more varied kinds of playing then I would probably be playing something a bit different.

Usually, what happens is that you take a mouthpiece that is pretty good and you work on it to get it better and better and then you ruin it… and then you start all over again…. I have like a hundred mouthpieces sitting there at home. You need to experiment what works and find something that works for your situation  and if you find yourself in a job for a long time you will probably adjust again to something that works in the concert hall that you are in, with sound the orchestra makes, works with the volume that the trombones play etc.

“You need to experiment what works and find something that works for your situation.”

2. What is your idea of sound?

I think that sound is the most important thing that we have, because it’s the first thing that anyone notices. When you start to play the first thing is about sound and then about the musicianship, the articulation, range of dynamic and all the other things. So for me it’s something I work the most on  in my own playing, trying to get it even, trying to get a balance underneath it, and make adjustments as needed by the repertoire.“Sound is something I work the most on in my own playing”11892163_510775585766150_1457817776833285409_ngggg.JPG

Also it is important to develop a sound that works in different situations. Obviously, if you want to make a living playing  in a brass quintet you would want to be able to get a different sound or if you want to do freelancing you want to do more brilliance than the breath of playing in an orchestra every day. So, from the beginning of my career which was more towards solos and freelancing,I think I have been adjusting in the orchestra to go for a broader sound.  But with that said you still need to have a range of harmonics and I think that is hugely important.

3. How do you think students can reach their goals and how did you reach yours?

It’s a complicated question...It is quite difficult to define what does goals are. I am not even sure I can tell you what mine are for the future. I always talk to my students about setting up a plan for the next semester, for a year, two years and then finally 5 years, so that we can always be thinking about where are we heading. I think especially these days these directions may take us to places we can’t even imagine because we have no idea how the technologies will be like, we have no idea how the symphony orchestra is going to look like in 10 years.  

“It is hard to set professional goals, but we can easily set personal goals.”

It is hard to set professional goals, but we can easily set personal goals. I never imagined I would be playing in an orchestra, my teachers always told me I would. I wanted to be a soloist  and play chamber music or in a brass quintet….I thought those settings were better for my talents. I did competitions and recitals and solo appearances and then I started realizing there was not enough room in this world for a trumpet soloist, there are very few of them…. And then I thought that maybe the orchestra is the way. I have been trained very well, I knew the excerpts, I knew how to audition, I knew maybe less about how it is to play in the orchestra.

bilger_final_wider.jpgI wasn’t very good at setting those goals, I was really good at setting a practice session and learning and knowing what I wanted to accomplish in 4 or 5 hours that day. I always tell people….If life is a game, for a while, I play me and see where things take me, and it was to the orchestra world and I have to say that it has been a great ride. The irony is that after I got the job in a big orchestra, I got more chances of finally being a soloist  

4. What challenges do you have in the orchestra and what do you enjoy the most?

In a way it gets easier, because you know the repertoire so well, you know where the problems are, you know how you take out a part  and you know what bars you have messed up last time and what gives you problems. So, preparing is a lot easier than when it was the first time and you are trying to learn all the notes, listen to recordings and maybe try to get a score...Honestly it doesn’t get any easier playing the trumpet with age and even though I am not ancient yet, I am half way ancient, so… you know part of the way is to make sure the physical stuff works, so a challenge is having the discipline to practice basics. Without the basics, then playing in the orchestra becomes too much of an adventure and not in a good way.

“A challenge is having the discipline to practice basics.” 

What keeps me liking the job and wanting to be there is first of all…. it’s the Philadelphia Orchestra, it’s an incredible collection of musicians and you know I am not just talking about the stars…. Also working with great conductors who can make the 50th time through Beethoven 7 seem fresh. And every once in a while finding a new piece of repertoire that gives you either a mountain to climb or a jam that you haven’t heard before.  

Learning how to play the trumpet can be tough, but here at Play with a Pro, we want to help you out with a free lessons with David Bilger on Sound.

If you have more questions for David Bilger leave us a comment and we will get in touch in him.


Kenny | at Nov. 5, 2015, 12:38 p.m.

Hi Mr.Bilger, I am a trumpeter from Penang, Malaysia. I will be taking Haydn's 1st and 2nd movement as my audition repertoire next year. Currently, I am facing few problems with the first movement - measures 152 onwards, the sections with lots of semiquavers. I am playing them on Bb trumpet. I have no problem in hitting the top Bb while warming up. However, when I tried to play the section, I have problems in hitting the Bb and sometimes I did hit the Bb, but my air was like stucked or jammed and cannot produce any sound after that Bb. Can you give me some advice? Regards, Kenny

Joe tabris | at Nov. 4, 2015, 11:21 p.m.

I am also a pro, and such truth about the power of fundamentals is always inspiring.

Martin Neuland | at Nov. 4, 2015, 9:43 p.m.

Hello, I have just retired from teaching 30 years of high school music. Now I am trying to get Bach in shape to do a DMA, but mainly I want to improve my skills. Progress is VERY slow. What suggestions do you have for this slow retired learner. Thank you

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