Playing Trumpet After Long Break-Restarting Comeback Player

Playing Trumpet After A Long Break

I’m quite familiar with the frustration and mental anguish that can accompany the decision to start playing trumpet again after having had a long break. This is because I have had many long breaks in may days myself, with the longest one being a little over a year.

During those periods I have found a few things to be of particular importance for comeback trumpet players…

…so, are you trying to get back  into playing trumpet after having had a long break?…

…perhaps you are trying to start playing trumpet again after many years off?

If so, then you might find this post helpful, as I will give a few tips on how you can get back into brass playing, without having to go through so much frustration.

-Returning to the trumpet-
We lose it faster than we think!

As you are sitting there and reading this text, shift you focus to your face, your face muscles, and in particular the muscles that form the trumpet embouchure. It’s kind of difficult to even know that they are there, isn’t it? There are two points I want to make with this…

    • Playing the trumpet is a very unnatural thing when you think about it. As you are sitting there, try to form your muscles they way they need to be formed in order to play the trumpet. By doing this we quickly realize that it is a very unnatural position for our face muscles to be in. This brings me to the next point…
  • The embouchure muscles are not used in everyday life. The muscles we use to form an embouchure are always there, of course, but when we’re not playing, they are never tightened and formed the way they are when we play. This means that the muscles needed to form the embouchure, NEVER gets a workout unless we are playing the trumpet, buzzing, or doing a trumpet isometric exercises.

In other words, if we don’t keep playing the trumpet, we lose it. And not only that…

…we lose it fast!

And this is just the embouchure strength I’m talking about now. Of course all the tiny, microscopical embouchure movements, controlled by our brain and nervous system, gets rusty as well.

Picking up the trumpet after years
Your first week back,
Go SLOWER than you would like to

It does not matter if you just now are thinking about playing trumpet again after many years off, or if you “only” took 6 months off, the first few days is going to be very difficult. As we already noted, we do not form out face into a trumpet embouchure in normal life, if we do not play the trumpet that is, so this means your embouchure muscles are going to get a bit of a shock after the first day of playing…

…this is something that is good to be aware of when you start playing again in order to avoid even more frustration.

The comeback trumpet players guide
Follow these steps for your first month

  • Realize that you probably are going to suck… and that’s OK!

    Because you used to play the trumpet, your brain remembers what you to sounded like and what you were able to play, five years ago (or whenever your last time happen to be)…

…it is important that you get back into playing the trumpet with the attitude, I’m probably going to suck, but that is totally fine. This is because when you start playing the trumpet again after you have had a long break, you will NOT sound the way your brain remembers. That simply won’t happen and if you think you will…

…you are setting yourself up for a huge dissapointment!

Without the right attitude the frustration can force you to overdo it in the beginning and this may be harmful to your embouchure. So pursue patience, along with the right attitude, and you are ready to start practicing again.

I recommend you give the following, comeback trumpet players guide, a try

    • Day 1  Practice for 20-30 minutes

      Let’s face it, if you haven’t played the trumpet in over a half year, you do not have any chops right now and whatever amount of playing you will do on your first day, it will be “too much”, as far as your body is concerned. This is unavoidable, but we deal with this issue by lessening the practice time the following three days so that the small muscle fibers in your embouchure will have no problem repairing themselves.

-Play a lot of long tones in the middle to lower register. After that, play a few scales. Also work a bit on articulation and clear attacks. Finish with playing one or two easy songs. Don’t do any lip slurs yet-

  • Day 2  Practice for 5-10 minutes

    Ok, congratulations, you are back in the game and it’s the second day that is the first step towards making a routine. Not the first day. We can sprinkle in how many “first days” we want over the time span of our life, but without the following days, there is no real practicing or routine going on.

You will most likely feel some soreness in your lip muscles on the second day and this is of course to be expected. Since you haven’t been playing the trumpet for a long time your lips have taken some abuse from yesterdays playing, and some of the muscle fibers need to be repaired. This is why you should practice less on day two than on day one…

…even if you don’t feel any soreness in your chops, the muscle fibers still need to be repaired and I highly recommend you follow the plan.

-Just play some soft long tones today and a couple of easy songs, like for example a hymn or two and then quit for the day-

  • Day 3 Practice for 10-20 minutes 

You should still take it very easy and add just a few more minutes, so that you’ll practice about 5-10 minutes longer than on day 2.

-Practice long tones, scales and a couple of easy songs. Still no lip slurs!

  • Day 4 Practice for 20-30 minutes 

Your embouchure muscles should now be recovered and thus you are back at the same amount of practice as you did on day one. From now on things should start to get a bit easier. (If you have followed this plan)

Continue doing your long tones and scales. They are very important and I consider them to be the very foundation of our trumpet playing. Again, you should work some more on your articulation and attacks. Try to make them clean and precise.  Finish with playing one or two easy songs. Don’t do any lip slurs yet

  • Day 5 Practice for 25-35 minutes 

Your first cycle is done and now a new one starts. Make this practice session about 5 minutes longer than what you did on day 1.

-Do long tones, scales, and now for the first time since you started again, do a bit of lip slurs. Finish with a couple of songs or etudes.

  • Day 6 Practice 10-15 minutes 

You are probably starting to see the pattern by now. This “super light” day always follows the first day in the cycle.

Now that you decided to start playing the trumpet again after a long break you might be tempted to do a lot more than this…

…DON’T! Less is more at this stage.

-Only practice long tones and one or two easy songs today.

  • Day 7 Practice 15-25 minutes

We keep building up the amount of practice time and add minutes like this.

-Practice long tones, scales, lip slurs and finish with an etude or some other nice trumpet music

  • Day 8 Practice 25-35 minutes

This day is like day 3, in the first cycle, but again, with 5 minutes added.

Lip slurs work more on the center of the embouchure, the part that you place your mouthpiece on, and those muscles do not recover as quickly as the corner muscles do. This is the reason you should not practice lip slurs today. You ddd them yesterday and the center of your embouchure need to recover. Remember, you just got back into trumpet playing,  your embouchure is still very weak.

(If you do not know what I mean by “corner muscles” then you can go take a look at the article  how to play without mouthpiece pressure and then come back here to continue with this post)

The corner muscles are harder to overtrain. Even though they can get extremely tired after a long trumpet session, they are almost always recovered the following day (if you get a good night’s sleep)

Continue doing your long tones and scales. Do not do lip slurs today. Be mindful with the attacks and articulation when you are practicing the scales. Finish with an etude or two or some other trumpet music that you enjoy playing.

  • Day 9 Practice 35-40 minutes

Good job! You are slowly, but surely getting back into playing the trumpet again. More minutes and longer sessions….

…way to go!

Today you should do lip slurs again because the center of your embouchure did not work that hard yesterday.

-Practice long tones, scales, lip slurs and music. 

How to get back in shape
Keep going and add more minutes

Ok, I’m sure you can see the pattern by now so there is no need for me to write out the rest of the days. Just keep going with this pattern and add more minutes. You have probably noticed that it’s a 5 day cycle and that you should add 5 minutes every new cycle.

I recommend that you do two or three more cycles so that you keep building up for about a month. This is a good way of getting back in shape and I always use it myself whenever I have been off the horn for a few months (luckily that don’t happen very often nowadays). After that, you can start experimenting with practicing in other ways, like for example practicing the same amount every day, or whatever suits you the best.

Start your days with a good warm up

No matter if you are picking up trumpet after years off, if you are a comback trumpet player or if you never been off the horn, you should make a habit of starting your practice days with a good, solid warm up routine…

…and do that same warm up every day!

This is important for the brain as well as the embouchure. If you are not sure how to structure your warm up routine you can check out my article how to warm up on the trumpet, as you will find a lot of information there. In that article I also share my personal warm up routine.

How to start playing trumpet again after a time-out
Should I do my lip slurs on a daily basis after the comeback guide is done?

Ususally yes, but, it depends. There are many factors to consider, for example…

  • How much of them you do
  • How fast you recover (we are all different)
  • In what register you are practicing them

You have to experiment and be your own best teacher. What I personally do is to alternate between doing more of them one day, a “heavy day” where I also do more lip slurs in the upper register and then the following one-two days I still practice lip slurs, but only about 50-60% of the amount that I did on the “heavy day”…

…the rest of my practice routine (scales, long tones, music and so on) is the same every day. With a few exceptions, depending on how I feel, or what my time schedule looks like of course.

comeback trumpet player restarting playing the trumpet again after long break

Fight the urge to go faster

Most people will have a hard time with the slow progression I present in the comeback plan. And sure, It feels unnatural slowing down after the first day, and doing just a few minutes. After all, we want to get somewhere so why lift the gas pedal? …

Most people overdo it

…I get that, but please try it out!

Time and time again I have noticed that it is so easy doing too much, and when we do, it will just set us back. This is especially important when playing trumpet after a long break. Trust me on this, even though it feels like you are being lazy, you are actually progressing faster this way than if you were to do more.

The same is true for many trumpet players when they get a call to play a big, important gig. Their first thought is “now I’m going to practice A LOT so that I’ll be able to really nail the performance”…

…aaaand so they practice too much, resulting in them being in worse shape than if they had just kept practiced their normal practice routine. I have been there myself many times in my life, so rest assured, I’m not pointing any fingers here. But I think I have learned my lesson by now…

…and don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with stepping on the gas and start practicing more…

…IF we do it in a smart way!

Add in some “light” practice days every now and then in the weeks leading up to the important gig, just to make sure you avoid getting over trained embouchure muscles.

Experiment with light, medium and heavy days

Personally I’m the strongest on the third day after a really heavy day and this is something I take into consideration when I plan my practice schedule before a tough gig. If the gig is on Saturday, I have a very heavy day on Wednesday, with a “light” day on Thursday followed by a “medium” day on Friday.

Taking up trumpet playing again after having had a long break
-Final Words-

Ok, there you have it. This is the way I recommend restarting trumpet playing after a long break. I really hope this article has been helpful and that you got something out of it. The world needs more comeback trumpet players. One simply does not stop playing the trumpet =)

Just remember to go slow and I want to, once again,  congratulate you for returning to the trumpet. It is really an awesome musical instrument and if you pursue patience, I have no doubt that you will experience lots of fun and excitement again, with your beloved horn.

Thank you for reading this article about how to get back into trumpet playing after having had a break for a few years, or so. Keep practicing and remember to have fun while doing it!

Need My Help?

If you feel that you would like some more help, I would be happy to assist you with your trumpet playing. Check out what kind of help I can offer over at my page >>> online trumpet lessons for comeback players <<<

-Robert Slotte-

P.S. What is the longest period of time you have been off your horn? Days, weeks, months, years? Please feel free to comment something in the comment section below….

…what was it like, for you, starting trumpet again after years off? What did the first day picking up the trumpet again feel like? Did you do too much in the beginning, or did it turn out alright?


15 thoughts on “Playing Trumpet After Long Break-Restarting Comeback Player”

  1. You’re absolutely right about losing it faster than we think. 58 yr old come back 10 years ago after over 20 years off. Now play out regularly and even a short break (a week or two) is devastating to the embouchure, tonality and endurance. I can show up for a gig after a short break and still nail it, blow my face off and bring the house down, but I’m useless for a month recovering from all that damage. So, slow and steady. The longer the break, the longer the recovery, but even just a few days off requires a little slow rebuilding. I like the cycle idea and will adapt it for short breaks. Thanks for the insight.

  2. This is very helpful as I make my second attempt in the last 4 years to start again after a 30-year hiatus. Graduating H.S. in NY State, I had several musical scholarships, was selected as first-chair in All-State Symphonic and Jazz Bands. However, I had a different calling and went to the Air Force Academy, much against my mom’s wishes. Anyway after a 25-year AF career not being able to play, I decided to pick it up again in 2018. I did some research online and took it slow, but became frustrated after a few months, plus I didn’t have the time to commit.

    Now at age 58, I am determined to take it slow and move forward. I’ve really missed playing and will heed the advice in this column.

    • I can’t believe your Mom did not want you to to the academy. That’s a $$ milion edcation, free, glad you choose the academy over the horn. I was a Marine officer via PLC and college. In the Marines I always had a horn with me and often found a piano man in a bar. My fellow officers liked me cause it brought the ladies in. My adult hobby was Dixieland jazz and played often until I was 78 and a very strong player, then a car accident caused me to back off. I have not played much in a year because of Covid, it just shut down playing opportunities, so starting today 3.18.22, trying to get some endurance back to play a 1-2 hour gig. Dixieland allows me to take a few liberties and let others take solos. I have a lazy tongue, so that is not critical.

  3. After a 5 year break from a life long teaching/playing career, I started again a 65 years old. The local brass band needed me on from row (elite division), for the nationals in 3 months. Needless to say I smashed my embouchure completely. Just read your article, everything correct! Now I’m back on target, starting again sensibly, and telling the kids around me to be patient. I reckon 6 months before I feel I’m back on form again.

  4. This is a great help. I put the horn down during COVID because I was just so stressed for time. I am a high school administrator who covers a large district area, and my supervisors decided that no drive time meant more meetings on Zoom! (7-10 or more a day)
    So I Googled this and I think your approach is great! The only thing I am adding is breathing exercises. A few years ago, I had a major abdominal surgery. A month later, it was time to prep holiday music, and I had to work up my chops, which I expected – but phrasing and breathing nearly killed me. I had to get my diaphragm and abdominal wall muscles back in shape.

  5. Hello Robert, I am approaching age 78. Did well through H.S. on trumpet. My music/band teacher use to call me “Harry James.” Always had a great tone, but poor endurance. Still don’t get it. At one of our last concerts in concert band, we had a guest Trombone player who was in Fred Warings band. At end of the concert, he asked my teacher/conductor who the lead player was (me). This was my Sr. year. Had no college plans. Was considering entering Navy. The guest Trombone was a retired Navy Band player. He talked me into going to U.S. Navy School of Music. He formally auditioned me, and paved the way for me to go directly to the school after boot camp. I did very well in school. We had to log a total of 7 hrs. per day during the school year. After getting good grades, and getting one best student award, I was able to get an upgrade trumpet. I selected a “Conn Constellation” because of Maynard. Kept it until discharge. I was assigned Admirals staff as a fleet musician. Did two cruises cruises in the Gulf of Tonkin. Then to Naval Training Ctr. San Diego. A great band, who worked a lot. Now to get to the bottom line! Despite all of this playing, I still had no endurance. Rarely could hit a high C. Still had a good tone, but lead, or 2nd chair was out of the question. Always been very upset about this. I’ve been very busy playing in many bands playing drums, guitar, and bass, but very little trumpet. My latest band leader would like me to play some trumpet. Would love to, but concerned that my chops would not support me. Have been considering getting a Bb valve trombone. What do you think? Maybe a bigger mouthpiece? Thank you, and sorry for being so wordy…

  6. I haven’t played in about a year due to not needing to because of COVID but now that we have assignments where we need our instrument i find that not practicing was a mistake. So far i’ve been feeling frustrated at where i am in skill at the moment but i will try this routine.

  7. Picked up the horn after 55yrs. The last two weeks I’ve been practicing about 30-45mins. M-F. I was nothing more than an average player in high school but am hoping to past that plateau. I have purchased a few books to help me along. “I used to play the trumpet”, “Elementary Method” and “Arban Complete Conservatory Method for Trumpet”. I purchase a trumpet (Bach Regency) on-line for a few dollars and it seems to play well. I had a Bach 3C come with the trumpet and purchased two Blessing mouth pieces 5C & 7C. I don’t remember what mouth piece I used in high school. Right now I seem to like the Blessing 7C. My lip seems to go flat after about 35 mins of practice. I would appreciate any insight you could give me.

  8. Robert, I really enjoyed reading through your website. I was an avid trumpet player through college years, then became a CPA which consumed all my time for 45 years. I am near retirement and want to go back to trumpet playing . No golf, no cards , just can’t wait to take out the horn again. I will use your tips, but I am interested in some type of lessons or tips online with you. How do I arrange that? Thanks again for all the great information.


  9. I made it into unf school of music but my GPA didn’t hold and I wasn’t able to make into the actual university. I lost all confidence in myself and I haven’t picked it up in 5 months. Guess its time to get back into shape.

  10. Hi! I have been on a “forced” break for almost a year here, I really can’t believe it. I had my senior recital right before Christmas break and went into a student teaching internship so I lost all of my practice time. Because of Covid I moved back into my parents’ house where I couldn’t practice and when I finally recovered enough to move back out into my own space, my neighbors were not appreciative, to say the least. I miss the horn and I am ready to come back, I am just ashamed and embarrassed because of the amount of work and time I will have to put in to get back to where I was.

  11. Hey Robert. My name is Leo and im 28.. Im trying to get back into my trumpet playing after about 9-10 years without really playing it. After reading this article about getting back into the trumpet slowly for comeback players, I was trying to click on the “Online Trumpet Lessons For Beginners / Comeback Players” section above and it says i need a password. What does that mean? I cant email you or anything because i dont see an email address anywhere to email you at. Please help me out and thanks.

  12. Yeah! Has been awhile since played regularly. I played in school and college back in the 70s and 80s. I am 64 and find it difficult to get regular practice in at this time.
    And, back then, it was difficult to practice. Trumpet is a loud instrument. So I’d practice all I could during band practice.
    No one ever told me about using a practice mute. I learned about them in my junior year when I saw one at a music store. So too late.
    In college I got sidelined with this special needs person. He wasn’t in college but needed help. So more time with him than study. I even got a D in trumpet because of it.
    And the warm up? I played in a couple of contests. My regards was a great number with the long high Bb at the end. I could play it great. But I had difficulty finding the place for the contest. So I had less than 5 minutes to warm up. So a very poor performance.
    Thanks for the helpful info.


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