Team players in a trumpet section

The team

The word "team" seems to have become the world’s favorite concept: teams are built wherever you look and everybody seems to be a team player. Both in music and in sports, such "teams" have been around for much longer than in the business world and other areas.

As far as music is concerned, the term can refer both to a small ensemble or a symphony orchestra. But not all bunches that call themselves a "team" actually work like one. A "team", after all, is a group of people who want to achieve something together. The closer the team members cooperate, the better the result.

The trumpet section

Rest assured, I have no intention of analyzing the inner workings and approaches of well-oiled teams. I want to focus on teamwork in a trumpet section, even though some of what I’m about to say may also apply to other kinds of teams. But back to the trumpet section, which exists in every orchestra, brass band and jazz orchestra.

Like in ball games, a trumpet section with a bunch of soloists unwilling to fit in will never become a team. I believe the most important aspect is that the members of a trumpet section respect one another.

There is no room for envy or jealousy. The members of a section must never try to outshine one another. The aim is always to present the music in the best possible way. It follows that there are a number of rules that need to be heeded.

The section leader

While working on a piece of music, there can be room for each trumpet player to voice their opinion about the expression, phrasing and dynamics of the various passages. But at the end of the day, the section leader, i.e. the lead trumpeter, decides how the various passages will be played.

It follows that the other members of the section need to fit in and both accept and execute the indications given by the section leader without questioning them.

The sound

This is not the only thing that needs to work"”the section’s sound is equally important. Only if all trumpeters of the section share the same idea about the sonic result will the section"”whether in a big band, a symphony orchestra or a brass band"”sound as a unity.

This goes without saying, but I thought I’d mention it anyway. It helps the lead trumpeter enormously when the remaining section members know how to pitch their notes. Only then will his notes be recognizable in the harmonics of the chords played by his fellow section members, doing away with the stress of "bending" his notes to make them fit in.

The precondition for a bunch of trumpeters being perceived as a "section" is quite simply that the entire system works. Otherwise, the section sounds like a soloist with accompaniment.

Trompetensatz ohne Einzeichnung
Trompetensatz ohne Einzeichnung
Trompetensatz mit Einzeichnung
Trompetensatz mit Einzeichnung


Let us a look at a few additional details that are important for a section. First of all, it is important to establish during rehearsals"”preferably sectionals"”what it is the section wants to achieve. Some indications given by the lead trumpeter may become obvious if one listens to him, yet other details need to be agreed upon and annotated on the score.

Dynamics symbols, like crescendo and decrescendo, need to be uniform. As far as dynamics go, one always needs to take the specificities of the venue into account where the performance takes place. If, say, the venue sounds utterly different from the rehearsal room, forte can be either way too loud or still too soft.

Obviously, the conductor’s requests and ideas also need to be followed, because he is better placed to judge which dynamic level sounds best for the music and the ensemble at hand.

Given that music is inherently about starting and also stopping together, all section members need to know on what beat each note is supposed to stop. Playing staccato fourth notes can mean that they need to be short, or short and accented. Unless the composer or arranger has already provided phrasing indications, the section needs to work out how to handle that aspect. There is nothing worse than different phrasing approaches within the section, never mind whether we are talking about four trumpets, two or a funk band’s horn section. Do we play this legato or as a stab?

Musical opinion

Irrespective of the decisions a section takes, the conductor always has the final say. He evaluates and determines the ensemble’s harmony and musical expression.

To wrap this up, allow me to once again stress the importance of the fact that all section members make annotations of what has been said on their score, because such things are easily forgotten in the heat of the moment"”and that would be bad for the entire section.

Clear indications will help your trumpet section shine, because it works like clockwork where each toothed gearwheel propels the next to produce a predictable and fabulous result.

Well, it’s time to return to your team now!

Joachim Kunze