Education is a lifelong journey, and a journey that often starts in schools around the world that suffer from a lack of funding in music. It is more important than ever to find good quality and reliable resources to help children on their musical journey, as well as adults and advanced learners too. Trumpet Headquarters is a wonderful resource set up by Estela Aragon who was kind enough to talk to me here.
Can you give a little background to your relationship with the trumpet and your professional background?
Do I have a story for you! I began playing trumpet in 6th grade entirely by accident. Back then we had “the wheel” which was a system in which first semester 6th grade students would try an elective for two weeks at a time and then decide which one they wanted to continue for their second semester and on. I tried band for a couple of weeks and during that time we all got trumpets, because it was just to try music, but I thought that meant I had been assigned the trumpet.
See, I didn’t speak English yet as I had recently moved to the United States from my home country Peru, and I was under the impression that I had to play the trumpet! Now, the tryout went great and I was the only student who was able to make a sound on the first try. So, I took that and rolled with it. It was the first time I felt comfortable anywhere, like I belonged, especially in a country where I felt lost due to a language barrier.
That small moment eventually grew into an obsession and passion, which of course became a life-long learning experience. Fast-forward 10ish years and like most musicians in school, I performed as many gigs as possible, and started teaching private lessons in my first year of undergrad. I had a lot of very fulfilling playing experiences from orchestras to weddings to even country music gigs, locally and abroad. It wasn’t until my master’s degree that I decided to focus on private and non-institutional trumpet education. That led me to found my private studio MusicFit Academy, through which I continue to teach full-time today and of course, TrumpetHeadquarters.com, or THQ, was founded shortly after.
What prompted you to setup Trumpet Headquarters?
About 5 years ago I was a in a place of innovation having just wrapped up my master’s degree. I found myself teaching a lot, figuring out life outside of school, and as I grew my private studio I began to run out of times to teach. More and more often I was turning down perfectly good candidates due to time constraints. That’s when I had the “aha” moment to setup some sort of online trumpet lessons course where my prospective students could learn the ropes while they waited for a slot to open.
I also wanted to provide professional and reliable information to counter the massive amount of erroneous guidance floating on the internet. Thus, as the idea was refined, it eventually morphed into not only the trumpet course, but also into an open educational resource for trumpet rated topics. THQ provides a great amount of information for anyone willing to learn.
It’s worth noting that all the resources outside of the trumpet course are free of charge. Want to know about trumpet cases? Mouthpieces? Books for musicians? Best apps for practicing? Notable trumpet players? I have provided all of that information and more. My goal was and will continue to be to educate.
Who is it aimed at?
Simply put; anyone with a trumpet and a hunger to learn how to play it! I approach the course like I approach my private lessons…no fuss, no complications, just simple and easy to understand explanations. I made sure to present the content in a very step-by-step manner.
Absolute beginners will see helpful lessons in posture, breathing, trumpet anatomy and other basics. There is also an introduction to reading sheet music and all the basic techniques and tips for novices, such as how to clearly articulate, slur and change notes evenly. The course goes on to cover intermediate topics such as dexterity, multiple tonguing, range, pitch bending…etc, and of course the advanced lessons delve into even deeper concepts like musicality, lip trills and more.
I have students ranging from ages 9 to 70+, so I think it’s safe to say that the course is well-suited for all ages and skill levels.
What are the key elements that readers should know about it, that sets it apart from other platforms?
As I mentioned, my approach is very simplistic and that alone is an important factor in why the course works. Twisted and over-complicated teaching result in a frustrating learning experience. I also provide a student- only forum where I answer daily questions from them and tend to their needs. They can post pictures and videos of their progress and I reply promptly with my feedback. They really love being able to get that one-on- one attention since naturally, that is a huge setback in self-paced learning.
I have also written over 100 pages of original sheet music with drills and exercises for the course, and I provide other helpful resources such as a fingering chart with all the alternate fingerings; something I haven’t found anywhere else online. Each video features a bullet point list of what I call “Pro Tips”, video chapters, picture-in-picture capabilities and speed change settings. At the bottom of each lesson page, I also provide 3 suggestions for related topics throughout the rest of the website which could be blog entries, a resource page or even a link to another lesson that covers a similar concept.
The bells and whistles are everywhere to ensure a smooth experience for the students as well as an environment to focus on learning. No distractions!
Are there any elements of music education generally that you feel are genuinely lacking at the moment? What can we do to help with this?
Right now, trumpet students all over the world are doing their band classes on Zoom, which of course causes a myriad of drawbacks on its own, but it also highlights the problems in music education that were already there before Covid.
In my professional experience, it is simply impossible for a single band teacher to shape and look after each student. When it comes to brass, and naturally other instruments, we know how important the early few months are. During that time the player will inevitably form habits for the rest of their lives, and if those are bad habits, now you’ve got a player who is struggling, working much harder than they need to and likely will continue to have that experience until they finish high school. Due to the lack of personal attention, students end up with problems such as: incorrectly placed mouthpieces, air control issues, severe tension problems, a lack of tone concept, efficiency and endurance problems, and many more. But what can we really do about it?
It is simply not realistic to expect band teachers to know the in and outs of every instrument, or to know how to precisely diagnose problems and even if they did, there is not enough time for them to guide 80+ students individually. For this reason I advocate bringing specialized artists into the classroom and now that we are so accustomed to Zoom, there is really no barrier for who you can bring in your student’s radar. Bringing in artists helps more than just the students; it also lightens the load for the band director and contributes to the flow of jobs for musicians.
I do understand that there is a cost involved and not all band programs have the means, so that is a hoop that some have to jump through and find creative solutions for. At THQ I also offer a hefty discount for band programs who want to get all of their trumpet players on the same page by signing up for the course as a section. This could also be a more cost- effective solution for when hiring an artist to teach weekly masterclasses is not possible.
While this is a big gap in music education, and solutions are difficult to afford, we can all work together to come up with affordable options. So if you’re an artist, I encourage you to come up with a group class blueprint, put an attainable price tag on it and pitch it to schools. It’s a great way to make an impact and an income.
What new developments are you currently working on?
I have so many plans for this year I don’t even know where to begin! I just finished adding 18 beginner duets in response to a poll from my students asking for play-along material. I now plan on adding duet content for the intermediate and advanced levels as well. We can learn so much from playing duets of course, so I’m excited to provide this layer of education to the course.
Naturally, more content is coming for all levels. As I come across topics in my private lessons and with colleagues I write them down to bring them into the course as tutorials on many different concepts from playing, to practicing to mental preparation. Prospective students can certainly look forward to a growing a library of trumpet lessons.
I do have something big in the works for this year…and I mean big. I can’t give away too many details, but I will say that it will provide a solution to the greatest setbacks self-taught trumpet players have; accountability and overwhelm of what to practice. This will be part of the course later this year and I’ll be back to talk about it when it’s almost out of the oven!
Thanks for your time Estela. Is there anything else that you would like to add?
I’d like to welcome trumpet players, from beginners to pros, to come visit TrumpetHeadquarters.com. The site provides a lot of useful content for teachers, curated lists of books, apps and so much more I can’t list here. It really is the headquarters of all things trumpet and I love to share it with everyone.
For those interested in learning, just sign-up for the course! If you have any questions feel free to email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org, and if you just want to keep in touch or wait for the next big sale make sure you sign up for the free newsletter on the homepage.
Thanks for this fun interview John!
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