Teachers around the world:

James Ackley

Principal Trumpet at South Carolina Philharmonic Orchestra. Professor of Trumpet at University of South Carolina (United States).

«I don’t think younger people want it hard enough»


Today in “Teachers around the world”, we have James Ackley, professor of trumpet at the University of South Carolina School of Music, principal trumpet of the South Carolina Philharmonic and a Yamaha Artist. Even more, James collaborates with many American orchestras and is constantly invited to give masterclasses and performances at festivals and schools all over the world. We have the fortunate pleasure to have him as a professor in our Virtual School in Trumpetland. Apart from sharing this interview with us, he is also sharing a 14 week routine! You have to know him!

Up close and personal
  • Age: 50.
  • City of birth: Cincinnati, Ohio (USA).
  • A hobby: I can have a hobby?
  • A food: Tacos.
  • A drink: Sangría.
  • A book: The Art of War (Sun Tzu).
  • A film: Star Wars.
  • A place: 1 Home.

Musical roots

Where do you come from? That is, we would like to know 1) where you grew up as a trumpeter, 2) who were your most important teachers, and 3) what your professional and pedagogical trajectory has been until today.

I’m from Cincinnati, Ohio. I did not grow-up in a musical family, but found the trumpet — or perhaps the trumpet found me. My band director was a trumpeter, so he pushed me and introduced me to different players via recordings. My first official teacher was Perry Landmeyer (now a member of the Florida Orchestra) who taught me Clarke, Arban, a little transposition, a few solos — mainly fundamentals. I then went on to study with Mary Squire and James Darling at the Baldwin-Wallace Conservatory for my BM and with Michael Sachs at the Cleveland Institute of Music for my MM.

Every trumpeter has his methodological preferences. What type of exercises or methods do you emphasize when practicing and teaching, and why?

I think I’m a true believer in the fundamentals of playing. Add some music into that mix and you get a good all-around player. Among the fundamentals, I feel sound is the most important. I use simple exercises, like flow studies, to emphasize air usage and sound quality. I also believe that flexibility exercises are extremely important — they help you realize how to move throughout the entire range of the horn.

James Ackley's Trumpet learning (1/3): Five steps for studying or teaching video lesson (Language: English / Subtitles: Spanish).

Day to day with the trumpet

Could you tell us what your daily trumpet routine consists of?

When I was in the orchestra full time, I had a set routine I played religiously every day. I would warm-up, then play through the entire routine. It took about an hour or so to do. Nowadays, I no longer have a set routine. Even my warm-up will differ from day to day. I base it primarily on how I sound, but also my needs for the day. My routine will also differ and, unfortunately, it’s not an everyday occurrence any longer, because I often don’t have the time.

What brands of trumpets and mouthpieces do you use? Do you use them for any particular reason?

I play on Yamaha trumpets (Chicago series) and my mouthpiece is currently a Greg Black (1 ¼ C, 22 throat and Orchestral Backbore — based off a Monette 1-5). I use whatever it takes to get the job done.

Do you use any equipment that is beyond what we would consider normal? (E.G. a Delrin top, bent mouthpiece, bent trumpet receiver, different bell configuration, etc.)

No, all my stuff is very normal. I used to play on a bent mouthpiece — I haven’t gotten around to bending the one I use now.

The teaching center

Where can a student, that would like to study with you, find you? Where do you teach?

I’m at the University of South Carolina School of Music. Columbia, South Carolina, USA.

What can a student expect from you? And what do you expect from the student?

I think a student can expect honesty from me. I want the best for them. If they are willing to listen and work hard, that’s all I can ever ask for.

In your experience, what is the one common problem young players have today?

I don’t think younger people want it hard enough. With all the technological innovations of today, students have gone soft. They don’t take initiative in their own education. They need to be more active in their role as a teacher.

Sharing exercises with Trumpetland

Do you have any exercise you would like to share with the Premium members of Trumpetland?

This is a studio routine based on Ray Mase’s 12 week routine. It’s been expanded to include 14 weeks (that's a semester here at USC). All materials change each week, but are from the same groups of exercises. It’s meant as a guideline and can be changed/experimented upon.

Free download:

Exercise by James Ackley (PDF 1274,92 KB) [Only Premium members]