Teachers around the world:

TJ Perry

Assistant Professor of Trumpet at Arkansas Tech University (United States).

«Focusing on the cause of the mistakes instead of focusing on the fact that they happened leads to rapid improvement»


In this episode of ‘Professors around the world’, we have Dr. TJ Perry, who, from 2016, is the assistant professor of trumpet at the Arkansas Tech University. This is an interview that you should not miss due to all the information he shares with us. And we also have a very interesting PDF of exercises for our Premium members!

Up close and personal
  • Age: 32.
  • City of birth: Kalamazoo, Michigan (USA).
  • A hobby: Fishing.
  • A food: Italian.
  • A drink: Limeade.
  • A book: Zen in the Art of Archery (Eugen Herrigel).
  • A film: The Godfather Part II (Francis Ford Coppola).
  • A place: 1 The beach.

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.

Music has been a part of my life since birth. My father, a musician in his own right, exposed me to a multitude of musical genres and varieties from an early age. My first trumpet teacher was a Detroit based jazz trumpeter, Mark Byerly. For those of you lucky enough to know Mark, you know he has some serious improvisational skills and a distinctively rich and velvety sound. Though my study was brief, the exposure to Mark’s sound and foundational concepts have served as the cornerstone to my sound concept on the trumpet.

My undergraduate degree is from Eastern Michigan University, where I studied with Carter Eggers. Professor Eggers pushed me to establish a routine that developed deft technique and musical expression. Above all, he instilled in me that striving to be a great player isn’t enough; individual skill should serve as a conduit to great musicianship — through this we achieve true expressiveness as artists.

I went to the University of Tennessee, Knoxville for my Master’s degree where I studied with Dr. Cathy Leach and served as her Teaching Assistant. Dr. Leach is one of the best trumpet teachers in the United States, and the students she consistently churns out serves as testament. I became much better under Dr. Leach. Her ability to quickly diagnose my deficiencies and provide exercises to help me overcome them was nothing short of remarkable. Dr. Leach is also a very cerebral teacher who showed me that focusing on the cause of the mistakes instead of focusing on the fact that they happened leads to rapid improvement.

I attended Michigan State University for my DMA, where I studied with Rich Illman and Justin Emerich, during my final year of study. Professor Illman is one of the most pragmatic players and teachers around. He really opened my eyes to ‘chasing ghosts’ (trying to solve problems that aren’t really there) and approaching issues from the most logical position possible. Illman was also incredibly influential in guiding my career during my time under his tutelage. His guidance during my time as a freelancer led directly to me landing my gig at Arkansas Tech. Justin Emerich was hired when Professor Illman retired. My studies with Professor Emerich, while brief, re-invigorated me at a time in my life that I really needed that push to get ahead. I learned a lot from Professor Emerich, both in performance and pedagogical aspects, but it was this push to expect better of myself day in and day out that helped re-ignite my drive to succeed.

I could go on forever about how lucky I’ve been to study with my teachers. I learn more and more from them every day, but above all, I still have great relationships with each of them. I consider every one of my teacher’s a friend and mentor who are always happy to help in any way they can. Trust can be a tricky thing to cultivate between a teacher and student, but I have found that putting myself in positions with great people who are invested in my future made it easy to work tirelessly for them.

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

I generally try to diagnose issues on an individual basis in regards to practicing and teaching, so the exercises that I use will change depending on the problem at hand. However, I try to be as pragmatic as possible with my approach to practicing and teaching. Over the course of time I have come to realize that trying to control all the various aspects of trumpet playing can quickly lead to paralysis by overanalysis. To combat this, I try to focus on three large areas of my playing that control many of those smaller aspects that we can go mad trying to fix. The three areas are: air, embouchure, and fingers. While the reality of trumpet playing is quite a bit more complex than that, I have found that focusing on those three areas lead to solutions for many of the issues my students and I encounter.

For example, a student and I were going through Brandt Etude No. 2. If you’ve studied these etudes, you know that they can be tough to play well. It was clear to me that the student worked quite hard on preparing the study, however, when they performed it for me it sounded restricted, un-centered, and edgy. I asked the student to remove the tongue from the equation, slurring the first line slowly. It was quickly apparent that they were being lazy with finger accuracy and not getting the center of each note. Relying on the airstream to carry the exercise made the student realize that a simple focus on air can expose lots of problems that we might not otherwise catch when we’re in ‘performance’ mode.

I have found that shifting the focus to these larger areas, the smaller aspects of playing tend to fall in line.

Day to day with the trumpet

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

When I practice, I try to reinforce the concepts I need to perform day in and day out. For my warm-up I try to focus on establishing my sound through making sure I’m playing in the center of pitch and using a free blowing and efficient air stream. I typically play from James Thompson’s Buzzing Basics, the Cichowicz Flow Studies, James Stamp’s Warm-Up Exercises, and some exercises out of Michael Sachs Daily Fundamentals for Trumpet.

Separate from the warm-up, my maintenance routine changes based on areas of my playing that are deficient at the current moment. I make sure that my warm-up and maintenance time happen every day.

My thought process about this organization is trying to build from the ground up every day. My warm-up re-establishes two of my primary concepts: free and efficient air stream and a beautiful sound. My maintenance routine will also have those concepts in mind, but it serves primarily to further my technical concept. I also try to keep the routines from becoming too static. I have found that the more malleable my routine is, the more honest it keeps me.

The best advice I can give about using a trumpet routine is to be as honest as possible with yourself. If we are not honest with ourselves about our deficiencies and faults, someone else surely will be. Self-accountability, if employed without unnecessary harshness, can be a powerful tool for rapid improvement.

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

I have a Yamaha New York Bb, Yamaha Chicago II C, Yamaha Bobby Shew Model Bb, and a Yamaha 6810 Piccolo. I have found the Yamaha horns to be the most consistent playing horns that I’ve come across. In the end, I think something about my playing just fits better with these horns. One of my first trumpet teachers, Mark Byerly, used to play on a Yamaha valve block with a Bach bell and sounded unbelievably good. Then, he later switched to Harrelson and somehow sounded even better. It seems to me that some people have a natural fit with horns.

As for mouthpieces, I play on my former teacher’s custom Warburton mouthpiece with a Bach 24 backbore. It measures out, I think, to a Bach 2C. For my piccolo trumpet, I use a Bach 7E with a 117 backbore.

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, everything I play on is pretty much stock.

The teaching center

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

I’m the Assistant Professor of Trumpet at Arkansas Tech University in Russellville, Arkansas. My contact info and program information can be found on the Arkansas Tech Music Department website. We have a great studio here at Tech, and it’s a fantastic place to study. Students can also contact me through my personal website.

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

I approach each student as an individual with a unique learning style and a distinct set of needs. Because of this, the focus of exercises and etudes varies to meet the needs of the individual student. Although students typically get similar exercises, the way in which the exercises are explained will vary greatly from student to student. Aside from that, students can expect honesty and investment from me. I truly want all my students to succeed, and will go to great lengths to help them achieve their goals. Sometimes that means having difficult conversations or butting heads, but students can always be sure that I always have their best interests in mind. In the end, I’ll do everything I can to work collaboratively with the student to become the monster player or inspiring teacher that they want to be.

As for what I expect from students, I want them to be honest with me and approach their studies with maximum effort. I want my students truly invested in their musical progress, not just practicing to please their teacher. I ask each of my students to think as logically about how they practice as possible. For instance, when talking about fixing mistakes my students hear me say, “Cure the disease, don’t just treat the symptoms.” I don’t want them to spend their time in the practice room trying to fix one chipped note. Instead, I want them to explore what could be causing the mistake and work through solving that. The reality of private instruction is that the student will only see the teacher a maximum of 2 hours a week; that’s a little over 1% of the total time in any given week. The student’s real progress will take place in the remaining 99%. To do that, I want students to be open to experimentation of possible solutions and willing to keep trying when those experimentations result in failure. Remember, mistakes are opportunities to get better!

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

I have found that many young students struggle rhythmically. I can’t stress the importance of rhythmic integrity enough! Understanding how pulse and subdivision work individually is important for understanding how they fit together. If you are not confident rhythmically, I encourage you to ask your music teacher or contact your local trumpet teacher for help.

Sharing exercises with Trumpetland

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

I’ve included an exercise based on Herbert L. Clarke’s Technical Studies for Cornet. It focuses on the first study, but it can easily be adapted for the remaining studies of the book. The emphasis of the exercise is to isolate finger dexterity through shifting metric pulse. In simpler terms, it’s a graduated methodical approach for working through technical exercises. It’s important to note that the player should always finger through the exercise with no errors before moving on to playing them. There are few ways to guarantee a mistake like having the fingers down at the wrong time or not coming up off the valve fast enough. This is often a revelation to my students; the upstroke must be equally as swift as the down-stroke. Many students think of valve technique as down only, which accounts for many of the errors they commit, especially those that take place on cross-fingerings. Listen to the rhythm that the valve stroke makes. It should be clear, free of ‘flams’, and crisp. Once the exercise can be fingered through successfully, with no errors or ‘flams’ at a specified tempo, the student can move on to playing through them.

Free download:

Exercise by TJ Perry (PDF 65,08 KB) [Only Premium members]