Teachers around the world:

Tomislav Špoljar

Founder of the trumpet class and Professor at Franjo Lučić Art School, Velika Gorica. Artistic Director at Velika Gorica Brass Music Festival (Croatia).

«When you have a kid at 9 years old who happens to be very active, you cannot easily assign them on long tone drills»

2018-01-16

In this new addition to “Teachers around the world”, we have a trumpeter who, after studying with some incredible international teachers, has realized an unrelenting labor founding trumpet schools in his country, Croatia, where the trumpet has only just begun to exist. Furthermore, he is the artistic director of the only Croatian music festival dedicated to brass instruments. Don’t miss out on the advice he gives about teaching the trumpet to children and the valuable exercises in PDF format he is sharing!

Up close and personal
  • Age: 41.
  • City of birth: Zagreb (Croatia).
  • A hobby: Family.
  • A food: Chocolate.
  • A drink: As long as it is strong, I don't care.
  • A book: Michelangelo (Irving Stone).
  • A film: The Eighth Day (Jaco Van Dormael).
  • A place: 1 Croatian coast (anywhere where it's not crowded).

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 grew up in Zagreb, the place I was born and still live. My trumpet roots have been strongly tied to that city ever since I went to elementary and middle school, and also college — where I did my Bachelor of Arts.

My most influential teacher was my father, who not only taught me the most about music at the beginning of my career, but also later in life. After him, I would point out Pierre Thibaud and Tony Plog.

My professional trajectory has always led to teaching somehow, although I never intended to be teaching trumpet. Since 2000, I have worked as a trumpet teacher at an elementary and middle school and have been able to start a total of six trumpet classes supported by the Ministry of Education of the Republic of Croatia.

I also run a brass festival in Velika Gorica. That town is 15 km. from Zagreb, where I teach at the Franjo Lučić Art School. The festival had its start in 2007 and since then, it has been an annual festival.

I occasionally play as a chamber musician and have had a few tours abroad with various chamber ensembles.

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

I prefer to experiment, since nobody is the same and similar days don't seem to exist. One needs to get to know him/herself in order to be able to find their perfect method. Somehow, I like lip bends at the beginning of my days, or the Caruso Six Notes and then bends, and the Thompson buzzing exercises 1-4. After that, I do something for my fingers such as the Clarke, Vizzutti, etc., and then a bit of lip flexibility and arpeggios, mixed with scales. This gets me going.

When I teach, I try to find out what kind of student I have. I look at their lips, teeth, body and assess their mentality. Discipline is very important, so when you have a kid at 9 years old who happens to be very active, you cannot easily assign them on long tone drills, so I always search out how to make the most fun out of practicing so that a kid likes it first and then through the fun, understands why it is important. Since nobody is the same and do lots of things differently, I find the book of etudes by Charles Colin (elemental studies — not lip flexibilities) to be very good because it progressively and very slowly introduces the various keys and new notes.

I feel the same for Vandercook’s book of solos, only it’s with piano accompaniment. These solos are a great exercise for performance at an early age.

Day to day with the trumpet

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

Of course. I lip buzz, shortly, then use lip bends or the Caruso Six Notes exercise, then I move onto Thompson buzzing exercises Nos. 1-4, scales or Clarke or both, and then onto various lip flexibility exercises. Then, I play for my students or practice for myself, ultimately warming down at the end of the day with some lip stretching.

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

  • Bb - Van Laar B1.
  • C - Schagerl Apollo. (I plan to buy Van Laar C trumpet.)
  • Eb/D - Schilke E3.
  • Piccolo - Schilke P5-4.
  • Cornet - Schagerl Charis.
  • Flugelhorn - Schagerl Venus student model.

All mouthpieces are specially made by Breslmair (Austria). I play these trumpets and mouthpieces because I find that they are somewhat tailor made for myself. They feel like home. My mouthpieces by Breslmair have a perfect rim shape for me. It seems like they know what I need to do. I can always rely on them and I only need to focus on practicing, not on the mouthpiece. I've found my Holy Grail.

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.)

Well… Wherever I go with my Van Laar or Schagerl instruments and Breslmair mouthpiece with a 4mm throat, people find my equipment abnormal and interesting. My mouthpieces are all special.

The teaching center

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

Velika Gorica, the Franjo Lučić Art School. E-mail address: tspoljar [at] gmail.com.

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

From me, a student can expect hard work and lot of stories. I expect a student to be very serious about practicing and to be concentrated on the lessons at hand.

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

In Croatia, certainly, I feel the problem is that the system of music schools (although great) is a bit antiquated. Due to the system and financial instability, our students begin a bit late compared to other foreign students. Considering this, the level of performance is still very high.

The other problem I encounter is that the newer generation here is not interested in listening to music on the Internet, searching for materials, or going to live concerts as I feel my generation was and still is.

Sharing exercises with Trumpetland

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

Yes, I do. Besides the Shuebruk or the new book by Van der Poel that I strongly suggest to the students, I usually find these two exercises I use with my students very beneficial and would like to share them: one is a so called French Vocalise, which Maurice André recommended, and the other one is the Schilke Power Exercise.

The French Vocalise should first be played without slurs and dynamics while young pupils learn the fingerings and the sound of chords, slowly adding the legato and dynamic contrasts. As Pablo Casals said, “it has to be played like a rainbow. pp-ff-pp.”

The other exercise, the Schilke Power Exercise, is very important for kids to gain the stamina and control of the sound. This exercise helps with basic embouchure strength, but is also a great breathing exercise. I always encourage my students to take in a maximum breath after every 4 notes. The trick is to be stable with the embouchure and air after the breath. Do not take too slow of a tempo at the beginning. Slow it down as you feel comfortable and play it throughout other scales as well.

Free download:

Exercise by Tomislav Špoljar (PDF 1022,14 KB) [Only Premium members]