Phill O'Neill


New year, new chops

If you're anything like me, Christmas time is all about spending time with family, friends and getting some quality "me" time. Usually, the horn spends more time in its case than it does on the face. Don't stress, this can be a good thing if you allow it to be. At the same time, the dreaded return to playing after Christmas is something I think we all struggle with. Here are my top tips for how to return to playing after a break, and return to full strength in no time.

1. Warm up with purpose
Stick to your normal warm-up time frame. If you usually spend 15 minutes warming up then do a 15 minute warm up, if you usually do a 5 minute warm up then stick to that. Make sure your warm-up is simple. I like to start off by buzzing Exercise 1 of the long tones in the Slossberg book. It's simple and gets me thinking about air, sound, pitch and articulation all at the same time without having to think too hard.

2. Get the air flowing!
Playing trumpet is all about using air correctly. Good sound, articulation, pitch and stamina are all benefits of using air correctly to play the trumpet. If we over blow then the sound is harsh and the pitch tends to be flat and we can't play for very long. If we use too little air the sound is weak, we tend to pinch the embouchure and play sharp in pitch and still can't play for very long. When we find the right amount of air at the right speed we have a full sound, with good pitch and can play for extended periods.

3. Get that tongue back into shape
The best players have the most amazing articulation. It's something all trumpet players talk about. Whilst my first notes of the day are usually without any tongue I always make sure I spend some time working on having a clean and precise tongue. Start slowly then work up to as fast as you can while keeping that crisp, clean tongue. 

4. Make the best sound for today
It will take time to get back to sounding the way you did for you last performance. Don't try to force it, take a deep breath and relax. You will sound like you within a couple of days.

5. Small sessions often
Keep practice sessions short. You don't need to conquer the world in one sitting. Shorter sessions keep the chops and mind fresh. Fresh chops and a fresh mind means you can concentrate on making music instead of thinking how horrible the horn feels to play. There is more good that can be done by working in 20 minute sessions rather than sitting there for 2 hours. 

6. Have fun
Always remember that we all play music because it's fun. When you're having fun you feel more relaxed and you are rewarded with a more relaxed sound.

If you think abut these simple steps, returning to the trumpet after time off can be enjoyable. Often I find the little things I'm working to improve in my playing can just go away with a bit of time of every now and then. Just be mindful that too much time off will be detrimental.

Do you like to take time off playing during the holidays? How do you return to playing after a break? I'd love to hear some of your thoughts.

Happy practicing.


How to get the most out of your practice

Love it or hate it we all know that practice is a must for all musicians. It doesn’t matter weather we are a professional or enthusiast, we all like performing at our best and to do that we must practice regularly. Weather you have a routine you like to get through each day or you prefer to practice pieces I have 7 simple tips that will help all musicians get the most out of your practice sessions.

1.       Make sure you get a good warm-up. Warm-up your chops, instrument, ears and mind. Make sure you get the air flowing!

Never underestimate how important a good warm-up is. Warming up isn’t just about getting the chops working. A good warm-up should get the air flowing correctly, the embouchure set, centring the instrument to play in the middle of the horn, warming up the instrument itself and most importantly of all warming up your mind and ears. A good warm up will make sure you are completely ready to play under any conditions.

2.       Plan out your practice time. If you only have 30 minutes think about how you’re going to spend those 30 minutes. Cover all aspects of your playing. If you have 3 hours to practice that’s great but don’t worry if you only have 30 minutes, you can still get plenty out of a 30 minute practice session.

Write a list of everything that you need to work on for the day and start with what needs the most work first. Be sure to spend an equal amount of time on each element that requires work that session.

3.       Plan your practice session. Set goals for the session and make sure you achieve them.

Be mindful to set yourself achievable goals for each session. Some goals I like to use include, getting all the right notes for a challenging phrase, play through a study without stopping (warts and all), play all scales at a set speed without mistakes, playing as soft as possible, playing as loud as possible.

It almost doesn’t really matter what the goal is just as long as you have one for the session and make sure it’s achievable. Don’t try to be as good as Wynton Marsalis after playing for a year its not going to happen.

4.       Don’t dwell on one thing. If you get bogged down on 1 section your mind will wander and you won’t be focused on the music. Move onto something else and come back to it. This will keep your chops and mind fresh and make all the difference.

5.       Break down your practice into smaller sections. I like spending 7 minutes on each goal. If I haven’t achieved the desired goal in those 7 minutes move onto the next one and come back to it either later that day or the next day.

6.    Practice until you can't get it wrong. There is an old saying "amatures practice till they get it right, professionals practice till they can't get it wrong". Never underestimate the importance of repetition making sure each phrase is exactly how you want it to sound every time you play it under any possible circumstances. 

7.       Remain positive. Never underestimate the power of human emotions. If you’re in a good mood chances are you will play well if you’re in a negative mood you will suffer through. If you need to pick yourself up do something that will make you happy and then come back to practice.

I hope these tips have given you something to think about. Write in the comments below how you get the most out of your practice and if any of these tips have helped you become more efficient at practice.

Happy practicing

Sailing the High Seas

Havoc was created in Sydney with rampaging storms, flooding and trees floating through Martin Place train station. Sydney Siders had been enjoying an extended summer until mother nature decided to make her statement. Winter was not coming but indeed here with vengeance. 

The offset of this was 13+ foot swell to start our journey from Sydney. Being a virgin to the open seas I had a strangely familiar feeling of butterflies in my tummy. Fortunately it wasn’t crippling for me like it was for others in our group. Not long after we set sail we discovered our first stop had been affected by the storms and the wharf had been washed away. HMAS Canberra had been condemned to circle work just outside of Syndye Heads waiting further instruction.

After taking nearly a fortnight off trumpet with the flu and posting out of Sydney to HMAS Canberra with what always feels like a life time of briefings I was itching to get back to playing. With us on our way to pick up another 1000 personnel,  trucks, helicopters, tanks and other cool military things (if you’re into that kind of stuff) we’ve had plenty of space and time to get back to playing music. 

Whilst aboard HMAS Canberra we are required to help out with other areas of the ship. Emergency fire fighting teams, scullery, cleaning duties are what we’ve been tasked with this trip.  Each day we run through drills on our fire fighting and other emergency stations Heaven forbid the need arise. Each afternoon we clean our living quarters and rotate ourselves through the scullery. When we arrive at our first destination we are part of the wharf sentry’s team.

So we’re all quite busy but when you don’t have a home to go to there are plenty of hours to keep up with my Clarke studies.

I know this hasn’t been a hugely trumpet related post; I just thought it was important to let you know how things have been on a smiling week aboard HMAS Canberra.

Happy Practicing

Sea Rations


As musicians we all know that art is all around us. It starts with the song in our head when we wake in the morning, the pictures hanging on our walls in our homes, even our morning cup of coffee. For some this morning ritual is vital for our creativity. I for one am a creature of habit. My morning shower, coffee and warm-up are biblical for my mind.


As I mentioned in my previous post I am about to embark on an extended amount of time on the open seas. No stopping off at my favourite coffee shop on the way to work or visiting my regular hangouts for fantastic food.  Whilst the food on board this week has been fantastic, I just cant find anything inspiring about 3 months worth of Blend 43. So with my last few days in Sydney I have been stocking up with coffee from some of my favourite roasters. Hopefully this will be enough to last till dry land.

We set sail soon so stay tuned for updates along the way.

Happy Practicing

Upcoming Voyage

As a Defence musician we often have opportunities that are unique to our job. In 2012 I walked the Kokoda Trail to perform The Last Post on ANZAC day, in 2014 I returned to PNG to perform a memorial for the 100 year anniversary of the two missing submarines AE1 and AE2, in 2015 I traveled to Afghanistan as the sound engineer for the punk rock band 28 Days and comedy duo Mick Molloy and Will Lehmo. 2016 I have already been to India where we performed to over a million people live at the International Fleet Review and just recently I have been given the opportunity to set sail on one of Australia's biggest war ships HMAS Canberra. 

I'm feeling quite anxious and excited about this trip. For starters, this will be my longest trip away from home and I'll be leaving just a few days after my daughters first birthday. I'm certain my daughter's growth whilst I'm away will be quite dramatic. Unfortunately as my wife and I both know and understand, there are times when you have to take opportunities when they are there to be taken despite what you might miss out on at home.

Amongst the angst there is also excitement. I've never been to these destinations before, I've never sailed on a warship before and it is a great group of people I'm travelling with. None of us are yet sure of what sort of ensemble we will be able to put together or even how to play music on a warship but I'm sure we will make some fantastic music along the way.

Practice time is going to be limited and we will be involved with other duties so I will need to find a way to make sure I'm still up to scratch when the time needs be.

Stay tuned and I'll let you know how I go.

Happy practicing


This is an exciting week to be part of the Royal Australian Navy Band. We've been down to Canberra a couple of times for memorial services, performed a lunchtime concert at St. Andrews Cathedral, Performed at the Australian National Maritime Museum at Darling Harbour and tomorrow we will be performing the Australian premier  of Ferrer Ferran's tone poem Pinocchio. 

We're pretty lucky to have such a strong band here in Sydney and as a result the repertoire has been becoming harder and harder each performance. Last year we performed great works by composers such as Eric Whitachare, Ralph Vaughn Williams, Arturo Marquez just to name a few.

If you're free come to the Sydney Conservatorium of music this Sunday afternoon and hear some great music. Visit the link below for more details.

Happy practicing. 




Hi and welcome to my blog. Here I'll be talking about all things trumpet related. I believe we are all continuously learning to master the craft of playing the trumpet and hence please look at this blog as simply sharing some of my thoughts on this with you all. I have left comments open for you to share your thoughts also. Please remember to be polite and respectful. 

In coming posts I will draw on my experience mostly from Service bands, Big bands, Top 40 covers bands, Brass Bands, Brass Ensembles, Orchestras, Brass Quintets and as a soloist.  Being a trumpet player is far more involved than just sticking to one genre. 

Here I will talk about how I approach being a versatile musician and how I prepare for each role. I'd love to hear your thoughts and experiences too.

Thanks for checking out my blog and happy practicing.