There is not one correct manner in which to teach, but rather a diverse series of paths leading to the same result; great musicianship unhindered by technical ineptitude. This, being the ultimate goal of every performer, should become the focus of teaching regardless the path. Since the burden of execution falls on the student, the teachers job becomes instructing the thinking habits of each student according to their ability. In many ways, asking leading questions requiring that students think outside the realm of their preconceived ideas becomes an ideal vessel for instruction. The answers to strategically placed questions will enable students to address problems, technical and musical, without the constant presence of the teacher.
In many ways, perfecting an instrument is akin to a puzzle tailored to each individual. Part of the teachers responsibility is to find the pieces and point them out, while enabling the student to polish and assemble them to become a great musician. The student will need help perfecting techniques and musical ideas, so the teacher must be patient and guide the student through the process by assigning routine work, etudes, solos, and excerpts that facilitate their individual learning. In some cases, this means bringing the student back to the most elementary of lessons regardless of age or experience. This ensures that new, fruitful habits form and grow into effortless technique, gradually replacing useless habits.
Students, you have the responsibility to seek out great teachers, who may not always be the best performers. While there is a correlation between great performing and great teaching, some performers should not teach.
Teachers, your responsibility regarding your students is great and should be taken seriously. It is a practiced and learned skill that must be perfected over time and held to the highest standards. Each word and action bears a consequence, good or bad, and must be carefully considered. Teaching is greatly rewarding, but should be reserved for those who are able to devote time to learning its secrets.
At some point in every musician's journey, he reaches a plateau in the never-ceasing pursuit of perfection. This may manifest itself as a technical, musical, or psychological hinderance and will become exceedingly frustrating until its removal. The most successful way to remedy this road block is to return to the basics of playing and thinking - identify what is important, and what is not.
At the root of all music is the concept that it should be fulfilling to the listener. It is less important that the performer enjoys himself, and more so that the listeners capture the essence of the performed work. The notion that every time a musician plays he becomes enamored by the music is misleading. Yes, there are touching moments throughout the years of performing, but these are spontaneous and come at unassuming times. But in the professional world, work can often become tedious and repetitive, leading to a lack of motivation that may cause a mental road block. This is the most dangerous situation to encounter since it will inevitably cause the deterioration of technical and musical concepts. Entirely too often musicians only care about how they played during a concert, when that is secondary to the goal. Instead of focusing on themselves, musicians should work to please, or challenge, the audience. In this manner, music supersedes the individual desire to "play well" and allows the musician to focus on the important aspects of music. In time, this method will alleviate the psychological road block since it focuses the mind away from personal critique and onto making the music speak to the listener.
Stunts in musical growth come when there is much repetition in literature or style of playing. This problem will often plague students who enter audition or recital preparation, and also effects professionals who play in one ensemble for the majority of their career. The simplest solution is literature and style diversification. When not working, or preparing for an upcoming performance, pull out any and every piece in the library that contrasts stylistically with the "norm." This will keep your brain engaged musically and will allow you to approach the required music with a refreshed sense of purpose.
When hitting a road block with technique, return to the simplest form(s) and rework everything in a systematic and detailed progression. Unless there is a glaring issue to address, diagnose your playing starting with air flow, asking these questions, "Is my air stream relaxed, but energetic?" "Am I blowing out consistently, or are there bumps in the stream?" "Is there unnecessary tension in my throat, jaw, abdomen, upper chest, tongue?" Once you answer these questions satisfactorily, then move on to these questions regarding embouchure, "Are my lips vibrating freely and without unnecessary tension?" "Do my lips respond immediately to the slightest stimulation of air in all registers?" "Am I rolling in/out or adding tension in any register?" "Can I play the same range/good sound without rolling in/out?" "Can I move quickly around the horn while keeping the same embouchure set and with significant ease?" "Am I pivoting to the point of deterioration in my embouchure?" "Does my horn angle align with my dental structure?" When those questions are resolved, troubleshoot articulation, "Can I articulate clearly and clean in all registers at pp, p, mp, mf, f, ff, fff?" "Can I double/triple tongue in all registers with ease and delicacy?" "Is there an airy sound before the articulation?" "Is there a pause before the articulation?" "Does the air stream remain constant through the articulation?"
By asking these simple questions, you will find areas that need work in your playing. That is a good starting point to overcoming the technical road block. However, SOUND should still be at the forefront of your mind while pursing these projects. While some of these questions will lead to better sound production and efficiency, always demand a great sound each time you play - especially when troubleshooting.
While road blocks are frustrating, a systematic approach will help shorten the duration of the problem. I hope these ideas will help alleviate the frustration caused by mental and technical plateaus.
In the last blog, I mentioned that I would provide suggestions for dealing with the daily anxiety that confronts teaching careers, and students. This article give suggestions that have worked for me through my experience in both positions.
The paragraphs below give suggestions to handling the daily anxiety for teaching-based careers.
Keep set hours when you respond to emails/calls. Teaching can quickly become an all encompassing task with no relief from the work and the students, meaning a balance of work and life hours is essential to relieving stress. In the world of constant communication it becomes easy to assign a high priority to every email, text, or call. However, not all messages require an immediate response or action, and keeping set hours aside from work communication is key. I recommend not checking work email between 8pm and 8am weekly, and then once a day (if at all) on weekends. This will allow you to set boundaries that will allow your personal life to thrive and not become overrun by work. The exact times are not important, but make sure to set times that align with your personal schedule.
Teach each student according to their needs. Each student is unique and learns in his/her own manner and it is the teacher's job to discover the best approach for each student. However, there are common problems each student faces, which leads the teacher to assign all students similar material. This is not the issue - the problem comes when each student attempts to play the common material. Two students may have similar sounding articulation deficiencies, but one is caused by over-tonguing and the other by a choppy air stream. While these sound identical, they are corrected by different methods. These type of problems can cause the teacher stress, but if we step back and listen by asking directed questions the answers will eventually present themselves. This may take years, or minutes. Patience and ingenuity are paramount during this process. If something does not work for the student, try a different approach or try phrasing your comments in several different manners. Something will resonate with the student. Once discovered, make a note of the learning style of the student and invent ways of teaching that align with the student's learning predisposition. Thinking of teaching as a logic puzzle will make it less stressful, and when the pieces fit together the job becomes rewarding.
Admit when you do not have the answers. As teachers, we always want to provide an answer to students requesting information. However, as humans we cannot possibly know everything even about one subject. Admitting that you do not know the answers is good to show your students, and is not a defamation of your character or teaching experience. It shows restraint and experience rather than guesswork and youthfulness. However, if you do not know the answer, research the question and come back with a carefully thought out response for your student. Or, have your student find the answer and report back to you - this teaches independence and will help your student become self-sustainable.
The paragraphs below give suggestions to handling the daily anxiety confronting students.
Stay ahead on schoolwork. It may seem that schoolwork is an all encompassing, never ending chore. While this may be the case, it should not take over your life. This starts with starting your work well ahead of time. When your instructor assigns work, begging working through it immediately so that when other things fight for your time, you have time to give. You do not have to complete the project in one day. Steady, detailed work is much more effective. This method will also provide room for proof-reading papers and assignments several times, which will likely lead to better grades. This is how I survived during college, and it has greatly aided in my career.
Plan ahead for your future. You must always keep the reason for your education at the front of your mind. Everything that you accomplish in school should be to benefit the ultimate goal - being successfully and gainfully employed. The decisions made today will have an impact on your future, whether it is small are large depends on the situation. Avoid making simple mistakes - DUI, drug abuse, pregnancy, burning professional bridges, etc. These will have a great effect on your life, and before engaging in these activities think what your future employer would think and if it would prevent you from landing a job. This is not meant to say that you should not have fun, but rather to think about consequences.
Prioritize your practicing above all else. As a performance major, your job is to be the best musician in the country. This means that you schoolwork needs to come second to your practice schedule. Of course, you need to keep your grades up since that will effect your scholarships and entry into future academic programs, but if you cannot play your instrument well, you will not have a career. Also, prioritize practicing above your friends. Yes, you need friends and building relationships is a must, but you are at college to learn how to be a professional musician...not a socialite. Spend your free time with friends.
Learn how to manage your time. Time management is the area in which most college students fail. This is usually the first time they are responsible for their daily schedule. During college, I planned out my days with practice, homework, free time, and meals. While I did not stick to my schedule every day, it provided a starting point for learning time management. Making a schedule forced me to think about my priorities and helped organize my day so that I avoided the majority of stress that may have ensued due to poor planing.
I hope that these suggestions will help in your stress negotiation each day. As always, please contact me with questions or comments.
Due to its impact on daily life, Musical Career Anxiety can have a larger-reaching effect on a performer than performance anxiety. It can produce enough stress to mentally paralyze any musician, subsequently inducing a panic attack. The type of stress each musician encounters is different depending on which career path they have chosen. There are five categories that every musician fits into: Professional Ensemble, Soloist, Freelancer, Teacher, or Student. Each of these have many subcategories that clearly define each musician, and most individuals fit into several of these categories. Below is a short list of some of the situations in each field that may cause stress:
Professional Ensemble Musicians in orchestras, military bands, jazz bands, or professional quintets experience pressure to perform daily at an extremely high level, and to prepare for each rehearsal and concert - in addition to keeping their playing in excellent condition apart from the ensemble music. The changing repertoire alone can be enough to cause anxiety. Every week comes with a new show, and sometimes there are multiple, different, shows in a week with limited rehearsal time.
Soloists are constantly programming and preparing for performances and often are expected to play the most difficult literature for the instrument with ease. Even with help from a manager, they also must market themselves and find venues and audiences in order to keep their job stable. The logistics of traveling while on tour are often difficult and time-consuming. Then, recording CD's poses an entirely different set of problems and stress.
Freelancers are responsible for being the most versatile performers. This career requires a great variety of practice, listening, and competency on every instrument they may be required to play. The need to always being on top of their game is insatiable. Furthermore, marketing and networking takes up a significant amount of time and energy.
Teachers have the most demanding job of all the fields because of the amount of responsibility that they hold to themselves and their students. In addition to recruiting and maintaining a studio, the teacher should be an equally adept performer in their field. Teaching requires practice (yes, practice) to streamline ideas, concepts, and the delivery thereof. While practicing teaching, there is a responsibility to do no harm while enabling the student to succeeded at their chosen field. Also, the teacher must ensure to place aside their ego in order to revel in the students' success.
Students are often pulled in many directions resulting in time-management and efficiently problems. In addition to attending classes and ensembles, they must prepare for lessons, work on music for their own interest, complete academic assignments, and find personal time. There is always the question; "what if I cannot find a job?", resulting in high levels of anxiety.
The paragraphs below give suggestions to handling the daily anxiety for performance-based careers:
Prepare for concerts in advance. Advanced preparation can significantly reduce the amount of stress on a weekly basis. Most organizations provide a list of repertoire three months to a year in advance. When this list becomes available, write down every piece that will require practice and begin working through each piece slowly, softly and with great precision and ease. This is the time to play the long game - meaning that you have several months to perfect the music and will not have to cram (added stress) in the last week or two. Make each phrase sound easy, beautiful, and stylistically accurate, even if it is far under tempo and not yet at the appropriate dynamic level. Rotate pieces each day so that there is variety in the practice session and remember to break them into small sections for detailed work. Once satisfied with the result of the practice, put the piece away until the week before the concert. Then, pick it up again and slowly and carefully attend to any residual problems. This method will reduce stress during the week of the performance since the performer will have confidence that the piece(s) have been learned to the best of his/her ability.
Become a better sight reader. There are weeks when the adequate time for preparation is not available, or new music is placed in the folder unannounced. This can quickly become a high stress situation which will likely lead to a sub-par performance experience. However, when looking through the music for a concert, you will quickly realize that you do not have to practice every note on the page. Bracket the sections that need a quick look on the trumpet and commit to sight reading the rest at the rehearsal/performance. If you are confident in your sight reading abilities, then this should pose no problem and will reduce the stress encountered during the preparation period (or lack of it). If you are not confident in your sight reading abilities (enough so to sight read a concert to near perfection), then I suggest spending a month or three sight reading and sight transposing daily.
Take care of technical issues diligently. Technical problems cause confidence issues, which turn into stress while performing. The solution; address technical problems on a daily basis by implementing diligent, intelligent practice. Make a highly specific list of the top five areas that need improvement and work through them each day. Slow, easy, unforced practice is the best solution for these problems. Once again, play the long game and Realize that you cannot fix everything in one day - the goal is to improve each day, not to be perfect. So many times, performers become entangled with perfection and become disappointed, angry, or stressed when they find it unobtainable. If there is improvement after each practice session, then that should be considered success. This can be 1% of improvement, or 100% - it does not matter because it is still better than its former state. Take the time to deconstruct every technical hurdle and rebuild it correctly. This manner of practice will ensure that the problem will be much less likely to return.
Ask for help from colleagues or former teachers. While it may be uncomfortable, asking for help from trusted sources (not trumpet herald!!) may help manage stress. Often, the problems professionals face are not unique to them and there may be a simple solution available that will save weeks or months of discontent. A former teacher will likely know how you think and how to approach your problems efficiently, and colleagues will know your current playing tendencies and will offer advice if asked directly. Take their advice and tailor it for your playing needs, because even though they know you well, only you can discover what truly works.
The next post will cover teaching and student - related stress.
The paragraphs below give suggestions for dealing with stress in general:
One Day at a Time. Often, musicians look far into the future in the hopes of staying ahead of their preparation. While this is a necessary part of life, musicians elevate this planning to an unhealthy level and self-impose unnecessary stress. Spending too much time looking forward will cause the accumulation of every obligation to be placed at the front of the mind all at once. Instead, future planning should be limited to a small part of every week. Spend less than thirty minutes a week looking forward and planning a half-year schedule of events. Then, prioritize which events need immediate attention and which can wait. The goal for each day becomes one centered around progress, no matter how large or small. By taking one day at a time, you will be able to organize your time wisely to ensure that you are working toward future goals. Furthermore, during the day take one event at a time. Multi-tasking can lead to stress and become an unwelcome distraction. If necessary, set time limits for your activities (practice, eating, relaxing, other work, etc.) and focus only on one thing at a time. This is a good exercise in shutting out stress by refocusing the mind on the immediate, not the future.
Time Alone is essential to reducing daily stress, but is often the first to be overlooked. Be sure to schedule in adequate quiet time every day. It does not matter whether you read a book, meditate, pray, or just sit and think - the point is to turn off distractions and spend time that is completely yours. Like anything in life, this is highly individualized and needs to be in balance with the rest of your obligations. Too much alone time may result in a poor work ethic, and too little time may lead to a mental breakdown - which will force a break from work. Each person will discover the appropriate amount of time they need for themselves, but remember that time alone becomes exceedingly important the busier you become, and will help you to be happier and less stressed.
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle contributes greatly to stress reduction. Exercising on a daily or semi-daily basis will help clear the mind while adding variety to your schedule. I find that when I go more than a week without any exercise, I become irritable - but then my wife tells me to go run or cycle and I start to feel better after I finish. You do not have to spend an egregious amount of time exercising, but consider incorporating it into your daily routine. It can also serve as a stress-relief tool and time to process events. Also, be sure to drink plenty of water daily and avoid over-consuming sodas and highly sugary drinks - these may taste great, but they do not help your body and may cause dehydration.
Ensure that you keep a good sleep schedule. Everyone needs a different amount of sleep to function properly. However, regardless of how much sleep you require, it should be set high on your priority list. I recommend waking up close to the same time each day and going to bed at a set time each evening. These times will naturally fluctuate depending on your work schedule, but by setting a routine your body will feel more relaxed and you will be able to better handle the stress of each day.
At some point in every musician’s life, he will experience performance anxiety in one or more of its various forms (shortness of breath, dry mouth, mental lapses, nausea, etc.). While this can be a debilitating experience, with practice and thoughtful consideration, musicians may discover how to perform beautifully when suffering from anxiety. The two main type of anxiety that I will write about are: Performance Anxiety – when musicians experience anxiety before or during a specific, short term, high-stress event, and Musial Career Anxiety – when musicians experience anxiety on a daily basis due to their interpretation of external factors (work load, recital/audition preparation, etc.). This post will deal with performance anxiety, and the next will cover Musical Career Anxiety.
The best solution for performance anxiety is preparation. I find that if I am prepared for a performance, then I will feel more comfortable performing and will be able to focus solely on music. Since the entire reason for playing music is to communicate an idea, emotion, or feeling to the audience, this should be the goal for preparation. Take the time to understand the work you will be performing and map out the phrases, color changes, and musical ideas so that this will become the default setting when you perform.
When you inevitably experience performance anxiety, your playing will revert to its most comfortable state (which is the practice room), and any bad habits will be exposed. Unfortunately, most people practice unmusically, or with an unsatisfactory sound for the sake of “learning the notes.” So, when they step into a high-stress situation, their musicality flies out the window, and they are left with a boring performance. This is because the majority of their practicing was spent on technique, and not music. Thinking of music first when learning a new piece, or when perfecting an old one, is the most important habit of practicing. Even when playing at half-tempo, make every effort to phrase beautifully and ensure an effortless, ringing sound. Think of this as being musically assertive – playing everything with gusto and freedom in the style of the music. Then, when performance anxiety enters, we will revert to musical playing and not an un-musical mess. In this way, the mind is still focused on music, and not technique. Below are ideas on how to practically work on performance anxiety:
Practice the techniques required in the performance separate from the literature being performed in order to avoid inserting bad habits into the music. For example, if the concerto performed heavily requires triple tonguing, practice triple tonguing in the style of the piece during routine work. This will aid in the learning of the concerto, and over time it will build confidence when practicing and performing the piece. This will also ensure that there are no bad habits in the music, since they have been addressed in the daily routine.
Play in front of anyone who will listen to you. Overcoming performance anxiety takes practice, and the only way to accomplish that is to play in public on a regular basis. This included playing for parents, friends, colleagues, professors, strangers, and even a recording device (with the assumption you will send the recording to someone for comments). Playing for professionals of your instrument is extremely valuable for the technical advice, but playing for professionals not of your instrument family is beneficial for musical advice. For instance, a cellist probably does not care that the trumpet naturally has bad intonation, or that playing in the extreme ranges can be difficult. They will comment on your overall musical style and will not allow you to make excuses for your instrument. Playing for non-musicians is also revealing. You must be a great performer to engage an audience that does not know anything about music – and they certainly do not want to hear excuses about your instrument. They want to hear beautiful music.
Sight-read often. Simply put, the better you can sight-read, the less you have to practice the piece you must perform. The goal of every musician should be to play any piece of music beautifully the first time through. This means that the style must be clearly defined, your sound must be appropriate to the genre, your phrases must be convincing and obvious to the listener, and you must sound confident in the piece you are performing. For a large work, this means that you may want to spend time looking through the piece before you actually begin playing it with your instrument. This will speed up the learning time and help avoid simple mistakes, such as wrong rhythms and notes. For every day practice, find new pieces to sight-read each day. When you run out of music, transpose the pieces or play music written for other instruments. Give yourself a few moments to look over the piece in order to decide upon a style and tempo. Then play it through as if it were a performance – this means that you cannot stop, and music and phrasing must be the foremost thought when playing. Sight-reading on a daily basis will help you learn music efficiently and will allow you to develop musical habits when first learning a new work.
Discover and develop a pre-performance routine that is tailored to your needs. Much of performance anxiety results from pre-performance uncertainty. How do I warm up? How much should I play? What do I eat? Do I eat at all? How long before the performance should I arrive? Ask yourself these questions, and more, and form a plan. Then practice the plan when you perform for people before the actual performance. By trial and error, you will discover what works for you. Then, on the day of the performance, stick with what you know and execute your pre-laid plan. This certainty will bring about a calm before you step out to perform. *Note that sometimes, despite our best efforts plans may be forced to change. Be understanding of this and accept the change and quickly form a new plan based on all of the information you have. The worst thing to do is to stress about things outside of your control.*
Realize that on the day of the performance, you can play no better than your current state. Often, we put pressure upon ourselves to play better than we can. This comes from the desire to impress the audience, or specific members of the audience. But, as Charlie Geyer once told me, “Only you know what your best is.” He also mentioned that even my second-best performance would sound great. We are our own harshest critics, and that can be crippling. Once I realized that I did not have to play above my current level, most of my anxiety faded. My goal is to have my “best” playing to be well above what I consider acceptable for a performance. If I accomplish that, then I feel free to play the performance to the best of my ability that day and will be happy. Then, I’ll go practice making my best even better.
Understand that the audience wants you to succeed. Once you realize that the audience is not there to judge but rather to enjoy what you have to offer, you may start to feel less stress. They want to hear your ideas and your interpretation whether they agree with it or not. Play each performance as for a group of encouraging friends and save the analyzation for when you receive the recording. Give the audience music, and they will be your best friends.
By following these steps and having a well-formed plan, performance anxiety will slowly become less noticeable until it all but disappears. Keep in mind that even the best professionals become nervous at times, but their plan propels them through the performance and allows them to display confidence and security. This is the ultimate goal – not letting performance anxiety control your performances.
The warm up and routine session are the most critical practice sessions during the day since their effectiveness will greatly determine how easy or difficult the trumpet is to play. A comprehensive routine will add consistency to the regular, daily performing done by the musician. Unfortunately, many musicians (myself included) become too busy (or too lazy) to incorporate a proper, well-designed routine into their schedule. While forgoing a formal routine session for a few days is necessary during a time of heavy playing (to prevent injury from over-playing), a thoughtful short warm up will suffice until the musician has ample time to devote to a routine session. Playing without an adequate warm up and routine session for extended periods of time will likely lead to frustration and regression in the technical aspects of trumpet playing. Balancing these two sessions with the rest of your playing duties will contribute to a long, healthy, fulfilling career.
There must be a difference between the warm up and the routine sessions, as they have different purposes. While the purpose of the warm up is to prepare the musician for the day’s work and to prevent injury by overexertion, the routine session serves as a time of learning and experimenting in order to increase the effectiveness and ease of techniques used during performances. The common approach to routine is to put the session in the morning in order to “start the day with correct technique.” While there is merit to this approach, it is not the only way, since the morning may not be the best placement of the routine session for every player. For example, musicians with performing jobs need to sound fresh for early morning rehearsals and may not be able to devote the time to a full routine session before the first rehearsal of the day. Therefore, the (short) warm up should suffice as a reminder of how to play the trumpet and allow the musician to freely play the rehearsal or performance with ease. Then, later in the afternoon or evening, the routine session should be scheduled.
The overarching criteria for the warm up is that it should be as short as possible in order to prepare the musician for the day’s playing.*How to know when you are warmed up: When you can easily play your full range with a great sound and clear, easy articulation.* This can take anywhere from five minutes up to forty-five minutes depending on the condition of the players’ lips from the previous day’s (or week’s) work. There are days where I feel ready to play almost immediately, but on some days I must work longer to regain control over the trumpet due to heavy playing the day before. The warm up is highly personal and should change as the player changes with time and age. However, I focus on these steps in the warm up (these are examples and the specific exercises with each section change every day):
1) I ensure that my breathing is strong, exciting, and without tension. I do not have any specific exercises besides taking a breath as if I were to play a C in the staff at mezzo forte to forte and exhaling while picturing a great sound. When I practice breathing with a great sound in mind, I am taking the conscious focus away from the breath and move it to my imagination (where the sound originates), thereby allowing the breath to become as natural and free as possible to create the desired sound. I repeat this “exercise” until I feel satisfied that I have reminded myself how to breathe.
2) I start in the middle of my range and slowly slur scales up one octave, down to the original note, down to the octave below, and then back to the starting note while focusing on air flow, ringing sound, and smooth connection between each note. I then transpose the scales upward as high as I can play. I will often stop on pitches I feel are not resonant and improvise on scalar patterns around the note(s) to enable it to resonate correctly.
3) I play the scales again with various articulation patterns – First, I single tongue four 16th notes on each pitch, then single tongue the scale with running 16th notes to incorporate flexibility. Then, I will double tongue the scale with four to eight 16th notes per pitch. In this session, I work to make sure each note speaks clearly and easily while not over-tonguing or forcing.
4) I will spend some time playing lip slurs. I prefer octaves, since if I can slur them, I can handle pretty much any other slur during the upcoming session(s).
By this point (and usually earlier in the warm up) I feel comfortable playing whatever pieces I have to rehearse or perform in the upcoming session. While the exercises change each day, my ideas of warming up remain the same. First breath and sound, slurring, articulation, then lip slurs. I also use a variety of dynamics and styles throughout the warm up.
The purpose of the Routine Session should be to make the trumpet as easy as possible through the systematic removal of technical problems by sound-driven experimentation. For example, if you change a part of your playing and it sounds better, continue playing in the new manner; but it the change produces a worse sound, keep experimenting until it sounds better than before.
However, you should first determine what parts of your technique need the most work. I have a running list of techniques that I wish to improve upon. I evaluate and update the list at least every month to ensure I am focusing on the technique that give me the most problems. For example, here is a past list:
1) Soft Articulation: ST, DT, TT in all registers, but focusing on upper and lower.
2) Changing registers without changing approach – Arban p. 125 exercises.
3) Range building exercises utilizing the partial system (starting low and progressing higher).
4) Articulation in upper register – not relying on tongue arch.
5) Overall – using the same intensity of air in all registers (faster in the low register to facilitate the upper register.
The more detailed your list can be, the faster you will improve and eliminate the problem. When I practice these issues in my routine, I either make up exercises that focus on the problem areas, or I will pull out etude books that cover one or multiple techniques. The idea of the routine is to spend the least amount of time on each category to make it better. Short, daily work with improve a technique quickly while allowing you to work on multiple issues at once.
When practicing routine, it is best to ensure that the approach is one of ease and reliance on air – not solely embouchure. By relying on air and letting the embouchure be free to vibrate, the sound will become more resonant and many techniques will become easier in the long-run. I also approach the trumpet the same in each register and dynamic level in order to play more easily and efficiently.
Remember that you should always practice the way you want to play, not the way you currently play. In the routine session, failure is a great tool. When I am attempting to make certain techniques easier, often I will fall off notes, crack notes, or otherwise not sound great. When this occurs, I simply reset and focus on the approach and the desired sound. Then I play the exercise again and most times it improves. The reason the exercise failed is because my body has not adjusted to the new manner of playing. However, given the correct approach over time, I have found that my body will adjust to the new way of playing and I sound better than I did before. Sometimes adjusting to a new playing style takes time and you should push through the inconsistencies for the benefit of the end goal – but only if your overall sound and ease of playing improved. If you changed a technique and it does not sound better or make it easier to play, then it may be prudent to keep experimenting until you achieve your desired sound. Just because a technique works for someone else, does not mean it will work for you!
By developing a routine specific to your individual needs, you will find that progress comes faster and easier than when blindly following another teacher or player’s routine/warm up. How we approach the trumpet is vastly more important than playing specific exercises. If we make the trumpet easy to play, we will enjoy it more.
All too often musicians approach their technical studies purely by how it feels, or by where they should place certain body parts, which causes a disconnection between technical and musical practice/performing. While it is useful to be in touch with how the instrument feels, it is only part of the complete package. By focusing purely on feel, the sound may begin to suffer, and then the technical practice becomes useless. Unless you sound great and play musically, your technique does not matter. Audiences would much rather a musician play with a beautiful, resonant sound and exciting musical ideas than attend a note-perfect performance in which the performer plays robotically, with an ugly sound. All technical work should be centered on sound and phrasing. (When focusing on sound, remember that it includes the entire picture, not just your tone. “Sound” includes style, dynamics, starts and ends of notes, connection, and clarity of articulation) However, the technical practice session is also the time to make physical adjustments to better your sound and ease of playing. If the sound and physical parts of practicing are in balance (more focus on sound, and less on the physical), your results should be positive.
Since the purpose of technical work is to improve your playing so that is will transfer to your daily performing and literature practice, we should ensure that we practice with musicality, a great sound, and good phrasing. If we accomplish this task, then there is a harmonious transfer of technical work to performing, and less time will be spent on technique during the other practice sessions in the day. For example: I hear many students play with poor sound and no phrasing on technical exercises, and when I ask why their sound suffers, they make the excuse, “I am working on finger technique, so it’s ok if I don’t have a good tone and phrasing.” This type of thinking is prevalent, among younger players, but it is detrimental to their musical development because the bad habits formed in the technical session will bleed into their performing. By playing technical passages with a poor sound and without phrasing, two results can occur. They teach their body and minds that when fast technical passages occur that it is acceptable to play without a good sound or phrasing, and play their prepared pieces as such. Or, when they attempt to play a solo or etude covering the technique in question, it falls apart because of the lack of musical technique practice. This disconnection between technical and musical practice is what causes problems in performance and with consistency. While technical work is necessary for improvement and maintenance, we should always place sound and phrasing at the forefront of our thinking.
We must demand that our sound is beautiful, and our phrasing is obvious during technical practice sessions. If practiced intentionally, this concept will help bridge the gap between technical and musical practice and will lead to more consistency when performing. When we approach technical work musically with a great sound, it will benefit our overall playing exponentially.
I am happy to announce that I am now offering my new books, "The Art of Double Tonguing" and "The Art of Triple Tonguing" from my website! The 58 and 52 - page books are a compilation of exercises that I wrote while preparing for professional auditions. In the books, I explain my approach to multiple tonguing and how to incorporate it as a healthy part of a balanced routine. I also have divided each book into five sections: Clarity, Speed, Flow Exercises, Flexibility, and Etudes. By dividing the multiple tongue into clearly-defined sections, and addressing each function individually, complete mastery of multiple tonguing becomes attainable.
Since I wrote these exercises in preparation for auditions, they may stretch the comfort level of most everyone who plays them. However, by learning the exercises slowly and correctly, you may find that multiple tonguing passages in your daily performing become easier. I personally work on sections of each book on a weekly basis and have seen great progress in my articulation over the past two years. While these books are aimed at multiple tonguing, they are also great for single tonguing practice, and provide exercises for bridging the single/multiple tonguing gap.
I hope that you will download the books and that you enjoy working through them as I have! If you choose to purchase them, and find that they work for you, please help me spread the word! You will find the books under the "Books" tab of my website.
In order to become successful at any musical instrument, you must first learn how to practice efficiently and effectively. For me, this process took many years of experimentation, and every day I am still learning what type of practice works best. While the specifics of daily practice are different for each musician, I have complied eight principles that will help streamline and improve your daily practice sessions.
1. Know why practicing is necessary. The purpose of practicing a musical instrument is threefold. They are listed in order of importance. First, practicing should be designed to eliminate any technical and musical problems in your playing that prevent you from becoming the best musician in your field. This is essential if you have aspirations of becoming a professional musician, or wish to win a better job. The musicians winning jobs practice efficiently and spend a significant amount of time working to better their technique so that they are free to express themselves musically. When you take an audition, you are competing against these musicians, and if you ever hope to win, you need to approach your practice as seriously as they do. Second, practicing your instrument serves to maintain your technique at the highest level. Practicing routine maintenance is the only way to keep your technique from regressing. If you are not moving forward, you are likely moving backward – standing still is not an option. Third (while very obvious it is also least important), you should use your practice sessions to learn and perfect the music that you will perform. The reason that this is the least important of the three purposes is that if your technique becomes impeccable, then you will learn and perfect music quickly. All music consists of an arrangement of scales, arpeggios, and other technical exercises. If you practice your technique properly, learning a new work is simply playing a game of connect the dots. However, if you find that your technical work is not allowing you to practice in this manner, you may want to invent exercises that help with the technique(s) in question. It is also wise to practice music that you will not perform, such as etudes. This will keep you well rounded and flexible.
2. Practice only when you have the necessary mental and physical energy to devote to the session. Practicing when you are tired, physically or mentally, can be counterproductive. You may start making mistakes that you ordinarily would not, or your muscles may physically rebel – forcing you to change the way you play (not for the better). A focused, productive session requires an immense amount of mental exertion – more so than the physical part. This means that you should practice during the parts of the day in which you feel most alert. Those times could be in the morning and mid afternoon, or in late afternoon and evening. They are different for each person, so you must discover what works best for you. If you practice while alert, your sessions produce better results than when you practice when mentally exhausted. Similarly, the physical demands of the instrument may limit your practice time. When you can no longer produce a great (not good – great) sound, or when your flexibility begins to suffer, it may be time end the session. Continuing to play may result in frustration, or worse, permanent damage. Remember that resting is equally important as time spent on your instrument. While you may not always have the luxury of playing when fresh, do not put excess strain on your muscles by over practicing.
3. Hold yourself to the highest standard of playing in your field. You should practice as if someone is listening critically to everything you play. You may be accustomed to having people listen to and analyze your performances, but maybe not your practice sessions. If you practice the way in which you wish to perform, you will take the sessions more seriously. Pretend your teacher, or colleagues are listening to your practice, as this will encourage you to bring your sessions into focus and will improve your work ethic. Even when you work on technique, play it artfully and with expression. You play solo pieces musically and with style, so play the technical exercises as you would play a solo or orchestral excerpt. It is unacceptable to play without style and musicality – especially in the practice room, since your practice habits come forward in performances. Playing out of tune, out of time, or with a bad sound, is also unacceptable. Raise your standards and listen to yourself as a committee or a knowledgeable audience would.
4. Have a goal for each session and fulfill it in the shortest amount of time possible. Make your practice sessions goal-oriented rather than time-oriented. By focusing on fulfilling goals in each session, you will not be tempted to over-practice in order to meet some preconceived time allotment. Time allotments help children practice their instruments on a daily basis, but they have unfortunately crept into university teaching. The only qualifications for practicing should be that you make improvement in each session, that you cover your bases with technical work, and that you are prepared to play any piece of music required of you. This takes a significant amount of time each day, but the amount of time should be allowed to fluctuate depending on how quickly you accomplish your goals. For example, your warm up and technical work could take anywhere from fifteen to ninety minutes. Working on a solo could take an equally wide range of time. Once you have worked through the techniques and literature you assigned for that day, stop. However, you may continue the session if you provide yourself with more goals and if you have the energy to continue. It is better for you to practice intelligently rather than practice for a long period of time. There is no glory in boasting that you practice for six hours a day, when you could accomplish the same amount of work in three hours or less.
5. Learn which techniques required daily, weekly, or monthly work. Younger musicians sometimes have the misconception that they need to cover every technique on a daily basis. This inevitably leads to drawn out technical sessions, which can produce high levels of mental and physical fatigue. Instead, you should compile a master list of the techniques required to play your instrument. From this list, pick your weakest couple (3-5) – these are the techniques requiring daily attention. After your warm up (less than 10 minutes in length), work on these techniques from the ground up. This means that you spend time thinking about how the technique works at its most basic level (for trumpet: air flow, muscle movement, etc.). By understanding everything about the technique, you will gain insight on how to fix it. You may even notice that most technical problems are connected through a common source, which, once corrected will improve the remainder of your technical problems. Next, pick several more (7-20)– these are the ones requiring weekly work. Since you should already have mastered these techniques, spend a small amount of time refining them. This work is necessary for maintaining proper technical function. Finally, the remaining techniques on the list are the ones requiring monthly visits. For trumpet, these techniques should include extended techniques, shakes, lip trills, etc. You do not need these often, but it is good to refresh your memory on how to play them. Please note that the three lists (other than the master list) should be in a state of flux. At least once a month, evaluate your strengths and weaknesses and adjust the list accordingly. Spend time working on your weaknesses so that they will become strengths. Once they do so, then find another technique to work on daily.
6. Do not play anything twice without fixing something. Another way of putting this is – Make sure that you have a purpose for everything you play. Before you mindlessly repeat a passage of music because “It doesn’t sound right,” think about what you want to change. If you do not have a specific reason for repeating it, then why should you? If you play an excerpt of a piece and scuff a few notes or play out of tune, play that section slower - or out of context - and fix your mistakes. Thinking that they will magically fix themselves on the second time is a risky game to play and you may very well play the passage badly the second time and further ingrain the mistakes into your playing. Also, do not deceive yourself by saying, “it’s just a fluke,” or “that’s never happened before…I’ll be fine.” If it happened once, it can happen again during a high-pressure situation – so fix every problem, no matter how small or infrequent it is. Taking the time to fix your mistakes will produce better and faster results. It will also keep you from re-learning the passage again in the future. The worst feeling is picking up a piece that you learned a month ago and finding that the problems that you “fixed” are still present. It may be frustrating to put in the slow, detailed work, but it will prevent problems down the road.
7. Record yourself every day. This should be an obvious statement to most musicians. In order to assess your playing properly, you need to listen to yourself on a regular basis. When you play the recording, approach it with the mindset of a teacher or a panel of professional musicians. Ask yourself, “Would I hire this person to play in X ensemble?” or, “Would I buy a recording of this?” If your answer is “no,” then ask yourself, “Why not?” Write down your suggestions of what to alter as if you were giving comments to the person playing. Be completely honest and do not make excuses for the playing. However, keep your comments constructive and helpful. After you have written your comments, fix the problems in the excerpt of music with concentrated work (see point 6). Do not play the entire piece again until you have addressed each issue. When you do completely play the piece, have the mindset of a performer and trust that the work you accomplished will have fixed the problems that you heard.
8. Learn the tendencies of each of your instruments. If you play multiple instruments regularly or semi-regularly, it is important to learn their tendencies (pitch, and other). This is especially important for trumpet players who need to play rotary or piccolo trumpet. For example, the pitch tendencies on the rotary trumpet are significantly different from the piston trumpet, and the response and timbre differences can prove misleading. You should spend time working through technical exercises on each instrument you own. The only way to sound competent on each is to play them often.
If you have questions about the content of this article, or wish to see a breakdown of my personal practice schedule (and exercises), please contact me via the contact page on my website, or leave a comment with your contact information.
In addition, in the summer of 2016, I will begin to sell a series of books that help with technical work on the trumpet. The first two books concentrate on double tonguing and triple tonguing and they contain exercises that relate to the practice principles I have listed in the above article. Specifically, these multiple tonguing books help me maintain my double and triple tonguing. They are also challenging enough that, after working through the books, I feel comfortable playing almost any multiple tonguing passage of music in my job.
At some time in our lives, we all experience the feeling of disappointment. It can surface after being dismissed during a round in an audition, when you reach the finals and do not win, when you fall on your face during a recital, or when you are in a rehearsal and let your colleagues down. I have experienced each of these disappointments first hand, but there has been one constant; facing and overcoming disappointments has made me a better musician, and person. This article will address the disappointment caused by auditions. Before you dismiss this article because I have won a job, keep in mind that it took me roughly twenty-two auditions before I was able to win.
When faced with a disappointing audition (one you do not win, or one in which you play poorly), there are two choices of how to react. The first is to make excuses for why you did not win. For example, if you do not advance, you could say, “The panel is being too picky,” or “The list was too hard, it’s unreasonable to expect anyone to play it well,” or even, “I played it perfectly, and they should have advanced me – how did person x advance, but not me?” However, this choice of action is completely useless, in that it does not prevent the situation from recurring and will only cause frustration and bitterness. You need to quickly move past the initial emotional response and focus on the facts of the situation. You cannot blame the weather, altitude, time of day, time you spend waiting, or the panel, because everyone deals with the same issues as you, and these factors are out of your control. Instead, focus on the factors that you can control.
This leads to your second choice, which is to ask yourself, “How can I learn from this situation?” Begin by listening to a recording of the audition and objectively writing down every flaw that you hear. If you do not hear any, you are not listening attentively (Even when I listened back to my audition for the Colorado Symphony, I found many improvable parts of my playing). Once you have written down your critique, make a list of the corresponding techniques and address them every day until they become your strengths. Make sure that you work on these techniques from the ground up, meaning that you find the most efficient, musical way to make it consistently perfect. Take the time to work slowly through each technique, ensuring that you can play everything with ease and with a beautiful sound. Eventually, you will have eliminated all your weaknesses, and have control of every technique required to win an audition and successfully play the job.
This was the process that enabled me to win my job, and I still use it to work through my flaws on trumpet. My philosophy was (and is), if I am eliminated from an audition because of a specific technique, I promise myself that I will never be eliminated for the same problem. For example, if double tonguing caused my elimination from an audition, I will work to make it flawless for the next audition. I may be eliminated for something else, but it will not be double tonguing. This actually happened to me in an audition I attended. I did not advance to the finals, but I was afforded comments by two members of the panel. One voted “yes” and the other, “no.” The member who voted “no” told me that he had concerns about my double tonguing and if it had been better, he would have voted “yes.” Since then, I have worked hard to improve my double tonguing and I was even inspired to write many double tonguing exercises, which I have organized into a book…coming soon. I broke down the technique into what I consider to be the four basic types of double tonguing; Clarity, Speed, Fluidity, and Flexibility. By dividing the technique into these sections, I was able to strengthen my double tongue immensely through concentrated practice. These exercises also increased the range of my double tonguing, which improved other techniques - such as my tone, range, control, and overall ease of playing. The next audition that I attended, I won. Double tonguing was the last step for me, but the process is different for everyone.
Throughout my many auditions, I have realized that disappointment can be a useful tool and lead to great improvements. When you eliminate the emotional urges to make excuses, you can objectively focus on improving after each disappointing circumstance. In my career, the most frustrating situations produced perseverance and led to future success.
This blog will mainly be used to discuss aspects of trumpet playing. Please feel free to comment on any post or email me with questions or topics.