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Tip #1 – Use Your EARS!
As I have matured into a better trumpet player and musician, there are things that I listen for and pay attention to now that I wasn’t aware of when I was younger / less experienced. These are examples of things that will help you mature into a better section player / soloist.
Lead / Section Playing –
Playing with proper style is a KEY element. Whether you’re playing lead or are a member of the section – style is paramount! Proper stylistic articulation is one of the top elements. Slurring everything or tonguing everything will cause the lines to sound garbled or stiff. Your section should spend time together agreeing on articulations for lines and phrases.
Ending lines / phrases together. The entire section should agree on a beat or part of the beat that they will end notes on. Let’s say you have a particular phrase that ends with a whole note. If the lead player is holding the note out until 4, but others are dropping out on 3 or holding until 1(or a mixture of the 2), the end of the line will sound sloppy, resulting in no cohesion and will detract from how tight a section will be.
Another example is the use of dynamics as a section. In big band, there are many times where the section will hit a note, drop the volume, and increase the volume through the duration of a longer note. If one is doing this, but no one else is, the effect is lost and for not. This too can detract from how tight the section will be.
Solo Playing –
If you’re a soloist, listening is just as key here as it is in a section. You can pick up on and embellish ideas that the rhythm players are playing or by mimicking background lines being played by other members in the band. This is a great tool for helping to create a melodic and interesting solo. It also shows that you’re an active part of the musical conversation going on and not just being the proverbial bull in the china shop and ramming through chord changes or written melodies.
The biggest thing to remember is that music is an interactive conversation between musicians. Imagine the old couple who are hard of hearing and constantly talk over each other. For the listener, fatigue sets in pretty quick and makes you want to run out of the room. Music works the same way… ALWAYS listen and be an active part of the conversation.
Tip #2 – How Do You Eat An Elephant?
I think every student of every age has a certain “end goal” in mind for what ever they are practicing or working on. And many times because our “goal” seems SO FAR OFF from where we’re currently at that we get discouraged and dissuaded from our journey.
If you look at all the folks that “used to play” an instrument, many of them quit because at some point or another it was too daunting of a task, they got busy with other things, or just lacked the interest in sticking with it. There are probably 5 reasons to each person… but many quit because they realize there is no instant gratification in what we do most of the time.
If you take one aspect of playing trumpet, when we first start working on let’s say, major scales, they are very difficult at first. We might be okay on one or two of them, but there are 12 and only 2 down.
Here’s a little perspective for you… let’s imagine you’re hiking on foot a 40 mile journey that will take you from the bottom of a mountain, half way up one side, and across to the other side. The first thing that stands out is “40 MILES – ON FOOT!” We have a choice at this point – take the journey, or stay in your current spot. Settlers in the U.S. not 150 years ago were faced with this same dilemma.
If you start your journey focussed strictly on the 40 miles on foot part, there’s a strong chance that somewhere in the middle of the journey you’re going to feel like giving up or turning back to what was familiar. BUT – if you focus on what is in view and keep the 40 miles as the end goal, your mind will begin to break the journey down into easier more manageable bits. Putting one foot in front of the other (no matter how many steps are needed or that have been taken) will always get you one step closer. But the second you stop, turn back, or give up, the journey is over.
If you’re working on scales, by playing them each day slowly with care you will find that within a couple of weeks your suddenly spending a little less time (and brain power) on them. One month into playing every day you’re starting to play them strictly from ear and muscle memory. What’s worse? Hearing the part about “every day?” Or the “one month” part? When you first start it may take you 20 minutes… but at the end of one month, maybe they’re taking 2 minutes…
Everything we have in our modern world is the result of
desire. Indeed, desire is the motivating force of life
itself… It’s the generating power of all human action
and without it no one can get very far.
– Claude Bristol 1891-1951, Author
Have a GREAT week!