Welcome to Weekly Trumpet Tips:
(1) Balancing Life & The Pursuit of Trumpet Excellence!
(2) The Truth About Natural Talent!
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Tip #1 – Balancing Life & The Pursuit of Trumpet Excellence!
As most all of you know, there was a point in my life that I quit playing trumpet for 3 years and resolved myself to be a “has been” working a full time 40 + hour per week job outside of music… (WAY outside). By the end of year 3, I was absolutely miserable and making “life” mistakes because I was convinced that I wasn’t good enough (and never would be) to chase that musical fantasy as I felt completely unfulfilled.
Family and friends had essentially helped convince me that I wasn’t going to be good enough to make a career out of music. And because I was fulfilling that prophecy by not practicing the right stuff (or sometimes anything) I was seeing their side of things come to fruition.
Once I started playing the horn again (for fun after 3 years of not) I struggled to balance my 8 / 9 hour days with trying to squeeze in at least an hour or two per night of practice to regain my chops and musical skills that I left at the doorway of the University of Texas at Austin music department. It was EXTREMELY tough! Coming home SO tired that I just wanted to eat, watch a little TV, play with the dog and go to sleep! Trumpet playing and working more on something really scary was not exactly appealing to me at that stage of my life.
I had to find alternative ways to practice and make the most of the time that I could willingly give up in the pursuit of that dream. I think the biggest obstacle was overcoming the “I’m not good enough to be X” message I had playing constantly in my own mind. THAT was easily the #1 thing that was shutting me down at every turn. Self doubt – crippling self doubt plagues us all at times, and trumpet players seem to get an extra helping of that mental sludge!
If you are a comeback player reading this, or are thinking about getting that horn back out of the closet after weeks, months, years or decades, stop hesitating! When we were kids, the world was our oyster… especially when we were fantasizing, dreaming and playing… time to release that kid again and let go of doubt. Dig that horn out and allow yourself to create a systematic approach to playing again. Once you realize that it’s consistency (like I said last week) that wins the race, you will see progress over time.
Here’s something I want you to try… pick a skill that you want to focus on daily – such as double / multiple tonguing. The very first time you start to work on that skill, record yourself. Good / bad / ugly / indifferent – doesn’t matter. Record it and save it! Then… practice the same exercise every day for 3 to 5 minutes (7 days per week without fail for a month). Let’s say – you do Clarke Study #2 double tongued… by day 30 (in a row), re-record yourself and compare the 2 recordings! Day 1 and Day 30… This alone will give you insight as to what will actually build more skill than you could have ever imagined “back when!”
Tip #2 – The Truth About Natural Talent!
Let’s be honest – what it takes to really “make it” in anything is a raw unwavering desire to improve your craft… to me THAT’S what “Natural Talent” is at the very core of the term. Many folks misinterpret that term for someone who’s young and achieved great success early with playing. Whether that be improvisation, Classical playing, high range, technique, etc. By now, we have all seen the videos of these “prodigy’s” and thought that they were kissed by angels upon birth.
I too spent most of my life convinced that “Natural Talent” or a “Natural Ability” was bestowed on a few “lucky” folks throughout the ages and the rest of us… well, we get to struggle and try to live up to those with “the gift.”
It was my time with Maynard Ferguson and hearing his stories of early childhood and his belief’s surrounding this term; Natural. He said that he was drawn to the trumpet and playing at an early age. Hearing a cornet soloist in church is what sparked his desire to learn it. But he went on to say that his cornet became his “favorite toy” and that just because he had a deep desire and truly loved playing, that didn’t mean that he didn’t have to put in the hard work and sweat equity to gain his abilities… along with a healthy dose of proper guidance!
Because he deeply loved playing and had a deep inner desire to play he felt that THIS was the root of “Natural Ability,” “Natural Talent,” etc. Call it what you will, it all comes down to the desire and determination. Going through the daily grind of practicing, working on the stuff that you cannot do (or do well) and develop / maintain a “NEVER GIVE UP” mindset.
He also never had to prove himself to anyone… including himself. From the stories he told me about his parents, they instilled in he and his brother, a healthy amount of high self-esteem! That does NOT mean “ego-maniac!” That simply means that they were taught to believe in themselves enough to stay away from and not “hear” the nay-sayers or buy into the otherwise negative pathways we all face… I.E. – the music business is tough, you’ll never make it, your not so-n-so, etc.
So to tie this tip in with tip #1 – please do not confuse a natural gift with a “sudden” ability to do something at a high level without effort, work and consistency. Prove yourself to no one, believe in your efforts and remain consistent with your practice. No mountain can withstand the constant flow of a river…
Life is a lot like jazz…it’s best when you improvise.
George Gershwin – 1898-1937, Composer and Pianist
Have a GREAT week and Happy Holidays!