Weekly Trumpet Tips 1/6/15

Trumpet Shadow

The Shadow

Welcome to Weekly Trumpet Tips:

(1) New Year Practice Resolutions

(2) The Art of Pacing!

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Tip #1 – New Year Practice Resolutions

Happy 2015 All!  This is gonna be a GREAT year (I feel it in my bones).  But just like weight loss goals, etc. trumpet players tend to set New Year Practice Resolutions but rarely stick to them.  I have gotten a few texts, emails and phone calls from students (current and past) that want to either start taking lessons again or finally work on those daunting tasks that they shy’d away from in years past.

A couple of the BIGGEST reasons people fail with their New Year Practice Resolutions:

1) They Focus TOO Far Ahead:  I was guilty of this for years with improvisation.  I would start off with all the best intentions by trying to transcribe a solo, work on licks that people have given me in years past, etc.  But I would quickly become discouraged because I wasn’t sounding like Arturo Sandoval, Clifford Brown, Freddie Hubbard, etc.  My focus was on the perceived “end result” and not the journey of learning kept bringing me down and stopping me in my tracks.

2) It’s Not Enjoyable:  This somewhat ties in with the first reasoning… but most of what we put off, we don’t enjoy doing – at least not at first.  If you HATE cleaning the kitchen, chances are you’re not going to want to cook very much.

My suggestions for setting a new year practice resolution for yourself is as follows:  Pick a target topic or two… work with someone who can help you – at least to get started.  We offer currently a Chops Rehab course and a beginning improvisation course here on Trumpet Resources.  Finding someone to guide you and hold you accountable will certainly add incentive.  Once you start your journey, understand that you are not going to conquer Rome in a day, week, or even a month.  If you set VERY small goals for each and every practice day you’ll start to improve and enhance your skill level over time.

My best example to give you is what I’m currently doing that is successful (because I’ve tried other ways and been very UNSUCCESSFUL in the past).  I do a TON of listening now through the guidance of mentors.  I was listening yesterday and something caught my ear… I grabbed a horn and proceeded to spend the next 45 minutes trying to figure out the lick.  It was fast and tough to pick out, but I stayed on it.  Once I got it (after much labor and a few French words) I wrote it out in the key that I heard it in.  I then picked 2 other keys to play it in additionally to the original key.  I will spend the next several days committing the lick to memory in those keys and will then add 2 or 3 more keys on top of it.  Over the course of the next few weeks, I’ll have it in all 12 keys – memorized and will start to “force” it into appropriate playing situations.

If I focussed on how long it was going to take me to learn this one lick over all, I’d probably quit before I start… 30 minutes in, I was pretty frustrated but was determined.  THAT’S where a lot of players would have thrown in the towel (the old me used to!).  Keep going!  It will be a month or more before I have command over that idea, but I know how cool it sounded when I heard it… just wait!

If you take that same approach on everything involving trumpet and practice, you’ll succeed!  1 foot step will usually not complete a journey of any length… but the culmination of all the steps over time will!  But you have to take the steps forward and stay on course…

Tip #2 – The Art of Pacing!

When I was playing with Maynard Ferguson in 2004, I had the great honor of being a part of “Stratospheric” which was a celebration of his life and music that took place in L.A.  Almost all of the great musicians from Maynard’s past bands and bands that he was a part of  were there.  Believe me – it was an AMAZING experience being around musicians that I had only listened to on recordings and read about… these guys were legends in my mind… not to mention Maynard!

It was also a VERY frustrating time for me personally because I was fighting chops in a serious way!  I had gotten mixed up with Monette mouthpieces in addition to being lost in the true approach to upper register playing!  I was fortunate enough to be able to sit down individually with Jim Manley, Bobby Shew, Wayne Bergeron, Roger Ingram and Eric Miyashiro!  EVERY single one of these guys were total sweethearts!  Willing to talk with me and give me counsel.  But Eric in particular told me something that took me YEARS to decipher… and I want to share it here with you.

I asked him if he had any advice for upper register playing and being able to do it all day long (like all of the aforementioned).  He said, “learn the art of pacing, it has saved many a player!”  Now – being totally confused about mouthpieces, horns, practicing, etc. I didn’t understand what he was saying… he may as well have said it Japanese because I was clueless!  But I always remembered this particular conversation… not only because it dumbfounded me, but because I knew it had some serious weight to it!

YEARS later – probably 2012 or so I was running into severely tired chops (as usual) and wasn’t finding recovery.  I would have a decent run of a month or so and then wind up just tumbling down the hill.  Once again, through counsel of one of my mentors, I was reminded that rest was an equal part of building.  But what also came to light was to pace myself through performances – especially early on in any performance.  I was essentially told – don’t come out of the gate running as hard as you can… pace yourself.  BOOM!  The conversation with Eric came rushing back!

Backing off volume-wise and making wise playing choices during warm up and even the days before a performance has helped me to stay away from (most of the time) the dead chops syndrome.  We ALL get tired… we ALL have “those” performances.  But understanding how to pace yourself physically (not only in a performance but in practice as well) will always pay great dividends!

Nothing is impossible, the word itself says, ‘I’m possible!

– Audrey Hepburn – 1929-1993, Actress and Humanitarian

Have a GREAT week!