Sunday, August 30, 2015

Avoiding the B Word!

"So, how did your audition go?"  

"Pretty well, in my opinion. I hardly missed a note, but the committee wasn't impressed.  I don't know what they were looking for!" 

Even if your solo and excerpts were flawless, there must have been something that they didn't like. Maybe it's not what you did, but what you didn't do that got you eliminated.  Did you infect the committee with a deadly dose of the B word?  BORING!  Be careful, even perfect playing can come across as uninspired. Spraying the hall with the pungent aroma of mediocrity usually yields the response, "Thank you, next!" 

News flash: the perfect audition never happened! And there is no perfect musician. Squeaky clean is always the goal, but so is bold, assertive, standout playing. Shooting for splendid, ravishing playing frees us from the nerve-wracking pressure of having to be note-perfect.

An Eastman violin professor once warned, "if you are going to play like that (lacking depth of emotion), you'd better play perfectly."  Accuracy matters, but so does style, energy, and great overall musicianship.  Having to be note-perfect puts tremendous pressure on you, but there is great freedom in immersing yourself totally in the drama of the music.  So be encouraged. Don't try to be perfect. Try to make an impression. You're on stage to give, not to measure up.

Thursday, July 02, 2015

Daily Slices

What does a pizza have in common with a practice session?  Both should be cut up into many manageable slices, and gorging should be avoided.

Overeating has its uncomfortable results, and so does under eating.  Anticipate the satisfaction of enjoying a well-planned practice session.  Think of a carefully selected daily smorgasbord of trumpet requirements.  Be sure to serve yourself appropriate portions of all ingredients, not just your favorite toppings.

Don't let uneaten slices get moldy either.  Each helping has a shelf life.  Be sure not to waste anything. Here are a few toppings for your daily pizza order:

  • Scales - major and minor
  • Arpeggios - major, minor, augmented and diminished
  • Chromatic scales
  • Flexibility exercises
  • Solos
  • Excerpts
  • Sight reading
  • Multiple tonguing
  • Lyric/expressive melodies (sweet stuff)
  • Technical etudes (fast stuff)
  • Range extension work
  • Very soft playing
  • Very loud playing
  • Transposition
  • Fun play time with no music!

Remember to pause frequently and to eat responsibly!


Sunday, June 14, 2015

Passing the Pencil Test

There they sit, that great and powerful audition committee lurking behind that huge screen.  Each judge wields with great authority his or her pencil which serves as note-taker and timekeeper.  They wait patiently for someone, anyone, to save the day and play in time!  But no. Contestant after mediocre contestant fails to correctly match the notes with the tapping pencils. And so comes that dreaded response, "Thank you. Next!"  

Sound, accuracy, intonation all matter on audition day, but so does rhythm. No one wins without passing the pencil test! Fail that and you go home with no cigars. Few contestants are rhythmic standouts. But if you play precisely in sync with the pulsing pencils of the committee, you will win great favor!

Why not eliminate that problem?  Which is more annoying, practicing with a metronome, or going home because of poor rhythm? Solos and excerpts played with rhythmic precision is fun work.  Playing can be challenging, but great rhythm should not.  It must be a given. So if your playing is good but your timing is bad, what's the point?

Monday, May 11, 2015

Becoming an Unstoppable Force

Winning an audition is not about staying calm and avoiding mistakes.  It's about presenting an impressive musical product, one that will not be hindered by nerves or adverse circumstances. You must be so confident in the musical message, that you are able to play it anytime and anywhere.

High quality playing however must be a constant focus. Otherwise you might not be able to withstand those pesky monsters that attack at every audition: fear, nerves, travel nightmares, poor warm up conditions, negative feelings, intimidation by competitors, self-doubt, a bad chop day, etc. Simply put, your constant obsession for outstanding playing must overpower any obstacles you will encounter.  Think of your practice as bulking up on the music.  Consider yourself an unstoppable musical hulk!

Picture a powerful horse pulling a child's toy wagon. The horse is your strong concept of the music. Trailing behind is the little wagon carrying all of your greatly dwarfed performance enemies.  Those usual anxieties will no longer plague you when your message is stronger than your distractions.  Since you can't depend on favorable conditions on audition day, you must fortify your musical product.

Your internals must defeat the external assaults. Be preparing yourself for your most convincing musical presentation possible!  The audition then becomes just another day at your future office.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Got Anger?

Got an audition coming up?  Tired of fretting and wondering what the committee will think of you?  You know what?  Who cares! Try injecting large doses of anger, and then just play hard!

The stage is no place for fear or self doubt. Squash the fear monster with the anger monster. Unleash the mad demon on the fear demon. Fierce determination is way more impressive than careful, cautious coziness. 

Fits of rage will not replace diligent preparation however.  So, after all of your grunt work has been done as thoroughly as possible, add a good case of attitude.  Always include dazzling displays of artistry, and the job is yours!  Your winning formula: Artistry + Anger = Job!!

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Getting Out of Jail

Does your practice room feel like a prison cell?  Is your espressivo about as exciting as Buster Keaton's deadpan stare?  Need a get-out-of-jail-free card?

Here are a few suggestions that might help you break out of that solitary confinement:

1. Practice with eavesdroppers in mind.
2. Don't stop listening to those who inspire you.
3. Practice singing each passage perfectly with full dramatic impact.
4. Make all fundamentals musical.
5. Turn boring drills into beautiful phrases.
6. Focus less on how you feel, and more on how you want the audience to feel.
7. Play ballads on flugelhorn.
8. Play soft AND beautifully.
9. Don't waste notes. (Even warmups must be worth hearing!)
10. Anticipate the satisfaction of mastering difficult passages. A jailbreak isn't easy and requires careful planning!
11. Daily mindset: you'll get paid for only great-sounding notes!
12. Feed big music with big air.
13. Practice competing with the great soloists.
14. Replace "drudgery" with "performance".
15. Look at your whole life.  What percentage of it was fun?  What percentage wasn't?  Fix it.
16. What's happening in your cell, fizzling duds, or sparkling firecrackers?

Saturday, December 06, 2014

To think, or not to think?

Too much thinking about your playing can be just as bad as too little. Both can end poorly. A performance can be crippled by over-thinking as well as by recklessness. Somewhere there is a safe middle ground between brains and no brains, between too much caution and none at all.

Think about this: The question is not about thinking but about sounding. A total focus on the beauty of the product will eliminate thousands of useless notes and extraneous noodling that nobody wants to hear.  

A great performance is about great music-making. That priority should drive every practice session.  Think not about how you are feeling, but what the audience will want to hear.