Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Instincts on High Alert

What does this little guy have in common with a principal trumpet player getting ready for rehearsal number #18 in Zarathustra? Or how about our prominent first entrance in Ravel's Piano Concerto in G?  Or, getting ready to kick start Pictures all by ourselves? Of course there's Mahler 5 to boot up as well.  So many starting assignments! So many opportunities to belt that 90-mile-an-hour fast ball out of the park! It's like the composer said, "Here, kid, see if you can catch this one!"

So what is this boy doing that so many neglect?  Answer: he doesn't know, he's just catching the ball. Similarly, we should think music, not muscles; message, not mechanics. Catch the ball, hit the ball.  No time to analyze.  Instincts matter. Training them to work for you on very short notice is a fun project. Focus quickly, play great. Don't give yourself time to get nervous.

Suggestions on a quicker response.
  • Sing it.
  • Valve it.
  • Sing it and valve it precisely together.
  • Eliminate extraneous prep time. Pick up the horn and make your statement without hesitation.
  • The way you react when someone suddenly tosses something at you is your model.
  • Think: catch and shoot!
  • Play your absolute best at the drop of a hat. 
  • Q Q (Quick Quality)

Friday, April 22, 2016

Wardrobe Functions

Musicians must have an impressive wardrobe ready for all occasions.  Their back stage lockers are crammed with all manor of snazzy outfits perfectly suited for every show. Audiences expect entertainment, not boredom, so we dress appropriately. When we walk onto the stage, we're ready and dressed to kill!

We are actors of a thousand emotions and expressions, made up and outfitted with beautifully detailed costumes.  Colorful decorations matter. This is the entertainment conceived by composers, encouraged by conductors, and delivered by the musicians. What a thrill, what an honor to play a part!

The richness of the music, the colors of the instrument groups, and the passions of the players all contribute to make concertizing an art.  More than a job, it's a mission, a commission.  We get to translate all those little black dots on the printed page into sound, magically bringing them to life, and then singing out that message to the people.

What room is there for fear or pride?  This "business" is far greater than the performer.  We are just the somewhat lowly messengers of the music.  This is exhilarating yet humbling. It is also a tremendous antidote for stage fright. We are consumed by the beauty of the product we deliver.  Honing that product is our life's work, our passion, our frustration, and our satisfaction, however imperfectly we may do it. We don't shoot for perfection, we shoot for excellence in communication.

The great Mel Broiles had his blunt way of getting his students fired up about practicing. "You're not going to deliver any pizzazz in the show if you haven't ever done it in the practice room." 

Tuesday, April 19, 2016


Clogged pipes? Call ROTO-ROOTER! Clogged arteries? Call for an angioplasty! Clogged notes? Same strategy.  Clear out the pipes, and fill up the notes.

Are your notes all shriveled up and your air stream restricted? Is a superhuman effort required to force anything through the horn and into the audience?  If the answer is yes, you may have a serious case of the dreaded constrictivitis. You need to call NOTO-ROOTER.

Students will clean the horn, but ignore the notes.  Even your shortest notes must be slices of your top quality whole note.  The Promenade from Pictures at an Exhibition puts our focus on tone and freedom of delivery.  Likewise all notes must be "Pictures" notes. The beauty of the whole depends upon the beauty of all the parts.

Try putting a fermata on at least one note per measure to check for quality.  Learn to listen for and expect a great sound on every note, even in difficult technical passages.

To remind you of your cleaning mission, NOTO-ROOTER will include a free ball cap with a beautifully stitched toilet plunger on the front when you call 1-800-MAX-TONE today!

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.