Thursday, January 24, 2019

Why not pretend?

Imagine yourself sitting right now in the most prestigious trumpet chair in the country! Nerves are not the issue here. We're looking instead at the benefits of having to produce at a high level with each note you play. With this in mind you will be on the fast track to becoming exceptional, distinctive, and inspiring!  

True, you're not there yet, but why not pretend? Go into your next rehearsal or performance with that mindset. Have the focus and musical drive to excel no matter where you are today. Make others notice. Play like you belong in the best trumpet section on the planet! Compete with the giants of the past.

What a great way to prepare for upcoming auditions! It's not a matter of fear of failure, but of a strong passion for consistently producing way-above-average trumpet playing. Now that kind of preparation will greatly reduce excess nerves and self-doubt. It will also make your practice sessions much more efficient.

Remember, your eyes are not on the enormous canyon below your feet, but on the glorious finish line. Success at the end of the concert is a standing ovation. An ovation not for you but for your wonderful playing. You inspired. You entertained. "You're hired!"  

Saturday, December 29, 2018

The Nasty Drill Sergeant

Annoyed conductor: "Trumpets!! You're not with the rest of the orchestra, you're out of tune, and way too loud!

You're thinking: "No way, man! Your conducting is impossible to follow. It's the strings who are sluggish and the trombones have the pitch problems, not us! And furthermore, maestro, we were not loud enough!" 

Only in your dreams can you respond like that. Try it just once and you won't like what happens. Conductors always get the last word, so don't even think about answering back. You do so to your own detriment.

So how do you handle brutal in-your-face criticism, justified or not? Your response reveals a lot about you. First, realize that the fruits of discipline are usually painfully acquired but necessary for personal and corporate success. The job of the nasty drill sergeant is not to be well-liked but to develop character, self-control, obedience and toughness in his recruits. So fall in, or fall out!

Consider the benefits of the end game. Physical and mental strength tend to put jittery nerves to flight. Developing a steely reserve is vital for success under extreme pressures. So learn to anticipate the insults. They will only make you stronger. Respond well and the next testing will be easier. In so doing you'll win the approval of your sergeant. Responding with silence in the face of unjust or just accusations is often a sign of strength not weakness. Resisting instruction is to refuse improvement.

A brass section of touchy, coddled egos will not be a unified fighting force in the orchestra. They'll argue and go to pieces at the first threat to their manhood. On the other hand, teamwork, humility, submission, and strong leadership are the earmarks of a great section.

Resist tough training and you lose. Expect it, deal with it wisely, and you and your colleagues will win.

Monday, October 08, 2018

Earning a Solo Bow

Concerts are all about entertainment and appreciation. When the audience has been entertained the musicians will be duly recognized. That can be a wonderful motivation that can eliminate nervous anxieties.

A great show is marked by an instant rousing ovation, not by a smattering of polite applause. The signal from the maestro for you to stand for a solo bow at the end of the concert is the exclamation point to your successful performance!

That becomes your goal in practice, rehearsals, and especially in concerts. The effective performer has practiced overcoming fear with confidence in his ability to deliver the musical message. Love it when the nerves loose and the playing wins!

Last week in preparation for a performance of Dvorak's Symphony No. 8, two trumpet graduate students played a dry run for the CCM trumpet studio. Everything was pretty much in place. Homework had already been done. Everything was OK, or was it?

"Hey, guys! Do you want the audience to applaud at the end or not? Will the listeners say your playing was so-so, or will you hear bravos and cheers?"

For sure: play in tune, play together, and play everything you see on the page. But that often is not enough. Exaggerate the dynamics, play all of the articulations marked, open up the sound and project it over the orchestra and well into the hall. To illicit an enthusiastic response from the audience and the conductor, lift your bells, add energy, life, and spark. Have fun performing this great symphony. A performance should never seem like business drudgery. Mel Broiles used to say that exciting concerts required jolts of pizazz from the trumpet section!

Later that week at the close of the concert:  there was thunderous applause in Corbett Auditorium from a full house. And, just as anticipated: a solo bow for both trumpet players! Well done guys!

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Accuracy Matters

Mel Broiles once claimed at my trumpet lesson that there is only one thing that separates a good student from a pro.  Any Juilliard trumpet player, he said, is just as good as any top orchestral player with one exception. Experienced professionals are dependable, whereas students "trample the daisies", as he put it. 

There are probably many more differences between seasoned and non-seasoned players, but his simple emphasis on consistency was exactly what was needed that day. It was as if he yelled, "go home and practice, but stop missing notes!"

How can we expect a smooth-sailing recording session when our lack of control is a public problem? How can we deserve a rousing ovation at a concert or recital when we played well but missed dozens of notes?

At my sixth grade solo performance of Moss Rose, my younger brother could be seen in the front row constantly counting something on his fingers.  When I asked him what he was counting, he said "all of your mistakes!" 

Quality without accuracy is not quality. 

Sunday, September 03, 2017

Your own Personal Trainer

Does your playing need a good tuneup?  How's your tone, intonation, accuracy? Has it gotten a bit shabby over the summer? Well, there's a personal trainer at your fingertips that's ready to help. And it won't cost you a cent! Your help is only a few buzzes away. Put that trumpet down and prepare to start your free training session.

Your personal trainer is your own mouthpiece. Play perfectly in tune and with your best tone.  Be the best buzzer ever!  Buzz with no fuzz. Be very picky. Win the audition with superior buzzing. If it's great on the mouthpiece, it'll be fabulous on the horn.  


Monday, May 15, 2017


    How would listeners to your daily practice sessions describe what they hear? Would they say you are insanely amazing, or amazingly insane?

    Great performances follow great rehearsals. Great rehearsals require great practicing. And great practicing is characterized by clear thinking. Needed: daily generous doses of sanity. 

    Helpful adjectives for your practice sessions: calm, patient, organized, purposeful, controlled.  Not: frantic, hurried, haphazard, out-of-control.

    Inspired energetic playing must first be disciplined. Inspiration without discipline is as useless as discipline without inspiration. You must develop both, but discipline comes first. At the end of your day, you want to be satisfied that you worked efficiently, not frustrated that nothing happened. The improvement you want won't happen with fruitless frantic flailing. 

    Sloppy practice never produced a polished performance, but it does give your nerve demons permission to wreak havoc on your performance! Preparing to do your best is better than hoping for the best, which is insanity.  

    Wednesday, March 29, 2017

    Getting a Good Grip

    One phrase can be better than a thousand words, and more memorable!

    Years ago an orchestra colleague was commenting on Maurice Andre's amazing clarity. I'll never forget his six-word summary: "He has contact with every note!"

    What does every note require? A clean start, centered pitch, and a good sound. Great players take excellent care of their notes.

    There's a quick fix for sloppy articulation, poor accuracy, and faulty intonation. Simply slow down and get a grip on each note. A more relaxed pace gives the brain and the ears a chance to focus on vital details. Only after you can hear an individual note, can you begin the polishing process. Think slow-motion cleansing.

    Imagine that every pure note you play rewards you with a crisp ten dollar bill. How much money would you accumulate by the end of the day, if any? Or, if you could cut and paste any of your random notes, would they sound good enough to splice into the Pictures Promenade

    Consider your driving. You shouldn't speed frantically through neighborhoods, blowing past stop signs, riding on sidewalks, and recklessly doing wheelies on private property! No, you carefully obey all traffic signs keeping control of the car at all times. Play as well as you drive. Handle all notes with care. Quality-control matters.