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.

    Tuesday, October 25, 2016

    The Unseen Instrument!

    "You have two trumpets, one in your hand, and one in your brain."  Train the one in your brain first. (Arnold Jacobs)  The audience sees that shiny trumpet, but they must hear that glorious trumpet sound that emanates from deep within you. That's the one we train!

    Our job is to build vast reserves of musical expression in the imagination flowing through the instrument and reaching the audience unimpeded. That's the goal. So the trumpet becomes not the obstacle, but the receptacle and the conduit for your great musical message. 

    As Mr. Jacobs stressed, think music not muscle, message not mechanics. Your secret weapon and power source is the trumpet in your brain. Nurture it, depend on it, and let it teach the trumpet in your hand.  It will discipline your work to be drama-efficient. Always sing before your play. Without that strong first trumpet, the second one doesn't have a chance! 


    Wednesday, September 28, 2016

    Are you better than a metronome?

    Which is best, rhythm from your mind or rhythm from your gut? Answer: both, but one is preferable! Is your rhythm mental or instinctive? Are you using your brain or your heart? One teaches only mechanical perfection, while the other stimulates musical expression. 

    Your mind can try to make you play in perfect time, but your inner rhythmic instincts can do a much better job.  To put it crudely, music from the mind reaches the mind, while music from the gut reaches the gut.

    Think of the metronome as no more than a strict school master. It is not a drama coach. It's the angry drill sergeant, but not the sensitive maestro. It's better to train and rely upon your God-given inner rhythm, than to depend solely upon your ability to place every note in its proper position. 

    Are metronomes superior to musicians? Nope. A stoic metronome is not capable of phrasing, nuance, or expression, only millions of lifeless clicks. Its only function is obnoxious clicking. Certainly a living person should be superior to a machine! We have breath, energy, and purpose.  A metronome has none of that.  It has no brain, musicality, expression or soul! Don't live only by the boring pulse of a machine.

    Great time-keeping is the foundation upon which energy, phrasing, and expression are built.  Always be building artistry on top of great rhythm. Don't neglect your inner rhythm, and don't be boring. You are much better than a metronome!