Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Directions for Doldrums

What do you do when you don't want to do anything on the trumpet?  Or worse, when you feel you can't do anything! Whether it's mind-fail or chop-fail, the result is the same - discouragement and nothing to show for it.  Take away our motivation and voila, we quickly become "that guy".  Maybe there should be a mandatory college course for all guys and gals for such times as these.

Now here is the golden opportunity to see what we're made of.   Odds are we will have to face the Giant of Discouragement at the worst possible moment.  So what is a fine trumpet player to do to prepare for a gig in the city of Doldrums?

Even the best players have had to learn to deal with a lack of motivation, discouragement, and whatever similar obstacles to great music-making confront them.  We'd likely be shocked to learn how often they must put aside obstructions and simply get the job done anyway.  Think about it. What do emotions have to do with fingers, lips, and breathing?  They should be in training to function rain or shine.

A couple of suggestions for a way out, should you get stranded in the City of Doldrums:
  • Motivation Class 101.  Return to your top ten trumpet works, orchestral, solo, quintet, etc.  Immerse yourself with your favorite music.  Pour some classy classics onto those dry uninspired bones.  Music should enliven your spirit.  It's probably been starved for greatness.  Listening primarily to yourself is usually good reason to become discouraged.  You need refreshment from outside sources.  Rekindle your musical instincts not by grinding out more scales and etudes, but by careful listening to your heroes.  
  • Flugelhorn Therapy Class 101.  When all else fails, (or before it fails), pick up the flugel.  Close the study books and just play.  Turn down the lights.  Look outside.  Improvise some heart-felt music.  It must exist inside you somewhere!  Summon it to the surface.  What a shame that passionate music is ever allowed to lie dormant. There is something about a flugelhorn that is therapeutic for tired minds and chops.  Forget the thinking mind.  Feed the thirsty soul.
  • Pianissimo Class 101.  Discouragement always follows stiff and unresponsive chops.  Whoever has the patience to play music very softly wins the battle.  We're talking a quiet whisper.  Lip sensitivity is the goal.  Being able to control soft delicate passages always provides a boost to your morale. Nurture that skill daily.
  • Resting Class 101.  A couple days away from the horn can be the best mind-clearer.  Inspiration usually returns after a vacation.  Physically and emotionally, we need a break.  Muscles and mind must be given space to heal.  However if you are taking this class too often, then this advice is not for you. Rest is for the weary.
  • Exercise Class 101.  Unless you are in marching band 24/7, you are probably in need of some good physical exercise.  We just sit there and practice, and quickly get tired and bored.  Go outside. Walk, run, jog, work out, etc.  The performance must not be the only time the heart is racing.  Off the couch!
  • Good Practice Habits Class 101.  Discouragement always follows a series of pitiful practice days.  Lack of wise work yields tired chops and a weary mind.  The best thing to do for successful music-making is to get on a roll of good work days.  Moping and sloughing is the result of laziness in the practice room.  Guilt over a poor work ethic quickly produces doldrums. Fix the work, and the results will be rewarding. 
  • Diet Class 101.  Tons of sugar are of no help for doldrums.  Sugar works for a few minutes, but that's all.  Diet affects mood and strength.  Eat wisely and see if your outlook improves.  Discipline at the table might be related to discipline on the horn. 
  • Doldrums Happen 101.  Burnout and discouragement is normal.  Not to worry.  Nothing is wrong with you that cannot be remedied.  Expect days like this, but learn how to get out as quickly as possible.  
  • Parental Advice 101. After whining and moping about a variety of trumpet issues, my parents always used to say to me:     "Playing the trumpet is what you have always wanted to do.  Enjoy it and stop complaining!"  Getting out of the city of Doldrums is a matter of the will, not the emotions. 

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Performance Crashers

Great warm up!  Chops rock.  It's conquer-the-world day!  Next stop however is the concert hall where some strange things have been known to happen.  Stepping onto the stage you suddenly sense an onslaught of unseen and unwelcome party-crashers about to impose their music-inhibiting tactics upon you at will.  Quickly they advance and begin their merciless hounding like haunting spirits assuming all rights to the stage.

Because their inflicted wounds are unplanned for, they are quite discouraging. Just like that, your hallowed concert hall experience has turned haunted.  Laughter ensues as these phantom foes have once more triumphed over their ill-prepared victim.

Here are some of the telltale signs of their work:
  • Greatly restricted air flow
  • Loss of dynamic contrasts
  • Lack of steady rhythm
  • Frequent pitch violations
  • Inability to communicate the music
  • Only one kind of articulation possible - thuds
  • Shaky sound
  • Unimpressive stage presence
  • Loss of control 
  • Inability to conceal a defeatist mindset
There is good news!  These performance demons can indeed be exorcised, but only at an enormous cost to you!  Yes, the victory can be won, but only after a great war has been waged A few halfhearted but well-meaning practice battles will not prevail for long against these ever-present performance adversaries.  Sadly, there are very few music competitors willing to enlist for the fight or willing to endure combat for more than a few weeks.

First class performance doesn't just happen by chance.  The odds are against you.  To beat those stacked odds, you need an obsession mindset, a wise strategy and plenty of good counsel not to mention a good bit of Job-like patience.  Success will happen when these are habitual.

Daily battle agenda:
  • Basics
  • Listening
  • Recording
  • Lessons (guidance)
  • Countless run-thrus
  • Rhythm
  • Dynamics
  • Intonation
Crush the Crashers!!!