Monday, October 29, 2012

Days Like This!

You never guessed that on that magical day when you fell in love with music and chose the trumpet to be your lawful wedded spouse, that there would actually be days like this!  Frustration is not how you envisioned your enchanted music career to be.  Admit it.

Behind every successful performance however, there are more days like this than anyone would care to admit.  Prior to success was stress.  Before cheers there were fears.  Before birth, labor.  Before courage there was none of it!  Bruising, physical and emotional, can produce a certain required toughness.  Everyone passes through the city of Anguish. Who do we think we are to expect a clear path to success? The wise learn to reap the benefits of obstacles. 

A few thoughts for all of us as we each experience our stress issues:  Frustration happens, expect it. Struggle is necessary for mastery. Recognize that points of pressure are usually the best agents of improvement.  Do you remember that familiar statement:  the harder the fight, the sweeter the victory? Both the music and the musician stand to benefit.  Days like this are not fun for sure, but necessary, and eventually profitable for you and for your audience.  

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Daily Doses Mandatory

So, how have your chops been doing?  "Well, they're a little beat up lately. I've had a ton of stuff to deal with."  So goes the typical appraisal of life behind the mouthpiece.  The spirit is at times quite willing, but the embouchure is too often weak.

What we need for a successful career is chops that can consistently handle brutality, and yet be able to preserve subtlety.

A teacher of mine used to give the following advice, "When you have to play Mahler, practice Haydn and Mozart.  When you have to play Haydn or Mozart, practice Mahler."   (I would have welcomed some more specifics, but his point was well taken.)  I say, how about practicing some Haydn and Mozart everyday regardless. 

Control of soft dynamics is a necessity.  Days and weeks should not go by without secure contact with pianissimo notes.  You should be able to perform a successful "soft check" at any time.    

Thankfully there is a cure for the deadly smash-mouth ailment.  Other than rest and good air flow, it is soft purity. That's it. There is no treatise-reading required, or any guru-seeking necessary.  Just practice Haydn and Mozart!

Trumpet parts simply require command and control. Flamboyant cadenzas and great soaring bravura lines are for another day.  For the health of your chops, practice clarity, security, and dependability, one note at a time.  And don't forget to play softly!  

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Drilling for Bach

Getting ready for BACH at CCM!!!
Tromba I
Tromba II
Tromba III
Hi, guys!  B Minor Mass is fast approaching. Another sectional tomorrow.  Ready?

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Dr. Clean

One goofy picture can make more of a lasting impression than a bunch of stern lectures.  O.K. meet Professor Clean, the friendly note-scrubber. He's more thorough than any other chipped-note picker-upper out there. He is tougher than he is kind, but he gets results.  And what brings him a smile? Spik and span playing!

His mindset is CLEANLINESS IS NEXT TO GREATNESS. He warns us that nobody buys a flawed product.  Dirty notes don't sell.  Junk-tolerance must be zero, says the Doc. The doctor's mission: a total playing make-over by putting our whole house in order. 

Audition committees easily recognize students of Dr. Clean. They tend to advance quickly to finals and beyond.  "See," he says with a wink and a grin, "it pays to be clean." 

How about plastering a sticker of this guy on your bell?  How about using his ringtone on your phone?  How about dying your eyebrows white and shaving your head?  Anything that works on those grimy stubborn bad notes.  Hint: listening helps.

Oh no, Dr. Clean is not your teacher.  He must be you! You must let him scourge and purge your practice room of all filth and slime.  Let's start tomorrow's practice session singing his wonderful theme song:

Dr. Clean gets rid of dirt and grime
and grease in just a minute.
Dr. Clean will clean your whole house
and everything that's in it.  
Dr. Clean, Dr. Clean, Dr. Clean . . . .

Monday, October 01, 2012

The Purpose of Knuckles

Why do we have knuckles?  Multiple choice:
  • for threatening people?
  • for punching obnoxious colleagues?
  • for poking your Charlier book right off the stand?
  • for confusing your pitcher by giving no sign at all?
Answer:  all of the above plus one more.  When chops are wasted, when fatigue brings productive practice to a halt, and when you think there is absolutely nothing more to be accomplished . . . you are wrong, valve oil breath.  It's knuckle time! 

Notice that your three right hand valve fingers fit perfectly on your left hand knuckles?  Oh, the wisdom of our Creator!

Much of our lack of clarity involves sloppy right hand technique.  Valves are either slammed down way too hard causing violent jerks in the sound.  Or, valves are pressed halfheartedly in a wimpy fashion causing blips and bleeps.  And/or, the fingers have not been trained to strike precisely on command.  And likely, they are simply not coordinated with the tongue.  At any rate, sloppiness happens which is not the fault of the lips. 

Hence, an entirely new session should be included in our daily practice routine, knuckle-popping.
  • Step #1 - put horn and mouthpiece in the case and close it.  
  • Step #2 - make a fist with your left hand.  
  • Step #3 - place right hand fingers into slots on your left hand, and begin precise fingering on any passage you need perfected.  No music?  Fine.  Do scales, major, minor in all forms, chromatic, and arpeggios, major, minor, diminished, and augmented. This works for all trumpet music with the exception of bugle calls.
Our purpose here is precision without penalizing the chops.  The embouchure does way too much of the work already.  Why make it suffer as your fingers fail to perform?