Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Great Music Inhibitor

So many fine musicians share one huge problem, they play the trumpet. Oh to be able to perform all that the brain and the heart intends without that pesky instrumental impediment! 

Every time we sing without the instrument the result is good, usually very good.  Add the trumpet however, and we suddenly develop issues.  The good news is that we are able to sing what the printed page demands pretty well.  The bad news is that we hold in our hands the great music inhibitor, the trumpet.  Sadly, few are conquerors, and many have been maimed and slain by the 3-valved brainless monster.  So who is able to deal successfully with our beloved and hated foe? 

Our simple mission is to overcome the inhibitor.  We overcome by wisely utilizing our enormous inventory of artistry and passion.  We need a steadfast resolve to make the instrument obey the music master within us.  Practice is a daily struggle for dominance as the music does battle with the instrument.  When we dwarf the musical input, the horn wins every time. When we strengthen the musical intent, the instrument will become our servant.  

A successful battle requires an intelligent strategy and a persistent, careful attack on the enemy.  The enemy's victory depends on a bewildered and frustrated opponent.  Having a weak musical message and sloppy battle skills results in certain defeat for the musician. Again, we must prepare for a daily battle which is quite winnable but requires great musical vision, determination, and wisdom.  

Who's enlisted for the fight? 

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Injection Therapy

Hey, Doc, it's happened again, another nasty case of the goo, trumpet doldrums big time.  I need help now!  Seriously, this is the worst yet. What have you got for me?  

Well, I have found that the most effective therapy for uninspired days of practice room boredom is quite easy to take and very effective.  I'm recommending massive doses of this medication with no limits on refills! Oh, there are side effects, but I don't think you'll find them to be a problem.  In fact, I think you'll find them euphorically addictive.  Simply inject generous portions into each ear several times a day, and I doubt you'll be needing a followup appointment.

Label instructions:  Apply liberal amounts of your FAVORITE BRASS RECORDINGS. Inject into both ears.  Repeat at least 3 times daily.

WARNING:  Failure to take this medication consistently may cause boredom, drowsiness, depression, and in some cases suicide.  Musical Alzheimer's has been shown to be the result of listening only to oneself for long periods of time.  

High quality brass playing is infectious.  Don't leave home without it.


Thursday, March 21, 2013

Unrealistic Expectations

Why do we get so easily discouraged in the practice room?  Not long after those first notes are sounded we find a reason to think, "This just isn't working today. Nothing feels right." Likely we are having the wrong expectations! Maybe we need to rename our practice room "THE WRESTLING ROOM".

Most of us have three unrealistic expectations when it comes to practice sessions.  First, we expect that everything will be fun and painless from the first note to the last.  Hence we become depressed when we encounter any resistance.  Furthermore, we expect instant improvement.  We have little patience for long term technique-building.  Rather, we want it all now.

Finally, we fail to realize that high quality music making is a long term growth process, and making the instrument behave is a daily task. We see the goal, but we are not committed to follow the path. Wrestling is not blindly lunging or frantically flailing with intermittent bursts of bluster. We must enter the practice room anticipating and planning for a tough match, winnable yes, but not without a lot of wrestling.

(Hebrews 12:11 is a nice parallel. The writer was probably was not addressing trumpet players, but the principle is the same. "For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.")

Expect to work hard and smart for mastery.

Monday, March 11, 2013

You're too Smart to be Dumb!

Vacchiano used to say, "nowadays, trumpet players know too much to make a mistake."  We have been trained with all the information required for perfect execution.  Well then, I guess by now all concert halls should be mistake-free zones.  Unfortunately missed notes are still going to happen, but his point was that we have no excuse for them. 

Most mistakes are mental failures. We expect our mighty chops to make up for the insanity of our frantic stabs in the dark.  Our mind is simply not on the same page as the music.  If only we would allow the brain to process the notes fast enough, we would be able to turn out perfection. Don't you hate making those stupid mistakes?  The problem is that the mistakes aren't stupid, it's the player! 

That's great news! Maybe there is hope! It might not be so much a chop issue as it is a thinking, or preparation issue.  How about SLOW practice, slow enough that mistakes don't ever happen.  Let's starve the mistakes.  Give your brain a fighting chance.  Even the dumbest of us can get through Petroushka if the tempo is slow enough, right? 

Let's stop the madness. Put your professors out of business.  Stop them from their professing. You've heard their practice rants long enough.  You can extract those pesky mistakes from your playing if you really want to, or you can continue to step on the daisies, forever wondering why you are plagued with those stupid wrong notes.  You can begin to play smart, or you can continue to play dumb.   

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Making a Splash

In auditions winners are usually noticed quickly, like from their first notes!  So why tiptoe into the music?  Why not jump right in and make a grand musical splash from the get go?  Go for it. Just lift the bell, aim, and fire!

Some excerpts like the octave call in Zarathustra are like a cannonball splash, while others demand a smooth unobtrusive beginning.  In all cases however, there must be a precise entry point.  Let's practice that.  Make all entrances notable, whether for shock and awe, or for sly subtlety. A great sound always impresses.

(Suggestion for practice: Play the 3-second game, and save your chops.  Just practice getting off the starting block.  Start your excerpt, and then quickly stop it.  You are Quick-Draw, the master excerpt starter.  Remember, you are out to perfect just the first 3 seconds of every excerpt, an enviable and rewarding skill!  This will help train all instincts to be on instant command!)

Take the Ravel Piano Concerto.  You're allowed one brief muted sizzle before bursting right onto the scene in full attack mode, firing nonstop for the next 15 seconds.  Your notes are spikes.  Think "pokey, pointy, perky, snappy, bitey, cocky".  Your playing must be bold, crisp, and unafraid.  It's not a lullaby.  Think percussion.  Aim and shoot.  Oh, one thing: no misfires allowed, only bulls eyes. So set your embouchure for all the notes, and hit all of them in one blow with no letting up.

Next up: the opening to Schumann Symphony No. 2.  This calls for an entirely different approach.  Picture yourself swimming slowly beside a gliding swan.  No splashing, splattering or sputtering is permitted. You will scare the swan. Think "graceful, elegant, quiet, and smooth."  Now breathe accordingly.  Big bucks are awaiting those who master this one.

Whatever the demands, the first notes are vital for your security and for securing the job.  Auditions are always too short, so make the most of those few minutes.  Make a great impression immediately.