Thursday, November 28, 2013

Standing Around to Stay in Shape

What do music stands have to do with staying in shape?  Five stands in your studio will help bring some order to your practice sessions.  Let's call it progressive practicing. Your goal is to arrive at the end of the day in shape to live for another day. Now all you need is a timer.  Warm up carefully and proceed.

Stand #1 is your etude stand.  No other rep allowed. Pull up your chair, set your timer, and go.  Goal: technique-building, sight-reading, accuracy, and endurance.  Don't get carried away.  You have four more stands to go!  Take a break.

Stand #2 is your solo stand.  It holds only rep for future recitals.  Don't perform each piece every day, just plug away methodically. Prepare the hardest passages slowly so that you avoid panic on the week of the recital performance. Pause.

Stand #3 is your excerpt stand.  This is NOT your most important stand.  For great playing, you need all stands in operation. Thorough excerpt prep over time equips you for that audition that comes up suddenly. Cover a lot of excerpts regularly, rather than burning out on one or two. Coffee.

Stand #4 is your pic stand.  Small trumpet rep only. Work wisely and don't neglect this one. Learn to be comfortable up there.  This shouldn't be your last stand. There must be life after high notes. Take a walk.

Stand #5 is your flugelhorn stand.  This should be "Sunday practice", chill time playing, ballads, favorite melodic material, hymns, or anything but etudes and excerpts.  Your flugel practice segment should be totally stress-free, expressive, and enjoyment-oriented. This stand offers you therapy from the mental and physical bruising of the week.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Entrance Awareness Month

Entrance Awareness Month
If you haven't heard, this is Entrance Awareness Month! There's nothing like impressing audiences, jurors, professors, and committee types with amazing clear starts of each note and each phrase.  Great beginnings matter for great performances.

Tired of always trying to redeem yourself after a faulty start?  Why not determine to be impressive from the get go?  Capture attention immediately. Think clarity of note fronts, pinpoint attacks, a dart, a surgeon's knife, a snake's tongue, or whatever picture helps you to get a grip on your entrance.

Fearless confidence is the required mindset.  Armando Ghitalla used to say that "the first trumpet must come bustin' in!"  William Vacchiano simply gestured, "the notes must speak just like that!" as he snapped his fingers.  In short, "you must be there, on time, with a great sound." Doug Lindsay observed that the "tongue should release the note rather than attacking it." Bernard Adelstein, that wonderful great-note machine, never missed and never appeared to worry.  When the baton came down, his first note was always right there. Mel Broiles possessed a command of every note as if he were holding each one tightly in his grasp.  There was almost a vicious aggressiveness about his approach.  Loved it!  Myron Bloom proudly stated, "I'm not afraid to make a mistake!"  Practice that kind of confidence with every entrance!

Arnold Jacobs had the classic answer for all who hesitate.   He was more concerned about what the phrase said than the mechanics of how it started.  The focus should be more about the singing quality of the phrase than it is about the first note.  It should be less about the start, and more about the start of something great.  Think wind and song, not tongue and sputter. Entering with a message gives freedom to the messenger.

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Three Amigos

There they are, the three amigos of your right hand. Look at them! They are able to refine or hamstring your technique with just one stroke. They can break you or make you a lot of money. In their grasp they hold the keys to your success. Yet how often we fail to train those unruly digits of destruction.

We've heard endless sermons on air flow, embouchure efficiency, breathing concepts, sound quality, and of course proper equipment.  So how about paying some serious attention to those three undisciplined fingers which are before our eyes every day?  

Here are the problems with our fingers.  They tend to be sluggish and uncoordinated, making people think we are total klutzes.  Often they fly way too high over the valve caps, or don't even press the valves all the way down.  What's worse, under pressure their desperate grip causes the valves to stick.  Don't you hate that?  By the end of the day we are foiled by our own fickle fingers just when we needed them the most!

Are you tired of being flummoxed and discouraged by your horrible precision?  Acquaint your fingers with your tongue and urge them to be the best of friends. Imagine a connecting nerve between the four of them.  Insist on perfect sync on all scales, major, minor, chromatic, whole tone, whatever.  Just as the piano key is struck, so must be the sounding of the note. When the baton comes down, the air, the tongue, and the finger tips join in perfect accord. It's simple. Just be there. 

Note:  Don't penalize your embouchure for the laziness of your fingers! Save your chops by working the fingers and tongue apart from playing.