Saturday, December 06, 2014

To think, or not to think?

Too much thinking about your playing can be just as bad as too little. Both can end poorly. A performance can be crippled by over-thinking as well as by recklessness. Somewhere there is a safe middle ground between brains and no brains, between too much caution and none at all.

Think about this: The question is not about thinking but about sounding. A total focus on the beauty of the product will eliminate thousands of useless notes and extraneous noodling that nobody wants to hear.  

A great performance is about great music-making. That priority should drive every practice session.  Think not about how you are feeling, but what the audience will want to hear.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Discount on Trumpet Books


Piccolo Trumpet Studies - 106 short etudes from easy to moderate difficulty, each with the purpose of gradually building control on the piccolo trumpet.  

100 Trumpet Etudes - moderately difficult etudes, written to not be boring, great for sight-reading. 

Trumpet 1, Studies in the Style of the Pops Orchestra Repertoire - 138 generic pops orchestra studies. Each is from moderate to challenging with an emphasis on style.

All books are $20. Sale price from now till 12/31/14: $18. each. Shipping is free in USA. 

To order via PayPal, enter

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Two Antidotes for Nervous Nellies

What's a good antidote or two for stage fright? Try getting angry or try getting sleepy. It's hard to be nervous when you're all irritated, or when you're so tired that nothing matters anymore. Being able to summon these moods just might help knock the edge off your next case of the jitters.

Instead of freaking, think of words like nonchalant, blase, laid-back, indifferent, apathetic, casual.  When our instincts are on such high alert that they are ready to short-circuit, we need a good dose of "it's not that big a deal, man, relax!"

Rather than stressing about every note of every phrase, simply decide to bluster your way through with an attitude. Of course you will have practiced meticulously, so you can now afford to charge ahead proudly and fearlessly.

Barney Fife became famous for these facades whenever he found himself in a frightful predicament. Audiences saw his cocky confidence and self-assured smugness in spite of crippling fear. Often he responded to stress with a ho hum, sarcastic smile. He masked his nerves with swagger, yet with a humility that endeared him to audiences. Use nerves to your advantage.


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Leaving Your Mark

When your final performances have ended, and your last notes have all been played, how will you be remembered?  Will you have made the High-note Hall of Fame?  Will you own the coveted Loudest-Player-on-the-Planet award? Will it be said of you: "What a monster player, but what a jerk!  Seemed like such a nice person, till you got to know him."

Heroes are esteemed, but often at what cost? Is musical excellence achieved at the expense of personal reputation? Are great note-making skills an excuse for bad manners?  Is your amazing high C more important than your character? Time and others will tell.

Proverbs says that a good name is rather to be chosen than great riches, (or great notes).  Your notes evaporate quickly, but your reputation lasts. Value people as much as your notes.

Saturday, November 01, 2014

The Makings of a Great Player

What makes a great student?  What turns tons of input into profitable output? Is success attributed to genes, willpower, personality, a controlling mother, or a bunch of lucky breaks?  What is key in making a great player?

In the book of Proverbs, the wise person is not the one who hears instruction but the one who diligently puts it into practice. Doers become wise, not hearers only.  The best student is not always the most talented, but the most ready to listen and to implement instructions. 

This should be great news! Aptitude, work ethic, and encouragement all play a large part in success, but key is our willingness to absorb, and our passion to apply.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Shrinking the Gap

What's the purpose of practicing?  Is the purpose of playing just to practice?  And should we continue plowing through that same checklist of assignments hoping for a good result? How easy it is to loose sight of where we're going and why. There is always a gap between how we sound and how we want to sound. The main purpose of practicing is to shrink that gap as quickly as possible.
Motivated students tend to focus on the other side of the gap, not the great chasm before them. It's not about the distance but the vision. The practice session becomes a game of "how fast can I get out of here, and get over there?" The best students can taste the other side, aim for it daily, and listen carefully to the best musicians. The goal is to not sound like a student!

What then compels any sane person to jump headlong into countless hours of struggling with the trumpet? Is it not that strong concept of a powerful yet beautiful sound, and the passion to pursue it? The carrot before the horse is that great trumpet sound that captivated us from day one.  That's what sustains us through nerves, obstacles, discouragements, and even defeats.  Many jump, but few survive.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

The Midas Touch

Remember King Midas? He was the king who got what he wished for, that everything he touched would instantly turn to solid gold. He quickly had a household of gleaming treasures including his daughter! Poor King Midas!

"Let's say you played 10,000 notes today, and you are thrilled because 2,000 of them were simply amazing!  Unfortunately that means there were 8,000 mediocre notes that nobody wanted to hear. Congratulations for the good notes, but sadly, it is the 8,000 mediocre notes that tend to be habit-forming.  The majority rules. Try to deliver 10,000 great ones!"   - Arnold Jacobs

Remember King Midas?  Everything he touched instantly turned to pure gold!  Why not have that mindset? Put on an imaginary crown and a royal robe the next time you enter your practice room.  Tomorrow as you open that trumpet case and pick up your gold-plated Midas trumpet with its gleaming gold mouthpiece, think about your treasure trove, boatloads of valuable golden doubloons!

You have no notes to waste.  Make it your practice to make them all count.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Game Time Practice by Michael Jordan and Arnold Jacobs

"During every practice I spend time imagining myself playing in the game so when the actual game comes it's no big deal because I've already done it all."  -  Michael Jordan

"There should be a period of time during each practice session when you perform. Invite some friends in to your practice room and play a passage or a page of something. ... What I'm trying to indicate is that each day should contain some amount of performing. You should engage in the deliberate act of story telling each day you practice. Don't only gather information when you practice, spend time imparting it. This is important."  -  Arnold Jacobs 

Note: These are two of many valuable quotes compiled by Michael Grose, Principal Tuba in the Eugene Symphony and Associate Professor of the Oregon School of Music. #jakeped 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Mahler 5 Alert!

The CCM Philharmonia will perform Mahler 5 on Friday evening October 10.  Auditions for the trumpet section will be held next week.

As we enter these exciting days, here are a few inspiring quotes from the great Arnold Jacobs:

"The big thing about music—or any other art form—is that you can enjoy what you are doing, but others must also enjoy what you are doing. It should be like painting a beautiful picture on canvas for others to appreciate. When you are playing a solo, you are not playing for yourself, but for the people who are listening."

"In your thoughts, be a musician not a mechanic." 

"One should have a great sound in the brain to imitate."

"It doesn't have to feel good, it just has to sound great!"

Guys, remember: drama, power, finesse, and beauty.  And one more: pacing!


Saturday, August 23, 2014

The Second Most Obvious Audition Issue

The second most obvious issue at the auditions: 

There was some cause for pause this week in evaluating the CCM trumpet placement auditions. No worries and no cause for alarm however!  The fix does not involve brutal sessions of chop pounding, hyper ventilation, or great displays of monumental exuberance!  It is a simple matter that can be remedied rather quickly and without pain, and will greatly benefit players and listeners. It was present at the auditions, but since it did not abound, no one did astound.

I'm talking not about accuracy, intonation, volume, or style.  The given in any audition ought to be a steady sense of RHYTHM.  This means no rushing, no dragging, or anything short of incredibly precise rhythm.  The right tempo with a reliable beat is always impressive.  It must be so noticed that it rekindles a pulse in the committee.

Good rhythm is more than mathematical perfection.  It must be instinctive and infectious. After all, rhythm matters.  It is the basic structure of music.  It must be clearly felt.  With unstable rhythm, we have unimpressive music.

The best way to perfect rhythm is to put the horn down, and sing or tap out the notes in perfect time.  We tend to be better rhythm keepers without the instrument.  So, first internalize it, and sing it at all speeds accurately.  Then copy that with the trumpet.  If it's solid within, it'll be solid without.  If it isn't, it isn't.

A great player with average rhythm will only be an average player.  We'll likely miss a note or two, but we have no excuse for playing constantly with bad rhythm.  Do the work.  It will show.

(There was a more noticeable issue at the auditions than rhythmic problems, but we'll leave that for later.  Let's start with the easiest.)

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

One Word Matters

A wonderful break through happened the other day during the lesson of a tenth grade trumpet student!  As a result of just one word, his sound suddenly opened up. The room lit up, and it was easier for him to play! My rants on air, tongue, and coordination were ineffective.  Finally I told him to just BLAT it out!  Voila!

I wonder if the magic word needed for each student could be determined by some questionnaire!  The student answers all the questions and then receives his/her personal word for the week.  No teacher needed!  Sadly, it took me months to figure out that BLAT was what was needed. 

WIND GUSTS was another successful word picture that worked nicely.  But, one word at a time.  No wonder Proverbs speaks of the beauty of a well place word at the precise moment. 

Saturday, March 22, 2014

A Trumpet Lesson with Professor Mahler

Professor: Come on in, you're next!  

Student: Hi, Professor Mahler.

Professor: I hope you're warmed up, because I've got a lot of stuff I am expecting you to play well for me today.

Student: What kind of stuff, Professor Mahler? 

Professor:  Contained in my scores is enough stuff to keep trumpet players at the peak of their game, and audiences coming back for more for a long time to come.  Now, let's take a look at your daily agenda.  Make sure to cover as many of these items as possible every day!

  • soft as possible
  • loud as possible
  • lyric sweetness not expected of trumpet players
  • long fluid chorales in all registers
  • gnarly fanfares, fast and slow, soft and loud
  • sudden rude pokes and jabs
  • the mean and the ugly (the spirit, not the tone)
  • high note diminuendos to nothing
  • the mother of all offstage solos!
  • shocking and unexpected entrances
  • huge leaps in a single bound, soft and loud, fast and slow
  • highest note, lowest note
  • the longest note ever
  • very quiet triplets on a low C sharp
  • offstage screech part
  • transposition always required 
  • complete accuracy always expected

Student: Gee, professor, I'm not sure I am ready to do all of that stuff!  You see, I have many issues and problems that must be solved.  What can you suggest for all of my ailments?  

Professor Mahler:  What I have written is all you will ever need. 

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

The Makings of a Great Student, Part 2

Rather than another long and familiar list of the usual must-haves for success, here are some obvious must-not-haves to consider. These are job-killers that quickly cripple growth.

The enemies of success are not a lack of talent or an uninspiring environment. The real inhibitors of success are laziness, stubbornness, lack of taking initiative, and an unwillingness to address weaknesses.  These habits will quickly render one's talent and love of music of no effect.

Confronting weaknesses is a given for the successful. Great students learn to face their vulnerabilities on a daily basis.  Even token attention to difficult issues is better than none.  Regular and wise chipping away on those nasty problems will make them less nasty the next time. A lot of polishing will produce a nice shine. No buffing, no shine!

Part 2 of The Great Student is simple.  Organize a plan for staying with difficult tasks.  Say no to the couch naps.  Endurance isn't only about embouchure strength.  Mental discipline is the greater challenge, for it yields greater results.  A wise strategy beats an untamed talent.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Makings of a Great Student, Part 1

A great student is not necessarily the best player, the most talented, or the most intelligent.  Successful students at any level are able to turn instruction into production quickly. Call it rapid turn around time.  This kind of student "gets it" and does it.  An important mark of a great student is in his or her response to instruction.

A violin professor was somewhat surprised to learn of the success of two of his students whose playing had been less than stellar all during their time in school.  What accounted for their turn around?

He learned that two key components to their improvement was their consistent use of the metronome and the recording of their practice sessions on a daily basis. Rather than wait until the music was totally prepared, they listened to their practice room labors every day and made a habit of turning on the metronome!

Significant progress need not take four years or longer.  Diligent attention to rhythm and listening will drastically improve performance in just a short time!  Really, how much talent is needed to dust off the metronome and click on the recording device? 

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Glory and Grit

The road to the stage goes through the trenches.  Because the journey of grunt work never ends, we might as well learn to treasure the grit of preparing as much as the glory of performing.  After all, most of our playing time will be off stage. 

A few thoughts on rethinking the practice session in order to make it a pathway to glory:

  • Don't jump into the trenches without a plan. Organized digging only! No wild flailing permitted. 
  • Don't practice like a student. 
  • Pretend someone important is listening.
  • Don't waste your notes. You have precious few.
  • Dig slowly and carefully on the hard stuff.
  • Set time limits. Don't dig for hours on end, lest you exhaust brains and chops and get yourself nowhere.
  • Record your sessions. See if there's madness to your method.
  • Consider your practice sessions as snippets of quality playing rather than large chunks of rubble.  
  • Avoid making brainless mistakes. Try to make the trenches your error-free zone.
  • Practice musical risk-taking.  Don't just play it safe.  
  • The more agony in the trenches, the more ecstasy on the stage!  Sweat the practice, not the performance.
  • Practice enjoying the frustrations of your grit and grunt work.  Don't avoid your weaknesses. Let difficulties improve you, and the glory will take care of itself.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Another frenzied practice session?

With so much music to rehearse and so little time, how do you respond? Is it going to be another one of those frenzied, aimless practice sessions? Question: is it better to play a lot sloppy, or a little well?  What's more important for our training, quantity or quality? Which comes first?

Usually when under time pressures, we quickly forsake quality for large quantities of flailing. Ten fabulous notes however, are way better than a thousand notes that no one would ever pay to hear. Wouldn't you prefer even a smidgen of gold to a wheelbarrow of dirt?

Imagine a firefighter shooting water on a burning building.  You wouldn't expect to see him randomly and frantically spraying just anywhere? We would hope he'd be patient, deliberate, and thorough, conserving his resources, and getting the job done quickly.

Or, consider the major league pitcher who can throw 110 mile-an-hour fastballs, yet he beans batters half the time.  Similarly, no one would go to a careless heart surgeon, or pay to watch a tennis pro with a chronic double-fault problem?

Just as the firefighter, the ballplayer, the surgeon, and the tennis pro cannot afford to perform poorly, so too the musician must have a mindset of discipline, quality, and accuracy even in the practice session. It's not pressure or an impossible task.  It's a positive rethinking of our approach. Every notes counts. It should remove nervous stress and make practice more efficient and rewarding.   Replace frenzy with organized music-making. 

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Escaping the Cubicle!

Picture two very different scenarios.  One is a boring cinder block practice cubicle, the other is a spectacular concert hall.  The next time you sit there in your solitary confinement, visualize an entirely different venue!  No one ever made it to the second without excelling in the first.

One of the problems with practice rooms is the sterile and uninspiring environment. Acoustics are always horrible, your sound evaporates instantly, and nobody is there to listen. (Can there be music in the forest if there is no one there to hear it?)  Maybe you should have a colorful mural painted on your practice room wall just for realistic expectations.  Then add some piped in crowd noise, applause, the tuning A, and the tapping baton?  Next, add some terrifying and inspiring maestro pics, and your practice efficiency could be revitalized enormously. 

Now your are ready to begin your playing session.  Remember, you have no notes to waste, no trial starts, no getting lost, no transposing break downs, no intonation clashes, no rhythmic malfunctions, just pure, enjoyable music-making!

Yes, you must work, but you must also perform. Make getting used to it a fun project.