Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The Unseen Instrument!

"You have two trumpets, one in your hand, and one in your brain."  Train the one in your brain first. (Arnold Jacobs)  The audience sees that shiny trumpet, but they must hear that glorious trumpet sound that emanates from deep within you. That's the one we train!

Our job is to build vast reserves of musical expression in the imagination flowing through the instrument and reaching the audience unimpeded. That's the goal. So the trumpet becomes not the obstacle, but the receptacle and the conduit for your great musical message. 

As Mr. Jacobs stressed, think music not muscle, message not mechanics. Your secret weapon and power source is the trumpet in your brain. Nurture it, depend on it, and let it teach the trumpet in your hand.  It will discipline your work to be drama-efficient. Always sing before your play. Without that strong first trumpet, the second one doesn't have a chance! 


Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Are you better than a metronome?

Which is best, rhythm from your mind or rhythm from your gut? Answer: both, but one is preferable! Is your rhythm mental or instinctive? Are you using your brain or your heart? One teaches only mechanical perfection, while the other stimulates musical expression. 

Your mind can try to make you play in perfect time, but your inner rhythmic instincts can do a much better job.  To put it crudely, music from the mind reaches the mind, while music from the gut reaches the gut.

Think of the metronome as no more than a strict school master. It is not a drama coach. It's the angry drill sergeant, but not the sensitive maestro. It's better to train and rely upon your God-given inner rhythm, than to depend solely upon your ability to place every note in its proper position. 

Are metronomes superior to musicians? Nope. A stoic metronome is not capable of phrasing, nuance, or expression, only millions of lifeless clicks. Its only function is obnoxious clicking. Certainly a living person should be superior to a machine! We have breath, energy, and purpose.  A metronome has none of that.  It has no brain, musicality, expression or soul! Don't live only by the boring pulse of a machine.

Great time-keeping is the foundation upon which energy, phrasing, and expression are built.  Always be building artistry on top of great rhythm. Don't neglect your inner rhythm, and don't be boring. You are much better than a metronome!

Friday, September 02, 2016

Got junk?


1. My first notes of the day will be pure quality. 
2. I will play slow enough to be accurate and clean.
3. I'm going to play perfectly for 5 seconds. Then 10, 15.
4. I'll be paid for only good notes.
5. I'll play my solo very slowly, resting every 4 measures.
6. It will never be said that my playing is boring.
7. Every phrase will be stunningly musical.
8. I'm going to be able to impress my friends with how softly I can play without loss of tone.
9. I'm going to amaze my friends with how loudly I can dominate without loss of tone.
10. My future employer is listening just outside my practice room door!  . . . . "You're hired!"

Freedom in playing comes when junk has been dealt with. No one wants a flawed product. Goal: eliminate wasted notes and wasted time. Put the practice room on stage.  Eliminate junk playing.


Monday, August 29, 2016

A Simple Practice Plan

You have arguably only one goal when practicing or performing, and that is quality control. Whether the notes are long or short, low or high, loud or soft, the aim is the same.  Produce the best possible sound on every note.

Step one: THINK SLOW. Give yourself enough time to find the center (the sweet spot) of each note. Don't proceed until all of your notes are usable.  (During one of my lessons with Mel Broiles, he accused me of "spraying the air with thousands of notes of highly questionable value!" He used a slightly different wording, but I got the point.)

Step two: THINK MONEY.  Imagine that every top quality note you produce instantly deposits dollars into your checking account. Likewise consider that any stuffy, unfocused notes will painfully charge your account big bucks! It's your choice: severe fines or rich rewards. 

Step three: THINK CONDUCTOR.  You live for the conductor's favor, not his displeasure. When you play, you want to see his uplifted hand and expression of approval, not an annoyed grimace as he frantically shushes your strained efforts.

Step four: THINK AUDIENCE. They're why we do what we do! It's not about us. We simply deliver beautiful phrases to a music-hungry audience one good note at a time.  That's the goal even in the practice room. Always insist on high quality and drama.  Think APPLAUSE, STANDING OVATIONS, BOWS! Quality is guaranteed!

Thursday, June 09, 2016

Taming the Bear

An audition can be like a snarling bear who seeks to maul each contestant daring to step onto the stage.  All it takes to get him provoked are a few timid and unconvincing excerpts.  Dare to squeeze out one more excerpt played like that and that great bear ferociously charges the stage, chewing up the sorry contestant, and spitting out his bones on the spot. "Growl. Get outta here! Who's Next?"

That bear however is very tamable! Two things will not only keep his rage at bay, but can also turn him into a friendly pet (more or less). Those weapons are preparation and communication.

It's been said, "You don't have to play perfectly but you do have to play accurately."  The goal of perfection puts great pressure and extra fear of failure on the performer. Whereas accuracy (of styles, tempos, dynamics, drama and overall musicianship) communicates better, and rescues the performer from himself.  Perfection is about the performer; communication is about the audience.

Prepare daily to defeat the audition monster with accuracy and dramatic communication. Poor preparation is followed by fear of the bear.  So slave wisely over the details, but slay the bear with your practiced noticeable dramatic skills as well.  Be sure to practice the message at least as much as the mechanics.

At the next audition the bear may threaten, but you have assured his defeat with your mighty weapons: singing, expression, rhythmic precision, dynamic contrasts, beautiful phrasing, excellent quality of sound, drama, and game-changing standout musicianship! 

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Instincts on High Alert

What does this little guy have in common with a principal trumpet player getting ready for rehearsal number #18 in Zarathustra? Or how about our prominent first entrance in Ravel's Piano Concerto in G?  Or, getting ready to kick start Pictures all by ourselves? Of course there's Mahler 5 to boot up as well.  So many starting assignments! So many opportunities to belt that 90-mile-an-hour fast ball out of the park! It's like the composer said, "Here, kid, see if you can catch this one!"

So what is this boy doing that so many neglect?  Answer: he doesn't know, he's just catching the ball. Similarly, we should think music, not muscles; message, not mechanics. Catch the ball, hit the ball.  No time to analyze.  Instincts matter. Training them to work for you on very short notice is a fun project. Focus quickly, play great. Don't give yourself time to get nervous.

Suggestions on a quicker response.
  • Sing it.
  • Valve it.
  • Sing it and valve it precisely together.
  • Eliminate extraneous prep time. Pick up the horn and make your statement without hesitation.
  • The way you react when someone suddenly tosses something at you is your model.
  • Think: catch and shoot!
  • Play your absolute best at the drop of a hat. 
  • Q Q (Quick Quality)

Benefits of the Boot

"Ladies and gentlemen: Thank you for your participation in today's orchestra audition. Unfortunately the committee informs me that none of you advanced. On your way out, be sure to help yourselves to a free FAILURE tee shirt and shorts with the BOOT on the back, compliments of our fine orchestra committee. Thank you, and have a nice day."

We've all experienced days like that. Nothing seems to alleviate the painful frustration of an audition dismissal, not even a free tee shirt! A swift kick would be less painful.

So how do you respond to those dreaded words, "NO THANK YOU! NEXT!"  Are there any positive takeaways? Three suggestions. These should impact the efficiency of your practice, maybe the direction of your career, and hopefully your perspective on life. That boot may have actually been a good thing after all.

1. Today's "boot" could be just what your practice sessions need - a total shakeup. Auditions are reality checks that reveal deficiencies that have been neglected or in need of more attention. The orchestra committee expects good intonation, pleasant sound, steady rhythm, clean articulation, accuracy, phrasing, dynamics, and dramatic impact. When these are present, you advance. When they are lacking, you go home.

So, go home and take inventory. The good news is that you now know exactly what to focus on. Organize your practice sessions so that you regularly listen for sound, rhythm, intonation, articulation, musical phrasings, etc. Cleanse your notes. Don't play so much. Make every note count. Pretend that your studio is being bugged and that the committee is listening. Use a tuner, a metronome, a decibel meter, and plan to score major points on your imaginary musical drama sensor!  Your goal is to improve and to impress. "Thank you, next!" is not a death sentence, but just what you needed to hear!

2. Today's "boot" could be the best thing to happen to you - a change in career direction. Being turned down at an audition does not mean that you should give up. However, if there is a pattern of endless struggling with little satisfaction, then a career adjustment could be a wise move. Be realistic in assessing your situation, and consider that there could be something for which you are better-suited. If defeats always defeat you, you're in the wrong business. Be encouraged. That boot could be the beginning of a new and far more rewarding direction for you. 

3. Today's "boot" could be the best thing to happen to you - a better understanding of yourself. This could be the most important takeaway of all. The manner in which you respond to "Thank you, next" reveals a lot about you.  If you're quick with the blame game, anger, bitterness, depression, or self-pity, then you're missing a major benefit of the boot.  None of those negative responses will improve you or your playing.  Life is easier without all of the critical attitudes, and so is trumpet-playing.

Who you are as a person is way more important than how well you play. An audition always shows us our weaknesses, musical and personal. The one who handles adversity with maturity is the one who is best prepared for the next step in life, whether the audition is won or lost.

Armando Ghitalla used to say, "We play the way we are." Use the defeat to step back and take stock of who you are. Life is bigger than an audition. A punch to the gut can provide the humbling that leads to a much improved player and person. Absorb the hit, learn, and go on with life.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Wardrobe Functions

Musicians must have an impressive wardrobe ready for all occasions.  Their back stage lockers are crammed with all manor of snazzy outfits perfectly suited for every show. Audiences expect entertainment, not boredom, so we dress appropriately. When we walk onto the stage, we're ready and dressed to kill!

We are actors of a thousand emotions and expressions, made up and outfitted with beautifully detailed costumes.  Colorful decorations matter. This is the entertainment conceived by composers, encouraged by conductors, and delivered by the musicians. What a thrill, what an honor to play a part!

The richness of the music, the colors of the instrument groups, and the passions of the players all contribute to make concertizing an art.  More than a job, it's a mission, a commission.  We get to translate all those little black dots on the printed page into sound, magically bringing them to life, and then singing out that message to the people.

What room is there for fear or pride?  This "business" is far greater than the performer.  We are just the somewhat lowly messengers of the music.  This is exhilarating yet humbling. It is also a tremendous antidote for stage fright. We are consumed by the beauty of the product we deliver.  Honing that product is our life's work, our passion, our frustration, and our satisfaction, however imperfectly we may do it. We don't shoot for perfection, we shoot for excellence in communication.

The great Mel Broiles had his blunt way of getting his students fired up about practicing. "You're not going to deliver any pizzazz in the show if you haven't ever done it in the practice room." 

Tuesday, April 19, 2016


Clogged pipes? Call ROTO-ROOTER! Clogged arteries? Call for an angioplasty! Clogged notes? Same strategy.  Clear out the pipes, and fill up the notes.

Are your notes all shriveled up and your air stream restricted? Is a superhuman effort required to force anything through the horn and into the audience?  If the answer is yes, you may have a serious case of the dreaded constrictivitis. You need to call NOTO-ROOTER.

Students will clean the horn, but ignore the notes.  Even your shortest notes must be slices of your top quality whole note.  The Promenade from Pictures at an Exhibition puts our focus on tone and freedom of delivery.  Likewise all notes must be "Pictures" notes. The beauty of the whole depends upon the beauty of all the parts.

Try putting a fermata on at least one note per measure to check for quality.  Learn to listen for and expect a great sound on every note, even in difficult technical passages.

To remind you of your cleaning mission, NOTO-ROOTER will include a free ball cap with a beautifully stitched toilet plunger on the front when you call 1-800-MAX-TONE today!