Musical training is a more potent instrument than any other, because rhythm and harmony find their way into the inward places of the soul.
― Plato, The Republic
Let me start with a confession… Sometimes we write about things that we aren’t doing in order to make ourselves research and then, if the stars align correctly and the rivers don’t flood, we may actually try what we are talking about. In other words, I am, not good at this week’s topic:
Efficiency and planning in practice.
I never have been. I don’t believe I am alone. Most of us play instruments because we want to play music. Long tones, then playing scales or chromatics and endless lip slurs begins to sound boring. At best. So we collect song books, method books, lesson books, etudes, etc. in the vain hope that the more we have to choose from the more likely we will be to actually play them.
Sure we have Arban’s, Clarke AND Schlossberg. We may even have tried to put together some routine out of them. We are good for a while and then get sidetracked by any one of a number of things.
At Trumpet Camp in August we all received a handout that had the start of a decent daily routine. I added some Arban’s and Schlossberg to is and soon was in the groove of regular practice. With the exception of a period in September when circumstances were beyond my control, I have been doing quite well.
The result is as expected. My range, tone, style, technique, and endurance have almost skyrocketed. But the efficiency is beginning to wane. I am now finding myself being distracted as I am playing long tones or missing fingering on chromatics that we all have played for years.
In other words, I may be playing my trumpet, but I am not practicing as efficiently as I did in mid-August. Some days I do slurs, other days sight-reading. One day I will work through scale exercises and the next play rhythm challenges. Am I getting better? Sure. My embouchure is improving and my tone is the best it’s probably ever been. But I’m just kind of wandering around the practice. I am only now beginning to ask, “What is it I need to be working on?”
So I went surfing and Googling on the Web to see what’s out there. Let me start with a list from Wynton. (Do I need to give his last name?)
THE WYNTON MARSALIS 12 RULES OF EFFECTIVE PRACTICE:Looking at the top of Wynton’s list what should go on my list? What should my schedule look like? What do I need to develop?
1. Seek out the best private instruction you can afford.
2. Write/work out a regular practice schedule.
3. Set realistic goals.
4. Concentrate when practicing
5. Relax and practice slowly
6. Practice what you can't play. - (The hard parts.)
7. Always play with maximum expression.
8. Don't be too hard on yourself.
9. Don't show off.
10. Think for yourself. - (Don't rely on methods.)
11. Be optimistic. - "Music washes away the dust of everyday life."
12. Look for connections between your music and other things.
Here’s a place to start on schedule and planning as found on The Trumpet Studio:
What is Skill Building?It is clear that this doesn’t happen overnight. On the Trumpet Studio the plan to move from single to double-tounguing mastery can probably take up to 6 months moving across all the scales. That picks up on Wynton’s #5- practice slowly, which can also expand into "Practice patiently."
Begin working on a particular skill (tonguing, scales, range) in simple, attainable steps, then increasing the difficulty SLIGHTLY. Practicing that level for many repetitions UNTIL MASTERED, then increasing the difficulty. It may take hours, days or weeks to MASTER a particular level. Mastery is obtained when you can play a particular passage or selection 10-15 times at the given metronome marking with no mistakes.
What are my realistic goals? What are the essentials of becoming a more efficient and capable trumpet player? I need to look at what I can already do and see where the growth needs to happen. A year ago I decided to work hard at sight-reading, one of my poorer skills. I got the Getchell 2nd Book of Practical Studies and just started working through it. (No, I wasn’t very organized at it. I just kept playing the next exercise until I reached the end.) Did it work? Yep. Could it have worked better if I hadn’t been impatient? Yep. Am I happy with where it took me? Yep. Could I continue to do better? You bet.
But that “better” will be more than just sight-reading. It will be in technique as I learn to play the dynamics and tone of the song. But the days I work too much on that, I don’t do scales or slurs. There’s always a trade-off. That brings me back to the scheduling and deciding what my goals are to be. Which takes me to #1 on the list- an instructor/teacher. Yes, I have had them. But I have not been able to use them as effectively as possible.
See how it gets complicated and how someone like me who is not Mr. Organization can get turned off to practicing and end up getting nowhere?
Let me challenge you and me, then, to begin to make a list of the goals we want to achieve in the next few months. Let’s talk to our instructors about ways to move forward. Agree to a schedule but don’t be so rigid that you get angry if you miss it by a day or even hour.
This is supposed to be fun.
And make sure you take time to play music. After all, that’s why we practice.
Which, as I have said before, is a lot like life. And as ever, more to come as these continue to develop.