Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The Tuning Slide- Review and Plan for a Happy New Year

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music

Don't practice quickly and hope it gets better;
practice excellence and hope it gets faster.
--Frank Campos

It is an old and trite idea to take the end of the year as a time to look back and reflect on what has been happening in one's life. But what makes something "old and trite" is that there is truth in it. Most of the time we don't stop to review and see where we have come. Why not take the end of the year as such a time?

Which is where the importance of the journal comes in. Remember a few weeks ago or so when I reminded us of the importance of keeping a journal of our practicing? Seems like busy work. But here is when you will appreciate it- and maybe get back into the habit since if you are like me you have not kept the journal for a few weeks or more.

I went back and looked at my journal from right after trumpet camp last summer. At camp we were given ideas on a regular practice routine. In addition I was given the idea to do the Arban's exercises from page 13 - 22 and 25-28. These are good, basic exercises that have been proven to be so fundamental it might be valuable to practice them on a regular basis.

So starting in mid-August I did that. For six weeks or so I made sure that I went through those on a regular basis. Now anyone who has played trumpet for more than a few months knows how to play these. There's nothing particularly difficult in them. For years I mostly ignored them since, well, I can play that.

But could I play them well? Could I play them at speed? Did I take the time to play them slowly enough to develop excellence? Often I would practice it quickly so I could say, "Did that. What's next?" Over these last five months I have discovered that there is an amazing depth in those exercises. They start easy; some are more difficult than others; they introduce us to key signatures and chord structures.

Last week, aware of reflection time for this week, I went back to page 13 and started playing through them. I hadn't done them all in about 2 months. I had worked on other things and had continued to notice my progression as a trumpet player. What would these sound like now?

I started with a medium tempo and found they fell into place smoothly. They moved along and felt right. Can I play them as the upper suggested tempo? Surprise. Yes, I can, at least many of them. I looked at my notes in the journal (minimal though they are) and saw that it took me a lot longer to play them in August and September because I a) couldn't play to tempo and b) missed a lot of notes.

I can talk about other reflections, but this is a good introduction to it. What I discovered was
  • if I hadn't kept a journal I would have had to rely on imperfect memory for comparison
  • if I hadn't taken time for reflection I wouldn't have been as aware of my progress
  • if I hadn't slowed down when first working on these back in August I wouldn't have gone beyond "just good enough"
The natural question then is "So what? What do I do with this?" As I was working through these sections of Arban's with a little better insight I discovered the ones that were still causing me difficulty. I was reminded that there are always (!!) the basics that need to be worked on. It may be "easy" to breeze through and play some of these. But there is always the opportunity to strengthen the foundation.

That brought me to the result of review and reflection- planning. I have already talked about goal-setting, etc. but that will often return as a theme. In short, for this particular review, I came up with a specific plan to refine my daily routine. I have taken the sections between pages 13 and 36, some of the very basics, and divided them into three sections. At first I will play through each section every third day. I will be going through each section twice each week for the next 3-5 weeks. My goal- reinforce these basics and add a bit of "excellence" beyond "good enough." This will take about 10 - 15 minutes of each day's routine.

With all that aside, the biggest reflection for me is what has occurred in my trumpet playing since June when I attended the Big Band Camp at Shell Lake. The quintet I am part of then had a "peak experience" at the Vintage Band Mini Fest in Northfield, MN. I then headed back to Shell Lake for trumpet camp where my whole view of my trumpet playing took a huge positive jump. I have continued to play in two Big Bands, two concert bands and the quintet and have practiced 8 out of 10 days.

I am humbled and amazed at what has happened. I am grateful to all who helped, encouraged, challenged, instructed and allowed me to play along with you this past year.

There is more to come.

Happy New Year to all!

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