Thursday, April 07, 2016

Tuning Slide: Support

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music

Flatter me, and I may not believe you.
Criticize me, and I may not like you.
Ignore me, and I may not forgive you.
Encourage me, and I may not forget you.
-William Arthur

In the past four weeks I have posted on "Story" and "Song", the first two of three things that composer, arranger, and educator Stanley Curtis on his blog Trumpet Journey calls the three "S"s. These are what he sees as the three key elements all great trumpet players have in common. They are simply
  • Story
  • Song and
  • Support
Let's look at the third- Support!

Curtis wrote:
But to keep the song going, which keeps the story fresh, we all need the support of our technique, our fundamentals, our use of air, and our “chops.” For most of us, this comes down to consistent, mindful practice over many years. We are also looking for the right equipment to help us get there. Equipment and practice routines seem to be the subjects of most the trumpet chatter out there on the web and in studios. We all want to be able to play better, faster and higher. I know I do. But I think we all understand the limitations of mouthpieces, technique and high notes without a great singing style. Or without a musical story to tell. Let’s let support be what it is: help for a greater cause.
As I read Curtis' thoughts I realized that this is a good summary of much of what we have been talking about on this blog since the beginning.
  • Technique
  • Fundamentals
  • Consistent mindful practice
He also points out that without the song and the story, even the best equipment is just about mechanical things based on physics. Music is just sound vibrations hitting people's eardrums unless there's a story and a song.

That also brings us back to one of the "fundamentals" for many of us, lessons. They can be formal with a specific teacher with specific assignments and schedule. They can also be "informal" ranging from asking a fellow trumpet player to listen and evaluate what you are doing to sitting in with a group and jamming. What is important is to get the opinion of others. As I have said before I have had several such people in my trumpet playing life recently and the change has been dramatic (from my point of view, anyway.)

What can we see new today, then. In general support can be defined as:
  • give assistance to;
  • enable to function or act;
  • give approval, comfort, or encouragement to;
  • prod, spur, egg on, goad, provoke.
Here are some questions and thoughts that came to mind as I looked at that list:
  • What (or who) can give you assistance in telling your story through your trumpet playing?
    There are the obvious answers- consistent practice, developing mindfulness and all the techniques that go along with that. But you are in your own unique place. What can give that to you? What resources are there around you.

    When I realized I wanted (and needed) to do more with learning jazz improvisation I remembered that there is a jazz jam every month in town here. So I contacted the two people who organize it and asked them for some time. We haven't scheduled it yet. I'm going to send them a note when I get done with this. I have also been working on my scales which I have been told is an essential for improvisation.
  • What can enable you to function or act in a way that improves your ability to play your song?
    Again, beyond the standard answers- what might you do to improve your method of practicing? Ask someone what they do. Spend some time surfing the Internet, Googling as specific as you can. I became aware that I was not working on flexibility as much as I may need to. I simply searched on trumpet flexibility exercises. I had more than I needed. I spent some time comparing them and fond that most were similar if not exactly the same. I had my basic flexibility.
  • What is the needed balance in your life between positive criticism and encouragement?
    None of us will improve if all we ever get is praise. But we need praise and encouragement. Find the teacher, friend, musician who can give you constructive criticism as well as be able to tell you what you are doing right. I recently sent my teacher a link to some of the performances of the quintet I play in, asking for feedback. He started right out with encouragement- a positive statement. He then promised to spend some time at our next lesson going over the videos with me with a critically supportive ear. I am looking forward to it.
  • How do you find the people, places, situations that can prod and spur you, egg you on to greater width and depth in your music?
    This one follows on the previous one. Don't be afraid of finding new situations. I volunteered to take a solo in the one big band the other night. With all the songs we have I may never get the chance to play it in a performance- but hey, you never know. Now I have to work on it!
This IS what life is all about with music, work, or friendship. We sum it up, all of it, in the word support. We too often believe we need to be rugged individualists, able to take care of ourselves no matter what. That's a dangerous bunch of baloney! Musicians know that- we play in groups from duets to concert bands. Sure we solo, but we would get as bored with it as our audiences if that was all we did.

Be open to the support you need. Be honest with yourself. Then go get your support- YOUR team.

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