Wednesday, November 16, 2016

The Tuning Slide: 2.11- Staying Mental

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music
Aware that it may be nothing more than beating the same drum over and over, let’s take one more look at “deliberate practice.” Here again are the standards required of practice to be deliberate:
  • Deliberate practice is focused. Students must give it their full attention.
  • Deliberate practice involves feedback. Immediate, specific feedback on where students are falling short is vital.
  • Deliberate practice requires a teacher
  • Deliberate practice requires leaving one’s comfort zone. If students aren’t pushing themselves beyond what is comfortable and familiar, they will not advance.
  • Deliberate practice requires specific goals aimed at target performances
  • Deliberate practice builds on mental representations.
One of the most interesting to me is the last one:
  • Mental representations.
I had never thought of that as part of what practice does. Now I realize that it is something that happens fairly unconsciously. We do build a mental picture of what we are doing. We do look for patterns in the music and, if we are more visually oriented may even construct some mental framework. I noticed myself doing that recently in working on one of our quintet pieces. At one spot in my part, there is a repeating 8th note “D” followed by 3 other 8th notes, then back up to the “D”. It repeats this pattern several times. I found myself circling the repeating “D” that gave the section a clear, almost physical structure. It also helped me see that whether notated or not, those “D”s work better with a slight accent so they stand out. After I did it I realized two things:

1. It was now easier to play in time and flow because
2. I now had a mental image in both sound and visual that described the section.

Unless you are already years into being an established and advanced trumpet player, chances are you wouldn’t notice that for a while, if ever. All you would have are the notes on the page. Think now of all those Arban or Clarke exercises that repeat the same pattern across a scale or across the whole set of 12 scales. They build a mental representation. They instill an aural pattern into our subconscious that eventually becomes a natural way of doing the scale. We can all probably play our basic concert Bb scale without even thinking. The fingers just move. But now try to play the concert B scale (our C#/Db). No way can I do that. That physical- and aural- representation isn’t there yet. But I keep working at it.

But I am not sure that the best way to keep working at it is by simply reading the notes off the page. This would have sounded like I was thinking crazy not that long ago. "I will never be able to remember those scales without having it in front of me." I felt it was absolutely necessary to learn them from the Arban series in exercise 46 on pp. 20-21. It repeats a pattern (visual on the page, aural from the horn) or mental representation, around the circle of 4ths. I got the basics and then closed the book and started working on it by “ear.” I still have some difficulty with Db and Gb but it went much faster when I internalized the pattern- a mental representation- and learned it that way. I discovered that also worked well with Clarke #2, the classic exercise that is one of those essentials of trumpet playing. So it does appear that when we work toward those mental representations and visualizations, things improve- and often more quickly and effectively than otherwise.

No matter how you do this, though, you are always working on those three “greats”:
  • Great sound,
  • Great rhythm,
  • Great listening
Tempo keeps these 3 greats in order. When you get to a difficult place and miss the note, slow it down- it means the tempo was too fast. That also allows those mental representations to catch up to what you are playing. It takes a long time to play as fast as Charlie Parker or Dizzy Gillespie- and do it well. Build the mental representations always, always paying attention to the three greats.
One more quick thought I heard: There is no better motivation for more practice than what happens when you practice more. You won’t ever say, “Gee, I wish I hadn’t practiced today.”

Staying motivated: See this link on the Learning Jazz Standards website for another way of describing all this.

I had said last week that I would talk some about “Grit”- the rest of the Peak and deliberate practice story. I think I will hold off on that until sometime in the new year. We’ve covered a lot of territory on deliberate practice in these three posts. It may be better to work on incorporating these into our own practice time. Grit will then become a refresher and expansion after we get a little more comfortable with being deliberate.

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