Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The Tuning Slide: 2.19- As Simple As...

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music

It is one of my favorites of Mr. Baca’s insights from the Shell Lake Trumpet Workshop:
Make everything sound like "Mary Had A Little Lamb." A 3-year old can sing it without thinking about it. Put the rhythm on the board for a new player and they will struggle with it.

And we all know it’s true.
  • All those black marks on the page are intimidating.
  • All those sharps or flats? No way!
  • Look at the tempo marking. Are they kidding?
  • How am I ever going to get that down in time for the concert?
Excuses, excuses, excuses. But they work. We don’t ever learn it like we could. We don’t take the time to practice like we need to. We continue to assume that it is too hard because we think it’s too hard and therefore it remains too hard.

No, this is not another post on practicing. That’s still a few weeks away. It is another post reminding us to keep ourselves in the right balance with the right kind of goals. It is a reminder that just practicing any old thing will just get us any old someplace- or nowhere near where we want to be.

Last week in looking at planning for the new year I wrote:
  • We start something by taking the necessary steps to get there.
  • We have to know where we want to go.
  • We then create opportunities then things happen.
  • We follow our interests and take risks.
One of those places we want to go is to make everything as natural as "Mary Had a Little Lamb" (or "Twinkle, Twinkle.") No matter what the piece is that we are working on, it is the feel of the natural that we want. I used to joke when I heard a trumpet player do something extraordinary that “those notes aren’t in my trumpet.” I was trying to be funny. But I was also trying to make a feeble excuse for myself. If they aren’t in my trumpet then I don’t have to work on them or learn to play them. Simple? Yes. But also self-defeating. It ’s almost like saying:
“My goal is to be as mediocre as I feel I am. I want to continue to suck at being a trumpet player.”
The website, Cyber PR posted last year on ideas for setting musical goals. They suggested a few steps:
  • Find your focus areas (You are creating a sense of order)
  • Write the goals down. (Journals, paper or virtual, are a great idea.
    • Start with an easy goal and do it on a timeline
    • Keep moving by keeping lists for each goal
    • Look at the goals daily
    • Look for people to help you achieve the goals- your “team”
    • Plan for the time to do what you want
So, after writing that I came up with my focus list for musicians to consider. I wrote them in the first person since they are my way of finding some focus.
  • Listen to the kind of music I want to know or play better, which is (or should be) basically all music
  • Take time to sing
  • Find my weak spots
  • Develop a plan to improve the weak spots.
  • Try some memory work
  • Write some licks, choruses or songs
Here’s one thing that came out of that:
  • A week or so ago I was listening to a folk version of the song the Beach Boys interpreted in Sloop John B. I noticed that it had a different feel from the Beach Boys’ version. I also noticed that I liked the way the arrangement fell into place with the different voices. [This is the first item above. I love to listen to music, but as a musician I am also trying to listen differently than I used to. Hence I noticed things about the song that intrigued me. Yes, I sang along!]
  • It might be fun to learn the song on my trumpet. [This helps me address a couple of my growth areas- playing by ear, memorizing a song, expanding my musical vocabulary.]
  • I then thought that it also might be a fun piece to work into a number for the brass quintet, maybe even trying to put different sections into different styles allowing the different voices of the different instruments to stand out individually. [I now move into the area of taking what I hear and discover into writing it down- and adding other parts that also require a closer listening and more learning by ear. It will also help me understand a little more music theory, chord, melody structure, etc. An important area for my own growth!]
  • I have a couple months coming up when I will have more time than usual to do the learning and writing. [A timeline- by the end of March to have a first draft ready for the quintet to play.]
Hence I have come up with a goal and a plan to address some of my own joys and areas for evolution.

Right now that all looks and feels a lot like a full score of Les Mis printed on one page. But with my goals set down for you (and me) to see, I have a plan to turn it into "Mary Had a Little Lamb." It of course is one of several goals in my focus for the next couple months, but this is a new and challenging area for me. I expect it will also have impacts on my other areas of advancement.

To learn to do this in music is a great way of learning to do it in other areas. I have already learned ways of doing this kind of planning and focus in my career and personal life. I bring it to my musical life, improve the process, and take it on to other things as well. This is the cross-fertilization that naturally occurs in our daily living. We are internally interconnected. Allow each to nourish the others. You will keep your life in tune.
What is your plan for the next three months?
Where do you need to focus?
Who can help you develop it?
What’s keeping you from doing it?
Go and do it.

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