Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The Tuning Slide: 2.30

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music

We don’t move smoothly from one level of ability to next. Reading about quantum physics I realized that most of what happens in the world is not on a continuum. It may look like it, but it isn’t. That’s because we can’t see the little things happening, down on the quantum level. The electrons, for example, move one energy level orbit to another in jumps. Discrete jumps. In-between they are nowhere. It is referred to as “discontinuous.” In other words, a “leap” from one place to the next. Or maybe in a whole cloud of possibilities of all the things that could happen which in physics is known as a sum over paths.

I realized that this also explains some of what I have often noticed in my practicing and improvement as a musician. In summer band I used to notice somewhere around week 4 of rehearsals that my improvement slowed down and even regressed. This would happen just before I made a significant jump in my playing and skill. The first time it happened I almost quit the community band thinking that I was getting too old for that. (I was all of 38, and this was 30 years ago). Then, in a couple of weeks, in time for the second half of the summer band season, things would improve. When it happened again the next year, I figured it must be normal.

Recently I noticed, for example, that my upper register had begun to fall into place in ways I have never, repeat NEVER played before. I know I am approaching another jump in my skill. The next day I wasn’t playing up there. Then I was. Or in my second set of practicing on a given day I was not able to do it as I had the day before. There is a discontinuity happening.

I am in that never-never land between skill levels. I’m not where I was, but I am not quite where I am going. I am in the cloud of possibilities. On any given day I might be approaching that new level and on the next, well, I’m barely where I was. When that happens, I get excited- it means things are changing. Here’s what is happening as a way of illustrating:

It wasn’t that long ago, within the past year, that the “F” or “G” at the top of the staff was my comfortable limit. Yes, I could sort of hit the “A” and “B”, sometimes okay, usually not as well. Basically my skill level was the “F” or “G”. Early this year I noticed I had become more comfortable all the way to “C” on the ledger line above the staff. Still not perfect, but changing. “A” was now the top.

Then three weeks ago, for the first time ever, I purposely went all the way to “E” above the staff. I could do it without too much problem. Sometimes. “C” now felt comfortable. It was at that point that I noticed the seeming regression in skill. For a few days I was barely getting to the “C” again. I got excited. The leap is beginning. In my old way of thinking I would have believed that I had reached the end of my skill. I even remember saying to one of the other big band and trumpet students (Jeff!) that I will never be getting up to the “E” let alone any higher. I don’t believe that anymore. I heard the “E” come out of my horn and I know it will happen again.

Which brings me back to the listening part of music- having a “great ear.” That doesn’t just mean hearing when a note is right or wrong. It also means hearing the note before you play it. I used to take a quick break going up the scale as I went from “G” to “A”. I had to set myself to play it. I couldn’t naturally hear it. In one book I saw online the general feeling of why many trumpet players can’t play in the high register is that they aren’t able to hear the notes up there. Once we can, we move toward playing it. Then, one day, the leap is made.

I do notice that the “leap” is not as fast as it used to be. I don’t think it’s because of anything I’m doing differently. I believe it has to do with the act that I am up in the upper range of the instrument. Some will argue, quite persuasively that the range of the trumpet does go that high, but the fewer number of harmonics makes it a little more sensitive to smaller changes than lower on the instrument. As we move higher in the range, and build our own skills, embouchure, and endurance, the “center” of the trumpet scale moves upward to “C” or “E” on the staff instead of the second line “G”. When you go to higher levels or greater extremes in any activity the progress doesn’t change as quickly. But it still happens.

As we come to the end of this second year of the Tuning Slide, I am aware of many of those leaps in my own playing. I am doing things I never thought possible- and know I am working toward more of them. These past two years have been a remarkable time for me as a person and as a musician. I have consistently called this blog reflections on music and life. They go together. When my life is in better balance and focus, so is my music. As my music focuses more, so does my life. What I learn in one, applies to the other. If there is one sentence that summarizes this second year it is:
How you do anything is how you do everything.
Keep at it. It’s worth it.

Between now and the end of June here on the blog I am going to focus specifically on jazz here on the blog. I will be writing a few new posts as well as re-posting my series on jazz from last year. This will give me time to edit and format the two years of the Tuning Slide into a new book. I hope to make it available to the students at Shall Lake Trumpet Workshop in August, as well as on Amazon. I will also be attending the Eau Claire Jazz Fest (to see and hear Doc!) and the adult Big Band Workshop at Shell Lake. As always I will be taking notes, looking for the many more ways that music and life enrich each other.

Any ideas? Let me know. Looking forward to more over the next year.

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