Wednesday, August 02, 2017

The Tuning Slide: 3.6- Bits and Pieces

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music

With this year’s Shell Lake Trumpet Workshop in full swing this week, I put together a couple different bits and pieces that have been rumbling around in my life and music over the past few months.

The first bit is from a conversation I had with another trumpet player during a band rehearsal. One week I mentioned my basic routine of practicing between 90 minutes and two hours a day. The next week they came up to me at a break and said they had thought about me during the week and had thought about my routine. Then they asked, “But how do you play two to three sessions of that length? What do you find to play?” I realized that this is a question I might have asked a few years ago. But I have been fortunate since the summer of 2015 to have been introduced to some amazing trumpet instructors who have helped me make playing trumpet a full-time job (without pay, of course.) They have shown me the value of deliberate practice and how the investment in playing the basics every day makes a difference.
So here is what I described to my friend.

My first session of the day, usually up to an hour, is just the basics.
  • 10-15 minutes of long tones, including now some specific exercises on my upper register which moves into the second section.
  • 10-15 minutes of scale exercises of various types. Sometimes it’s just playing each major scale around the Circle of Fourths
  • 15-20 minutes of very basic exercises from Arban’s
  • 15-20 minutes of Clarke exercises and etudes, usually from # 3,4, or 5.
My second session also up to an hour is when I work on
  • Band, quintet and other performance pieces
  • Jazz improvisation
  • Charlier, Vannetelbosch, and Arban’s etudes and studies
  • Concone etudes can be a great way to come down and relax at the end
That’s it. If I only have time for one session, it is always a variation on the first one. As Matt Stock, one of the Shell Lake Trumpet Workshop faculty said one day in a post, record yourself playing one of the basic Arban’s exercises and you will see how much more work you can still do. By having a deliberate routine- and then adjusting, revising, and developing it will give you the chance to see your growth and improvement as well as what you need to be working on. It also reminds you that every piece of great music and every great performance is based on these basics.

My second “Bit” is another question I ran across somewhere recently. It deals with the famous admonition for practicing that we should rest as much as we play.
Why rest while you are practicing?
Let me start off by saying that I don’t always follow that advice. When I know I have 60 minutes to play, to take 30 minutes to sit around seems like a waste. I admit that it is better when I do; but I get impatient with sitting between each exercise. Boredom sets in and squirrels keep distracting me. That is one of the reasons why it is often suggested that we practice with another person so we have to rest while they play what we just played, or vice versa. But I do try to take 15 minutes out of every hour to rest. I have found two reasons for that- physical and psychological.

First the physical is just like when I am at the gym working out. It works far better if, for example I wait between repetitions on any given exercise. It has to do with how muscles and our body work. The short rest period relaxes them and begins the rebound and rebuilding process. It helps build muscle mass and muscle flexibility. If you keep it tight for an hour you are definitely more likely to do some damage that could prevent you from doing what you want to do.

As to the psychological, if you are learning something new or stretching your boundaries, there will be some tension and stress beyond the muscles ad physical.Your brain gets tired, too. Relax. Take a moment to get up and walk around. Go get a drink of water. Stretch some muscles.

One thing I am thinking about is taking a few minutes during the hour to do some stretching or even some Tai Chi/Qigong movements. It doesn’t need to be anything intense, just loosen the arms and shoulders, get the butt off the chair and let some blood flow. This is one of the ideas I want to explore some in the next year here on The Tuning Slide. I have a hunch it will have some positive impact.

The next two bits and pieces are in my notebook from this past April’s Eau Claire Jazz Fest. First is from one of the clinics. It was about improvisation, but is easily applied to practicing and performing in general. One of the best ways, we were told, was to cut out the perfectionism. Yes, we will make mistakes. Accept it. It’s the way life is. The advantage of that statement is that is can frees us from being uptight. Much of our fear and stress comes from not wanting to make mistakes and holding back from what we can truly accomplish. It slows us down. It keeps us away from our potential success. In essence it is permission to be human.

But, the leader said, that does not give us the okay to be sloppy. To know we will make mistakes is not the same as not trying to get better.

The last of my “bits” for this week is from Greg Keel, director of Shell Lake Arts Center’s jazz camps and an accomplished instructor and performer. He was one of the adjudicators in the room I was acting as host for. One of his clinician-type questions he asked every band was simple, What do you listen to?
Why do you listen?
Many reasons of course, and many are good.
  • Relaxation
  • Inspiration
  • Motivation
  • Being rooted in tradition
It will clearly have an impact on your own playing. Take the time often to listen. Listen to what you want to sound like. Listen to stuff that challenges you. (I am working on some modern-style jazz, trying to get into its style and feel. Listen, listen, listen!) Listen to all genres and figure out what makes it good. Your life will thank you.

Summing it up:
  • Be deliberate in working toward what you want to accomplish. Plan ahead and make goals
  • Be balanced in what you do- rest and relax.
  • Accept your humanity and imperfections
  • Listen to what’s around you- your own traditions and your own ideas. They meld together.
Notice that all of these aren’t just about trumpet. If you want to be a success in your life as much as in your music
  • Plan ahead and have goals.
  • Keep your daily balance
  • Know it won’t always go the way you want it to and adjust
  • Pay attention.
Much more on all of these in the coming year. I am finishing this post at this year’s trumpet workshop. As the week has been going on the spark is being reignited. So much more in growing in trumpet playing, music- and, of course, life!

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