Thursday, November 16, 2017

Looking for a Christmas Gift?

Here are my books available at Amazon. 
They are both in Kindle and paperback. 
They make really nice Christmas gifts.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The Tuning Slide 3.21- Beyond Mediocre (2)

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music

You have to, take a deep breath
and allow the music to flow through you.

Revel in it, allow yourself to awe.
When you play allow the music to
break your heart with its beauty.

― Kelly White

What else is there about practicing (this month's theme) that can help us rise above being simply mediocre? How about memorization built on sight-reading which itself is built on listening and rhythm?

If there is a secret - and easy - way to memorize, I haven’t found it. In fact I have seldom memorized a song all the way through. The only exceptions might be When the Saints Go Marching In and several songs I learned by ear. As I write that I also know that I have just given one of the not-so-secret ideas about memory work. Some of memory work goes back to what we talked about last week, listening. I have a hunch that memorization is more than just rote recall of something. Like I have said, you have to know the language. Sure, anyone can recite something in a different language without knowing what it means. But it will be lifeless compared to knowing the real feelings behind it.

The other thing that I have found that helps is having a better feel for the rhythm and style. This starts with the basics we always talk about- scales, chromatics, arpeggios, and the like. As we get to know the feel of these basics they become natural. We don’t have to think about them with Self One and will give appropriate control to Self Two. Then, when that run comes up in a performance piece or rehearsal, it just happens. Listening and rhythm then lead to what I have found to be the next pre-memorization step- sight-reading.

Sight reading
Expertise with sight-reading belongs
at the top of your list of priorities.
–The Musician’s Way, p. 99

This was one of my greatest weaknesses for years. Way back in high school I was a mediocre sight reader- at best. Even though I was first chair I had difficulty with sight reading. Part of that may be my somewhat ADD personality, but I didn’t know how to move beyond that. I would then take the music home and woodshed it and be able to play it like a first-chair should play it the next rehearsal. (We had an excellent second-chair who could sight read and was right there to support me and the section. Something every section needs!) Without going into the many decades since then, It was not until the last five or six years that I learned you can actually practice sight-reading.

Enter Getchell’s Second Book of Practical Studies for Cornet and Trumpet. They are amazing- and fun to play! They are based, among other things, on rhythm and time. The more I worked on that, the better my sight reading got. I then learned how to deal with a new piece of music and the “steps” of sight-reading. These include the obvious mental checklist of key signature, time signature, key changes, repeats, dynamics. But they also include a quick look at what appear to be difficult passages- and then humming or singing them. All this can be done in a relatively short time. The more time, the better. By the time the conductor raises the baton to start, I found I am no longer truly reading it for the first time. It is almost not sight-reading.

But here is where a paradox shows up for me. The more I get into the printed notes on the page, the less I am able to do it from memory. I have tried for years to memorize the closing section of Stars and Stripes Forever. Trumpets always stand to play it and I can’t read the music. Put the music in front of me and I can play it flawlessly. Take the music away and I easily get lost. Last year I worked on it using a lot of the new ideas and techniques I have been gathering for the last three years and I had it almost complete. In the end it became a melding together of all that I know about playing that came from listening enough to know the song including the rhythm and progressions (from sight-reading practice).

How then do I move on to greater ability to memorize? On the Your Music Lessons website I found this: (

The steps to memorizing can be broken down as follows:
• Put information into short term memory.
• Repeat the information in your short term memory multiple times.
• Sleep. [Important to moving information from short- to long-term memory.]
• Repeat steps 1 through 3.
• Do the whole process again after some time has passed.

(I like the sleep idea!) How then do I put these steps into practice? From The Musician's Way website here are The Four Stages of Memorization

Stage 1: Perception

Deep perception makes for solid memory. When we grasp the inner workings of a composition as well as how we want to shape each phrase, those rich connections lead to steadfast recall.
  • What’s the structure, how does it flow, what are the emotions? This is the start of getting information into the short-term memory.
Stage 2: Ingraining
Ingraining is the means whereby we lay down enduring memory tracks. But beware: ingraining necessarily involves repetition, yet only mindful repetitions will do.
  • This takes us back to all the elements of mindful practice. Just practicing doesn’t do it; practicing with images and goals will do a great deal. We need to make the music part of us, ingrained in us.
Stage 3: Maintenance
Even if we ingrain deeply, unless we maintain our memory, the mental connections we form will gradually disintegrate. Here are strategies that keep memories strong.
  • Here we do things like record ourselves and listen or do mental reviews of what we have memorized. It keeps it alive.
Stage 4: Recall
  • This is performance. Be relaxed and mindful, feel the emotions and trust in your preparation. With some of the music I have been working on this means getting myself out to a jazz jam or volunteering for the improvised solo in a gig.
This is exactly what I have been trying to do with some of the jazz work I have been developing. I have seen that as I work on playing by ear it allows the music to be more than just short-term since I cannot rely on visual memory alone. That in itself is a big piece of memorizing for me.

With all that here are some final thoughts on memory and music from Your Music Lessons:

“Muscle memory” is not even memory, it’s purely habit. Habits are formed in the most primitive parts of our brains. Studies have shown that people with no ability to form new memories, because of accidents or disease, are still able to form new habits. This shows that habits are not technically memories. When musicians depend on “muscle memory” what they really are doing is repeating patterns mindlessly.

This type of “memory” is also very prone to memory slips because the music is actually not in the musicians memory at all, and any small break from the habit (like a mistake or someone in the audience coughing) can cause the habit to break down.

Real music comes from our actively engaged minds. If the musician cannot sit down and write out an entire piece of music from memory, the piece is not memorized. Never try to acquire “finger memory”. It will come naturally because of constant repetitions. You should always seek an intellectual understanding and memory of the music first.

So, memorization, connected with playing/transcribing by ear, will be one of my goals over the next six-months. I’ll see if this old dog can still learn these new tricks.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Veterans' Day 2017

It is the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.
Ninety-nine years later.
Veterans' Day.
Iowa Memorial- Vicksburg National Military Park
For your bravery, hard work, 
and dedication to our country, 
we thank you

Diorama- World War 1 Museum, Kansas City, MO
Without heroes, we are all plain people, 
and don’t know how far we can go. 
– Bernard Malamud

Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers- Arlington, VA
 As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.
-John Fitzgerald Kennedy

World War II Museum, New Orleans, LA
Honoring the sacrifices many have made for our country in the name of freedom and democracy is the very foundation of Veterans' Day. 
-Charles B. Rangel

Vietnam Veteran's Memorial- Washington, D. C.
 America’s Veterans have served their country with the belief that democracy and freedom are ideals to be upheld around the world.
-John Doolittle

Harold K. Lehman, 80th Med. Battalion, 10th Armored Div., WW II
If you want to thank a soldier, 
be the kind of American worth fighting for.


If you are a Veteran in crisis or know one who is, call 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1 to confidentially speak with a trained, caring VA responder and get connected to services that can make a difference. Chat online or text with a VA responder to receive anonymous support now. Deaf or hard of hearing individuals using TTY can call 1-800-799-4889.

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

The Tuning Slide 3.20- Beyond Mediocre (1)

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music

If you need to be inspired to practice,
you should probably do something else
-Ted Nash
“You didn’t wake up today to be mediocre,” says a common meme easily found on the Internet. But many, myself included, spend way too much time avoiding the things that can help us move beyond mediocre or keep us stuck in ways that don’t move us forward. Which, in the end, keeps us mediocre.

Definition: of only moderate quality; not very good.
Synonyms: ordinary, average, middling, uninspired, undistinguished, unexceptional, unexciting, unremarkable, run-of-the-mill, lackluster, forgettable;
Informal -OK, so-so, fair-to-middling, no great shakes, not up to much, bush-league

That’s why so much of the research and writing on expertise and improvement focus on “deliberate” practice, working on the things that will make us better and consciously doing things that challenge us to grow. Just playing something two hours a day every day won’t necessarily make us better. With bad habits we may just become fair at being mediocre.

Brent Vaartstra on the Learn Jazz Standards website has an article outlining the Four Ways to Stay Mediocre as a Jazz Musician.

Specifically related to jazz musicians, his thoughts are just as applicable to all musicians who want to improve. I have reversed the themes into four ways to get beyond mediocre, but the idea is still the same:

• Don’t get stuck on scales
• Get out of the practice room
• Work on rhythm and time.
• Don’t beat yourself up

Let me sum up what these mean for me.
• Don’t get stuck on scales
⁃ As Vaartstra says, scales are essential, but how are we playing them? Are they just some rote exercise that we do because we want to learn the scales and let them fall smoothly under our fingers? Good. But what about the style and sound? Can we play them smoothly, with feeling and movement? Can we play them staccato with a sense of musicality? What about the tone? Do they sound like we are just rushing through them to get on with the real stuff? Talking with one of the Shell Lake Workshop participants the other day, he said that he has been working to make part of the Routine"musical". That’s the point. Every time we play we are making music! Then when that scale comes up in a piece, we can play it musically and not just by memory.

• Get out of the practice room
⁃ There are two aspects going on here. One is to get out and listen to live music when you can. It can (and should) be just about any kind of music. It is the opportunity to hear how other people make music and inspire us to improve out own. The other aspect is to get out and play with others. In jazz that can be going to an open jam. It can also be any bands or groups you can play with. Find ways to play with others! Even the best soloist must know how to play in balance and blend with others.

• Work on rhythm and time.
⁃ We often overlook this aspect of deliberate practice. Being able to read more complex rhythm takes time. For my money the two best methods for that are the Arban exercises, especially the syncopation and dotted eighth-sixteenth sections, and Getchell’s Second Book of Practical Studies for Cornet and Trumpet. More about why this is important when we talk about sight-reading. To sum it up now though, it is the rhythm that can often through us off. Rhythm is the dialect and emphasis of the music. When we can get those in our practice, we will be able to play more music.

• Don’t beat yourself up
⁃ It seems we often get back to these underlying concerns that we have often called Self One and Self Two from the Inner Game disciplines. As we work on our pieces, our less accomplished techniques, the more difficult exercises, it is easy to be unkind to ourselves- or worse, give up. Stay steady, let Self Two do what Self Two can do and tell Self One to relax and enjoy the music.

With that in mind here are the two of four ways I have discovered that these movements beyond mediocre can be of great value. I have found some of this on The Musician’s Way website ( and reflect on them from my own experience in practice and performance.

Warm-up and basics.
Like sensuous opening ceremonies, warm-ups prepare the body, mind, and spirit for making music.
– The Musician’s Way, p. 37
I still haven’t found warm-ups and basics to be “sensuous”, but they are the obvious place to start in the movement beyond mediocre. As I mentioned above this can be a place to develop musicality and tone. To play that “simple” Arban routine with beauty and tone is always the goal. Some of the exercises are even performance etudes. They are how we learn to do it. A good warm-up routine, appropriate to your needs and growth is worth it’s weight in gold- and time. So are things like mindfulness and exercises like T’ai Chi and Qigong in getting the body into a healthy spot.

Listening and learning
“For you to perform with native inflection, you have to listen and listen until you break through to the soul of a style.”
–The Musician’s Way, p. 98
The more you listen, the more you learn. On one website I read the more than obvious statement that we actually learn to speak- by listening. No one tells us how to talk. It is natural. We are designed that way. The same is true for music. But there are different types of music- just as there are different languages. They all share the same notes, though not always played the same way or in the same order. Some have different rhythms and different time frames. Some are “straight” and some “swing”. How do we know how to play it if we haven’t heard it.

I was reminded of this last weekend. One of the big bands I play with had a gig at a local dance venue. It was an amazing evening for me. I found myself moving along in time (mostly) and able to go with the rhythm. I realized that I am now truly beginning to understand and “speak” the language of jazz big band. I can more regularly look at a passage and know what it probably sounds like because it is in a pattern that is commonly used in the music. I realized I was no longer reading it “note for note” but playing it out of what was called above the “soul of the style.” It is just like when I have learned a new language and found myself thinking in the language. I was no longer translating from an English thought to a German or Spanish thought. On Friday evening I was not translating a written note from one style to another- it was more often just coming out that way.

This is actually more important than it may seem at first glance. All music is language. Music is perhaps a “generic” term for different languages. Like learning any new language we do not start with the most complex words and sentences. Trying to read War and Peace before a first-reader would be most difficult. As I was watching the John Coltrane documentary the other evening I was reminded of this truism. There is much in Coltrane’s later music that I do not understand. It was a different language than any most I have known in music. It was clearly powerful and transformative. I could feel it- but I don’t yet understand it. I want to- and have been working on that for years. I know more about it today. Someday it may all fall into place.

For that to happen I have to keep listening. The many styles and languages of music will enrich my overall understanding of the depths of music and increase my vocabulary. I will be a better musician- and a better person for it.

Which, next week, will bring me to two other aspects of practice that will help us all move beyond mediocre- sight-reading and memorization.

Sunday, November 05, 2017

Keeping Faith Tonight

Friday, November 03, 2017

Post-Season Pic #14- The Last for This Year

I had to make it an even two weeks of Post-Season Pics.
Thanks to the "boys of summer" for an incredible season.
It is now officially "winter."

And football season, of course.

But, in case you were wondering, there are only
106 days
until pitchers and catchers report!

Thursday, November 02, 2017

Post-Season Pic #13- Let's Play Two

It's hard to let go of the summer game. 
So let's get two quotes for one picture today!

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

The Tuning Slide 3.19- Endurance

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music

Last month we looked at attitudes and habits that lead us to self-care, respect for our colleagues, and balance in our musical lives. This month I want to dig into some of the things I have learned about practice. I never was very good at practicing. I would do it when I needed to or when I wanted to have some fun with some new piece of music I found in a music store. But I was not very disciplined or organized. Over these past few years of my growth into a musician I have been taught a great deal about what makes for practice. I have even come to enjoy it. What then are the effective, efficient, and deliberate ways we can practice that will enhance what we want to do?

So, the theme for November here on The Tuning Slide:

The joy of practice

If you’re not practicing- that’s stupid.
-Lennie Foy

How long can you play? How high can you go? How will your chops hold up? I ask myself these questions all the time. They are questions of endurance. I have had a love/hate relationship with endurance. I love it when I have it and hate it when it bugs out on me. I am not satisfied with what happens and what I’m doing. Some days it seems like I have more endurance than I need and then the next I barely make it through a 30 minute routine. As I was working on this week’s post I dug a little more intentionally into the book by Paul Baron, Trumpet Voluntarily: A Holistic Guide to Maximizing Practice Through Efficiency. In a number of different posts I have written about “deliberate practice” and I have been trying to do that. But it seems I was missing something.

Well, not missing it so much as not applying what I know to my practice. That missing something was what I talked about last week- balance. Baron, on p. 13 caught me up short when he wrote:
A chop-building routine requires stretching the boundaries of your range, endurance, and volume but with a balanced approach so as not to injure your lips.
He goes on to talk about how rest is important- you know- rest as long as you play when practicing. He talked about things I am already doing- the Clarke studies, the Bill Adam routine, and Concone etudes. But he also ended up talking about the danger we fall into, what I fall into, when I think I have found the promised land of endurance and range. I get what he calls “stupid chops”. For Baron that is when he neglects the daily maintenance of his chops in order to play a show. He ignores the stuff that balances the thing he is working on with the basics.

What does he mean?
When things are going great, we sometimes feel like we are unstoppable and do not pay attention to the proper mechanics of playing, only to pay the price later. [Then] we decided to try a new routine and push it to sheer exhaustion.
He just described what I (and obviously others) end up doing in some repetitive and self-destructive cycle. All stemming, it appears, from an inability to maintain balance.

Stupid chops.
  • My lips don’t recover enough between days of practice
  • My range falls apart.
  • My sound is mediocre to poor.
  • I feel like I am straining to just play what I used to be able to play well.
Sometimes, as I have noted before, this happens just before I am about to make another breakthrough in endurance or range. So I used to just power through it until I had to back off and go at it again. It always needed up in some way of taking a step backward to allow my chops, attitude, and ego to rebuild. Then it moves ahead- but only after I have consciously stopped to return to balance.

I am at one of those points again which is why I think I subconsciously picked this month’s topic. I get the chance to write it out and see what it might mean. After Shell Lake Trumpet Workshop in August I was working on some embouchure adjustment thanks to Bill Bergren’s mentoring. It began to fall into place. I was regularly doing things that I had not thought possible a few months earlier- like regularly being able to hit the high “C”, “D”, and at times “E” above the staff. I was able to play quite well for up to two hours a day! It felt good. It was a major breakthrough.

Until about three and half weeks ago when it became work again. It happened on a Tuesday after a Monday when I practiced an hour in the morning with my normal routine and then two Big Band rehearsals that evening, and therefore the equivalent of another two hours plus of playing. I forgot to balance and went right ahead on Tuesday to try to do it again. And I fell apart. Like Paul Baron said, I felt “unstoppable” until I stopped. I forgot the mechanics of playing (just say “M”, right Bill?) and breathing. I barreled my way into the upper register forgetting the basic middle “G” approach. Now here I am trying to recuperate and recover from my own stupidity- er, lack of balance.

Maybe I should practice what I preach.

Let me bring it together as a way of giving myself a direction if not an actual plan. My “deliberate” practice over the next month or so will focus on balance. I will work on developing an overall style of practice that will allow for the balance to be more natural and ongoing. The basics of that will be:
  • Rest as much as I play.
    • Admittedly I am not good at this. If I have an hour to practice I have difficulty only playing for 30 minutes. But that doesn’t mean I should spend the whole hour playing in order to get it all done. That IS a recipe for disaster, and it isn’t deliberate. I need to prioritize and plan the things I need to do.
  • Balance the upper and lower.
    • Doing the expanding long tones starting on middle “G”; working Clarke 2 and 4 as expanding up and down from G; playing different volumes
  • Increase slowly, not trying to get too far too fast.
    • Impatience. Dangerous. We get hurt when we are too impatient because we forget the basics. Take it easy. Grow at your pace and don’t push it. (By the way, never pray for patience. God will make you wait.)
  • Don’t forget the basics
    • I know what they are. We all know what they are. Sound, rhythm, scales, long tones. We all know where to find them- Arban’s pages 11-36. Now to be aware of playing with good sound, good rhythm, and good intonation. Balance!
So what’s good in all this? Well, the work I have done has not been lost. I just need to get back into balance. When I was practicing last evening I still have the range I had three weeks ago- and it is actually a little stronger and clearer than it was. My sound is as steady and full through the same range- and is a little stronger as well. I am aware of being more relaxed overall. It is always a movement forward even when you have to slow down or even take some time to regroup!

This is one of those topics where it almost begs me to comment on how this applies to every day life.
  • Rest and play- All work and no play makes Johnny dull. It can also make us sick and can lead to burnout. Take the time to kick back; find the direction of play; have fun.
  • Balance the extremes- Always living at the extremes will just make you more addicted to adrenaline. It may easily lead to physical repercussions. The body needs the balance.
  • Patience- Take it at a sensible pace. Life is a marathon- not a sprint. Plan for the long-haul.
  • The Basics- Breathe. Take time to renew and refresh. One Day at a time.
If we can make these who we are, we can endure more than we thought, with greater range- and for longer than we think possible.

Post-Season Pic #12- Tonight's the Night

Third base bag from last regular season game at the Metrodome.
Game 7- It will be over tonight.
 Houston Astros  vs.  Los Angeles Dodgers
The elimination game. The last day of "summer."

All Saints' Day