Wednesday, January 10, 2018

3.29- The Tuning Slide: The Goal- Making Theory into Reality

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music

If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost;
that is where they should be.
Now put the foundations under them.
— Henry David Thoreau

First, here is the note from the board at last year's workshop to start us off:
✓ Taking the theoretical and making it real.

Let me play with these words for a while. I promise you that if it doesn’t work out, you are not reading this. Or whatever. Seriously, I do want to play word doodling here with the whole idea of that quote. What are the steps of moving from theory to reality?

So let’s set the parameter:
  • Theory- an idea that something can be done.
  • Reality- doing it.
It is obvious, then, that there is:
  • Issue #1- what do I want to have happen?
The answer to that is found by asking myself:
What’s important to me?
Where do I want to go?
I may not even have an idea about what the “theory” is that I am going to try to make into reality. It is vague, it is uncertain. One could call it nebulous, which is another way of saying cloudy and indistinct.

At this point it’s all in my head. It is not even truly a dream.

I take myself back to my first Shell Lake trumpet workshop 2 1/2 years ago. I went because I sensed something would be there after meeting Bob Baca at the Adult Big Band Workshop. Was it my 50+ year experience of being a musician and being able to play music? Was it a sense that maybe I can improve? Most likely it was these things based in what has been an unending part of my life: music.

While at Shell Lake I had an experience that told me, in theory, that I can do something with my trumpet playing, even at age 67. I can move beyond the relatively mediocre but somewhat experienced musician I was. The theory was:
At age 67 I can become a better trumpet player.
Visions and dreams are nice, but they remain nothing if we don’t do something about them. So the next stage, though not a particularly clear one for me at that point was what I call:
  • Self-testing in thought experiments.
    • If I do this, what could happen?
    • What are the pros and cons?
    • What are the steps I will need to take?
NEXT is to do some:
  • Research and planning.
The research was right there in front of me at the workshop in Mr. Baca and all the staff. I took crazy notes. I exhausted myself with thoughts and answers. I overwhelmed my thinking processes with new ideas. I listened and asked questions. If I was to find out if the theory was possible, if it could become a reality, I had to have a plan, which was also right in front of me-
  • The Bill Adam Routine!
    • It was a daily plan to get me started. It was the long tones and thirds, the expanding Clarke #1 and Schlossberg #28. It was making a commitment to playing as often as I could, missing as little as possible. Let’s see what happens, was my philosophy. It can’t hurt- and might actually work.
Which led to
  • Action
I did what I said I was going to do.
  • Month 1- Easy: I practiced 87% of the month. I was psyched.
  • Month 2- a lot of travel and I was not ready to figure out how to practice on the road. Only 15 out of 30 days.
  • Month 3- Back in gear. 84% of the month.
  • By the end of December- 90% with an overall average of 3 out of 4 days practicing or playing.
  • Next two months at 78%, then no month since then under 87%.
  • At end of 12 months and returning to Trumpet Workshop: I had practiced and/or played my trumpet on 9 out of 10 days.
Did it work?
Yep. I was getting comments from friends. My wife noticed the improvement. I was building endurance. And Mr. Baca pointed out how much I had changed!

That meant it was time for the next two steps:
  • Reflection
  • Repeat the process with new goals, new theories to work on, new research to do, new plans to make.
Other goals I have worked on include learning the 12 major scales (without using music), expanding range, learning improvisation, being more intentional about my practice planning.

So, as a trumpet player who has visions of Doc and Maynard floating through his head, here is a new theory to explore:
Is it possible for a now 69 year old experienced trumpet player who is no longer quite as mediocre to build upper register range?
I have never had a range above the staff. If I did in high school, over 50 years ago now, I don’t remember it. I avoided high parts. I would break into a nervous sweat if it went above that “G” on top of the staff and only agree to play that piece with that in it early in a performance. Sure, the “A” above that was somewhat reachable, but only when the gods and weather systems worked together.

Do I need to be able to play up there?
Not if I am playing mostly 3rd and 4th with an occasional 2nd here and there. And if I build enough endurance I could probably, in a pinch, get up to the “B”. But if I want to do any 1st parts, or even interesting improvising, I need to at least be comfortable up there. One friend said that, in essence, your “usable range” is actually about a third lower than your upper note. That meant that my “usable range” was that top space “E” and top line “F”.

That was not good enough for me anymore. But is it possible, at my age, to do that? Hence the research, planning, and action model. I found some of my notes from what Mr. Baca had said about playing the high notes the same way you play the lower ones (simplified, I know.) I took a lesson with Bill Bergren at this past year’s workshop and learned how to start all over again. (Yep! Thanks again, Bill, in all sincerity!) I did some Googling on the Internet. And I started working on it.

As of today, my actual range is now “F” to “F” sharp on the ledger lines above the staff!! My effective range is now up to “C” and “D” above the staff. (I’m still not sure what they are officially called.) I finally broke through a barrier/break that I didn’t know was there but hit every time- the “G-A-B” above the staff. It is a real break in playing and takes time. I didn’t know that before doing the research. In finding that out I realized it wasn’t my inability to play it that was the problem. It was an actual physical and mental thing together. Now I go sailing right through it. I think I have found another one (for me anyway) from “D-E-F” above that.

And I am working on it.

In short, without the whole process and being far more intentional (and less intense!) about it, the more fun it has become. The result is that I am a better musician, trumpet player, and human person, as a result of finding these things about myself.

Truly we can take the theoretical and make it real. It doesn’t happen overnight and we all work at our own pace. But it does work. At the 2nd trumpet workshop I said to my friend Jeff as we looked at the music- I don’t think I will ever play up there in that register above the above the staff High “C”.

I had to apologize for lying to him. He laughed and encouraged me to keep at it.

Keep researching, keep planning, keep the actions moving.

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