Archive for the ‘General’ Category



April 29, 2020

I truly enjoy the amount of sharing that goes on in the trumpet community.  Going to the National Trumpet Competition and the International Trumpet Guild convention are regularly highlights of my year.  In those settings, I’m around so many trumpet players, trumpet teachers, trumpet makers, as well as composers, arrangers, and publishers.  By far, most of the people seem to be doing the same thing I am:  checking out what everyone else has to offer.

That being said, what everyone has to offer is not equal.  With all of us trumpet players at home over the last couple of months, there’s been a lot more activity online, both performing and teaching.   I’ve covered some of this ground before, but I think it’s worth revisiting.  Today what I’d like to focus on is expertise.

If you follow me on any online format, you might notice that I don’t offer direction on religion or politics (on these two subjects, I don’t discuss them online at all).  You also might notice I don’t tell people what to think about nuclear physics, architecture, botany, or combinatorics (although I do wonder what it would have been like if Pascal could have met Euler…that would have been cool).  There’s a reason: I have no expertise in these areas.

Now, before you start telling me how everyone is allowed their own voice, and entitled to their own opinion (part of which I covered here:  You’re Not Always Entitled to Your Opinion), how those opinions are communicated is important.

I certainly have opinions, strong ones, about many things.  For example, I believe wearing socks with sandals is just NOT OKAY.  My wife and daughters all disagree- and continue to wear the hideous combination.  I believe that basketball is, by far, the best sport to watch and to play.  I don’t understand why anyone watches car racing…or plays soccer.  I believe toilet paper should ALWAYS be over the top, not under the bottom.  These are serious, strong opinions that I have, and will happily argue with you about…for long periods of time.

What we do not have is our own facts.  No matter what anyone says, the trumpet is not a string instrument.  There are people out there that continue to confuse opinion and fact.  Recently, on FaceBook, someone I went to high school with put up an article that was not true.  So I put up a few articles showing her that what she put up was verifiably false.  After a little back and forth, she wrote that we could agree to disagree.  I wrote back that we could disagree on opinions, but not on facts.  After that, she wrote that she didn’t care that what she put up was false.  This is not okay.

What I’m concerned about now is people either:

  1. Offering their opinion as fact, and/or
  2. Don’t care about facts at all.

Here’s why I’m bringing this up.  With everyone at home, there seems to be a flood…avalanche…tsunami…well, just a lot of people jumping online to tell you: 1) how great they are, and 2) what you should be doing.  Here’s my overarching message for today (and yes, I realize that I am now telling you what to do):


When you’re online checking out what people are writing and playing, please take a second to ask if this is worth your time.  There is a lot of good information out there.  And there have been some really spectacular performances (if you haven’t seen Matthias Höfs video entitled “Trumpet Excerpts-Fantasy”- go to YouTube right now and check it out…I’ve never met Mr. Höfs, but I am a fan).  There are also lots of other people sharing what they happen to be up to.

Let me make this very clear: I am not looking to dissuade anyone from sharing what they’re doing.  What I want is for everyone to take a second to think about whether what you’re watching or reading is worth your time.  Here are some guidelines that could help.  First, let’s talk about teaching.

Does it sound too good to be true?

Trumpet pedagogy is more art than science, so watch out for people offering miracles.  If someone tells you they can solve any and/or all of your trumpet problems without hearing or seeing you play, please keep scrolling.

Is this someone I should trust?

It’s not hard to do a little bit of homework to find out about the person posting.  If there’s no teaching experience, no track record of pedagogy, no record of success…there’s no reason to keep going.

Is it about you…or them?

Teaching is much more about giving than taking.  If you run across people telling you what you need to do for them, those aren’t teachers.

The playing side might be more difficult.  It’s possible to find anyone on a bad day, and think you’re really cool by posting Player X sounding bad.  That’s not okay.  That’s just mean.  I will admit, there are videos people have posted of themselves that I have found quite amusing (even though that was not their intent) that I have watched and shared with my friends.  And that’s okay.  My general rule on this is simple: if you post a video of your playing, it’s fair game.

There are people doing innovative, creative, high level performances for us online.  I am not surprised that the music community continues to find a way to share art under difficult circumstances.  Enjoy it!  But, again, just because it’s online, even in a pretty package, doesn’t mean it’s worth your time.  As you listen to more and more people, ask yourselves:

Would I Pay to See This?

I use this with my students.  After a performance of an etude, I will ask:  if you were looking for a performance of that etude, would you buy what you just played?  If the answer is no…then you still have work to do.

The amount of free content available means that there is no quality control.  This is where you come in.  There are people out there that have gotten good at technology and marketing…but maybe not so much at the trumpet or music.  But with their skills, they get a lot of people to watch, and with a lot of views, they become tacitly accepted as “good.”  Then you see more and more of their stuff.

There are experts out there.  But they’re getting harder and harder to find.  Because of that, more and more bad information is not just getting “out there” but is not being challenged because of its prevalence.  I’m not willing to accept this.

Continue to seek out experts.  These are the people that are devoting large parts of their lives for the betterment of what we do.  This is why when I see something I like, I subscribe.  I’m trying, in my own small way, to raise the bar.  Please join me.





Do Something New

January 31, 2020

January has been a lot of fun.  After ringing in the new year with the Cincinnati Pops, I flew down to Houston to play a Pops weekend with the Houston Symphony.  These are two great orchestras that I always enjoy playing with.  I’ll be back with both of them in February, which means at least two very important things:

  1. Skyline Chili
  2. Real Mexican food

Some of you might think that there is good Mexican food where you live.  There’s really no argument here.  I’ve been all over the country.  I’ve been to Mexico.  I’ve tried.  Really tried.  And I’m sure being born and raised in Texas doesn’t make me extremely biased.  The best Mexican food is in Texas.  End of story.

Where to eat when you travel is an important topic.  Perhaps we can discuss this further in a future post.

What I want to discuss today is what I did the week after playing in Houston.  It started in October with a text from Andy Baker, a trombonist in Chicago, that asked:

“Do you happen to play slide trumpet?”

Now I’ll be honest with you.  The real answer was: No.  This is not how I answered Andy.  I told Andy that I do own a slide trumpet and have messed around with it a bit.  It turns out that Andy was putting together a group to record two pieces written by Leo Sowerby for the Paul Whiteman Orchestra that have not previously been recorded.  The lead trumpet book includes a slide trumpet double.  So of course I said yes.

After receiving the music, I noticed that some of the slide trumpet parts are solos, and way outside of my extremely limited skill on the instrument.   This brings me to the title of this post.  I decided that I needed to do something new: get better at slide trumpet.  Leading up to the recording, I added slide trumpet practice to my day.  Please note that I wrote “added” not “put it in and took something else out”.  I’ve covered this topic here:  “In addition to,” not “Instead of.”

Here’s a video from the first rehearsal (thanks to my trumpet section mate Brent Turney for taking this):

Now it’s your turn.

What have you done lately that pushed you outside of your comfort zone?

What are you doing that is truly new to you?

What do you want to be doing that you’re not currently doing?

It’s time to answer these questions.  If you think about where true growth comes from, it’s from, at least in part, doing something you’ve never done before.  This can be a frightening proposition for some.  There are people that have come to me asking how to get better at playing in the upper register.  I ask them what they currently practice to get better at playing in the upper register, and most of the time the answer is: nothing.  This makes my job really easy.

If you can’t do something, and you don’t work towards doing it, it’s likely that you’ll continue to be unable to do it.

If there’s something you want to do that you can’t yet do, it’s time to make a plan.  You might surprise yourself with how much you can achieve with a little bit of work every day.

At this point you might be thinking “but…why?”  Because growth for growth’s sake is important.  Too many people get stuck in school only doing what’s required of them.  Then they get jobs…and only do what’s required of them.  Then they wonder why they’re not happy.

What you choose to do is what makes you an individual.  And interesting.  And smart.

Don’t do it because it’s easy….it’s not.

Don’t do it because it’s convenient…it’s not.

Do it because it’s worth it.




Play Something Fun

December 23, 2019

If you, like me, live on an academic calendar, you might have some time off right around now.  During the school year, it’s easy to get overwhelmed with how much you have to get done.  This applies especially to music.  With the responsibilities of lessons, ensembles, chamber groups, and any performing you might be doing outside of school, there’s just never enough time for everything.

Now that school is out, there are no lessons, no ensembles, and no chamber groups.  Sure, there are still outside performances, but now you have time to focus on something different.  So…what should you do?  Here’s my idea:

Pick something fun you’ve always wanted to do, and do it.  There are no firm rules here.  The idea here is to choose something that you think will be fun, and then go to it.  A break from the day-to-day of school is a good idea.  That doesn’t mean you should stop practicing or being creative.  I’ll give you an example.

Those of you that know me know that I play in Tromba Mundi, which is a professional trumpet ensemble made up of six university professors from all over the country.  We have existed as a group for about 12 years.  During that time, we’ve recorded four CDs (the fourth isn’t out just yet…I’ll let you know when it is as I’m sure you’re going to want to hear it).  In our time together, the six of us have become very good friends.

A few years ago, JC Dobrzelewski suggested the idea of a Christmas CD.  At the time, the rest of us mocked him mercilessly for suggesting something so ridiculous.  After all, what are friends for?  Since then, the idea has come back around more than a few times…by friends, other colleagues, even among ourselves.  At this point it has become a running joke within the group.  More recently, Bill Stowman wrote alternate lyrics for “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” which detail some of the inner workings of Tromba Mundi.  No, I will not be including Bill’s lyrics here.

I’ve liked the idea of a trumpet ensemble for a long time.  But that doesn’t mean just playing all of the standard repertoire.  Trumpet ensemble should be musically diverse enough to perform all kinds of music.  With that, I give you my Christmas break project (although since I finished early, I may have to start on something else now).  It’s a jazz waltz, with a half-time swing ending (complete with high notes!) written for 4 Bb trumpets, flugelhorn, and bass trumpet.  This is “The Most Mundiest Time of the Year,” dedicated to my Tromba Mundi colleagues: Bryan Appleby-Wineberg, Scott Belck, JC Dobrzelewski, John Marchiando, and Bill Stowman.


Okay, now it’s your turn.  Let me know what you’re doing.

Have a great break.


One Thing at a Time

November 21, 2019

It’s a busy time of year. In addition to the normal school schedule, I spent last week with Tromba Mundi, performing and presenting masterclasses in Delaware, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. This week I’m performing with Boston Brass. I know I’m not the only one that’s busy. If you’ve looked at your daily calendar* and been overwhelmed, so you switch to look at the whole week thinking that will help, only to switch to view the whole month, then abruptly ran away screaming, I’m here for you.

*(I am assuming that all of you are using digital calendars at this point. If you’re still writing your schedule on paper, I’m not sure what to do with you. It’s time. If you’re reading this, you have access to a digital calendar that will likely be available to you anywhere you have any kind of connection. It will also sync across devices so that if you change something on your phone, when you next look on your computer, the change will be there. It’s like magic. Join us in the 21st century.)

If you believe you’re really good at multitasking, I’ve got some news for you. You’re not. If you’re engaging in something important, it deserves your full attention.

As you can probably tell from the title of this post, which is not a subtle reference to the underrated sitcom from the 70s, my advice is quite simple. Do one thing at a time. Looking at a seemingly endless list of things to do can sometimes drive people to get nothing done at all. With so much to do, your brain tells you that you can’t possibly get it all done, so you don’t do any of it. Or, with so much to do, it’s possible to spend time frantically going back and forth between things deemed important, without fully committing to any one of them. The formal term for this kind of approach is “half-assed.”

Remember this:

You can’t do everything every day.

If you’re trying to squeeze 25 hours into a day, I’m betting that you’re tired and frustrated. Here’s what you can do:

    Make a list of everything you want to do.
    Put it in order of importance.
    Set the amount of time you have to give today.
    Start at the top of the list.
    When you’re out of time, stop.
    Start where you left off the next day.

This works for both long-term planning, so that you don’t wait until the night before the paper is due to start working on it, as well as short-term planning, so that your practice time covers everything over the course of a week. Too often lists are made, and every day starts at the top of the same list, ensuring that you can never make it to the bottom, thus giving yourself the feeling that you never get anything done.

Invest in the work and enjoy the results.

If you find yourself overworked and stressed, remember to take the time to enjoy what you’ve done. Musicians can be really bad at this. After a lot of rehearsal time, the concert comes, and instead of enjoying the result of all of the work put into it, we stress about our perception of what others may have thought, then pick it apart ourselves. Then we go right back into rehearsal the next day. If you’ve truly done the work, you deserve to enjoy the results. There is no perfect concert. That doesn’t mean you can’t take some time to enjoy the results of your efforts. When I talk to my students after recitals I will usually end with “Take the rest of the night off.” It may be a cheesy, really teacher-y thing to say, but I’m not kidding.

Since you’re here, there’s one more thing I’d like to discuss. It is absolutely related to my topic today. I think we can now agree that taking one thing at a time is a good idea. I believe this concept can be applied to our culture at large, especially in one particular area. With that in mind, here’s my proposal:


We all know this is a problem. Whether you celebrate Christmas or not, it’s clearly part of the American landscape. I’ve already proven beyond any doubt that Thanksgiving is the best holiday (The Case for Thanksgiving), so why can’t we wait until one holiday is over before starting the next? It’s the same as above. When you start investing in Christmas before Thanksgiving…or Halloween…or Labor Day, you’re cheating yourself of the full enjoyment of each holiday. By the way, this applies to music (no Christmas music until the day after Thanksgiving), movies (just avoid the Hallmark channel, they’ve been running “holiday movies” since October), clothing (your ugly sweater will be more effective in December…trust me), and decorations (your lights can stay tangles a little bit longer).

Okay, now that we’re in agreement, I’m going to play a Christmas concert wearing a bright red shirt…in November. Crap- I’m part of the problem.


How to be a Good Student

October 28, 2019

Last month I wrote about Pedagogy, which hopefully provided some good information on what to look out for from teachers.  Following up on that, today we’ll discuss what makes a good student.  With so much information available, there are ideas that might be contradictory, or at least appear so.  It can be difficult to separate people that are saying the same thing differently from those voicing contradictory ideas.  Here are a few important things to keep in mind.

Be Open-minded

This is, by far, the most important aspect of being a good student.  Although we may all be looking for the same result, there is usually more than one way to get there.  It’s possible that someone could offer you a path you had never considered before.  Letting go of what “you know works” could be the key to getting past what you previously thought was unachievable, or even impossible.  If you think you already have all of the answers, you are not a student.

Be Willing to Admit When You’re Wrong

It seems, especially online, people have a hard time admitting when they’re wrong.  Notice I didn’t write “if.”  I wrote “when.”  Yes- you will be wrong at some point (even you trumpet players out there).  When someone can show you that you are wrong, say thank you.  It’s okay to be wrong.  It’s not okay, once shown clearly that you are, to deny it.  Would you like to walk around “knowing” 2+2=5?  I hope not.  If you’re not able to admit when you’re wrong, you can’t be a good student.

Seek Good Sources

Please note that I wrote “sources,” not just a good source.  In whatever you are studying, there are multiple experts.  I have had the good fortune to study with several terrific trumpet teachers, including Barbara Butler, Gil Johnson, Mel Broiles, and Vince DiMartino.  Although very different players and teachers, each played an important part in my development.

Good sources are more difficult to discern than they used to be.  There are lots of people who have gotten really good at marketing that are spending their time trying to convince the world how good they are instead of actually being good.  You can learn marketing from them.  When looking for a good source, look for someone with quantifiable credentials that is going to invest in you at least as much as you invest in them.

I’ve written this before, and I’ll probably write it again: there is no 1-to-1 regarding playing and teaching.  There are great players that are great teachers.  Listen to them play, and follow their teaching.  There are great players that are not great teachers.  Listen to them play, and learn from what they did to get where they are.  There are great teachers that are not great players.  Follow their teaching.  There are people that are not great teachers or great players.  You do not need to seek out these people.

Invest in the Process

Once you’ve opened your mind to new ideas, realized you could be wrong in your preconceptions, and sought out expert help, it’s time to get to work.  There is no substitute for good work.  If you understand how to do something, but don’t spend any time actually doing it, you’ll be severely limited.  It’s the combination of taking in new information and putting it to use that leads to true growth.  When you’re working on new ideas, you might get frustrated.  That’s okay.  If you never get frustrated while working, you might not be working hard enough.

Keep Being a Student

Your education shouldn’t stop when you leave school.  School is an excellent place to be a student.  Once you leave, it can be harder to stay in that growth mindset.  In school, there are a lot of people holding you accountable.  Once you leave school, that goes away.  You might have a job that holds you accountable in certain ways, but it’s not the same.  Being able to do your job well, although important, may not have a lot to do with your continued growth.  Should you want to keep growing and getting better, and you should want that, keep working with these same concepts: Stay Open-minded, Remember that You Could be Wrong, Keep Seeking Good Sources, and Invest the Time.

Next month I’m hitting the road with Tromba Mundi.  The time we spend together is always truly enjoyable.  Yes- we rehearse and perform, but the time we spend talking about music, trumpet, and pedagogy is at least as valuable to me as the time we spend playing.  In our group of six trumpet players, there are a lot of strongly held opinions and ideas.  Because we have built such good relationships, we can have very open discussions.  As a professional, it can be easy to get too comfortable with how you think and operate.  It’s important to be able to communicate with people that have different ideas than yours.  If you can’t, you’ve limited your potential growth.

Here’s the good and the bad news: there is no end to this process.  If you think there’s a finish line to learning, you’re doing it wrong.  Done correctly, you can continue to grow forever.



September 10, 2019

Since it’s the beginning of a new school year, it seems like a good idea to talk about pedagogy.  With so many resources available today, it can be difficult to separate what may help you from what is just garbage from what could actually harm you.  To aid you in your search for good pedagogy, I’ve put together a list of five warning signs.  If you encounter any of these, think hard before proceeding.

There are so many great teachers out there, I wish I didn’t feel the need for this post.  What I have noticed is that, in the online community, the people that post the most can gain some credibility.  This is not okay.  Just because someone has enough time to keep posting does not mean they know anything at all.  In the trumpet community, several of the most well-known pedagogues have virtually no online presence.  Unfortunately, in the absence of those people, others with far less knowledge and expertise are attempting to fill the online void.

With that in mind, here are five warning signs.

1. Shortcuts

If you find a teacher that is telling you they’ve got a shortcut to getting better, be wary.  Regardless of teaching styles, there is no substitute for practice.  When I started thinking really long-term about playing the trumpet, I started asking older trumpet players I respected what and how they practiced.  Without exception, they all talked about the importance of practicing fundamentals.

There are “teachers” out there that advertise shortcuts to big improvement.  Unfortunately, what they’re selling doesn’t exist.  Although there are certainly smart ways to practice, there is no substitute for good practice.

There are no shortcuts.

2. Guarantees

If someone guarantees that you’ll be able to do something you can’t do now in a specific time period, especially if the time period is short, run away.  Individual progress isn’t something that is easy to measure or predict.  There are people that will have a lot of growth right away, while others working just as hard will take longer to get to the same place.  There are times when people will feel like they’ve hit a plateau and just can’t get past it, despite really productive growth up until that point.  Learning is not a straight line, and every person is different.

I have seen young players ask questions online like:

I need to be able to play a high C in 3 weeks.  How do I do that?

Invariably, people answer.  This makes me cringe.  No one answering has met, heard, or seen the player.

When someone is offering you a guarantee, especially if they’ve never heard you play, they’re lying to you.

3.  Secrets

This is my favorite.  I have been very fortunate to study with great teachers.  None of them ever pretended that what they knew was any kind of proprietary knowledge that only they had.  I often talk to my students about the “Trumpet World”.  Often it is to show them just how small it can be, and how interconnected we are as trumpet players.  Tromba Mundi, a professional trumpet ensemble of which I am a member, is made up of six college professors.  We are in a perpetual discussion about all things, including pedagogy.

Good teachers talk openly about their teaching.  They happily exchange theories and practices.  They want what they teach to continue and grow.

If someone tells you that they have the secret, and they’re the only one that can give it to you, the secret they have is that they’re a bad teacher.  Let’s make sure that doesn’t stay a secret.

4. Gadgets and Equipment

If someone tells you that using a specific gadget or buying specific equipment will magically enhance your trumpet playing, hold on to your money.  This is somewhat related to #1- Shortcuts.  A few years ago I did a presentation entitled “The Emperor’s New Clothes- Gadgets in the Trumpet World” at the International Trumpet Guild conference.  I caught some flak afterwards from some that, I believe, missed the point I was trying to make.  So I’ll try again here.  Too often, the people using gadgets will say things like:

” If you don’t have time to practice, just use….”

“I was running late, so I just used…..”

“I didn’t want to take my horn with me on vacation, so I used….”

Here’s the truth:

Using gadgets is not a substitute for practice. 

If you’ve found something that you think can help in addition to your practice, go for it.  If you think that you can use something instead of practicing, you’re making a mistake.

Equipment poses a more complex problem.  As you grow and evolve as a musician, it can be difficult to know how and when to address whether or not to make a change in equipment.  For today’s discussion, let’s keep it simple:

There is no magic equipment.

If someone tells you that all that stands between you and immortality is a specific mouthpiece or trumpet, they’re trying to steal your money.

5.  “Schools”

When I write “schools”, I do not mean actual schools, like the one at which I teach.  Schools can be wonderful places to learn.  What I mean by “schools” is the rigidity of basing all pedagogy from the mouth of one person.  It is somewhat related to #3-Secrets.  This is the most complicated part of this post.  Please stick with me.

In a lot of cases “schools” start with one person doing a lot of really great teaching.  I not only have no problem with these people, I have tremendous respect for the work they did.  My problem comes from thinking that any one of them was the only person who could teach.  This leads to thinking that your “school” holds the secret, and no one else really understands.

The history of the “Trumpet World”  is filled with great teachers.  Lots of great players have come from these great teachers.  Lots of great players have also come from other places, studying with people that aren’t nearly as well-known.  We all know this.  But there are segments of the “Trumpet World” that act as if only “Teacher X” really knew how to teach.  This is simply fiction.

If you studied with one of these teachers and are thinking:

“Hey, wait a minute, my teacher was great.  Why is Joey attacking my teacher?”‘

I’m not.  It is likely that I really like your teacher.  The point I’m trying to make is that just because your teacher was great doesn’t mean others weren’t.

If you think that only one person could teach, and that person is now dead, that means that your pedagogy is now dead too.  This is unacceptable.

Pedagogy should be an ever-evolving process, growing as needed with each generation.  We take what our teachers gave to us and, combined with our experiences, pass on what we know to our students.



Big Picture vs. Little Picture

September 4, 2018

As it’s the beginning of the school year, now is a great time to think about how and why we practice.  If you’re in school, there is a lot asked of you.  There are the time commitments of being in all of your classes and rehearsals.  Then there’s the work associated with classes, rehearsals, and lessons.  All of that is important.  But if you only focus on what’s right in front of you, it’s possible that you can get frustrated and lose track of why you’re doing what you’re doing.

This can happen in our daily lives, especially while we’re in school.  It can be frustrating to sit in a practice room working on whatever is most difficult for you (for me it was piano- learning the proper fingerings for scales made me want to throw the piano out the window).  It is very easy to go to the “will I ever really need this?” question about any single aspect of school or work that you find tedious or difficult.

That’s because all of that is the Little Picture.  Don’t get me wrong- the Little Picture is important.  This is what you’re doing right now for the immediate future: homework, learning music for an upcoming performance, learning material for your lessons.  You want to do well in school, sound good in performances, and be prepared for your lessons.

Here’s the hard part- You shouldn’t let the Little Picture obscure the Big Picture.  The Big Picture is the overarching reason you’re doing all of this work.  You get to decide what the Big Picture is.  Please let me offer some advice:

  • Make the Big Picture a concept, not a goal.
    • If you make your big picture a goal, like winning a certain job, then as soon as you achieve it, you’re done.  My big picture is to be a great trumpet player, musician, and teacher.  If my goal was to play lead on Maynard Ferguson’s band, I would have been done with my Big Picture before I was 30.  If it was teaching trumpet at a great music school, then I would still have been done before I was 40.  Make no mistake, those are things I wanted to do and am happy to have done.  But those were all Little Picture things.
  • Stay aware of both the Little Picture and Big Picture.
    • When you lose sight of the Big Picture, it can feel like what you’re doing is pointless, and you’ll never get anywhere.  My career is going well, but it wasn’t exactly a straight line.  I worked at America Online for a short period of time, taught kindergarten for a year, and worked for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s Education Department.
  • Invest heavily in every Little Picture.
    • As hard as it can be, take every step in your potential growth seriously.  I have lots of rules.  One of those is:  Knowing is generally better than not knowing.  When you encounter those parts of your education that you don’t like, don’t care about, find difficult, or any combination of those- take the time to do the work and, even if you never see any concrete benefit from it, you’ll be the better for it.

If you can operate this way, you can’t help but continue to grow.

Now get to work.  And never forget why you’re doing it.



June 28, 2018

Recently I met with a high school student who was visiting IU.  As he was packing up, he asked me if I had any advice on developing confidence.  As our time was short, I hope that my answer didn’t come off as flippant.  I told him:

No one can give you confidence.  It’s something you have to build.

As a teacher, I can give advice and tools to help build confidence, but eventually the student has to take ownership.  If I give a student tools and exercises, telling them that once they complete them that they will be confident, I’m lying.  What is most important in the process is that the student is aware of how they’re doing.

I try to make confidence into a logic problem.  Let’s say there is an etude a student has never seen.  I will ask how confident they are in their ability to perform the etude.  Usually, it’s fairly low.  Then I will give the student one week to prepare it, with tools on how to prepare.  After the week, I ask how confident they are.  Some will say very confident, while others will still say they are not confident at all.  What’s the difference?  The students who used the preparation time to not only learn the etude, but understand and believe that they are able to play the etude, have done themselves a great service.  Too many people ignore the second part.

So here’s the logic:

If you are practicing something, you should be getting better at it. 

If you’re getting better at it, you should have more confidence in your ability to perform it.  

So….if you believe that you are practicing well, but you’re not gaining confidence, you have one of two problems.  Either:

  1. You aren’t practicing as well as you think, or
  2. You aren’t paying attention to the progress you’re making.

It can be easy to focus on the nuts and bolts of:

  • playing all the right notes in the right order
  • playing dynamics
  • playing in good time
  • playing musically

because all of those things are important.  Too often we focus exclusively on what still needs work, instead of also including what has improved.  Make sure you’re looking at the big picture.  After working on a piece of music, ask yourself if it’s better than when you started.  If the answer is yes, then give yourself some credit for doing good work, and realize that you should now have increased confidence, as you know you’re heading in the right direction.

If this sounds overly simple- good.  It’s not complicated (that doesn’t mean it’s easy!).  I’ve found that people like to make concepts that they find difficult as complicated as possible.  Making difficult concepts as simple as possible helps me know that a solution is not only possible, but something I can achieve.



April 2, 2018

As a trumpet teacher, part of my job is giving criticism.  The relationships I have with my students are ones built on mutual trust, so my criticism is usually taken for its intended purpose- to help students improve.  After a student has played something, my first question is usually, “So, how did that go?”  The reason I ask this is so that I can see if the student and I are on the same page before we continue.  If the student says, “pretty good,” and I agree, I will let them know as we discuss how to get from ‘pretty good’ to ‘great.’  If I disagree, I will say something like, “Actually, I thought that did not go well.”  Or, “Hmmm…I thought that didn’t sound good at all.”  After that, I will explain why I thought what I thought, and ask why the student thought it was “pretty good.”  Then we work towards making it better.

Because we have good personal relationships, it is easy to have these kinds of conversations without hurt feelings.  If I think that your performance of Brandt #2 was not very good, that has nothing to do with you as a person.  It has to do with your preparation and performance of that etude.  If you’re working with someone you trust and can put your feelings aside, honest criticism will be a tremendous benefit.

Criticism can be very helpful in growth.  If you are offered an honest assessment of how you are doing, and how it could be better, this can eliminate a lot of wasted time.

There are two big problems I’d like to discuss today.  First up- Unwanted Criticism.  This can happen in a number of ways.  The easiest way is to post anything online…about anything.  Someone will quickly let you know what you should have done, and how much better you should have done it.  Another favorite of mine is the older student.  As an undergrad, there were always “experts” around to let me know what I “should” be doing. These are often the people to tell you how much better everything used to be.  Let me be very clear here- classmates and colleagues can be a great source of information for growth.  I encourage my students to play for each other to get good feedback.  That’s not what I’m talking about here.  This is the person who, although is in the same place that you are, is somehow an “expert” on everything, and is happy to let you know it.

I deal with all unwanted criticism the same way- The Smile and Nod.  Here’s what you do:

  • Manufacture your best smile
  • Aim it at the Unwanted Critic
  • Give a small nod in their general direction
  • Walk away

The second big problem- Malicious Criticism.  This might be easier to find, as, if you’re reading this, you have internet access.  There are people that seem intent on hurting other people with their criticism.  The difficult part: it can work.  If you’ve invested a lot in a particular project just to have someone come along and viciously attack it, getting your feelings hurt is not unreasonable.  So- how do you deal with malicious criticism?  I have two suggestions.

  1. Ignore it.  If someone is going out of their way to hurt you, showing them that hurt only feeds them.
  2. If you just can’t let it go, try this- write them a thank you note.  Be as nice as you can in thanking them for taking the time to give such a thoughtful critique of your work.

There are people out there that seem to think that the only way to look good is to try and make others look bad.

So- where can you go for criticism you can trust?  Good question.  Experts.  Look for people that actually know what they’re talking about.  There is more information now, that is easily available, than ever before.  Not all of that information is equal.  It’s worth doing the little bit of extra work to make sure the information you’re getting is from a source that is reputable.





January 14, 2018

Being a huge trumpet geek, I regularly read trumpet related websites and watch trumpet videos online.  It’s amazing how much great stuff is out there.  That’s not what we’re discussing today.  Today’s topic is about what gets lost in too many online arguments and videos.  If you went to one of these sites and asked “what mouthpiece should I play?”, amazingly, people who have never heard or seen you play will tell you exactly what mouthpiece you should use.  Some of those same people will demonstrate their “knowledge” by saying one thing, like how important a good sound is, then demonstrate their “expertise” by not being able to produce a good sound.

I do not argue with these people.  In fact, I choose not to engage with them at all. What I’d like to discuss today is what’s missing from so many online discussions.

Too often, online discussions become black and white arguments, with no room for the many shades of gray that can exist.

There are a lot of online discussions about equipment.  I use my equipment because it works really well for me.  When I read online discussions regarding equipment, some people quickly resort to trashing horns and mouthpieces that don’t work for them.

Here’s the problem:

There are lots and lots of great horns being made right now.

There are also lots of terrible horns being made.

For example, if someone writes online that all Bach trumpets are garbage, that person should immediately lose all credibility.  I don’t play Bach trumpets, but that doesn’t mean they’re not any good.  There are brands of trumpets out there that I do believe to be of bad quality.  We need to be able to clearly articulate that difference.

Just because I say I like the color pink doesn’t necessarily mean I hate the color orange.  

I believe we can be better. For some reason, we seem to be losing the ability to discuss anything with any level of nuance. Too many discussions turn into online yelling matches, where the person with the most time on their hands can get the last word, and proclaim themselves “right.”

So what should we do? I have a few ideas.

1) Decide what’s important to you.

Before venturing into what could be an online mine field, take a minute to ask yourself if that particular discussion is worth your time. A lot of us have had initial reactions that, possibly, could have been tempered by a little time.

2) Will getting involved do any good?

This is a big one. If you see someone spouting what you believe to be absolute malarkey, ask yourself if your involvement can actually help. There are people that seem to enjoy confrontational tactics, and are emboldened by anyone who dares to challenge them. Any “discussion” only serves to entrench them in their own beliefs.

3) Stick to the subject at hand.

It is amazing how often I see that “but what about” argument deployed. You could be discussing whether to play Bb or C trumpet on Shostakovich, and then someone writes, “but what about playing rotary on Brahms!” Sure, lots of people choose to play Brahms on rotary, but that has nothing to do with the discussion at hand.

4) Realize that other people could have something valuable to say.

If you’re not interested in hearing other opinions, then don’t get involved.

5) Not all opinions are equal.

We’ve discussed this a bit before (You’re Not Always Entitled to Your Opinion), but it’s especially important to remember online. There are a lot of people using the internet to proclaim themselves experts. Please do some investigating and find out if the “expert” has any real expertise.

6) Know when to get out.

If, once you’ve engaged, you are dragged into something that you know can never be productive, it can be difficult to leave. It’s natural to want to try and convince others that you are right. Use this: “Unfortunately, I see now that we cannot have a productive discussion. Obviously we are not going to agree. This is my last post on the subject.”

My friends will tell you that I really enjoy a good argument. I also enjoy the exchange of ideas. If we can start acting better online, then the people who want to tell everyone else how wrong they are will have no one to argue with. Then we can open the door to real online discussion. I look forward to arguing with you soon.