Archive for the ‘Trumpet’ Category

h1

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.

h1

Pedagogy

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.

 

h1

The Secret to High Notes- Part 4

January 18, 2019

Welcome to Part 4 in my continuing series on The Secret to High Notes.  Should you have missed Parts 1-3, and shame on you if you have, you can find them here:

The Secret to High Notes-Part 1

The Secret to High Notes-Part 2

The Secret to High Notes- Part 3

The problem I want to focus on today is that we’re stuck in a system that is propping itself up.  A lot of teachers and players have never conceived of, or worked on, the entire range of the trumpet as fundamental pedagogy.  Since they haven’t done it, they consider it “different.”  Then there are players who play in the upper register that might not have great fundamentals in other areas, like sound production.  These people will also tell you that the upper register is “different.”

So, to grossly overstate for clarity’s sake:

The “legit” players will say that they would have to give up sound quality for high range.

The “lead” players will say that they would have to give up high range for sound quality.

And since Teacher X or Player Y says it, and they’re good, it must be true.

It’s not true.  

Let’s take a look at the Arban’s book.  If you’re a trumpet player, you should already have, and know, this book.  There are sections that address a number of very important issues for trumpet players.  It is an excellent book that should be in every trumpet player’s library.  That being said, Mr. Arban wrote this:

One may easily ascend as high a B flat, but the B natural and the C ought to be made use of very sparingly.

Even with E.F. Goldman adding that high D had become commonplace, and Claude Gordon adding that the range of advanced players extends to double C and above (in their editions of Mr. Arban’s book), the exercises never changed.  Since Mr. Arban thought of C as the top of the trumpet range, and that it should only be used occasionally, his entire book reflects lack, ignoring the upper range of the trumpet.

I regularly see people post some version of:

“90% of music is below high C”,

which may or may not be true, but doesn’t seem like a good excuse to not be able to play 10% of music.  The post is usually accompanied by the idea that everyone should focus on playing the trumpet fundamentally well, and not worry about high notes.

There is also a lot of “pedagogy” out there trying to show you why high notes are different, and how to be able to play them.

Because the pedagogy has been so “either/or”, trumpet players continue to believe it, even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.  There are so many great players, playing a wide variety of styles, that play with great sounds throughout the range of the trumpet, it’s shocking to me that people still cling to the idea that high notes are somehow “different.”

If you’ve read Parts 1-3, you’ll see this concept again and again:

The entire range of the trumpet is one thing.  

Once you conceive of range this way, then the fundamental approach to the horn clarifies, as the focus is to play the trumpet one way, allowing yourself unlimited potential growth, and much more musical freedom.

h1

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.

h1

Confidence

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.

h1

Criticism

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.

 

 

h1

Make the Commitment

October 23, 2017

Playing the trumpet is easy.  What I mean by this is that the concepts involved aren’t complicated, and that anyone can do it.  I can teach anyone how to play the trumpet in 30 minutes.  Playing the trumpet well takes a considerable amount of practice.  No one plays at a professional level right away.

As you’re working to learn more and get better, it’s important to remember a few things.

Understanding a concept is just the first step in being able to demonstrate it

Your practice time should be spent putting the concepts you learn intellectually into practical use.  As we discussed with Scales, knowing that the Ab major scale has four flats doesn’t necessarily mean you can play it.  Similarly, knowing that getting a full sound throughout the entire register of the instrument is vital is not the same as doing it.

Oversimplifying can be as bad as overcomplicating

It can be easy to think- “oh, I just need to do this one thing, then everything else will fall into place.”  When faced with the frustration of that not working, it’s easy to make the leap to- “it’s just too difficult…you have to be born with it…if only I knew the secret.”  As a teacher, I go out of my way to make things as simple as possible.  Notice the “as possible.”  That’s the important part.  Oversimplifying can lead to not getting the result you want.  Overcomplicating can lead to quitting in frustration.  I don’t like either of those outcomes.  It’s critical to understand what you’re working towards, and to proceed down the simplest path to get there.

There are no shortcuts

This is a big one.  There are still people out there making outrageous claims about near-instant improvement.  Growth takes time.  If you are not willing to invest the time and energy necessary, find something else to do.  If you’re spending time looking for a magic solution, you’re wasting time you could be spending getting better.

With that in mind, your work should show improvement.  If you’re practicing dutifully and not seeing any improvement, it’s time to look for a new path.

Commitment

This brings me to the title of this entry.  On the surface, some of what is written above might appear to be contradictory.  I’m saying that trumpet is easy, but takes time.  I’m telling you to look for the simplest path for growth, but not look for shortcuts.  I believe that anyone can understand how to play the trumpet in 30 minutes, but being great at it takes much longer.

Too often, people seem to be looking for a checklist of exactly what they need to do to get where they say they want to go.  It’s almost never this simple.  True learning is not a straight line, or a destination.  It’s a long term investment in yourself and a process for continued growth.

No one else can make this commitment for you.  You can take words of encouragement as motivation.  You can also take people telling you “you’ll never make it” as motivation to prove them wrong (this is not my favorite, as it is working from a negative place- I prefer to leave the “you’ll never make it” people behind and forget them).  Ultimately the commitment is about only one person- you.  Once you decide to make this commitment, (and I mean this in the nicest way possible) others don’t matter.  As a student, it can be difficult to be around a lot of other people on similar paths to yours.  You might see people winning auditions, competitions, and jobs that you really want.  Remember this: someone else’s success is not your failure.

Once you’ve made the commitment, there’s no need to advertise it.  Your commitment isn’t to anyone but yourself.  If you are truly making a change, your actions, and the results of those actions, will speak louder than words ever could.