Trumpet Happiness, month three

Me. Feeling happy.

To recap my trumpet happiness project up to now:

December was the month I started getting serious about fitness (stationary rowing, calisthenics, walking and stretching), blogging daily, and getting things done.

January has turned out to be a great month to meditate, hug people and work on French. I also did a recital, which I will repeat in February.

I have done poorly in some of my resolutions, such as journaling every day, playing the top five orchestral excerpts for trumpet, editing a cornet duet book and practicing transposition etudes. These resolutions just didn’t work with my schedule this month, but I will probably get around to them soon.

For February, I aim to work on ear training (intervals), the top 15 trumpet orchestral excerpts, a composition that will sound like Hummel’s lost trumpet trio, getting better sleep, gratitude and jogging.

If I were to highlight what I think has been some of the biggest growth for me over the last two months, I would have to say it came from a foundation of fitness, a focus on my trumpet fundamentals and a calmness that I feel from mindfulness meditation. I feel really fortunate to have stumbled onto this trumpet happiness project, and I can’t wait to see what the coming months will bring!


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Happiness, testosterone and great performances

Testosterone, that famous anabolic steroid, is closely linked to performance, muscle growth and energy. Testosterone is closely linked to confidence, creativity, focus and memory. It is important to peak performance for both men and women. If you can get your testosterone levels higher, then your performance on trumpet, both physically and mentally, will be better. How can we boost the natural testosterone that is so beneficial to us?

The first, and perhaps most effective, is getting more sleep. Try to get seven to nine hours of sleep. The more sleep you can get, the higher your testosterone levels. Also, try to keep your weight low for optimal levels of testosterone.

After sleep, we each respond, in terms of our testosterone, to other kinds of events in different ways. So, we need to develop our own individual approach.

Some benefit from running, weight-lifting, or some other kind of exercise. Some benefit from interaction with their friends, especially after high-stress activities like work or academic testing. You can test your own testosterone levels with a salivary test, but it is very expensive if you are trying to tweak your pre-performance testosterone levels with a wide variety of possible activities.

But the good news is that you probably don’t need to get expensive testing. In general, there is a direct correlation between testosterone levels and a feeling of happiness and confidence. If you keep a trumpet journal, keep track of your own perceived happiness levels after you try different pre-performance routine. You might also want to ask your close friends (especially if you have a practice buddy), what they perceive your happiness level to be. If you consistently write your results down, you will eventually be able to zero-in on your optimal testosterone-boosting pre-performance ritual.

There are many dubious, somewhat-dubious, or poorly-written articles on ways to boost your testosterone. Read them at your own risk. Here are some of my take-aways from my research on boosting your testosterone:

  1. Reduce your alcohol, caffeine, smoking, sugar and simple carbs.
  2. Increase your green veggies, protein, healthy fat (like coconut oil and olive oil), vitamin D.
  3. Lift weights, do bodyweight exercises, run sprints, walk, do martial arts, reduce your weight.
  4. Get lots of sleep, sunlight, have conversations with positive people, have training or trumpet buddies.
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How important is sleep?

Sleep seems to slip by as a sort of luxury that ambitious people (for instance, trumpeters wanting to win a job) have to do without. And yet, study after study points to the importance of getting good sleep, so that you can perform BETTER. Athletes have been shown to perform 6%-9% better with one more hour of sleep than normal. Students perform better and doctors make better decisions with more sleep. Did you know that about 65% of Americans do not get the recommended 7 to 9 hours of sleep per day? Sleep–especially the REM cycle in the early hours of the morning–rejuvenates the body and mind.

What is the mind doing during sleep? It is encoding the experiences of your day, including your practice sessions, lessons, rehearsals and concerts, that you experienced during the day. Your mind on sleep is doing the big job of transferring these experiences into long-term memories. Do you want to memorize better? Get your sleep. Do you want to finger a tricky passage with more confidence? Get more sleep. Do you want to be a stronger trumpeter with more high notes? Get your sleep.

Do you want to be a happier trumpeter? Get your sleep!

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When does learning come?

Josh Waitzkin wrote in his book on The Art of Learning, “Growth comes at the point of resistance.” And for this blog post, I’m taking “growth” to be learning. Growth, or learning, comes when we push ourselves beyond the limits of what we can normally do. Only when we explore this area, and linger in it for a while. Only when we experience this slight discomfort, can we experience growth, or learning. Adaptation from the muscles OR the mind happens when we go beyond our limits.

I will add two other aphorisms on learning that parallel Waitzkin’s excellent observation.

Learning comes at the point of wonder. When we are in a recovery mode, allowing our “default mode network” to run in the background, we are inviting creative ideas. This is one reason why it is so important to incorporate recovery into not only our physical regimen but also our mental endeavors. In addition, I would say that we can consciously invite wonder by simply acknowledging to ourselves how amazing our experience of life is. In other words, by being grateful. Try keeping gratitude in your thoughts while performing a task. This effort can foster a sense of wonder and happiness.

Learning comes at the point of willingness. This might be one of the first and most important gateways to learning. Often, it is the willingness to try something different that allows us to get started on our journey of growth. When, for example, our teacher asks us to try an approach that is not our preferred method, the first idea that pops up in our mind is often a feeling of unwillingness and doubt. But, if you have a teacher you trust, then trust even the recommendations that might feel uncomfortable. Embrace change, because change is the way of growth. If you, instead, embrace sameness, then sameness is is the best you can hope for in terms of your mastery of the trumpet.

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Music for the soul

I just went to a memorial service today. The deceased–she was a trumpeter and the wife of a friend of mine at work (a trombone player). When musicians lose someone from their own group, be prepared, because the music for that service will usually be unforgettable. There was beautiful singing, both solo and choir, an oboe solo, a brass quintet, solo trumpet, solo flugelhorn (and that was where I cried), organ, guitar, and, most touching and appropriate for the occasion, a magnificent trombone choir. If you have never heard a first-rate trombone choir in a church, you should definitely hear this when you can. It’s stunningly beautiful.

And the whole experience was reaffirming for my own life-choice in being a musician. We musicians are so lucky to be able to give music to those who are experiencing important things in life. Things like bar-mitzvahs, marriages, dramatic entertainments, graduations and, of course, funerals. Music is not an optional luxury. It is the essence of our lives.

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