Goldilocks and trumpet practice

I have often used the childhood story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears to illustrate an important concept about trumpet practice. In the story, Goldilocks comes upon a cabin in the woods belonging to three bears: Papa Bear, Mama Bear and Baby Bear. The bears have gone outside for the time being, letting their soup cool down, so Goldilocks enters. She tries various things in the cabin to see what she likes the best: chairs, soups and beds. In trying the soups, one of them, for Mama Bear, is too cold. Another, for Papa Bear, is too hot. But the third soup, for Baby Bear, is just right.

Because this story is so familiar with all students, I have been encouraging my student to focus on the “Goldilocks” degree of difficulty for many years. I have recommended that they practice in a way that is just right for them. The one that isn’t to difficult or too easy.

Writing yesterday about homeostasis, however, I realize that I have not been perfectly accurate in this analogy. The best plan of attack for the trumpeter who really wants to improve is not the soup that is “just right.” The best plan is to try a soup that is just a little hotter than Baby Bear’s soup. No, it shouldn’t burn too much, like Papa Bear’s soup would do. And, of course, Mama Bear’s “soup” should only be sipped when purposefully resting (this would be easier-than-normal practice, such as when on vacation or when recovering from injury). But drinking Baby Bear’s soup, as-is, is a recipe for homeostasis, for entrenchment in the same ability. Goldilocks, and all musicians, should take Baby Bear’s soup and pop it into the bear-microwave for about a minute. It should SLIGHTLY burn, but not damage the mouth, when sipped. Improvement happens only with this hotter-than-Baby-Bear soup. Over years, this improvement leads to mastery.

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