An uncomfortable solution

What if you have reached a plateau in your playing? You simply can’t get that “Flight of the Bumble Bee” any faster. What can you do?

Try speeding up.


Try taking it to the next level, and see what goes wrong during your recordings of your attempts. Take note of the exposed weak areas. Devise exercises to pinpoint these weak areas, making sure that your exercises isolate in the most focused ways possible. During these pinpointed exercises, go very slow to get improvement, and gradually raise the metronome until you have reached your target tempo. Rest a lot in between your attempts.

When you incorporate the difficult passages back into the piece you are working on, you should now be a little bit over that plateau. Congrats.

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Three kinds of practice

K. Anders Ericsson, Swedish psychologist and recognized expert in human performance

I know–I’ve misused the word “practice” in these posts before–and for most of my life! But as I am reading more and more of the writings of Anders Ericsson (I’m reading Peak right now), I’m learning  how to distinguish the three different types of practice, and this turns out to be a helpful distinction for getting better in trumpet performance.

  1. Regular old practice. This is basically what most people talk about whenever they do talk about practice. Doing something repeatedly, hoping that it gets better. This is the least effective kind of practice. In fact, once you’ve achieved a certain plateau after initially learning how to do something, mere repetition of what you already know will, at the very best, keep you at the exact same level of expertise that you had. But what is more likely is that you will begin to loose your level of ability slowly over time. Trumpeters, be suspicious of that favorite routine that you play exactly the same way every day!
  2. Purposeful practice. This kind of practice seeks to get better ON PURPOSE, hence the name. There may not be a clear path to getting better, but you try different methods to see how effective they might be. You know your present level, and you strive to get better by measuring your efforts. You evaluate, and you try to fix problems. With purposeful practice you will get better, and it happens to be the best tool for fields of study that are new and unexplored. In terms of trumpet playing, this might be the method you use to get better at a new piece, especially one that uses extended techniques.
  3. Deliberate practice. This is the best kind of practice, because it can take you the farthest and the quickest to your goal of mastery. As in purposeful practice, you will need to engage the three “F”s: Focus, Feedback and Fix it. One difference between purposeful and deliberate practice is that not all fields of endeavor can be pursued with deliberate practice. The deliberate-practice field must be well-established, and it must have an accepted path to expertise (methods, books, accumulated advice). Fields such as chess, tennis and music are areas where deliberate practice can be used. These fields typically offer lessons with a teacher. Ericsson strongly encourages lessons with a good teacher to help tailor your deliberate practice and to give the best kinds of feedback. Even with the best kind of deliberate practice, you will need to spend thousands of hours getting to the point that you are a recognized expert. Why? This is simply because in fields such as chess, tennis and music, thousands of other people have put in these kinds of hours. So, in order to compete or play at their level, you have to do the same.

See you in the practice room. Remember the three “F”s!

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Summer study on the trumpet

This post was inspired by a recent post from the blog of Chris Carillo, trumpet professor at James Madison University. I thought it was so useful, I decided to ask him if I could steal adapt it for my blog! Thankfully Chris said “yes!” Credit also goes to his doctoral trumpet student John Nye. Thanks, Chris and John!

Summer Festival List for Trumpeters


Aspen Music Festival: Aspen, Colorado

Application Deadline: Tuesday January 8, 2018

Festival Dates: June 20 – August 19

Faculty: Karen Bliznik, Kevin Cobb, Louis Hanzlik, Raymond Mase, Thomas Hooten


Atlantic Music Festival: Waterville, ME

Festival Dates: July 1- July 29


Bayview Music Festival: Petosky, MI

Faculty: Brian Buerkle, Scott Thornburg


Brevard Music Center Institute: Brevard, North Carolina

Application: February 16, 2018

Festival Dates: June 17 – August 5

Faculty: Neal Berntsen. Robert Sullivan, Mark Schubert


Chautauqua Institution: Chautauqua, New York

Application: February 1, 2018

Festival Dates: June 23 – August 14

Faculty: Charles Berginc


Colorado College Summer Music Festival: Colorado Springs, Colorado

Application: February 15, 2018

Festival Dates: June 3 – June 23

Faculty: Kevin Cobb


Disney All-American College Band: Anaheim, California

Information on website


Eastern Music Festival:  Greensboro, North Carolina

Application Deadline: February 21, 2018

Festival Dates: June 23 – July 28

Faculty: Chris Gekker, Jeffrey Kaye, Judith Saxton


Festival Napa Valley:  Napa, CA

Application: Early January 15, 2018. Final March 1, 2018

Festival Dates: July 13 – July 29

Faculty: Billy Hunter, Adam Luftman


Hot Springs Music Festival:  Hot Springs, Arkansas

Application: February 15, 2018

Festival Dates: June 2 – June 16

Faculty: Scott Moore


Lake George Music Festival:  Queensbury, New York

Application: January 31, 2018

Festival Dates: August 12 – August 24

Faculty: NA


Marrowstone Music Festival: Bellingham, Washington

Application: March 23, 2018

Festival Dates: July 22 – August 5

Faculty: Roy Poper


Miami Summer Music Festival:  Miami, Florida

Application: Live January 15, 2018. Video Audition March 1, 2018

Festival Dates: June 27 – July 19

Faculty: Vincent Penzarella


Music Academy of the West: Summer School and Festival:  Santa Barbara, California

Application: Live Audition Request January 15, 2018. Video February 8, 2018

Festival Dates: June 18 – August 12

Faculty: Barbara Butler, Charles Geyer, Paul Merkelo


National Music Festival:  Chestertown, Maryland

Application: February 10, 2018 (rolling)

Festival Dates: June 3 – June 16

Faculty: Paul Neebe


National Repertory Orchestra:  Breckenridge, Colorado

Application Deadline: December 31st (Rolling deadline)

Festival Dates: June 4 – July 29


National Symphony Orchestra: Summer Music Institute:  Washington, D.C.

Application: January 22, 2018

Festival Dates: July 2 – July 30

Faculty: William Gerlach, Steven Hendrickson


The Philadelphia International Music Festival: Music House:  Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Application: February 28, 2018

Festival Dates: June 13 – June 29

Faculty: Anthony Prisk


The Pierre Monteux School:  Hancock, Maine

Application: February 15, 2018

Festival Dates: June 25 – July 30

Faculty: NA


Round Top Music Festival Institute:  Round Top, Texas

Application: Video February 19, 2018

Festival Dates: June 3 – July 15

Faculty: Matthew Ernst, Marie Speziale, Micah Wilkinson


Sewanee Summer Music Festival:  Sewannee, Tennessee

Application: Scholarship February 15, 2018. Final March 15, 2018

Festival Dates: June 23 – July 22

Faculty: Peter Bond


Spoletto Festival USA: 

Application: January 1, 2018 (but might accept late applications)

Auditions: from December 10, 2017 to February 23, 2018 in various locations

Festival Dates: May 25-June 10, 2018, Charleston, SC


Tanglewood Music Center: Lenox, Massachusetts

Application: January 22, 2018

Festival Dates: June 17 – August 11

Faculty: Thomas Rolfs


Texas Music Festival:  Houston, Texas

Application: Live January 19, 2018. Recorded February 23, 2018

Festival Dates: June 1 – June 30

Faculty: Mark Hughes. Thomas Siders


Brass/Trumpet Specific Programs


Boston Brass Summer Intensive: Laramie, WY

Tuition Payment Deadline of June 1

Festival Dates: June 18 – 24

Faculty: Jose Sibaja, Jeff Connor


Chosen Vale:  Hanover, New Hampshire

Application: No deadlines. First 40 accepted applicants taken.

Festival Dates: June 18 – June 30

Faculty: Edward Carroll, Jeroen Berwaerts, Marco Blaauw. Pacho Flores, Stephanie Richards, Clement Saunier, Tom Hooten


Le Domaine Forget: Brass Session Saint Irenee, Quebec

Application: February 15, 2018

Festival Dates: June 10 – June 17

Faculty: Philip Smith, Manon Lafrance


Raphael Mendez Brass Institute:  Denver, Colorado

Application: Rolling deadline

Festival Dates: July 8 – 14

Faculty: David Hickman, Alan Hood, John Marchiando, Ronald Romm, Joe Burgstaller


Spectrum Brass Seminar at the Bay View Music Festival: Bayview, MI

Application: Final April 1, 2018 (lower rates for earlier applications)

Festival Dates: June 16 – August 13

Faculty: Scott Thornburg, Brian Buerkle


University of Kentucky Summer Trumpet Institute: Lexington, KY

Festival Dates: June 11-14

Faculty: Numerous listed on website


Historic (Baroque Trumpet or Cornett) Brass Festivals

American Bach Soloists Academy: San Francisco, CA

Application Deadline: February 15

Festival Dates: July 30 – August 12

Faculty: John Thiessen

Baroque Performance Institute: Oberlin, OH

Application Deadline: May 1

Festival Dates: June 17 – 30

Faculty: John Thiessen

Brass Antiqua Workshop: Winchester, VA

Information to be posted soon

SFEMS Baroque Workshop: Sonoma State, CA

Workshop Dates: June 10-16

Faculty: Bruce Dickey (cornett)


Jazz Workshops

Jamey Aebersold’s Summer Jazz Workshops: Univ. of Kentucky

Workshop Dates: June 30-July 13


International Music Festivals


American Institute of Music Studies (AIMS): Graz, Austria

Application: March 10, 2018

Festival Dates: July 2 – August 12

Faculty: NA


Pacific Music Festival:  Sapporo, Japan

Application: January 17, 2018

Festival Dates: July 2 – August 2

Faculty: Tamas Valenczei, Mark Inouye

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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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The enemy of your progress is homeostasis

Why do we get to a certain point in our playing ability only to reach a plateau? This plateau can be our physical ability, our motivation or the mental insight we need to play music. We might play our daily routine, but we do not improve. In fact, most of us get a little worse over time, even though we are playing the same routine every day. We cling to that routine as if it were responsible for our success, but it is our enemy, especially if we simply play through it without much thought.

Homeostasis is the tendency for any system, be it a body, a relationship, your mind or your musical ability, to stay the same. Systems want to stay the same, and they usually do not change with mere repetition. Systems change because different things–stressful things–happen to them, causing them to adapt.

If we are talking about muscles, they will stay the same size and strength until they are stressed. Then, when the muscle is required to work harder than normal, a chemical change occurs which causes it to adapt and grow stronger and/or bigger, but this change is very small if this stress only happened one time. If, however, the muscles are repeatedly stressed at the right frequency and at the right amount, then they will slowly adapt to the demands placed on them. They will become stronger and stronger, always trying to achieve a homeostasis at the higher level. It’s important to point out the muscular system of homeostasis and how it adapts to stressors like a sensible work out plan, because trumpet playing is quite physical. We can learn to become fitter–especially in our breathing, articulation and embouchure strength–by thinking like a body-builder.

But the trumpet is a musical instrument, and it requires more than muscle fitness to play well. We also need musical skills at the highest levels. Just like physical homeostasis, our mind has a certain default ability that it wants to maintain. This is the “I just want to play in band without practicing too much” tendency that keeps us from improving. To improve, we must first have excellent mental concepts of what we want to sound like. This comes from listening to good music, especially trumpet playing.

Then we have to know where we are, compared to our ideal concept. Usually we can tell if we “miss notes,” but we might not be able to recognize our tone-shortcomings. We might not be able to tell that we are not phrasing well. To understand how we are doing, we need to have a guide–usually a teacher.

Then we need a plan of how to get from where we are to where we want to be. Because trumpet playing is so complex, we really do need a teacher to help develop a plan. The plan needs to be achievable but not too difficult. And at every stage and level of detail in the plan to improve, the same process must happen: we need to know what we want to do with this improvement; we need a plan; and we need to know whether we achieved this small goal. Getting feedback from a trusted teacher (or by listening critically to recordings of ourselves) will help us improve.

This process, repeated over and over, at the right level of intensity and on a regular basis, nudges our musical brain out of its current homeostasis and forces it to adapt. It does not feel fun–rather, it feels uncomfortable and challenging. We must become vulnerable to criticism and embrace it: this critical input is our only ticket to real improvement and mastery.

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