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.
No tags for this post.

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!

No tags for this post.

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.

No tags for this post.

Periodicity and the trumpet

Improvement in either the fitness of the body or in a mental skill requires stress. For muscles or the brain to adapt to the stress levels you impose on them, they must also experience a period of recovery. The cycle of stress and recovery is called periodicity. Trumpeters need this periodicity for peak performance.

If you want to get better at playing with stamina, you must stress out the muscles of your embouchure. One great way to do this is to play long tones. If you want an extra portion of stress, then try doing long tones without relaxing your embouchure during your breath. This is a widely-accepted strategy for commercial players, but it can be very helpful to classical trumpeters as well. Cat Anderson had a famous warmup that included 20-minute-long long tones. Carmine Caruso developed a helpful method for this type of embouchure practice. For classical trumpeters, great value can be had from a soft approach to playing H.L. Clarke Technical Studies in one breath. Focusing on stamina in the context of moving notes and of playing softly compliments the requirements of what a classical trumpeter does.

If you want to get more stamina, you need one more thing. Rest. You need to rest frequently on the scale of a practice session: “Rest as much as you play.” Then you need to rest during the day between your practice sessions. Frequent small sessions are better than one or two mammoth sessions. Think about the rest in your week. When do you need to perform at your peak? When can you recover? Getting bigger, you can periodize your whole year. Many famous trumpeters, such as Bud Herseth and Ryan Anthony, have taken weeks off the trumpet in order to rejuvenate (typically during the summer).

The important thing is to plan with your own goals in mind. Think about your important performances. Plan rest in between.

No tags for this post.

Do you hear the music in your head?

Mental representation, according to Rene Descartes’ Treatise on Man. This drawing illustrates the visual representation in the brain. But as musicians, we can develop strong representations related to hearing.

The most valuable things to develop for trumpet expertise are mental representations of what you do and want to do as a trumpeter. These are mental “images” of what it is like to be a good trumpeter. The more complete, refined and concrete your mental representations are, the better a trumpeter you can become, because these mental images are the main ways that our brain interacts with the outside world.

One of the best ways to build your mental representations as a musician is to listen. As musicians, we need our representations to be related to sound and music, not necessarily images of the visual world. But how you listen is important.

  1. Spend lots of time listening to recordings, videos and live performances.
  2. While listening, be focused, use a critical ear and listen often. It’s okay to listen to one recording hundreds of times.
  3. Learning music solely by listening (“lifting”) is a time-honored tradition for jazz students. It can be equally useful for classical trumpeters. Getting rid of the visual sheet music your piece helps the musical part of your brain directly with your trumpet playing, cutting out the visual and analytical parts of your brain that can interfere with expert-level trumpet playing.
  4. Make recordings of yourself. Listening to yourself “from the outside” helps you to understand who you are, and who you can become, as a trumpeter.
  5. If you can be a trumpet “impressionist,” that is, if you can convincingly imitate another trumpeter (especially a famous one), then you have developed strong mental representations. Make a game of it!

There are other ways to build mental representations for trumpeters, but the best and most effective is by listening.

No tags for this post.