Five strategies to beat practice procrastination

Pop-psych writer Malcolm Gladwell famously pointed out that mastery comes from 10,000 hours of practice in his book, Outliers: The Story of Success (2008). Although there is much debate over this claim, most of us understand that there is a correlation between practicing lots of hours and musical success. Scaled down to the span of a week, a day, or even a single practice session, practice time and effort enables us to learn our repertoire and helps us achieve the kind of muscle fitness we need for good tone and stamina. If you cannot spend two to four hours practicing every day for a span of at least ten years, then you will probably not get a place at the table of working trumpet players. But knowing that practice is important does not necessarily inspire you to practice. 

Some trumpet students, who have great potential in their talent and personality, have a hard time getting around to their practice. There may be a few different issues going on: I want to step back and offer some “work-arounds” that everyone can use. I offer five ideas to beat practice procrastination:

The first thing is to: Embrace your big goals (e.g., “I want to play in an orchestra one day” or, “I want to play jazz in clubs in New York City”) by making a firm commitment to a minimum quota of work every day. Some authors set a good example. For example, Stephen King, who has written 56 novels and 200 short stories, makes a habit of writing 2000 words every day. Every day. He normally sets the morning aside for this effort. For a trumpeter, it is harder to quantify your work-load (we don’t count notes like authors count words), but you can measure how long you practice: play your basic exercises (long tones, lip flexes, scales, technical studies) for two hours every morning. You will want to rest a few minutes between exercises. Pro tip: use these rest times to do short tasks like making breakfast, checking your computer (very briefly!), getting dressed. In the evening, practice your literature for at least an hour. That is the minimum quota you should set.

Why does this strategy work? Because it feels psychologically easier to work hard for just one day (and repeat this day 3,630 times, which equals the 10 years or 10,000 hours you need for mastery), than it does to work hard for a whole decade.

The second thing is to: Create a behavior chain. Instead of telling yourself, “I need to practice to get good,” try telling yourself, “When I make my coffee, I will practice my long tones.” Or, “When I have finished supper, I will practice my solo.”

Why does this work? Because you have created a sequence of activities that eliminates the need for you to tell yourself to practice (there is no self-nagging).

The third thing is to: Eliminate unnecessary options. Instead of practicing whatever impulsively comes to you, have set themes that you stick to. For instance, in the morning, I only practice on the B-flat trumpet. I always start with long tones, move on to lip flexibilities, and then finish with technical studies. It is a routine I can take to the bank, and there is no lost time or focus or motivation by figuring out other options.

Why does this work? Because, by keeping the number of your decisions low, a quicker, more organic flow is possible.

The fourth thing is to: Fantasize about the process, not the end result. Although it is nice to fantasize how cool you will be when you win a chair in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the way you will achieve this goal is to fantasize about what your daily practice session will be like.

Why does this work? Because this takes our mind off of impossible scenarios (having a job without practice) and focuses our mind on what is important (practice).

The fifth thing to consider: Eliminate easy excuses to not practice. Where is the “Oh forget about it!” in your process to get ready to practice? For instance, if your practice room is always cluttered and you cannot find your materials, then you might say, “Forget it! I’ll practice later.” Instead, take the time to clean up your space, so that this objection will not interfere. Try to use an “if-then” way of thinking if you have found some other stumbling block. Here are some other examples: “If I am too hungry to practice well in the afternoon, then I will eat a snack to make sure I have enough energy.” Or, “If I am too sleepy to practice after lunch, then I will take a short nap, so that I will feel up to a good practice session.” Or, “If I am too loud in my apartment to practice now, then I will get a practice mute that plays in tune, so that I can get my practice done.”

Why does this work? Because this invites you to respond to the excuse and fix it, so that you can practice as you intended.

If you have any good strategies to beat practice procrastination, let me know!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Interview with Christopher Still, Second Trumpet in the Los Angeles Philharmonic

CHRISTOPHER STILL joined the Los Angeles Philharmonic as Second Trumpet in 2007.  Before coming to California, he was the Principal Trumpet of the Colorado Symphony. He has also held the positions of Associate Principal Trumpet of the Dallas Symphony and Principal Trumpet of the Charleston (SC) Symphony. Additionally, Christopher has served as Assistant Principal Trumpet with the Grant Park Festival Orchestra in Chicago’s Millennium Park and Guest Principal with the St. Louis Symphony.

Christopher Still, Second Trumpet, Los Angeles Philharmonic

Christopher has recorded extensively with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Grant Park, Dallas, and Albany symphony orchestras.  Active in the Hollywood recording studios, he can be heard on major motion picture and television soundtracks.  He is a Yamaha Artist, a dedicated educator, and an active clinician.

Having grown up in a musical household, Christopher originally intended to become a band director and earned a Bachelor of Music Education degree from the Crane School of Music (SUNY-Potsdam). Switching to performance, he received his Master of Music Performance degree from the New England Conservatory in Boston. He was a Tanglewood Music Center Fellow in 1995 and 1996.

Christopher’s favorite aspect of his job is the orchestra’s frequent performance of contemporary music, especially the Green Umbrella concert series.

Christopher lives in Altadena, CA with his wife Amanda McIntosh, and two children. He enjoys distance running, skiing, brewing beer, and hiking in the trails behind his house.

 

Equipment

Yamaha C Chicago, model YTR9445CHII (Bach 1 ¼ 24/24)
Yamaha B-flat Chicago, model YTR9335CHII (Bach 1 ¼ 24/24)
Yamaha B-flat/A Custom Piccolo trumpet, model YTR9830 (Warburton 5MD/10*)
Yamaha C Cornet, YCR-9435 (Bach 1 ¼ 24/24)
Getzen C Cornet, model Eterna (GR Sparx 2B Soloist)
Yamaha E-flat/D, model YTR9636 (Yamaha 14B4)
Yamaha Flugel Horn YFH8315G (Yamaha 16F4)
Yamaha Rotary B-flat Trumpet, YTR938FFMS (Breslmair G2)
Weimann Rotary C Trumpet, Passion model (Breslmair G2)

Interview with Christopher Still, Second Trumpet in the Los Angeles Philharmonic

The interviewer is Stanley Curtis


SC: Chris, I’m really excited to finally do this interview that we’ve been talking about for a while!

CS: Thanks again for asking me to chat.

 

SC: What’s it like playing with the LA Phil? It seems like a dream job!

Walt Disney Concert Hall

 

 

 

CS: I feel like I have the greatest job in the world, and I get to play in two of the greatest venues—Walt Disney Concert Hall and the Hollywood Bowl. 

The Hollywood Bowl

It doesn’t get much better than that. 

It’s invigorating to be part of such a dynamic organization, in such a vibrant, creative city. Our management has put the orchestra at the forefront of LA’s cultural life. How many orchestra musicians get to participate in world-class, avant-garde projects on a regular basis?

 

The Trumpet Section of the Los Angeles Philharmonic: (l.-r.) Thomas Hooten (principal), James Wilt (associate principal), Christopher Still, Stéphane Beaulac

I feel very fortunate.  Each season we perform roughly 350 different pieces, including chamber music, subscription concerts, educational offerings, new music, and so on.  Actually, over the past 5 years we’ve commissioned close to 50 completely new works.   This kind of schedule can be rough, but it helps to have a very strong and supportive section. We all carry our weight and we work well together. My section is a big part of why I love my job. 

 

SC: How do you prepare for this challenging schedule of rehearsals and concerts?

CS: You look at the rep weeks (sometimes months) ahead, prepare at home, and work on an ongoing basis to keep up your overall playing skills. Different orchestras and sections have different standards, but my section expects you to do what needs to be done to show up at the first rehearsal prepared to play well.

If you’re in a crunch, the most important thing is to know the piece, which can help you “manage” no matter what else is happening.  Be familiar with transitions and likely tempos.

Over the years, experience has shown me what types of mistakes I’m likely to make in rehearsal or performance that I might not make at home. It’s my job to recognize these pitfalls ahead of time and sidestep them with strategic practice. The more confidence and preparation you have when you walk on stage, the more you’re able to listen and hear what’s going on, which allows you to be a more responsive musician.

 

SC: What was your audition like for the Los Angeles Philharmonic?

CS: My audition was pretty typical of a major orchestra.  It was well-run and fair, but it was also grueling—the committee had to find one person from over a hundred participants. I had to play almost every one of the seven trumpets I brought with me, and the lists jumped from low material to high, soft to loud, and fast to slow.

“Auditions require a certain type of mental stamina and toughness.” –Chris Still

 

 

I didn’t play a perfect audition, but I stayed focused on communicating the heart of every excerpt or piece, which requires a certain type of mental stamina and toughness. The committee later told me that I played very musically, with a great sound and character throughout each round.  

 

 

 

 

SC: How would you advise a young trumpeter to prepare for an audition in today’s competitive environment?

A master class on lead-pipe buzzing at the Crane School of Music

Auditioning is a long-term project for most of us.  Playing well and auditioning well are two different, but related, skill sets.  And you can’t audition well unless you play well. 

Most trumpet players I hear don’t have a strong enough technical foundation to win a major orchestra audition. I see a lot of willful ignorance among trumpet players—ignoring the parts of their playing that they’re not good at. Learning how to identify and correct your playing weaknesses is the crux of the learning process, so I’m not saying this is easy.  But a lot of advanced players, who should know better, only work on the things they’re good at, and pretend that everything else isn’t important. I think that what’s happening is that there are a lot of trumpet players who practice, but very few who practice with a real ear for improvement.

“I see a lot of willful ignorance among trumpet players—ignoring the parts of their playing that they’re not good at.”

SC: So, how do you practice to really improve?

CS: You have to be willing to delve into the things that aren’t comfortable. And the best way to do this is to record yourself every day and listen immediately, before you forget how it felt. Record yourself without warming up. Record yourself playing the things you don’t like, the things you’re not good at. Record yourself playing the audition list in the least comfortable order. Record yourself playing when you’re tired. And most importantly, record yourself when you’re playing for other people. 

Talking about swallowing the honesty pill at ITG 2016

I like to call practicing this way “swallowing the honesty pill.” It’s really easy to talk about your goals, but when the rubber hits the road, I find most people back down pretty fast. They don’t even realize they’re giving up. The excuses for the lack of success flood their minds, and they never consider taking a hard look in the mirror to see what they could do to improve for next time. It’s more comfortable to keep practicing the same way, and to keep thinking thoughts like, “The audition was rigged.”

 

SC: Can you talk about your musical influences?

Chris playing in the fire department band with his father, c.1985

CS: My father was an amateur trumpet player and he used to take me along to his fire department band rehearsals and let me sit in the section.

His Phillip Jones Brass Ensemble and Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass records were constantly playing in our house. 

 

 

 

 

Recording off-stage parts at Walt Disney Concert Hall for John Williams’ single movement piece,”Soundings”

 

 

Of course the music of John Williams had a huge impact on me too­­—I think every kid in my band wanted to play the theme to Star Wars.

Getting in the Star Wars spirit at the Hollywood Bowl

 

 

 

 

 

 

We took many trips into New York City to see Broadway shows and New York Philharmonic concerts, so all of these sounds were in my head. Also, I had a really strong high school band program, so the musical foundation was pretty much set before I went to college. Incidentally, I originally planned on becoming a band teacher, and did my undergrad in music education and performance at the Crane School of Music. It wasn’t until my junior year that I became inspired to go for a job in an orchestra, which led to a master’s degree at the New England Conservatory. 

 

SC: Who/what do you like to listen to?

CS: To keep my head clear, I do a lot of running up in the canyons behind my house; I’m not listening to Brahms 4 on the trails. It’s usually something energizing that gets my adrenaline going—mostly some type of electronic, upbeat music.  I listen to a pretty wide variety of genres, but I have some go-to records—jazz artists like Clifford Brown and Ella Fitzgerald, and some classic rock like Steely Dan’s Aja.  One of my favorites is a Lotte Lenya recording of Kurt Weill’s cabaret music from the twenties—so much character!

SC: What do you do when you’re not playing trumpet?

CS: I hang out with my kids. I go trail running. I help my wife with her new business.  Basically, stuff that keeps me mentally balanced. Playing the trumpet is fun, but the people in your life are what really matter.  I’ve been a pretty serious home brewer for decades, so I’m doing my part to reinforce the “beer drinking brass player” stereotype!    

 

SC: I understand you are launching an online course some time this fall. Tell me about it.

CS: Every time a national audition is announced in the International Musician, I get a panicked flurry of phone calls and emails from trumpet players asking if they can come play their excerpts for me. 

I support the concept of playing your excerpts for a helpful set of ears before an audition, but often these requests come only a week before the first round. 

In almost every case, I hear basic deficiencies in sound concept or technique that are guaranteed to get the person bounced out of the prelims. Making impactful change in a handful of days is nearly impossible, especially the type of change that can hold up to the stress of an audition. There is not much I can do to help these players in such a short time, and it can be a frustrating situation. 

My online course (www.honestypill.com) is designed to help players identify and address the things that are holding them back. Understanding and working on your shortcomings is much harder than most people think, which is why most musicians (and human beings in general) just avoid thinking about them. When my course launches in the fall, I’ll offer a set of diagnostic tools to help each participant hone in on what needs the most work, and then I’ll offer a series of lessons and strategies to “get under the hood.” It’s basically a distillation of the same things I discovered on my own path from being an “also-ran” to winning an awesome job in the LA Phil. 

“You have to be willing to delve into the things that aren’t comfortable.”

SC: Well, it’s been awesome to interview you, Chris, and get your insights. Thank you so much for your time!

CS: You’re welcome! It was a pleasure!

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Suzuki Trumpet, Part II: An Interview with Natalie DeJong

Natalie DeJong

Natalie DeJong

Natalie DeJong holds a Master of Music degree from Rutgers University. She began her studies at the University of Calgary and the Vancouver Academy of Music. She has attended trumpet and brass workshops in Alberta, Quebec, Chicago, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, and Sweden.

Ms. DeJong now teaches trumpet at Mount Royal University Conservatory in Calgary. She has performed with a variety of ensembles, including Altius BrassThe Calgary Creative Arts Ensemble big band, the Prime Time Big Band, and the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra.  She has performed with the Rodney Marsalis Philadelphia Big Brass in Pennsylvania and China, and has played the natural “baroque” trumpet with early music groups Musica Raritana (New Jersey), Concert Royale (New York City), the Swedish Baroque Orchestra (Stockholm), and Per Sonatori (Regina). Natalie also performed as principal trumpet with the Philadelphia Camerata National Symphony on a month-long tour throughout China. 

Ms. DeJong developed a class called Funfare TM  for young children to learn the trumpet and went on to train as a Suzuki Trumpet Teacher in Sweden in 2013.  She returned to Canada to launch the first Suzuki trumpet program in the Americas at Mount Royal Conservatory in 2014.  She is a member of the International Suzuki Trumpet Committee and thrilled to be promoting and sharing the concepts with other trumpet and brass players throughout Canada, the U.S. and beyond. Natalie is also a “Suzuki Parent “ as her son studies in the Suzuki piano program at Mount Royal.

Trumpet equipment(for Ms. DeJong to play):
Bb-Bach Stradivarius 37 ML (mouthpiece: Stork 5C or B)
C-Bach Stradivarius 329 G, 25H leadpipe (mouthpiece: Stork 5C or B)
Picc-Yamaha Custom (mouthpiece: Stork Vacchianno 3P)
Baroque Trumpet-Tomes 4-hole Ehe 1746 (mouthpiece: Naumann 5B and one given to me by Niklas Eklund!)
Flugelhorn-Conn Vintage One (Variety of mouthpieces)
Cornet-York “Preference 3027” (mouthpiece: Breslmair Wien AH2-F3)
Pocket Trumpet-Jupiter model 416 (mouthpiece: anything on hand!)
(French Horn-Conn single F horn)
 
Trumpet equipment for Suzuki students: 
-Most kids are using a pocket trumpet (the older Jupiter model 416 with the smaller bell, as well as the new Jupiter pocket trumpet model 516.  
-Older children use a cornet or standard sized trumpet when they have grown big enough
-Students a generally using a standard 5C or 7C mouthpiece, also other sizes as needed.
-Various “buzzing devices” are fun, but the favourite is the “shortcut” (made by JoRal).  This can also be made out of simple household materials.
 
Some Toys Ms. DeJong uses for teaching children (in her words):
I can’t possibly list all the toys I have collected over the years, but I can say that I walk through toy stores with entirely new eyes; looking at toys for ways they might apply in my teaching. 
Rafael

Rafael

Some of favourites in my toy box include:
 
 
Rafael (My Mexican Trumpet playing string puppet) who reminds my students about good posture
 
Pinwheels

pinwheels

-Any toys that get the kids breathing in full and blowing out in various ways or thinking in various ways:  
Little mouse holding a "shortcut"

Little mouse holding a “shortcut”

  We use anything from ping pong ball games, pinwheels, toy cars, trains, and airplanes to miniature animals
  
 
hospital breathing machine

hospital breathing machine

–and breathing aids found at hospitals.  
 
 
  
 
breathing device from Arnold Jacob

breathing device from Arnold Jacob

 
 
 
Arnold Jacobs gave me one of his ping pong ball breathing machines when I was a student…and I now use it with my students too!
 
 
-There’s a great invention out there called “Staccator” which should become a staple in any wind player’s studio!  
-There are MANY great children’s books out there with little life lessons in them.  I like the Harold B. Wigglebottom books. And kids always like Franklin 🙂
 
magnetic dartboard

magnetic dartboard

 
 -I carry my magnetic dart board to everywhere I teach (no, not with regular darts-safe MAGNET darts!)
-Music theory materials, such as MusicMindGames products by Michiko Yurko, and simple flashcards are a nice way to take a “chops break”
 
Rolling, decorated box, used to carry teaching aids and "toys" for Suzuki trumpet class.

Rolling, decorated box, used to carry teaching aids and “toys” for Suzuki trumpet class.

 
 
 
 
 
-I carry it all around in my toy box on wheels
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Interview with Natalie DeJong, expert Suzuki trumpet teacher
The interviewer is Stanley Curtis

SC: Tell us about your background as a musician and trumpet player—who have been your big influences?

ND: I grew up in Calgary with my earliest musical influences being all the classical records that my grandparents played for me in their living room.  They loved listening to everything from Bach, Handel, Mozart, and Beethoven to Tchaikovsky and Stravinsky, and anything that might get played on CBC radio!  I started learning to play the trumpet at age 12 when there was a chance to join the school band, and eventually private lessons led to post-secondary music school (University of Calgary, Vancouver Academy of Music, Rutgers University).  I’ve enjoyed opportunities to play in orchestras, in chamber ensembles, in brass ensembles and brass bands, and in big bands… and one of my favorite things to do is to play baroque trumpet in period music ensembles.

My biggest influences start from age 12; my earliest private teacher, Linda Brown played 3rd trumpet in the Calgary Philharmonic and not only set up amazing opportunities for me (such as attending masterclasses in Chicago with Vincent Cichowicz), but she also set an incredible example of hard work and diligence in striving for the highest playing standards for her role in the orchestra…and an example of really beautiful trumpet tone too!  I was also fortunate to have the sound of Jens Lindemann’s playing in my ear from that age, as the first trumpet player I ever heard live! 

 

SC: What got you interested in teaching—especially early childhood trumpet teaching?

ND: I’ve always admired all of my teachers and their creative and musical ways of tackling the ‘little mysteries’ of trumpet playing.  I find it exciting to gain some new ability on the instrument.  It’s also fun to be able to explain it to someone else.  I find that once I can explain it…and be understood, that I also learn even more from it.  And the fun part is that communicating is not always via direct language, but sometimes through imagery.  It’s fascinating to always learn something new about playing a brass instrument, and helping others do the same is fun.

I became interested in early childhood trumpet teaching when I had started Doctoral studies at Rutgers University with Dr. Scott Whitener (author of Complete Guide to Brass).  I was working on a project about ‘Tension in Brass Playing’ and began thinking about instrument size (I’m a small person). It occurred to me that brass playing tends to be delayed until we’re “big enough” to hold the heavy brass instruments… but it also occurred to me that children are missing the opportunity to start very young on the trumpet like their friends who play piano or violin. When I propped my two-year-old son up with my big B-flat trumpet, he could create quite a beautiful tone…he just couldn’t hold the horn by himself.  So, I put a pocket trumpet in his hands…and from that point, realized that small children really CAN learn to play the trumpet from a very young age-if we give them the right equipment and the opportunity!

SC: When did you take the Suzuki teacher training for trumpet? What was that experience like? 

Ms. DeJong's Funfare class

Ms. DeJong’s Funfare™ class

 

 

 

ND: I had already started a pilot project called FunfareTM which was a trumpet class for younger children, aged 5-7 or so, in 2011.  I was very excited when I found out the first-ever Suzuki Trumpet Teacher training course would be held in Sweden starting in the fall of 2013.  I had been looking for Suzuki activity in trumpet land for a number of years, because I knew it was such a wonderful way to teach a musical instrument to young children.  At last I had found a trumpeter who had begun developing the method for Suzuki trumpet.  How could I not jump on board?!  There was so much to learn, (and there still is)! I was lucky enough to find a way to get myself to Sweden to take part in this first teacher training event.  We were a group of four student teachers from all over: Poland, Spain, Ireland, and Canada, and we later joined a group of Swedish trumpet teachers who were also training to teach Suzuki trumpet.  As you know, it was wonderful to work with Ann-Marie Sundberg, the world’s first official Suzuki Trumpet Teacher Trainer. It was a very collaborative atmosphere and everyone brought fun and creativity to the studio… I’m sure I wasn’t the only one feeling the joy of being like a kid again… approaching the trumpet with fun, games, and good music!  Combining that with gaining a deeper understanding of the Suzuki Method and philosophy, made for a life changing experience.  It added to my reasons for teaching and even to my own reasons for playing music.

SC: How would you describe the Suzuki philosophy in general and how the trumpet teaching fits into the world-wide movement? How is the trumpet school different from the other disciplines, in your opinion?

ND: The Suzuki philosophy encompasses ideas that are much deeper and farther-reaching than mere ways in which to teach a musical instrument; Dr. Suzuki had the goal of creating a better world.  He devoted his life’s work to fostering a sense of happiness in children, and felt that he could use music as a tool to do so.  If children could learn to play music from a young age, they would be raised to have good hearts: they would know the value and satisfaction of hard work, sharing, empathy, perseverance, team-work, and a host of other noble qualities.  In essence, it is an educational philosophy that can be applied to the teaching of any skill or subject… to students of any age.  The notion that “Any Child Can” is a belief that every child—every person—can be nurtured to learn something toward these goals.

Suzuki trumpet teaching is simply the newest voice in the world of teaching instrumental music in the Suzuki Method way.  The Suzuki Method began with the violin, but has been applied to many instruments since Dr. Suzuki first brought his ideas to the world.  There is much crossover from the activities used in other Suzuki studios.  I believe there is much for Suzuki trumpet teachers to learn from Suzuki teachers of other instruments, and I believe that the trumpet method, as we are developing it now, will also give ideas back to those same teachers.  What will be exciting to watch is how the Suzuki Trumpet Method impacts the larger world of brass playing in general.

The Suzuki “trumpet school” is different from other Suzuki instrument schools, in that much time MUST be spent in the beginning getting students to actually CREATE a sound, let alone a beautiful one!  It’s not impossible to create a good sound from day one or two…but it’s also possible that it can take weeks for a small child (or any new beginner for that matter) to even create a sound.  In the meantime, there are many musical and physical activities that are introduced that lead toward the creation of sound and eventually toward beautiful tone.

SC: Can you describe the process of getting one of your beginning students to play the trumpet for the first time? What are some common hurdles in this process that you have to overcome with the student to get them to be successful in this very important beginning step?

ND: I always aim to have students begin creating trumpet sound for the first time in the most natural, tension-free way possible.  This all starts with a strong concept of tone quality and musical concepts:  listening and watching is key to young students.  Any beginner needs an image of how it’s supposed to look and sound.

We always start by forming an easy posture and natural breathing habits.  I like to “coax” the lip vibration to start, using simple blowing exercises rather than “forcing” a lip “buzz” to happen.  A common hurdles for many beginners is getting over the idea of “trying too hard,” which only creates tension and back pressure when blowing into the instrument.  Beginner students often hit tones that are in between proper pitches on the instrument, so finding the “resonating” spots of each pitch can be a challenge.  Because this can all take time—to simply get a centered and beautiful note on the trumpet—it is a challenge to keep students musically engaged in the meantime. This is especially true for the very young aspiring trumpet players who really want to press all the buttons and make songs come out!  We do a LOT of singing and moving, and playing just on mouthpieces.

SC: What have been some of your success stories in your Suzuki teaching?

Ms. DeJong with three young students at the Grand Opening of the Bella Concert Hall in the Taylor Centre for Performing  Arts, Calgary

Ms. DeJong with three young students at the Grand Opening of the Bella Concert Hall in the Taylor Centre for Performing
Arts, Calgary

ND: So far, I see every child as a success story.  Each child who has been a part of the program has learned SOMETHING valuable—which is the whole point!  Musically speaking though, I will have my first student graduating soon from Suzuki Trumpet School Book One.  He is a sensitive, expressive player, with a beautiful and naturally produced tone on the trumpet!  There are several children within the studio who have taken it upon themselves to perform (all by memory, I might add) at school or community events by their own initiative. There are several more who have struggled with this or that, be it trumpet playing or behavioral issues, but each has grown in some way through the process of practicing regularly and persevering.  The biggest success I can see, when I look at the program as a whole, has been the little nurturing trumpet community that has formed between parents, children, and even other trumpet teachers.

SC: What did you learn about teaching young children during your teacher training with Ms. Sundberg?

ND: Besides all the things that you learn from the children themselves—some having nothing to do with trumpet playing or abilities, but to do with things like their attention span or confidence levels—I learned that the parent’s role plays a huge part in the success of the child and the method.  Ms. Sundberg’s ideas and materials are wonderful and support the Suzuki Method beautifully, but it is the relationship between teacher, parent, and child that determines the ultimate outcomes.  Everyone is a partner in learning…and everyone is learning.  So that’s been exciting!

SC: How is your studio different from other Suzuki studios in the world?

ND: I can’t imagine that my studio is all that different from other Suzuki studios in the world.  We might have a different set of instruments, equipment, toys, and songs to work with, but our goals and methods are all based on the same ideas.  What IS truly different at this point in time, is that the method for trumpet is new.  It is new within the Suzuki community and certainly new within the trumpet and brass community as a whole.  It is still in the beginning stages of development and will be for a very long time.  We are not in a rush to find the perfect ways to teach very young children.  I envision that, like a growing child, the Suzuki Trumpet Method will grow and mature alongside the young children who are enrolled in these first Suzuki trumpet programs.

SC: Has your Suzuki teaching experience shaped your teaching of older students?

ND: Absolutely!  Basically all of the same concepts in the Suzuki method and philosophy can be applied to older students.  Listening is key.  Playing without sheet music is key.  As are the ideas of taking one small step at a time, repetition, and providing loving encouragement.  Two days after returning to Canada after my first trip to Sweden, I began applying the ideas to junior high and high school trumpet classes, hour after hour at a festival where I was teaching.  Without putting any music in front of these multi-level trumpeters, we set about learning the exposition to Haydn’s trumpet concerto (all on Bb trumpets).  I didn’t tell them how high or fast the notes would go…we simply listened, watched, played and repeated until pretty much every player was capable of playing most or all of the passages with the exception of a few younger players missing high notes.   But no one stopped playing the SONG. The key thing I noticed was how naturally relaxed everyone was.  Compared to the results of putting printed music in front of students first thing—revealing to them the range of pitches and rhythms and causing a whole bunch of tension and doubt—this method was more successful by leaps and bounds.

There are many ways you can use the concepts with older and/or more experienced students.

SC: What do you like to do in your spare time?

ND: I love to get outside and be in nature, whether it’s hiking up mountains, camping, or cross-country and downhill skiing.  I love to draw and paint, and I’m starting to dabble in writing short stories.  Mmmm, and if I really have spare time I like to cook good food!

SC: What are your aspirations for the future of your Suzuki studio and your teaching career?

ND: I would love to see the students in my Suzuki trumpet studio grow and develop into fine people and skilled, musically sensitive players.  As the studio is still young, I am looking forward to eventually having a wide range of ages within the studio to see how the older Suzuki trumpeters will influence and guide the younger students.  This is already beginning to happen, as I have enough students to begin to separate them by age and ability, and bring them all together periodically.  I would like for my students to continue to perform in public and become confident in their performing abilities.

I’m always aspiring to learn more as a player myself so that I continually have more to share.  Teaching can become stale if the teacher isn’t also continuing to grow.  Ultimately, I love to teach people of all ages; my oldest student is now 83. I also love to connect with players and teachers of all levels.  I want to continue learning from my new Suzuki colleagues and students, and ultimately begin to teach other teachers to teach Suzuki for trumpet…and all of the the brass instruments!

SC: Thanks so much, Natalie, for your time! 

 

 

 

 

 

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Suzuki Trumpet Training, Part I

Ann-Marie Sundberg, the only Suzuki trumpet teacher-trainer in the world

Ann-Marie Sundberg, the only Suzuki trumpet teacher-trainer in the world

I just got back from Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Mount Royal University was hosting the very first Suzuki Trumpet Teacher Training ever given in North America. I was one of ten students in the course, and the teacher was the only teacher trainer in the world: Ann-Marie Sundberg of Sweden.

I knew a little about Suzuki music education, because my two children have both developed in Suzuki studios (violin and flute). I have been impressed for years by their early start, rapid progress and confidence as young instrumentalists. Compared to my education as a trumpeter, they are much better technically, they have a far greater and more serious repertoire, and their ears are more refined than I was at their age.

Swedish Suzuki Trumpet Class

Swedish Suzuki Trumpet Class

I read about Ms. Sundberg’s Suzuki teaching and  teacher training a few years ago, and I eventually wrote to her asking how I could  learn how to teach Suzuki trumpet. She wrote back, saying that I would have to fly to Sweden three times in one year in order get the certification. As much as I would like to visit Sweden that many times, I realized it would be quite an expensive undertaking. I put it off that year.

Natalie DeJong teaching Suzuki trumpet at Mount Royal University

Natalie DeJong teaching Suzuki trumpet at Mount Royal University

Fortunately, one of her students, Natalie DeJong, who is on the faculty of Mount Royal University, arranged to have Ms. Sundberg come to Calgary in Alberta, Canada last August (2016) to give an eight-day seminar to do the entire training for the first unit (training to teach the first book of Suzuki trumpet). So, when I heard about this possibility, I signed up right away.

 

Shinichi Suzuki leads a violin group class of children in the United States (date unknown)

Shinichi Suzuki leads a violin group class of children in the United States (date unknown)

On the day before the trumpet training, I took the required all-day prerequisite course called Every Child Can. I formally learned about the general history and philosophy of the Suzuki school, named after the founder, the Japanese violinist, Dr. Shinichi Suzuki, whose revelation came when he realized that “all Japanese children speak Japanese.” In other words, all children learn effortlessly how to speak their own language regardless how difficult that language is. He applied this language learning process to music learning. But perhaps the most important take away from learning about the Suzuki philosophy is that it is not primarily for teaching children how to be better musicians, but it is a way to nurture them to become “fine and noble human beings.” That is a concept I can truly believe in, and I am really excited about teaching students of my own very soon. 

Next: Suzuki Trumpet Training, Part II 

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Happy birthday, and the importance of Story, Song and Support

It all started three years ago with a little post about, well, starting this website. And now Trumpet Journey has grown to more than 90 published posts about all kinds of trumpet-related things. There have been many interviews, but also “Top Ten Lists.” There have been posts about jazz, renaissance and baroque music, orchestral playing, the jobs market, and even language learning. 

Of the 117,000 people who have visited Trumpet Journey, I am really happy to receive the occasional comment or question. Especially from places like The Netherlands or Italy. Or even India! (sorry, India, I haven’t gotten around to answering you, yet). 

15th-century manuscript with a bearded figure blowing a trumpet

15th-century manuscript with a bearded figure blowing a trumpet

I haven’t posted much of my own writing in a while, because I have been doing so many interviews. So, I’d like to shake off the dust and talk about the three “S”s. These are what I think are the three key elements that each great trumpet player has: Story, Song, and Support

Each of us has a unique story. That story may be an actual account of some event, or even the story of our life. But we also have our own stories that we keep coming back to, such as “beauty is great,” or “old things are cool” or “technology is what I’m about.” These are our thematic points that our choices point to. Choices about repertoire, style, equipment, venues, and even the clothes we wear when we perform can help create our own story and the story that each generation needs to hear. Many players perform to a story that is going on inside their heads. As listeners, we can sense that something dramatic is happening. 

Trumpeters like Jean-Francois Madeuf, Doc Severinson, and Philip Smith seem to have a really strong story. Their playing seems to spring effortlessly from their personal story. 

Authenticity (played on an authentic natural baroque trumpet–very rarely heard):

Showmanship–notice how Doc adjusts his story to suit the Lawrence Welk Show audience:

And this story telling in the orchestral realm. I remember hearing Philip Smith talking about the way he thought about this opening excerpt from Mahler’s Fifth Symphony. He said he pictured Death (as the shrouded skeleton) reaching out from a dark fog. Closer and closer he comes, until you see his grotesqueness clearly. Sound quality is not quite perfect in this example.

 

Then there is the song. This is how we play what we play. This song can be sung with heart-on-the-sleeve romanticism, laser-beam clarity, or rhetorical interpretation. This is our personal song we sing on the trumpet when we play. Each of our voices are different–and they should be. Our song is the meeting place of our phrasing, our interpretation, our experience and, of course, our tone. I learned a beautiful lesson about tone from a former colleague of mine, the great euphonium player named Roger Behrend. He said it helps him to think about tone in terms of color, texture and taste. So, for instance, if you are thinking about maroon, velvet and chocolate, you get an especially luxurious sound. Or, perhaps you’re thinking golden, rough and with the taste of jambalaya, like I do, when I hear this trumpeter:

Trumpeters that have a great sense of song are many, but for me, some of the most astounding “trumpet singers” have been, besides Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, and Maurice André. 

I found this unusual example of Maurice André playing the Hindemith “Trumpet Sonate.” While this is not normal repertoire for André, nor is it a standard interpretation of the renowned German composer’s piece, it so well shows André’s glowing song-making style.

 

But to keep the song going, which keeps the story fresh, we all need the support of our technique, our fundamentals, our use of air, and our “chops.” For most of us, this comes down to consistent, mindful practice over many years. We are also looking for the right equipment to help us get there. Equipment and practice routines seem to be the subjects of most the trumpet chatter out there on the web and in studios. We all want to be able to play better, faster and higher. I know I do. But I think we all understand the limitations of mouthpieces, technique and high notes without a great singing style. Or without a musical story to tell. Let’s let support be what it is: help for a greater cause. Nevertheless, there are some great examples of technique and equipment.

Wynton Marsalis’ amazing technique and unique equipment do not get in the way of his song or story.

Malcolm McNab is a paragon of fundamentals, and he spins them into the most amazing recordings.

And, or course, there are the high note players like Arturo Sandoval and the late, great Maynard Ferguson. 

Talk about support!!! 

I think all of these examples show exceptional Story, Song and Support, and hopefully will give us some inspiration to communicate with our audiences, too.

In a very meaningful way, Trumpet Journey has been one of my trumpet stories that I have been able to tell over the last three years. 

 

 

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