Trumpet teaching, new ideas

This blog is, if nothing else, a sounding board. So, I will sound out some of my more extreme ideas on what trumpet teaching could be for this blog post.

  1. What if trumpet teaching were done only as a group?
  2. What if students had to learn their repertoire only by listening?
  3. What if students had to submit a recording of their own efforts before their lessons?
  4. What if students directed their own study and their teacher adjusted exercises and advice to suit the student’s inclinations?
  5. What if teamwork were emphasized?
  6. What if teachers had an open-door policy for students to come at any time?
  7. What if students had to produce a professional-quality recorded track each semester?
  8. What if students had to write their own exercises?
  9. What if students had to earn $30 in a day by busking to pass their jury?
  10. What if students had to compose or improvise an original piece each semester?
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Five Things Friday: Teamwork in the Trumpet Studio

Trumpet Hang at the German court of Swerin (18th C.)

There is a trend that I am noticing in my life–there are fewer opportunities to hang out with trumpeters. Fewer opportunities to play together and chat about trumpet things. Nevertheless, there are big benefits to working together with other trumpeters, especially in a studio at a school of music. If you are looking for ways to get better, try getting together. Here is some motivation:

  1. Data points to significant health benefits to belonging to a group.
  2. When you combine group class, trumpet hangs, workshops and conferences to your lessons, you will learn more and be more motivated.
  3. When you’re hanging with other trumpeters, not even talking about the trumpet, you are building strong social bonds that help prevent burnout.
  4. You are a team with your teacher. Although online instruction is better and more accessible these days, you should put more importance into lessons with a real person.
  5. More experienced members of a trumpet studio help to mentor the less experienced–they get experience to help them become successful teachers. Less experienced members of the trumpet studio learn faster, because they get extra mentoring, and because they see the kind of workflow that goes with purposeful practice.
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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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Periodicity and happiness–part two

Yesterday, I blogged about the importance of pushing yourself–“Growth comes at the point of resistance.” (Josh Waitzkin)

Today, because the overall topic is periodicity, I want to delve just a bit into recovery.

How many times have you burnt out? How many times did you tell yourself that you were going to be the best at something, only to reach a point of exhaustion, after which you had to give up. What about the time you played too many high notes on the trumpet, and you injured your lip, forcing you to take a long time off the trumpet to recover?

This is where the recovery part of periodicity comes into play. You must respect the feedback that you are getting from you mind and body. If you start feeling pain or exhaustion (physical or mental), then you need to rest. This could mean taking the rest of the day off. Or it could mean switching to something else that is not so stressful. Take a walk or even a vacation. These are vital to your overall progress. REST IS VITAL TO YOUR PROGRESS. Please remember this and don’t push yourself too far.

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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.

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