Rules of trumpeting (part 2)

  1. The 10K-hour rule. How many hours you will have to practice to start sounding great. It roughly translates to about 10 years of nearly 3 hours a day of deliberate practicing. This is the guideline (an average between about 7,000 and 25,000 hours) suggested by Swedish psychologist Anders Ericsson and picked up by pop-psych writer Malcolm Gladwell. While there is much debate, I think this rule is largely accurate. Another way of looking at this rule is, if, on average, a trumpet student takes 30 lessons a year, then that means it takes about 300 lessons of quality trumpet instruction to get a student to that level of mastery. However, winners of solo competitions (the top-level of performance in music) often have put in closer to the 25,000 hours benchmark. This is more like 20 years of very deliberate and difficult practice and maybe up to 800 lessons. The take-away: this is a marathon, not a sprint. If you have the enthusiasm to play a lot, and in a focused way, when very young, then this can be a great way to get to your destination. Try to get as big of a chunk of your practicing done when young, because when you are older, many responsibilities can pull you away from your work. With very young trumpeters, I believe the Suzuki method can be helpful in balancing practice and enthusiasm.
  2. Five times reading, five times from memory rule. This is a formula to memorize a passage. Read it five times in a row perfectly. Then play it five times by memory without a hitch. Then you have that passage memorized and can start stringing passages together. Playing with a recording can be really helpful as well.
  3. Familiar trigger rule. If you want to be “in the zone” when you perform, then you have to not only practice your music for the performance, but you should also think about the rituals and gestures in the minutes leading up to the performance. If you practice these gestures as carefully as you would your music, then you can trigger a greater sense of confidence in performance. Josh Waitzkin, the chess and martial arts champion, wrote of this in his book The Art of Learning (2007, Free Press). Here’s a brief overview of the process.
  4. Fix it away from the trumpet rule. When you are at an impasse in technique, taking on a different way of playing, or conserving your embouchure strength, then your best bet is to work away from the trumpet. Frank Campos writes about this concept frequently in his book, Trumpet Technique (2004, Oxford University Press). This could mean (but is not limited to) breath work, lip or mouthpiece buzzing, vocalized articulation  exercises, finger exercises, ear training, imagining playing in your mind, or just plain old listening to music.
  5. The Two-day rule. When you feel like you are playing with real pain for two days in a row, then you should rest for (at least) two days. After that, you need to ease back into your full strength. Injuries to the lips, tendons or muscles, if not attended to, can take much longer to heal, so it’s best to be prudent. A trumpeter cannot simply keep playing more and more. The pattern for improvement is always “stress-and-recovery.” Not just “stress and more stress.” Of course, good form in playing plays a critical role in being injury-free.


One response to “Rules of trumpeting (part 2)”

  1. Karl Hovey Avatar
    Karl Hovey

    All solid. I especially love #9, as (paraphrasing Mr. Jacobs) I find problems quickly become habits if practiced over and over on the horn. I have much greater/faster success solving a problem without the usual stimulus of an instrument. Thus, devices help with breathing, listening to recordings improves tonal and musical concepts, and mouthpiece playing brings everything together. I’m still often surprised at how much better I sound after playing a phrase on the mouthpiece first, then moving to the instrument.

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