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.

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