Shift to summer, practice without trumpet

As I retool my strategies for summer practice and performances, the limitations of my embouchure strength and endurance is an important consideration. We only have so many notes to play per day before practice starts to become counterproductive. In the last few posts, I already explored some basic concepts to reduce overall lip time while practicing: “stacking” different fundamentals or other concepts; making weekly rotations of hard and easy days; and common practice habits. Today I will touch on nine basic ways to improve as a trumpeter and musician without actually playing the trumpet.

  1. Ear training. Work with your ears to sharpen your aural concepts. I like listening to various drills on the David Lucas Burge’s Relative Pitch Course, which is out of print, unfortunately (and quite expensive when it was). But an equally-good ear-training tool is the Online Ear Trainer at iwasdoingallright.com. I have already posted a blog about how to progress logically with this free online tool as a trumpeter. But you can also use this trainer without the trumpet and simply call out the intervals and/or notes that you are hearing. Also try singing challenging parts of your repertoire while checking your pitch.
  2. Work on breathing. There are many “schools” of breathing, such as the popular “Breathing Gym” (you can see some free videos of this on YouTube). Most breathing methods are fine, even though they are often focused on low brass concepts. Controlling very slow exhales for 20, 30, 40 or more seconds–as Rafael Mendez outlines in his Prelude to Brass Playing, is a breathing exercise more-oriented to trumpeters, who must develop a slower, more controlled breathing.
  3. Practice vocalized (or aspirated) articulation. Practice single, k, triple and double tongue practice to develop fluency. I use scale patterns as I sing through the articulations.
  4. Finger practice. Practice on the valves (without playing), but use moderation. Trumpeters can get tendinitis from overuse. Almost as good is to practice fingering on your lap or even thumb.
  5. Listening. This is often overlooked, but so important. Listening in general helps make a trumpeter a better musician. You can gather specific listening playlists for upcoming programs to be better prepared. You can use an application like the Amazing Slow Downer or Transcribe! to adjust pitch and and speed of your listening (if necessary).
  6. Meditation. Meditation (and mindfulness) is basically focus practice. A more focused trumpeter is a better and less-stressed performer. Related to this is “visualization”–trying to concretely conceptualize your performance intentions.
  7. Alexander technique or perhaps yoga. I don’t know yoga, but I do Alexander Technique (AT). For AT, you should get a teacher, because you need some guidance. Fundamentally, AT helps with awareness of your body’s tension and effort as well as helping with your alignment.
  8. Deliberately being grateful. Jotting down what you are grateful for can help transform your approach to life. A positive outlook is important to your playing (and to everything else).
  9. Keep a practice journal. Organize and reflect. By the way, this is a great way to employ your “left brain.” And the more your left brain is occupied with this kind of activity, the more it frees up the “right brain” to help you play without self-consciousness. If there is nothing for your left brain to do, it tends to try to control your playing–with poor results.

Each one of these nine things are really helpful for your musicianship and trumpet performance. You can also try combining them in helpful ways. For instance, you can try singing/articulating/fingering passages. You can combine listening and fingering. You can try certain kinds of breathing with meditation.

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