More on stacking

Last week, I mentioned “stacking” as a practice method. Stacking is similar to multi-tasking, but better. Multi-tasking implies doing many things to the point that you cannot concentrate on any one thing. By contrast, stacking presupposes a degree of competency in the various components that you are working on, so that combining the components helps rather than diffuses your progress.

If you are shaking your head and thinking that this is still multi-tasking and all multi-tasking is bad, then I have to point out that almost all of music practice and performance is some type of behavior and concept stacking. For instance, when you play your scales, you are thinking of at least these four things, all at the same time:

  1. Fundamental tone production
  2. Changing pitch by using aperture, air and oral cavity control points
  3. Fingerings
  4. Names of notes

There is no way around these multi-task processes. Okay, sure: what is not helpful is to be playing your scales while reading a book or being actively engaged in social media. That, in my opinion, is unhelpful multi-tasking.

I thought I would give you an example of useful stacking that I am using as I prepare for recording. I need to gain response in my flugelhorn playing. I must maintain flexibility and multiple tonguing (to name a few needs).

Therefore, I have to spend time on lip flexibility, multiple tonguing and playing the flugelhorn. I could spend 20 minutes on each one of these things. That would be one hour of lip time. As I stressed before, we have a limited amount of notes to play before we get too tired. Can we combine these tasks to save time and lip strength?

I could practice my lip flexibility on the flugelhorn. I could also alternate between slurring on half of the examples and double-tonging/triple-tonging on the other half (I actually like to do articulation work in this kind of situation on the mouthpiece, and in this case it would be the flugelhorn mouthpiece, which is so different in its response compared to my trumpet mouthpiece–and so necessary to learn). In this way, I can get great benefits from all three in about 20 minutes. What about that 40 minutes that I’ve saved (compared to doing these tasks individually)? I can use those 40 minutes to do more serious literature practice to learn my pieces!

Here’s a Venn diagram to illustrate this one example:

Practice stacking example with flugel, multiple tonguing and lip flexibility

Not all things can be stacked well, but imagine some other stack combos:

  1. Combining any alternative instrument (different keyed trumpets, cornet, etc) with any fundamental activity
  2. Transposition with any lyrical study or basic etude
  3. Soft practice combined with an etude
  4. Combine listening with fingering (and even singing or buzzing)

You get the picture. Stack the stackable and you will save time and lip strength.


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