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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Shift to summer, regular practice techniques

In the last two posts, I talk about my goals over the next summer. One of them is to make a professional video recording of five commissioned pieces that have something to do with outer space. This is an important objective for me, because one of my big goals is to get tenure at CSU, and this relies on better recruiting, better teaching and better performing. A recording is a benchmark for achievement in performance–especially in academia.

This recording session will be in the middle of July. Yesterday, I talked about a weekly rotation of the recording material, so that I can have three heavy days and four light days per week. Today, I’ll write a little about some of my basic practice techniques that I like to use; tomorrow I’ll go through some great ideas for off-trumpet practice; then I will start laying out an eight-week practice plan for optimal fitness and preparation for my recording sessions. At that point, I plan on turning my blogging attention to some of the other big goals I mentioned earlier.

Practice techniques.

The first, most important, is to simply isolate any problems and repeat those problems until they sound better. This is the “eat an elephant one bite at a time” approach. The partner to this technique is to slow the isolated passage down to a speed which can be played really well (I’ll try to avoid the word “perfectly”).

Another great practice strategy is to clump passages in greater and greater amounts as each clump becomes polished. An example would be to practice measure 1 (let’s say four times in a row, perfectly–oh no, there’s that word). Then measure 2 (same). Then combine 1 and 2 (practicing three times perfectly). The measure 3 and 4 the same way. Then combine measures 1 through 4 (two times perfectly). Continue this way through the piece.

If you do this clumping strategy from the end of the piece, you call it “back-chaining.”

I like to practice while listening to a recording, so that I can get familiar with the accompaniment and the flow of the piece. I like to use some sort of audio app that lets me slow the audio file down to different percentages of the original speed.

I like to record my practice to hear objectively what is going on. It can be excruciating to hear yourself, but it is so helpful. Also this technique puts in much-needed rests in your practice session.

I like to practice playing the passages on my mouthpiece. The mouthpiece provides a certain transparency to playing technique that enables you to correct things that couldn’t be detected when playing the trumpet normally. It’s important to maintain a pitch reference when working with the mouthpiece, so that a good sense of pitch is developed. A truer sense of pitch enables the trumpet to sound more resonate and fluid.

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