What I’ve learned so far from Shelby Foote

I just finished volume one of Shelby Foote’s fantastic trilogy on the Civil War. Volume one takes the reader from Fort Sumter to the battle of Perryville. It’s a long volume (and the other two volumes are even longer!). Of course, I always like to imagine that I’m learning something about the trumpet, even when I’m far afield of the area of music. So, here is what I learned about the trumpet from reading Shelby Foote.

When you are down and out, the best strategy often comes from the Confederate book: be brave and go for it! No need to over think. No need for fancy equipment. Just believe in your cause (the trumpet in our case!), and you will succeed. For this to work, you must have grit!

But, in the big picture, the best strategy follows the Union. Have a just cause (or make one up, as Abraham Lincoln did with the Emancipation Proclamation). Why is it that you are pursuing music and the trumpet? Think about this philosophically. Are you trying to be a trumpeter for all of the best reasons? In addition, it’s best to have as many resources as possible. Instead of land, population, factories and money, I mean (for the trumpeter) resources like time to practice and develop. Enough money for trumpets and other equipment. Getting lessons is a big resource. Going to conferences and summer camps and festivals is a huge resource, and I count my summer camps at Brevard Music Camp and the National Repertory Orchestra as transformative. Having lots of friends and family support your trumpet cause is maybe the biggest resource.

Good luck, and win the war!

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Waste some time today!

If you have read any of my Trumpet Building Blocks, you know that I recommend all kinds of methods to help you squeeze a little trumpet practice (or composing, in the case of my last post, “The Portable Composer“) in between all of your other daily activities. I write about this so frequently because I face busy schedules myself everyday, and I think that some of the tricks and strategies I use can help out other busy trumpeters.

But in this post, I want to advocate a different way. I want you to waste time every now and then. When you have a few hours, or an afternoon, or even a Saturday, take the whole time to fool around on the trumpet. Play through your etude book. Play all of the Clarke Technical Studies. Play all of your fundamental exercises. Hang out with your buddies and sight read duets and trios and orchestral excerpts. Play along with all of your Aebersold jazz recordings.

This kind of time “wasting” is not, as you probably can see, a waste of time. It is just the thing you need to really improve. The late piano master Arthur Rubinstein, who practiced very little when he was young, changed his ways when he was first married. He began to practice for 6 to 9 hours a day. And a funny thing happened. He declared, “I began to discover new meaning, new qualities, new possibilities in music that I have been regularly playing for more than 30 years.”

We trumpeters cannot  stretch out and practice all day long every day. Our lips will not sustain the kind of regular schedule Rubinstein embraced. Most of our other commitments will not allow us to practice that much anyway. But when we have time and a fresh lip, we should try it. I think you will love it.

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