We’re already a few weeks in to 2013 and, if you’re like me, you’ve already dropped some of your New Year’s resolutions. But that’s OK. There’s no reason to wait until next year to jump back on that horse and start going forward again. Here are some tips I’ve put together that will help your trumpet playing this year. The goal here is not to try to do the entire list, in fact, not every tip may pertain to you. Just pick a few to work on and you’ll soon be reaping the benefits in your playing, and having more fun as well.
So, let’s get going:
1. Restarts are Okay!
Maybe it’s human nature, or maybe it’s just a trumpet player thing, but whenever I take a day or two off from playing I know the next day will be rough. And guess what? It usually was…until I discovered how strongly my thinking controlled the outcome of my practicing. Over the holidays when I had a few days off from playing I decided I would only think positively about the break. It would be a fresh start. It would allow me to refocus my energy on what I do well and unlearn some bad habits. Trumpet playing would be easier and effortless this time, not foreign, forced, and strident.
The results were astounding. I made breakthroughs in my playing that I had been working on for months and even years. What’s even more amazing is that this happened after a break from playing when I would have thought the exact opposite would have happened — I should have regressed in my playing.
Whether you are just getting back to it again after the winter holidays or are laid up with the flu, remember that restarts are okay with a positive mental approach.
2. Back to Fundamentals.
Spend some time this year going back to fundamentals (especially if you are following tip #1). I’m not talking about daily maintenance. I’m talking about going back to page 1. Spend time working on your sound production, your attack, and your breathing. Imagine if you could become 10% more efficient (creating more sound for less work), or be 10% more relaxed while you play? These improvements can only be made by playing fundamentals.
3. Clean Your Trumpet & Mouthpiece.
This tip should be #1 and it will apply to probably 95% of you based on the horns we see here at the shop. Take 30 minutes of your week and give your horn a good bath. If you can’t do that, take it to a repair shop to have it acid washed or ultra-sounded.
Trumpet is hard enough to play consistently day-to-day. When the gunk inside your horn is constantly building up you are spending at least part of your practice time adjusting to it. Get rid of this variable by getting your horn back to the way it should play and maintain it by flushing it out every week. You can also keep a lot of stuff from building up in your horn by using a leadpipe swab after every practice session.
4. Have Fun!
The trumpet is a demanding, unforgiving instrument. If you are a professional trumpet player, the music industry is the same. Whether you are an amateur or a professional, don’t lose sight of the fact that trumpet playing is fun. Don’t focus on the inept conductor or the drummer who adds an extra beat to the measure with every drum fill. When these or similar thoughts enter your mind, take a slow, deep breath and then smile. Focus instead on how the thrill of playing a musical instrument for others, and being able to share your talent, is something that just a small percentage of people in the world are privilege to do. And, you’re one of those lucky few!
5. Take a Lesson.
Our most precious commodity is time. A good teacher is worth their weight in gold because they can improve your playing in less time than you could on your own. Yes, there is a wealth of free information on the Internet on how to play the trumpet; however, you’ll spend more precious time searching, filtering out bad information, and grazing than if you had a guide to show you along the path.
One of my trumpet teachers still takes lessons himself every month. He’ll call up other teachers in the area (many of whom are his colleagues) to take a lesson. He also gets together with out-of-town players who are in the area on tour for lessons. This allows him to always expand his knowledge, improve his playing, and expand his bag of tricks to use for his own students.
6. Get Together With Others
Get together and practice with someone else. This may be playing duets, or you can go through your daily routine and trade off. There are plenty of benefits to this. First, you’ll have more fun than just sitting alone in your practice room like you would be normally doing. Second, you benefit more because you can share experiences, learn from the other person, and you can teach them as well. And third, you tend to have a better practice pace when you work with someone else because you take breathers to talk, laugh, or listen to each other.
7. Set Goals
The start of a New Year is always a good time to set new goals or reevaluate your existing ones. If you don’t have goals for your trumpet playing, start setting them! They may be long-term or short-term. I recommend a combination of both. I set goals for every practice session, jotting them down before I start playing. It may be a tempo I want to hit on a fingering or tonguing exercise, or a difficult passage I want to make easier.
Longer term goals should be written down as well. For some reason, writing them down tends to put them in motion better than just thinking about them. It may be a career goal, like playing in the Chicago Symphony. It may be tackling a challenging piece you’ve always wanted to play. It may be getting the nerves up to play in front of a group for the first time. Whatever your goal is, write it down and start heading towards it.
8. Listen, listen, listen!
I find myself overwhelmed with things in my day that take up my time – work, family, Facebook, sleep, driving. I realized that listening to music has become a much less significant part of my day than it used to. I don’t remember the last time I listened to a Mahler Symphony or Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue from beginning to end without distractions. If you are like me, take a concerted effort this year to make the time to listen. We gain so much from listening to great music that cannot be achieved in the practice room. Hearing great musicians and absorbing different styles of music through listening translates directly into improvements in your own musicianship. Besides, hearing a live concert can be so inspiring that you’ll be reminded of why we do what we do!
Make it a point to get out and perform for people. No matter what your level of progress is, once you know 4-5 notes on the trumpet you can make music. You have the tools to connect emotionally with your audience. I’ve seen beginning band students who have been playing for less than a year make people smile and cry with the songs they play. You don’t have to perform at a symphony hall to move people. Play in church, search out a community band, or play at a local nursing home. When you start connecting with others through your playing, you’ll be inspired to do more, and have a sense of fulfillment that you don’t get from just practicing.
The thrill of playing a musical instrument for others and being able to share your talent is something that just a small percentage of people in the world are privileged to do.
What tips do you have? If you have your own tips I hope you’ll share them in the comments section below.