New year brings new ideas, new endeavors and new resolutions. Whether you plan on reading more, losing weight, trying to learn a new language, or overall just be a better person, a resolution is an opportunity to commit yourself to an idea and really go for it.
Many times, I’ve made resolutions in my personal life: losing weight, becoming a more affectionate human, learn how to make the perfect omelet (which is extremely difficult, by the way), so on and so forth. Sometimes I stick with them, to great benefit and results. Often, I think like most other people, I let my conviction fizzle out and the resolution goes to the wayside and we wait till the next “new year” to make up for it. This got me thinking about my trombone playing and how I rarely make resolutions in my professional life and with my personal playing goals.
1) Be motivated to stay dedicated.
Motivation is an amazing thing, and totally necessary to stay on top of your musical game. Whenever you feel motivated you need to act on it immediately. A lot can be accomplished and many obstacles can be overcome if your aim and desire is true. However, in my experience, motivation sometimes comes and goes. It isn’t always consistent, this is the wonder of being a human being, our convictions and motivation gets trapped in the death spiral of procrastination. Getting motivated and running seven miles is great, however, if you only do this once a week it isn’t as beneficial to your health as running one mile, seven days a week. How do motivate ourselves to stay dedicated and consistent? Here are a few ideas.
· Do your warm-up early in the morning, and find a warm-up that you can play along with (drum-tracks), or warm-up with other people. Michael Davis’s 15-minute or 20-minute warm-up, downloading a drum-machine app on your phone and playing along with it, or getting a few of your friends and going through a warm-up together can really motivate you to get started and get the first hour of practice in immediately and provides a solid, fun base that helps you want to be productive the rest of the day.
· Schedule your practice sessions in advance, and stick to it. Treat your practice sessions the same way you would treat making a doctor’s appointment. Sometimes our lives get so busy that unless something is scheduled, we lack the ability to make time for it. If you’re someone who adheres to schedules, this will help immensely.
· The most important aspect of any task, is starting it. If you’ve scheduled a practice session, but really don’t feel like doing it. Play something FUN! Get in the room with a large speaker and play through pieces with a great recording behind you. Play a few choruses of the blues with an Abersold track. Do the Breathing Gym. Find something you enjoy doing (and if you can’t find something you enjoy doing on that day, it might be in your best interest not to practice...) and do that. Once you get in the practice room, and start, you have completed half of the battle.
Here is a diagram of the three R’s of habit formation from a motivational speaker named James Clear. This is extremely applicable to what we do as musicians. Remind yourself of this diagram anytime you are struggling with motivation.
2) Sight-read every day in at least 4 clefs, and learn etudes in transpositions.
Simple concept, one that can greatly benefit any musician. Clef studies and transposition is something I can honestly say that I am less fluent in than I should be. The good news for me, is that there is a clear and easy solution.
JUST DO IT A LOT.
I’ve heard Carl Lenthe say this many times, and if you are a trombonist or someone who hangs out in the Bass Clef most of the time, take this comment to heart. I am paraphrasing here, but the comment is something like: “85% of music is written in clefs other than Bass Clef.”
Now, don’t hold anyone liable to that statistic, the point is that we as MUSICIANS must be able to fluently read all the clefs and be able transpose passages into different keys. This is something that you don’t see that frequently as a trombonist, outside of the alto and tenor clef.
This sounds like a giant feat to become accustom to if you have never done it, but start small and slowly. Taking a line at a time of an etude you know extremely well (most likely a Rochut) and playing it through three times each in your four chosen clefs, and moving on. The next day, do the next line, and try to add more measures until you’ve played through the entire etude with all your chosen clefs.
*Note, repetition is a good thing, but this type of playing can be extremely taxing and could be problematic if done in large doses and without breaks. Be sure to take your time, this will help increase range and displacing the octaves at any given point will also certainly aid your fluency of clef reading.
3) Read more about brass pedagogy. Especially about basics of other brass instruments that you aren’t as familiar with.
To really understand and apply a craft, one must absolutely and completely absorb all the information out there about that craft. Understanding the multiple ideas about how the mechanisms (embouchure, aperture, slide technique, air support) work, can only aid us as performers and teachers. Wading through the large amount of information out there about the basic pedagogy of Brass playing will help narrow down the ideas that help you, and the ideas you might thing are total hogwash.
Now, whether you decide to use that information or not in your daily routine is up to you, but I’ve found for me, that the more I know about the physical aspects of playing, the less I think about it when I’m trying to apply them in real time. Meaning, the more outside work and idea absorption you do before you practice, the more it will subconsciously aid your product.
For me; I’m endeavoring to learn more about instruments outside of my specialty. The more information you know, the more information will be relate-able and applicable to any given situation you might find yourself in. Being an informed musician also involves knowing as much as you can about any musical subject. I want to be that informed musician!
The last resolution I have, is to try as hard as I can to make all three of these things a part of my daily routine. It doesn’t have to be hours a day, if I have a few extra minutes’ in-between class or a rehearsal, I commit those minutes to an article about embouchure placement, or practice an etude in alto clef. This all adds up, and will certainly make me a better, more well-rounded musician.
Make some resolutions and stick with them!
Happy New Year to everyone!