The saying that you will get there or you will improve "little by little" is thrown around quite a bit, but another way to look at it is practicing little by little. Sometimes it is just hard to motivate yourself to pick up the horn. Maybe you do not have a gig coming up or you are just a little "down" on your playing at the moment. Just pick up your axe or get the horn on your face for a few seconds. This might lead to a minute and then who knows what. After that brief encounter with your instrument, leave it in a place where you will bump into it constantly throughout the day, and keep picking up it for a few seconds/minutes at at time. Before you know it, you will have accumulated some significant time on the horn. So, don't get overwhelmed with playing that hour or two-hour session you had planned, just a few seconds - little by little.
My Dad always loved this saying. He believed that busy people had to be well organized and therefore, productive. I think you might have to amend this saying and say . . . ask a busy person who is accountable or who has regular due dates, as you can be busy and just spin your wheels. I find that what I have to accomplish expands to fill the time I have, so I need those deadlines to keep me on track. So, like any saying, there is partial truth to be found there.
This sounds horrible, but most of the time you will not play as well in front of an audience as you did in the basement. So what do you do about it? Sure, you work on your confidence and minimizing performance anxiety - that is material for several blogs. The other strategy is realizing that you will not play as well in front of an audience and accepting that. So, you keep improving and making your 100% in the basement better and better. That way your 80% in front of the audience is not only acceptable but very good. Audiences, in general, want to be entertained and unless you are playing for a bunch of musicians, they are not listening for mistakes (OK, that sounded a bit cynical). So give yourself a break, realize that you will make mistakes and come up short, but that is OK. You still sound good and you are providing a great show.
I love leading a band and I love all the responsibility that comes with it. As with many jobs, you can be as involved or invested as you want to be. Sure, you can show up and count off the tunes or flap your arms and leave it at that, but you will likely be an ineffectual band leader. If you want to really take your band to new heights, you need to do research on the repertoire so that it is a good fit for the band and so that you present it well to the band (the right style, tempo, etc.). Also, you are not just managing music but people. The bigger the ensemble, the more personalities you are juggling and the "sounds" that are associated with them. You must be a diplomat and find a way for everyone to work together. That being said, I always say that an ensemble is not a democracy and the band leader needs to make some decisions and the band members must have faith in the director. This complex community does not just take shape just during the rehearsal. Communication is ongoing and other activities such as composition, arranging, clinics, sectionals, one-on-one meetings, etc. can take up as much time as you allow. Next time you get frustrated with the man or woman with "the stick" in front, realize that that baton can weigh heavily some days.
I just finished creating a module in a course entitled Introduction to Humanities (online) and part of it is a TED Talk called "Stop searching for your passion." Basically, the gist of it is that success fuels passion and not the other way around. So, if you wait your whole life for passion to inspire your life, your life will not get started. I found this interesting and informative. One of my passions is arranging music and it is part of my career portfolio. Now I could feed that passion to the exclusion of everything else, but doing so lead could lead to a more difficult path in life and possibly hardship. If I struggled in life, could I continue to indulge my passion?
Now, if any future or current employer reads this, do not get me wrong. I love everything I do and everything I teach, but I could make this argument about any of the facets of my career, which I am passionate about. If I put all the eggs in one basket and that basket comes crashing down, where does that leave me? It is a bit of a different view than the one that emphasises feeding your passion and making that your life's work. Anyway, something to think about. So, I will repeat the take away from the TED talk - success (in whatever field) fuels passion and not the other way around.
I have done a few clinics on the above topic but when push comes to shove, I too can fall into a groove of playing the same slip slurs and tonguing exercises each day. If you also find yourself playing the same things day-after-day, you may find that you are not progressing as fast as you like. This is because you are not challenging your embouchure. I always compare it to weight-lifting. You need to keep your muscles guessing and striving for something new and challenging. Switch things up each day, or every once in a while, and you will find that your embouchure feels stronger and that you are making greater gains. For more information, check out my worksheet Brevity and Variety in Brass Warm-ups.
Being able to play across the harmonics without tonguing is such an advantage as a trombone player, and I find that many trombone players do not utilise this technique. For instance, the F on the line in the staff and the G above it, on the space in the staff, are on separate harmonics. Moving from 1st to 4th position, you are breaking across this harmonic or playing "against the grain." This makes a natural break in the sound and therefore, you do not need to tongue the note. As a trombone player, trying to keep up with the more fleet instruments like the trumpet and saxophone, you need all the tricks you can get, and a few intervals where you do not need to tongue help tremendously. Not only that, but the natural "tongue" or break is clear and matches a "ta" or "da" tongue quite well. If you get in the habit of playing through the lines, without tonguing, this will also help as you play in the upper register where the harmonics are so close together that tonguing is optional at times.
Getting together with the trombones tonight for a sectional. Looking forward to it. I have played in a lot of big bands and very few spent time working in sectionals. This is likely because the allure of the big band is that big band sound of 16+ players swingin' and groovin' together. Getting that many people together is always an effort so to ask for an additional commitment from any of the players is always a bit of a risk, i.e., band leaders are just happy if musicians show up for the full rehearsal, let alone sectionals. This is not to say that enthusiastic sections do not steal away from a few minutes, here-and-there, to work on some parts. This is common. I cannot really pat myself on the back too much, as my band's sectionals are sporadic. I do know the value of "cleaning-up" a section away from the band and then reinserting that sound, providing new life for the ensemble. Maybe this blog will kick my own butt. We'll see.
Dr. Michael Kearns
Musician, educator, husband, father, web designer ... my life is like a mosaic with each piece vying for my attention.