Where I am at , today
OK, I'm not sure of my use of a preposition in the title, but you get the idea!
I've been making significant progress since my last post. Yes, my playing is still a bit ragged and because of trying to get all the spinning plates up on the poles (old vaudeville reference...), I'm still a little distractible, but I am making progress.
Last night I was willing to tackle half the lead in an eight chart concert, including two solos (one a Doc solo). As to the overall performance, it was up and down. My chops felt really pretty good, but my articulation was still pretty stiff and my improvisational ideas still seem a little stuck, but I felt like the willingness to try lead was a big step forward.
A special debt of gratitude is owed to the band leader, Norm Friede for convincing me to give it a shot. I offered to skip any lead parts, but he really pushed to to do it. I appreciate the support. Another debt of gratitude goes to Dr. Mike Stewart, who was most supportive in my effort to do this. Incidentally, he played the bulk of the heavy lead playing and did an exceptional job.
I had instituted some changes in my practice and thinking in getting ready for this gig. I'd like to outline them here for anyone looking to make past some blockage in there trumpet work.
This last year and a half has been quite challenging in making a comeback, and as a result I allowed some bad habits to creep back into my practice routine. One insidious behavior was playing stretches that lasted way too long. Another bad habit was getting angry or frustrated and mistaking some of my angry thoughts as being "analytical." As a result, I was showing up to gigs with my chops at least partially spent and my mindset out of whack. However, with the help of some ideas I've gotten from the trumpet coach I've been "seeing" (digitally), I believe I hit on some new thinking that shows great promise in accelerating the comeback.
Carefully controlled duty cycle in my practice.
This is something that I used to adhere to strictly, but in the past 1.5 years, I slid into a bad habit of playing up to a wall (metaphorically speaking) and then just hammering away until I got the passage or finally quit trying in frustration. I would often kid myself that I was "being analytical", when all I was doing was yelling at myself, mentally, "what are you doing wrong??"
So regarding the timing of my practice, I adopted a simple technique to force myself to quit wearing myself out. I set the timer app on my smartphone to 20 minutes. I then start on a given practice project and calmly and thoughtfully (I'll get to that part in a minute) start practicing. When the timer goes off, I STOP - immediately! I set the timer for 20 minutes again and then go do something else (like typing this blog or going for a walk). I don't start practicing again until I at least cover the 20 minute rest period.
Obviously, if you do the math, to cover 4 hours of so called face time on the horn it will cover an 8 hour day. Well, for me that is enough. In any case, this is an obvious technique that I'm sure most of you already adhere to.
2.) Meditative approach to my practice.
The trumpet coach I've been working with posts regular videos addressing many of the ideas that he has been trying to get me to embrace. His video on meditation particularly caught my attention.
I've been exploring meditation in addressing different aspects of my life, but his video really pushed me to adopt a much more meditative approach to my playing as opposed to just brute forcing my way through things. Now, when I practice, I ALWAYS close my eyes (except when reading music, of course) and I really focus on the feel (I'll get to that next). I focus on where my tongue is just touching the top of my bottom lip just where it every so slightly curls over the top of my bottom teeth. I sit bolt upright with my best posture and make sure that I'm am COMPLETELY supporting every note with my core, no matter how softly I'm playing. I sense the air moving through me into the horn and I strive to keep it as relaxed as possible.
In order for all of this to work, I have to get the rest of the world out of the picture when I practice. No, TV or internet or anything. Just me, my closed eyes and all of me playing the trumpet. Yes my thoughts will wander, but when I sense that they have, I gently pull myself back into the moment.
So far, this has had a huge benefit to to practice.
3.) Become manifestly aware of the FEEL of playing the trumpet with relaxation.
My trumpet coach and I communicated via email on this and he did a video on it as well. I was really focused on my tongue position and trying to figure out how to get my lips and tongue to be in the same position as his. He quickly pointed out that we are all going to be a little different and his descriptions were designed to get me in the right ball park, but that I had to develop my OWN FEEL for this. I shouldn't obsess with too much detail in graphics or discussions. The adjustments I am making to my playing are too subtle to quantify. I have to develop a feel for each note and relate that to the sound I want and the relaxation I want to play with. This is where the meditative approach really kicks in.
4.) Spit buzz and reset.
When I am running through my practice, I miss notes. That's part of the deal. When I do, I don't just dive right back in and pound away trying to plow through the exercise, battling my way through the rough patch. I spit buzz to get my chops in place, reset the mouthpiece and go back into a meditative state working on getting the proper feel for to rough spot. This spit buzz/reset is a big deal with respect to developing my newer more relaxed approach.
Now, these four more metaphysical approaches to playing are the root of my new approach. I'll now outline some nuts and bolts of WHAT I am practicing.
A.) Pedal Tones
I do a full set of pedals from double pedal C down to triple pedal C. I use a Jerry Callet style mouthpiece set. I like to start with these to get a very relaxed feeling to start my practiced day.
B.) Long tones
I don't do these for some sort of isometric effect. I do it for the PRACTICE. I play them sotto voce and I strive for as relaxed a feel and pure tone as I can muster. Remember, I am striving to internalize the feel for doing this.
C.) Lip flexibilities
I do a set of Schlossberg style lip flexibilities doing up to two octave intervals and two octave glissandos. I don't do these very loud. Perhaps mf.
D.) Singing Exercise range routine
I really strive to limit this part of practice, but I feel the need to know the feel of these notes. I'm play these up to DHC and just played a nice F/DHC. This constitutes no more than 15 minutes of a long practice day.
E.) Clarke Studies
I do these on C trumpet.
I do these on flugelhorn.
G. Some excerpts
H.) Jazz solo transcriptions
I.) Various licks and patterns
J.) Some piccolo practice
K.) Gig material
That's pretty much what I'm up to, now. AT ALL TIMES, I am striving to play with as relaxed a feel as I can achieve. After decades of playing too forcefully, it is challenging for me, but I can see the results of trying to develop a newer approach.
I mentioned that I just started playing some lead trumpet publicly, again. My peers may not sense it, but I sensed a great deal of progress the other night. I made some stupid mistakes, but I felt more like a functional lead player than I have in 1.5 years.
At note of gratitude should go out to two more individuals, who have helped me through this effort.
Dave Harrison has been very kind in supportive in helping me with my equipment. He has been a great friend.
Ralph Salamone is the trumpet coach I referred. His relentless positivity and thoughtful ideas have been extremely important in putting me back on the right path.
That's it for now. Let's see where I am in a month or so.