Tuesday, March 29, 2011

How to Be a World-Class Trumpeter (Or Anything Else You Pursue)

There is a fine, fine-line to follow to be a World-Class Anything.  Although I won't blatantly say it (I may blatantly think it), musicians may have a steeper incline to climb on their way to the top.  I have played the trumpet off-and-on (through high school, college, grad school, and law school [performing in groups and bands at all stages]) for 15 years.  I am in no-way a world class trumpeter.  But I have again returned to the horn to prepare for an expected debut at "The Phoenix" in Downtown Kansas City, Missouri.  I have seen remarkable increase in skill this time 'round.  I've seen more increase this time than any other time.  The lessons I've followed are the secret to becoming a World-Class talent in anything you pursue.
Eliot Elisofon painting found at Art.com

1.) Don't Care How it Sounds - This is counter intuitive and nearly impossible to do, but it is a REQUIREMENT for success.  When you are practicing your talent you must ignore the ugly sound that is coming from your instrument.  You're getting an ugly sound because your body has not been strengthened to handle the stress that playing requires.  Like any skill, that skill must be developed and honed.  Once the skill is developed the sound will change.  Playing will become easier, the sound will be musical, and your body will be strengthened to continue building.

The example that illustrates this is doing push-ups.  If you haven't done push-ups in a while (or EVER!) it will be difficult to finish 10.  But you can't worry about not making it to 10.  You know that next time you'll do 6 . . . and then 7 . . . and then 10!  And you will be heading towards 20 before you know it!

This is the same in leadership, business, law, engineering, ballet, baseball, mathematics, etc. (whatEVER you do!).  Your first few attempts will be ugly and unrefined.  You will feel inadequate and feel like you're attempting something outside of your giftings.  Ignore the sound and keep playing.  You'll begin to become skilled.

2.) Don't be Afraid of the High-Notes - Other trumpeters will understand this immediately (even though every other trumpeter out there is cocky to a point of nausea (yes, even you and even me).  The higher notes on a trumpet are harder to play.  The lips must be tight enough to restrict the air-flow increasing the pitch while pushing through enough air to make a sound.  Strong muscles and intense air-flow create a higher note.  I see a note above the staff and I freak-out.  I think, "Oh man! This is going to take a lot or I'm going to mess up!"  The failure is what scares us cocky trumpeters.

found at ilearnmusic.com
As I've been practicing alone, knowing that the high notes will be hard, I've had to decide I will not be afraid (and not care if it doesn't sound good - see how that works and why its fundamental).  I decided to embrace trying.  The more I attempt to reach a note, the more my muscles will recognize when I do it again and again.  Eventually I'll hit that note with ease.  I've actually been playing Gs and As above this high F pictured (which I haven't before).

The Application? Ok, ok, be patient . . . High notes are the trumpeters glory.  Whatever you're pursuing has a pinnacle of success that says, "When you can do this, you've arrived."  Think about what you want to achieve in your field. That is your high-note.  Do NOT be afraid of going for that high-note.  When you go for it, don't care how it sounds and understand your first attempts are strengthening your resolve to reach it later, which you will.

3.) Play to Failure - As I'm practicing and my lips get tired, it becomes harder to keep playing.  The higher notes become the sounds of silence and my tone suffers.  When I attempt drills and the last few notes of the drill are nothing but wind, playing to failure becomes my mantra (although it is hard to recite this over and over with a hard piece of metal jammed against my lips and teeth).

Playing to failure is the only way to increase your ability.  When those sounds stop, and my wind and mouth are still going, I'm building the skill to play longer and harder next time.  The next time I'll be able to play a few notes further, and then further.  But I CANNOT care that my tone is bad (or even silent).  I must FINISH the drill or measure of music.  Stopping in the middle ceases the muscle growth and halts progress.  I'll rest for 15 seconds and do it again.  This time I play higher or longer.  I don't quit because my instrument quits.  My instrument is only as good as I am.  I keep going, and growing, and succeeding.

In your pursuits, you WILL absolutely fail.  You should begin to understand that this is your only path to success.  Every time you fail you should be excited for the growth during the last few notes of silence.  Every time you fail you should rest and pick up where you left off.  You will continue to perform longer and higher.  You must play to failure.  Your failure will transform into excitement, your excitement into success.


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