Tuesday, June 19, 2018
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Opening Up to the Form of Practice

For those of you who have zero idea of what “practice” means (like I did when I was in high school), the following is a simple but comprehensive way to get started. This routine can last for as long as you like—from 20 minutes to 3 hours—and will provide a balance that is suitable for any age, level or field of focus.

Listen, stretch and get your horn
Practice your music
Mental work

Let’s briefly go over this schedule. As we do, keep in mind that each part is equally important to the overall practice and should be allotted roughly the same amount of time as the others.


1. Listen, stretch and get your horn

Turn on some music that features a really great trumpet player or musician that you dig. It’s vitally important to listen to inspiring, incredible, old, new and well-respected trumpet players. (I’d encourage you to read Chris Gekker’s article Listening on this website for more on this.) Listening to great trumpet players allows your mind to learn that other ‘bodies’ are capable of playing the trumpet in an amazing way. When your mind catches on that your body also has amazing potential, your practice and playing will be transformed. So, as you’re listening, try saying to yourself: “Man, this is great—and hey, I’m great too and I’ll be able to do this soon.” This may sound cheesy to you but it really works.

Psychologists, sports trainers and musicians all agree that a big part of overcoming obstacles is simply believing that you have what it takes. Saying some sort of affirmation like this can help convince you of this, just like smiling when you’re sad can help cheer you up.

Keep the music going and do a little bit of stretching. Some stretching that you learned in gym will be fine. If you want more, consider doing some yoga, tai chi, or Alexander Technique. Many professional players with not-so-great posture or habits learned them in high school. Some easy stretching before practice will really benefit you.

Keep the music going and get your horn. Make sure it is oiled and working well and if you have some extra time clean it. I often ask my students to take care of their instruments as if it were the sword of

their martial arts study. In other words—don’t just pick it up carelessly—your practice will reflect this.


2. Warm-up

Now turn off the music, take your horn and do your warm-up with the most beautiful sound you can imagine. If you are taking lessons (which would be very hip), your teacher can help you figure out a warm-up routine. OK, so your teacher or you or whomever doesn’t like the word “warm-up”—I don’t either—but the meaning is clear enough: a warm-up is what we do first, the physical exercises that we practice to improve our trumpet playing. A methodical and conscientious warm-up is the foundation of all of your playing so do this with as much care as you can.


3. Practice your music

Now you can work on your music from band or your lessons. Work on the tricky fingering sections, the double-tonguing passages etc. and get them just how you want them to sound. Work on the easy parts too and make them sound even easier.

This is typically one of the most overemphasized parts of practice. Many of my younger students just start and end with this part—they get their music out and start shedding away until they’re too tired to do anything else. This is not a very balanced way to practice! Nevertheless, we do need to practice technical challenges in our music, but in order to be effective, we need to place technical practice in the larger context.


4. Mental work

Look at some of the rhythmic challenges in your music, work on transposition, ear training, scales, chord changes or anything that is tricky for your mind. One of my favorite things to work on with my high school students is learning simple songs (Mary Had a Little Lamb, Twinkle Twinkle, Happy Birthday etc) in all 12 keys—this is a great way to learn your scales and develop your ear. If you are interested in playing jazz or other kinds of improvised music, I strongly encourage you to know these tunes inside and out.


5. Create

Here you may choose to write some new piece that you’ve been thinking about, improvise along with the radio, play an etude in different musical styles etc. You can even use your music from band or lessons but instead of focusing on the technique or mental challenges, focus on the mood, character or expression you want. It is very important to have this creative time. You may not think you are the most creative trumpet player ever—but it would be a serious mistake for you to think that you lack any form of creativity. Everyone has creative energy and you can either use this energy to think that you are the first person in the world to lack creativity or set aside time in your practice to cultivate what you have.

There may be times when you have to (or at least think you have to) focus on one of these facets more than the rest. Fine. Occasionally, you may have to shed a piece of music rather quickly or focus on some fundamental exercise for your teacher. Just understand that trumpet playing is not only playing a high C, lip slurs or even the music that you have to learn. Trumpet playing is an entire art—an entire path—and the more you learn to accept the entirety of it, the more you will benefit.

Determine for yourself if you’d like to be a balanced student of the instrument and music. If so, then either use these facets that I have outlined here, go further with my June 2004 article “Towards an Integral View of Trumpet Practice” to include all of those facets, or go even further and determine for yourself what makes up a balanced practice.


Brian McWhorter plays trumpet with the Meridian Arts Ensemble, Ne(x)tworks, After Quartet, Sequitur, Endy Emby and Bliggidy Blam. His electronica and production work as boiledjar, come into play in his work with Mark Gould & Pink Baby Monster and Instant Hits. Brian McWhorter is a graduate of The Juilliard School and the University of Oregon and holds teaching positions at Louisiana State University and Kinhaven Music School. Along with Kevin Cobb, he hosts the Integral Trumpet Retreat every year.

Brian may be contacted with any questions through his website: www.boiledjar.com


About the Editor: Lisa Blackmore is Adjunct Professor of Trumpet at the University of Missouri-St. Louis and Adjunct Professor of Trumpet and Horn at East Central College in Union, Missouri where she also teaches Music History and World Music. She is a member of “Cadre” at Missouri Baptist University, teaching trumpet and assisting with the concert band. Lisa earned a Doctorate of Musical Arts (D.M.A.) in Trumpet with a minor in Music History at the University of Illinois-Urbana/Champaign, where she received the Graduate College Dissertation Award in Musicology. Dr. Blackmore also holds degrees from the University of Missouri-Columbia and SUNY-Stony Brook. She previously served on the faculty at Lindenwood University and under her direction, the Lindenwood Trumpet Ensemble performed at the 2007 ITG conference at the University of Massachusetts―Amherst. Her private studio teaching has resulted in students performing in the St. Louis Youth Symphony and various Missouri All-State ensembles.

Lisa is a member of the Stonehenge Brass Trio and Confluence Brass. She was a bugler with the Missouri Military Funeral Honors Program from 2008-2013 and performed Taps at over 350 military services for Missouri Veterans. She performs with the Compton Heights Concert Band, and she is principal trumpet in the St. Louis Wind Symphony. She serves as a trumpet adjudicator for the Missouri All-State groups.

Lisa lives in Wright City, MO with her husband, Mark (also a trumpeter!) and their two cats, Chet and Ella. In her spare time she makes practice mutes and also enjoys reading and traveling.

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