Absence

For those of you who read this website – apologies for the lack of content recently (also for the lack of content within my content, heh!).

I have a couple more transcriptions I will make available – maybe make YouTube videos of them so you can follow along.

I have some trumpet and guitar related materials to publish, as well as a handful of posts and photos etc…

I have been working on developing my lack of low register, working on reducing pressure, working on air etc etc… all those good fundamental things. I had somewhat of a breakthrough with a nice (somewhat flat) double C. Posting this in efforts to keep myself believing that I can play in that register when everything is working, and that frequency, stamina and accuracy are a work in progress.

I will publish a helpful warmup routine that my tutor has shown me; I have incorporated some other elements more focused at my own weaknesses, however, in use and with students these seem to be beneficial no matter your makeup.

I resolve to update before a year is up!

Here’s how a trumpet CAN sound… the incomparable Wayne Bergeron:

Merry Christmas!
Mike

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Terell Stafford – Daahoud (solo transcription)

Here is a transcription I did of the trumpet solo on “Daahoud” from Terell Stafford’s album “Centripetal Force” (1997).

Sorry – no chords yet.

http://www.box.net/shared/uji9hzpb2vk0lrr2ikj4

You can buy this on Amazon (like me), or check it out on Spotify – links below.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Centripetal-Force/dp/B001LFDXNY

http://open.spotify.com/track/0zUFZIfnUEVPuA3h2PUEp1

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My Pianist, the Cat

I am finally getting around to the topic of aesthetics, opinion, and in fact (partly) how I classify music and what I personally think constitutes music. Caveat: it would be worth tempering the following article with the phrase “in my opinion”, as I may indeed disagree with what I write in some time, however, as it stands this is largely what I believe and how I observe music; this is not a sermon, just a collection of my personal thoughts.

Firstly, music is such an abstract notion that even my fairly abstract title does little to address; in a post-modern era that is. We are confronted by so many situations in which disparate sounds, programmed and sampled sounds are considered music, that we should wonder “what is music?” How can one argue for, or against the validity of any source sound which has been so-called music, no matter how it was created? Well, in order that we keep a measure of our standard and maintain critical faculties we really must be able to make this distinction, but it is about as abstract as the music itself. It is not good enough to say that anything is music, in my opinion, as this totally disrespects those who diligently learn, practice, perform and improve their art form.

To take the sound of a pneumatic drill and to class that as music would be absurd, yet worse things have been done! At the base of it I do not disagree with the principle that anything can be classed as music as we also produce the fundamental vibrations which make sound on our own instruments. What I argue is that for music to be so, it must have intent behind it. Intent greater than that of being modern or post-modern, as this is a total fallacy and disharmonious to what I believe music to be. To simply be contrary for the sake of creating something must be the most base form of art, yet one must argue that someone may indeed enjoy this creation. It then begs the question “Does the experience of the listener (observer) change what is and what is not music?” I know my opinions may create seeming contradiction in my own arguments, but ultimately the listener does not alter the idiom or the composition by observation, therefore simply enjoying a sound does not make it music; it then prompts the repetition of the question “what is music?”

I am afraid that I cannot answer this question acceptably for all people, but I can surely define what I believe music to be, and I shall point out a few flaws in the subject/object argument. If the people sitting beside me would talk more quietly that is; there is nothing like the spoken word to jam the process of writing.

Firstly, to bring perspective and a personal element to this debate (between myself and… my computer?) it should be agreed that everyone is different, and to enjoy music or an organised collection of sounds is not to be looked down upon for any reason (unless it is country “music”… I jest!). Enjoying sound and music is little to do with philosophy, and so it seems pointless to write this small article, however, it has been pestering me and like that fly which keeps me awake at night, for my own sake, I will kill it. Or try to. So to speak.

Personally, anything which calls itself “music” but is written without any intent, consideration or care (like half of my undergraduate compositions) is certainly not what I consider music. There is no intent from the conception of the composition; there is no attempt to be anything, there is nothing besides notes spattered on the page. This is nothing. This is not music. This could be heard to be music by anyone besides myself, and it invokes the subject/object clash, and however little I think of this composition, others may consider it music; maybe due to the fact that it is performed on instruments, maybe just due to an urge, or a lack of knowledge, but it is certainly not music. At the most it is an attempt to cover a decent, clean page with nonsense. Any time I think I hear this form of “music” I am instantly suspicious of the intent behind it. You sometimes can hear this in performers. You can sometimes hear when a performer is playing for the cheque. You can sometimes see when a teacher is clocking through for pay day. You can sometimes hear when a composer is writing nonsense, some of my thoughts on the reasons for this in a following article. Granted your opinion is not fool proof (hence my prostitution of the word “sometimes”), but you have nothing else to go on usually, which is a good reason to constantly improve our critical faculties.

During my degree course we were taught that music isn’t about emotion, that emotion was a very small subset of what music was; it was an assault of post-modern ideology and fallacy. Granted we did learn valuable things, but that is not for discussion right now. If music affected nothing in our lives, what separates it from an angle grinder, besides sheer volume (sometimes)?

What can be affected by music?

Music is powerful, in my experience. Music can alter mood and emotion so powerfully, it can paint pictures, accompany scenes of opera, it can be wonderful! In my position I cannot fathom how someone would contrive to compose music which was not this! What else is there to be manipulated by music? Bowel movements? The notion that music has nothing to do with emotion and should be treated almost clinically is about the most offensive ideal that I can imagine concerning this subject, yet there are so many instances of this happening. It disgusts me! Besides the corporate side of music, which is inevitable, why have people decided to create nothingness for the sake of it? Is it a general lack of skill, a nationwide dumbing-down of the average “musician or composer”? It is this stage which I really get stuck at. I cannot see why people would do this to such a beautiful art form, but I also cannot understand the hatred and evil people hold for each other; the general willingness to do ill. Moving back from the precipice of comparing genuine evil to that of composers and musicians who don’t share my ideals; this is clearly not what I think, but a harsh comparison to hopefully illicit some response. I am going to write about why I think people compose and play nothingness, so without giving up the ghost I will say that we all have our separate motivations to do what we do, all I ask is that you think about what these are, and why they exist.

For those who are wondering how this is going to end, I am not going to compare intent VS. Post-modern accident music by referring to the title; we aren’t school children! No, I am going to inform you that my cat, Lily, is offering piano lessons at a competitive rate. Let me know.

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Chris Potter, all the things, a cappella

This is a fantastic solo performance of “All the things you are” by Chris Potter. It is completely captivating! I have little else to say about this; just listen!

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Charlie Parker interview

A good friend brought this interview to my attention, so I cleaned the audio up and added an image to put a face to the genius (if you are unfamiliar) and put it on youtube. It is a very inspiring clip and incredible to listen to this musical genius talk about music and practice.

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Know your limitations

Playing a brass instrument requires an air pressure to be generated, and when we tense up and over-blow it is inevitable that we invite the valsalva manoeuvre in which we essentially create such a high internal air pressure that we collapse.

It has happened to me, and it has happened to many others, and hopefully you don’t need to experience the same wake-up call (and repair bill) that myself and others have!

I have compiled a small collection of video clips of players who are clearly doing it wrong, and from these you can easily see how little it would matter to the performance if the “final note ending” was bailed on, or shortened. It really wouldn’t matter, but I understand how it can be the only thing in the player’s mind and sadly the floor claims a victim.

(3mins in)

Hopefully you can see that stress, over-blowing and a general mis-use of the brain will cause bad things to happen. To finish this post positively, here is an incredibly impressive performance. No amount of “arm-strong method” or BLH (blow like hell) will ever make this piece work.

Brandenburg 2 mvt. 1 (with Friedemann Immer as the Trumpet soloist)

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Am I Biased?

There is no slow way to answer this question as it is very simple; I am biased. Everyone is biased. However, the reasons and circumstances that bias us are worth investigating further. I cannot pretend to have a keen inside on the human psyche, but I do tend to analyse and think about what motivates and influences us to behave the way we behave and do what we do. I have therefore opened up a greater depth to a simple question; what biases us? We should all agree that we are biased; subconsciously, consciously even actively! If you want to disagree then please forward all of your ideas to my toaster. Actually, I am kidding; email me. I want to hear other viewpoints, but I will run it by my toaster for a second opinion.

A very obvious modifier to our minds is how we are brought up, what we are exposed to from an early age and how our peers regard our decisions and actions. There are some things, as with every decision, that needs to be kept in check. By which I mean you should analyse what you are thinking and try to understand why you have that opinion or thought, then see if you are willingly thinking this because it is of your own volition or is it through a conditioned response. Finally evaluate that condition; is the condition personally valid; does the condition make a form of sense to you, or is it born out of a modified behavior? To elucidate upon my points, and intending to further clarify my meaning I will pose a few scenarios.

Growing up, playing an instrument was not cool; especially playing a brass instrument that smelled like moldy floor-boards. Some would say that growing up and playing the trumpet is a contradiction of terms… I digest. For quite some time I gingerly brought my trumpet into primary school and disowned it in the instrument store before my lessons. In the lesson it felt like I was at home, there were other “outcasts” playing, and while I had no great desire to play it felt like I was safe from mockery. Finally I thought the instrument was so uncool that I wanted to quit in year 6, I was probably 11. What stopped me quitting was my mother’s intervention. I don’t remember specifically, but the impression of that memory is that I was not allowed even the option of quitting or moving onto trombone (which at the time I thought was cooler because one of the “cooler” kids was playing one… WOW dodged a bullet there!) Thanks mom! A similar situation presented itself in high school, however, I started playing the guitar which was “cool” and then started to see musicians being appreciated for what they were. In my final year of high school I started having the guts to play the horn, and playing what I wanted to; jazz. To analyse this; my decisions and fears were from peer groups and at this stage it is something that the teacher could have addressed (by encouraging me and showing that the instrument was in fact a great choice!) however this was not the case. Now, and maybe for the best, and as a result of general berating and put-dowenery from players who “could have been” or from those with such low self-esteem that they had to put others down, I have a somewhat defiant attitude. It is perhaps a self-protecting mechanism, but it is simple; I know my flaws, but I work hard and so I will listen to your criticism, but if it flags the BS detector I will pass it along to my toaster. There are teachers and players that you want criticism from and they offer this criticism genuinely, but there are also those that do so to boost their own ego. That is where the line gets drawn. At what stage does music require or benefit from attitude problems?

Another example: listening to classical music was definitely not “cool”, however, it was always played at home; so again due to my nature as a child I did not listen to much classical music around schools, however, I was exposed to it and now it is one of my favorite forms of music to listen to. Granted that using such wide terms of genre includes a lot of music that I would very much prefer not to listen to, but on the whole the music within has a lot of thought and intelligence behind it. It has a lot of depth and it does require an invested listening to appreciate fully, as with all “quality” music (for the sake of a general discussion-avoiding term).  One person I am exceptionally proud of is my young brother, Andy, who almost exclusively listens to classical music as this is the music he loves. Today it is no cooler for 12 year olds to listen to that music as it was for me, 11 years ago!

The argument for the validity of certain music types is one to look at another time and for now we can agree that certain types of music are more complex than others. Some appeal to us on different levels and we all listen to music for a variety of reasons. What I try to hear in music is sincerity and intention behind what is played, which is why it is very hard for me to appreciate the huge quantities of mass produced, money grabbing, soul-less pop music (which too has a place)!

So many encounters can shape us which leave every one of us biased and I could continue to list more examples of events which have shaped me as a musician, but I think that I have conveyed my point. Being biased is not necessarily a bad thing as it is part of who we are, but we must question everything (internally and externally).

Through study and listening we can teach ourselves discernment, vocabulary and much more; this, as with the topic of validity, is for another time. For now I would like to outline the issue of how we strongly subconsciously guide and bias our minds through listening. It is very much the case of what you put in is directly related to what you get out, in some form or other. In this respect it is important that we positively bias our mind. The idea of positive bias seems a little contradictory to some of my other writing, as it is very much arguable that everything is equal, and that as a sound (the fundamental element of our music) everything has no more meaning than anything else. It is obviously not the case; this model exists hypothetically, and mainly to arouse debate much like the infinite monkeys, typewriters and time scenario… I will gladly accept that we are rational and will agree that there are certain precepts and constructs within music which can be learned and improved upon, in much the same way these issues can be poorly taught and learned.

It is now the time to see the role of respected peers, lecturers, teachers, family members, band members, gigging buddies etc… Those people with whom you place respect, you do so hopefully based upon musical or personal merit rather than the Neolithic playground social model in which respect often goes to someone who is considered “cool” or even to the school bully. If we have respected people in our lives, people whose opinions and thoughts matter, we are likely to adopt or at the least, appreciate their opinions on music in this instance. This is a great opportunity to learn, and to guide your listening. Why are your peers listening to a certain composer or musician? Why are more than one of your friends doing so? Start to question, and to listen. Without meaning to stray into another topic, a learned bias in this example is a good thing, however, it must always be held to your own standards and questions; in order for this particular bias to mean anything to you, you must make its meaning personal to you, otherwise you are following the leader.

I have just realized how I have used the phrase “learned bias”. To clarify; this is how I would describe any form of modification to your behavior and thinking which is either consciously or subconsciously learned. It does not mean a study and mental implication of this precept as you would an essay; this would be rather difficult, as you would probably forget, unlike the subconscious which is powerful in its capacity for memory and thought processing.

As a biased writer, who sometimes struggles to find the correct words to convey his thoughts, I enjoy these new opportunities to learn, and to question why things are as they are. I enjoy analyzing music; how and why it makes me feel the way it makes me feel but importantly I enjoy playing music. I would like to stress how the most important concept in this article is how we can believe so strongly in something, but not understand why and it is at this stage where you realize that you are acting on a culmination and combination of many other people’s thoughts subconsciously combined in your own mind; this is why the power of self-interrogation is paramount to arriving at personal conclusions. Without this we easily run the risk of thoughtless-opinion which is dangerous, especially when confronted.

Kindly,
Mike

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Critical Listening Part 1: Hearing vs. Listening

I began this article with several topics and sub-categories that I wanted to address, but after writing some and seeing how expansive the topics that I wanted to cover were, I have decided to make this a series of several posts. Hopefully these mean something to someone other than me; furthermore, hopefully these articles make sense! I am enjoying writing them, and so I must continue to do just that! Read on…

Listen/Hear

Listening can be broken down into one fundamental aspect, a pre-requisite; hearing. How we perceive sound is fundamentally important within this topic, however, it is beyond discussion right now as it is deeply rooted within the psyche, any biases we have and our circumstances etc… It is therefore important to discuss that stage which lies immediately before opinion and personality is applied to our listening; the question of listening and hearing.

Within the category of music, the performance and uses thereof, I need to challenge those who hear music rather than those who listen to music. Fundamentally they are the same; hearing and listening require the ability to hear and as discussed above they, at a base level, are devoid of personality for the simple matter that they just are, however, listening is much more important and beneficial to us as musicians. I must enforce my question to those who hear. Why do you simply hear music? Any time you hear music without listening you lose a chance to develop certain skills which are so important to the musician. It is understandable how you can get into the habit of hearing rather than listening, as music now is treated very much as a commercial commodity and time filler. It was the case in the 16thC, however I wager that it was not at the same extent of prevalence that it is today for the simple fact that they had no CD systems, iPods, TVs, loud speakers and recordings which can and are played ad. nausea on these media! Simply, our society devalues music by making it such a commonplace event, and the listener, you and me, are bombarded and begin to develop a de-sensitivity to it as essentially it is background noise. We have little control over music when out and in the public, in cinemas, restaurants et. all however we should decide to do something about it.

It is not always possible, nor is it commonplace to find much interest in the majority of the music which is constantly numbing us; however, to have the ability to find something in the banality is a singular way in which this assault could become a little more tolerable. You can listen for interesting motivic ideas, or analyse what and how elements of the music make you feel, irrelevant this is positive or negative. You can listen to tuning, chord progressions, harmonies, auto-tune etc… the point being that you make the common-place de-sensitising music mean just that little bit more in terms of how you can learn from it. It is the change of outlook and perspective of the listener that you change, not the object in question.

The noise which constantly bombards us, a corporate musical effort, can condition the mind to switch off the listening and critical thinking part of the brain, and it is something which I believe can affect the listener as well as the hearer. As a listener it is important that you have your critical faculties constantly improving, and that you yourself appreciate a finer subject, smaller details etc… with use the mind develops, and it should be clear to see that when we want to appreciate, listen thoughtfully and learn through listening, we should do so in a way which will help us learn I.e.. focus on the subject at hand, don’t distract the mind with other tasks, make notes etc… When we begin to use our music which we deem in some sense “better” than that of this anonymous corporate music, we should treat it so. If it deserves to be listened to with depth, do so. I would like to say how it is important that we have space for “background” music, however, in this situation the music means something to us, and may help subconsciously influence us and our moods. I have surely felt this to be the case. In summation, and before I become a little more specific; we are in a society which now craves media 24/7.The listener can lose critical faculty in this department and thus it is something which must be practiced, and treated respectfully.

It may seem like an alien notion to practice that which most of us take for granted and that which few of us, sadly, cannot do. It is hard to imagine a world without sound, almost as hard as it is to understand a world without vision, food without taste, and at this stage an emotional part of me feels that it is important to take a moment to respect upon what I am glad to have. How common it must be to take what we have for granted, and you surely know about it as soon as you become ill, an example will follow, but given that we have our own respective personal gifts and abilities we should be working on developing them rather than working ways to dull ourselves and our intellect. In the timeless words of Groucho Marx (and in my probably somewhat re-phrased words) “Every time the television is turned on I become smarter; I immediately leave the room and read a book.” Anyhow, my example; as a child I had to have grommets put in my ears as the canals in my ears were too small leading my hearing to be very poor. I can never forget the day that those were taken out; the time with the grommets in was not a time where I was hearing much better as these plastic capsules were obstructing as well as helping, so the day that I had them out the whole world seemed so much more aurally vibrant. I could hear as I should have, and I immediately asked people to stop shouting at me and enjoyed headaches and tinnitus. Well, consider your critical, musical mind as something similar; give yourself that experience of listening rather than hearing. Don’t spend your times dulling your senses and mind, as this will not lead to a musical musician. Playing the notes is not enough; we hopefully know and appreciate this. As one further example: I spent a little time working on a cruise ship, during which I had an ear infection. Anyone who has enjoyed one of those knows how wax buildup can lead to your hearing being diminished, and contrary to all popular belief, us trumpeters do need our ears! Everyone else may not want ears around us, but fundamentally, going slightly deaf in one ear made playing a terrible experience. Due to shift times, sleeping habits, playing times etc… it was quite some time before I finally saw a doctor to get my ears syringed, and it was the stage where my hearing was not only 95% gone in my left ear, but my right ear had probably only about 45% remaining in the hearing spectrum. It was un-nerving playing like that. Do you think it is terribly far removed from the concept I posed earlier? I think it is remarkably similar. A critical faculty was very much diminished; the only barrier is the physical and mental one. I believe that there are many people who call them musicians who have this listening deafness, it only takes you to hear them play (see what I did there?) to notice this! Certainly as you move up the echelons in the world of the performer, the composer, the musician, you tend to find fewer and fewer of this type of person (at least I like to believe this) however it does not exclude them.

To bring this article into a more practical and applicable perspective, I would now like to focus on the aspects of listening which I believe promote a development of what musicians often refer to as the “ear”. These exercises, if you will, are worth doing with the intended focus that you would have during an ideal instrumental practice session, however, they may be background processes in your mind as you focus on something else; walking through the town, trying to stay awake in the latest Hollywood snore-fest film, staying calm on the return train after a long day as obnoxious teens play their latest ringtones (that were developed by masters of the psyche with the sole intention of intoxicating the listener with an un-controllable rage to kill)… you get me? Put the inherent annoyance to use; analyse, work the critical mind, count backwards from ten!

Here are some ideas and applications for listening practice in any environment. A non-exhaustive list as you will find, but include any ideas that you feel are relevant.

A simple one to begin with: Identify the overall tonality of the piece; major or minor.

Identify when (if) modulations occur. Typically in the most simple forms a modulation will tend to do several things; move to the dominant for the cadenzas in many classical concerti, step up one tone to the II (major-two) chord in a lot of pop music – it has a lifting sound, adding little more vitality and stretching a two-minute long idea into a three minute idea (ok, other music does this, but all I can hear in my head is pop… which is perhaps the main culprit), going to the relative minor (vi); often in worship music for reflective purposes and to conclude a short list of common modulations, my all-time most hated, moving to the bII (up a semi-tone) AKA the Andrew Lloyd-Webber maneuver. I can’t help thinking that many semi-tone gear-shift key changes are very lazy sounding, as if the composer was desperate to lift the energy and had no other ideas… and my choice of example was not by accident. (Wow, snarky!)

Identify rhythmic devices used to maintain interest and cohesion (if present) in the music. Some are very subtle, some are… blatant! The most blatant often being found in rock and metal music where there is a change between time and cut-time, or double-time. It serves a purpose, for sure, but it can sound crude but on the other hand it can serve as a good device for releasing tension… which segues nicely to my next point.

Spotting tension within the music; finding and locating harmonic and rhythmic tension within the music and analasing the intended use and overall effectiveness of that design.
Moving to some more difficult areas now; identifying chord tones and where they resolve, or how they move. It may not be one to worry about much in riff-based rock music as there are enormous chunks of coincidentally moving power chords (think A5, a chord with no 3rd, often voiced I-V-I, I-V and for a “heavier” or crunchier sound it is sometimes played as V-I-V which leaves a 4th to resonate in the bass… I am getting distracted). Classical string and brass quartets as well as small-ensemble vocal music would be ideal to listen to.

Identifying the intonations within music (tuning, and the lack thereof sometimes); listen to the groups where there is a freedom to play outside of the equal-temperament that many instruments are bound to. The 3rds are lackluster and the tuning is compromised greatly compared to what we want to hear. Listening to sackbut ensembles playing 16th Century music will open your ears to new possibility. Listening also to orchestras, brass ensembles (good ones) and choirs can be amazing; however, listening to the latest pop star being auto-tuned to death is not. It is important to recognize when an artist has been electronically enhanced… to find pitch! It is not hard to spot as soon as you know what to listen for. It is also important to critically appraise even those we highly esteem, be that through their image or ability, as no-one is beyond reproach but you simply may not hear their issues. Watching a piano masterclass with Daniel Barenboim is humbling to say the least; his ear is so finely tuned, and his vision and artistry is so refined that his criticism of virtuoso pianists is seemingly impossibly small – sometimes it is hard to hear the error in interpretation (or the deviation from Barenboim’s own concepts)!

I believe you can teach yourself to become more pitch sensitive and more musically intelligent by singing along chord tones and resolutions to music. The accuracy of interpreting or predicting what is to come, through the act of trying (guessing) in a bass-line or another musical part is often relative to how trained your ear is, and though this is a very simple exercise, your mind can subconsciously pick up on patters which have been programmed into our brains; cadences for example – we would recognize a plagal cadence (IV-I) by sound, but not necessary by name, also the familiar I-V cadence for cadenzas is common enough. Within music, the passage of chords has mostly an underlying structure, and subconsciously our brain can decode this, though some can clearly hear the chords involved.

Finally I believe it is important that all musicians begin to transcribe music; this is not simply for jazz musicians! Learning baroque ornamentation is best done by learning and emulating the greats before applying some personality to it. The same applies to aspects of all music, so transcribe! It can be as simple as learning to sing a tune, or whistle or hum an entire solo. It can also be the notation of horn charts for blues bands, transcribing to paper the solo of a jazz great, or learning how to play “Let the Bright Seraphim” just as Wynton does (let’s not discuss how much ornamentation he applies right now…). The point is that you develop your ear, vocabulary, and instrumental skill at a greatly improved rate by studying those who are worth studying!

So, in conclusion, I planned to outline some of my opinions and thoughts on the differences between hearing and listening, and I think I have effectively done so, but this is certainly not an exhaustive article – far from it – so please, continue to do that which you love. Continue to play, compose, gig, record and listen!

Kindly,
Mike

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The Young Student

There are several perspectives regarding the young student, and I will aim to address all of them. Indeed much of this information is applicable to most students, young, old, experienced and inexperienced, but my main address is to the young student and the teacher.

Within the young student there lies a fantastic opportunity to succeed and do well, regardless of whatever so-called “natural talent” they have. The truth is that with hard work, application and a desire to play, they will indeed play. Now, the level at which everyone settles is absolutely unique, as is the time at which they reach this level. This is why I believe that teachers have a duty to the student; you are in the unique position, as a teacher, to really invest in your teaching and give every student the chance that they deserve, however, you can drag through your job as if it were a chore, to the detriment of the student. Let’s examine some crucial aspects of teaching and there reasons to act in certain ways. There are so many variables within this subject I will try to cover the big ones, and the ones which I have encountered on both sides of the subject, then I will try to dissect them.

Teachers can:
Be organised, keep regularity for the student, give the student a desire to learn, enjoy their own lessons and learn from them, try to do everything to make the student surpass them when the time comes, teach sympathetically to the needs of the student and accept the responsibility of teaching someone who *could* be the next Nakariakov.

Sadly teachers can:
Be tardy, only bother with their star students, drag their feet through for a pay cheque, give their students no sense of drive or desire, ignore students, frequently dep out lessons and change times, hold back when a student starts to show signs of becoming great, forget the age and nature of younger students and treat them as adults and demean, dishearten and disrespect the student, even insulting them.

Students can:
Work hard, be driven, have a flair for the instrument, develop later than others, hit a wall and seem never to improve, enjoy music, practice (imagine that), improve faster than their peers, begin to threaten the teacher through their playing and take initiative through home study and the searching for new things.

Sadly students can:
Be annoying; children can be just a little much sometimes, but they deserve patience, adults can be annoying students too. Students can lie, they can have egos, be arrogant, forget their instruments, forget their music, never practice, be pushed into playing by parents and therefore hate lessons, they can be terribly rude and have no sense of propriety, they can be self-centred and they can anger teachers.

There are many factors at play when we look deeper into the reactions of teachers to students and vice versa; on a base level they will probably respond in a way in which they were taught. A very simple exercise to see this is to ask your student to teach you for half of a lesson; this will show you any fundamental gaps in their knowledge – they may just have forgotten something or they may be missing something, but do try it. In your next lesson please ask your student to teach you how to take a breath and play a bottom C or middle G. I will probably write an article on what I believe proper breathing to be (it won’t in the slightest be controversial if you subscribe to proper breathing, and I feel founded in my knowledge as I have been taught what I know by some very respected players and by their books – I digress). It will be interesting none the less to see how your student teaches you; you will be amazed at how their mannerisms mimic your own. They will have some of their own personality – especially the shy ones, but you will see largely a young student emulating yourself. This outlines one of the large responsibilities of a teacher; your teaching will in some form be emulated, consciously or sub-consciously, so to help perpetrate a generation of capable teachers we must assume that role.

The role of the capable teacher encompasses many criteria, I will outline below what I think the most important ones are and in no particular order.

A friendly, approachable and helpful teaching environment.
A willingness to endure testing circumstances and situations.
Sharing enthusiasm to help the student regardless of ability; not showing favouritism.
Engaging the student on issues they enjoy and working to meet at least some of their own musical goals; some students are somewhat directionless and need grades to work towards.
Bringing a wealth of diverse music to the ears of the student; showing everything that is possible with the instrument.
Appropriately challenging a student when necessary; giving them tricky music to work on, extra-musical projects, listening, transcribing etc…
Now that we have some precepts to strive towards we have to engage the real world somewhat, as we are all prone to fault, student and teacher alike. If we can spot the areas in which we are weak, we can become better teachers and people. We clearly do not live in some utopian society, so we have to learn to adjust to our circumstances.

Firstly; any teacher has a breaking point. It is simple. We all have a student that we know could push us over the edge given enough time. We all do, right? It isn’t just me, is it? Ok… Well, maybe I have a student like that. Maybe I don’t! For the sake of argument, we know someone who could do that to us. How do we cope with that? Firstly, I/we need to address the issue, we need to think and temper our response. Are we over-reacting because we have not had 10 cups of joe that morning? Is the student acting more annoying than usual? Can we diffuse the situation? Knowing how to diffuse different situations requires a lot of experience and so every teacher should be given some grace in this respect; they/we are maybe still learning this skill, however, we should know how to relate to our students well enough to diffuse irritation.

What may irritate us could be very disparate, and I will offer some of my ideas and techniques for helping the lesson and student. I will now list some potential areas of stress for a teacher:

Rudeness, hyper-activity “ants in pants syndrome”, “I want that” followed by grabbing something that you own which more often than not is expensive and easily broken, no practice in the week, no focus, not paying attention, arguing with your teaching, asking repetitive questions, talking too much etc…*disclaimer* This not about any specific student, nor is it about any specific irritant to myself as a teacher; I have merely sketched some ideas down from what I have seen. Given the nature of the article, and indeed my knowledge of my teaching so far; I have diffused any irritant to the student or myself and constructively continued teaching. I am not a teaching genius, but I do take pride in my work; I apologise for any air of self-centeredness involved.

There are some very easy ways to “trick” a student into working in the lesson as opposed to disrupting. The most obvious way is to bring new music out and generally most students are curious enough to try and play it. You can do the same by playing new music to the student, or asking them to suggest music for you to listen to. Another method, which is akin to steering a car on ice, is to gently talk them in a better direction. Engage them in what they enjoy; sports, games, computers, maths (hahaha, not) etc… and lead the conversation towards playing. At the onset of rudeness or egoism the best route of action is to address or ignore. If the rudeness demands attention, respectfully do so. Egoism rarely deserves attention, but respect is a bigger issue. Finally; as this is regarding young students, please bear in mind that age has a lot to do with their behaviour and that they should be cut a wider birth than an adult. There is no need to be terribly formal and strict. There is a time for that, but the discipline of the child is for the parents to tend to, and as long as nothing serious is happening, it is rarely the case for the teacher to do so. A certain precedent of order needs set in lessons, but that can be done with a smile and some care. Here are some ideas to try: long note competitions – challenge them to improve every week; I saw a student go from 25 seconds to 50 seconds over a month or so! Challenge them to loud and soft competitions. Ask them to teach you how to do a certain aspect of playing that you had recently been studying with them. Ask them to try and play theme tunes that they will know, or to identify tunes if they don’t know many notes. New music to listen to, ask about their own listening habits etc…

Sadly there will at some stage be a student that will be so difficult to teach that you have to stop teaching them. This is not a case of getting a “get out of jail card” for your guilt; the student must really in all senses present themselves as impossible to teach. I would imagine that a student of this nature will last only one lesson as opposed to developing into this student. If they change, it is still a person who can be worked with in most cases, but if they come to a lesson in a state in which you cannot teach them there is no onus on you as a teacher to teach them. Remember at this stage, even if you are broke; the student deserves to be taught music, and not to be that person that is ignored for 30 minutes a week to take some money from them. Even the worst are still people, and deserve the same respect, and in my opinion that respect is in the decision not to teach them. This has happened to me once, and in retrospect I let that lesson last about 15 minutes too long (it got to 20 minutes before enough was enough), and as I learned he had been through about 7 teachers and only lasted one lesson. This is probably the case for a lot of that type of student. I felt pretty bummed that it had happened, but after learning that it was not uncommon I felt a bit better. It is strange how we learn sometimes.

Now on a positive note, we can, and do frequently encounter students of all abilities who are just so happy to be playing. It is our duty to teach them equally well and not according to their ability. It is also important that we do not push the students who are struggling and that we do not under-teach those who are frequently back with all of their assignments completed. There is a balance to find in each situation, and as with the knowledge of handing more difficult students, this comes with experience.

Our students can probably do some more work; at least most of them can (as long as TV and computer games exist), but can we do some more? In a somewhat related and respectful manner:

“…ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.” – Kennedy.

Kindly,
Mike

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Tone

This is another area which I have touched upon in the previous posts. In this entry I hope to offer exercises, mental approaches and physical conditions which enable the production of a relaxed sound. I choose the word “relaxed” as it is probably one of the only uniform aspects of a sound; most aspects of tone colouration are subjective qualities and therefore striving for a “clear” tone is no more valid than striving for an “airy” tone, the commonality in good players with either quality (or indeed any) as previously stated is a relaxed approach to playing and sound production.

Some modifiers, if you will, are the circumstances under which we play, and this I have covered somewhat in Your Voice but I will re-state in much abridged format. Your tone must suit the music that you play, but you need not loose your voice in this adaption; you will always sound like yourself. In an orchestra it is expected that you produce something equating to the sound model created by the best players in the world; this is the paradigm which we measure to. In jazz and solo spots there is more room for freedom and expression, especially in the jazz soloist context where an airy, light trumpet tone can sound beautiful – imagine this in an orchestral context. Unsuitable. These modifiers should be taken as positive aspects of playing, helping you play to the best of your ability in a given situation.

One example before I elucidate upon the main goals of this entry:

As a younger player I had developed this love with a dark sound, and so I did everything to help me achieve this with gear and listening. I played a Taylor trumpet which is a very heavy, very open blowing, custom built horn. (I got mine 2nd hand with a trade-in). I played this with a deep-C Taylor flumpet mouthpiece (about a 1 1/2C rim). Now, as an experiment I tried to play lead on a youth jazz orchestra gig which I recorded, and though I was giving it stacks and covering most of the notes written my sound didn’t project; it stopped at about the music stand. The microphone was in the hall. I was so devastated, but learned a very valuable (gear) lesson that no teacher had taught me. There is certain gear for certain situations for a reason, and your sound must suit your situation. Since that night I have never done anything as silly. Big band playing requires a brighter tone so that your sound will project and cut through and lead the band if necessary. I don’t necessarily advocate getting a 14a4a and tying to peel paint, again just read my mouthpiece article, but I do advise making your life easier by using suitable equipment. For gear-heads, when I mention shallow, I play what is basically a 3D (Curry 3M) for big band pop and a 3B for other playing. From time to time I use a 3TC (trumpet/cornet cup) which mellows the tone and helps me to blend in quintet. Mainly using my ear to decide. Now, the equipment is not so important once you find something that you are comfortable on, so here is the more important advice.

Without replicating information that I have previously divulged, there are a couple of important precepts to lay down.

1.Dark tone is very different to a dead tone, and some of us cannot hear the difference. A dark tone is rich, a dead tone can sound dark, but is hideous and lackluster. It is not mouthpiece and gear dependent, however that can be part of the recipe.
2.A bright tone is not necessarily for jazz, you can have a good bright orchestral tone which is very satisfying to hear, especially on film scores! It is not mouthpiece and gear dependent, however that can be part of the recipe.

The most important thing that you can do as a player is to develop a tone, regardless of the tonal quality. Producing a relaxed sound with correct technique is the first step to the manipulation of tonal variety. It is like working with a good plaster mix, it is spreadable, sticks to the drywall and needs little effort to smooth and form, unlike a dry or a wet mix, or indeed an uneven mix. To explain that: a dry mix will be hell to spread; it will leave a very uneven finish and you will lash sweat when you are finished with it. You also may want to hit whoever made the mix; I have been there. As the mixer. Too wet and the plaster has no cohesion and poor adhesion and it will run, and lead to a very thin uneven finish which will crack. Uneven mixing will leave lumps in the plaster and is perhaps the worst that can happen, if grit is present it will leave enormous streaks in the wall and you may despair. Long analogy for tone to be honest, but if you aim too bright, too dark or too I don’t know what to play like then you will leave a poor finished product. Like mouthpieces, it is about accepting something comfortable, and not extreme which can then be shaped however you like. Build on good foundations.

So in order to find this relaxed tone, we must do some exercises. We must also be active in listening to music without prejudice.

“Long tones, baby!” – Wynton Marsalis

Long tones are fabulous, but only if done correctly. You can do this incorrectly, believe me! Plugging away at long tones with no focus on the breathing is tantamount to spending time in limbo. Doing nothing. Take up paint drying watching as a hobby instead of meaningless long tone practice with no mental focus, you will probably learn more about the trumpet this way!

Wynton, in one of his books (Moving to Higher Ground perhaps), says how people are too self-conscious to play long notes, how the ego feels damaged when it hears weakness and imperfection. It is the same reason we are afraid to slow down that double-tonguing passage that we can’t yet play. We will hear our flaws. Well that is good. Show them to me, I want to improve! Let me break down what has been working for me recently.

Breathing

Claude Gordon nailed it. Big breath, chest up. He advocated keeping the chest up during the exhale to promote the use of abdominal muscles, now Gordon pedagogues can set me straight regarding this in practice VS performance, but to me it seems like the chest remains up during the exhale, but what has made a big difference to my breathing and playing is to have the chest held high and proud during the inhale. This seems to promote a large relaxed inhale. It may be my physical build, but it feels like the air is just drawn and dragged into my body when I breathe in doing this, other methods feel more resistive. I also don’t believe that you have to fill up to 100 of 110% capacity in performance. In practice this can help strengthen and expand lung capacity, but in performance this over-filling is not beneficial. On top of not eating for a day, doing this and stressing out led me to pass out in rehearsal and land myself a heavy instrument repair bill and a most of a night in hospital. I wasn’t thinking, I was stressed, I was hungry and I was blowing at 110% capacity. Face plant. Thank God I had a good mate on 2nd who rescued my hooter leaving only the flugel to get squashed. Sorry Zig!!

In point form:
Chest up during inhale and exhale. The distended stomach breathing which is often taught is silly. The stomach moves only by being displaced some by the lungs inflating with air. You have no lungs in your gut, you do not push your belly out when you inhale. You make it harder to use your stomach muscles to compress the air when you distend your belly.
Shoulders down and relaxed. The whole ribcage area expands, back included, but the shoulders remain relaxed. No shrugging!
Use the stomach muscles to compress the air. Dare I advocate situps? I don’t do them… yet!

The notes

Long tones accompanied by long, relaxed breaths are tantamount to successful tone production. How we do this may vary. The Claude Gordon book A Systematic Approach to Daily Practice is superb. You do not need to buy this if you don’t want to. Check out the flow studies on Urban Agnas’ website. These are superb. Watch his videos, see how relaxed he is. Listen to his tone improve from his first notes of the day; we won’t sound our best on our first notes, and as Urban says he “accepts the consequences of these notes” IE he accepts them for what they are, without getting hung up on them. This is is a good mental condition! Chicowicz’s flow studies are superb too, as are hymns. Caruso’s Musical Calisthenics for Brass is another must own!.

Some pointers for long note studies. Flow studies.

Breathing, as before. Relaxed. No stress.
Slow tempi.
Breath starts to notes, let the air start the vibrations. “Hooo”
Light “du” or “tu” tonguing. “taa” was a mistaken transliteration from the French method books.
Don’t force range, these studies are about gentle and musical playing. Stop when it sounds forced.

Let me repeat this: the breathing is essential to get right. Do not stress over this, just raise your chest, sit tall and inhale. If you drop your jaw some and form an “aww” shape in your will probably help this breath. Practice this without the instrument. Practice this with the instrument.

Long gentle tones. Playing hymn tunes at 60bpm at mp – mf with a gentle, steady air flow, hearing every interval will do wonders for your sound.

Intonation

If you work on tones this slowly you will be able to adjust for intonation and develop your ear. Use those slides (if they move). Use your ear to intonate to the key you are playing in. In major keys, in ensemble playing where this is possible, listen to the major 3rds. They are most displeasing oftentimes; lower them a little and they will sound beautifully rich, for example:- if I am in F major, I find the 3rds are very sharp, listen for the A, lower it until it sounds rich (especially good to try in ensemble playing when you get the chance to play with good players). Listen also for the 7th which is often a little sharp. Know your instrument; I know which notes are wonky on my Selmer. On trumpets, generally low D and C# need your attention as well as 1st ledger A. I know that I must compensate for most of the notes on my horn in some key or other. Use alternate fingerings and experiment with the tunings on these. A in the staff is best on 3 for me, as is the low E (depending on the key), rarely C# is 3 for me, and high B is 1+3 quite often! Trust your ears.

Playing in tune, and hearing this aspect of playing is hugely important. You will become 4x more tired in half the time if you are out of tune and don’t realise that you are constantly fighting your instrument. Your lip will really tire trying to make the corrections. Slides are meant to move. Band members are meant to be confronted about tuning (especially in quintet setting); do this diplomatically!

To help intonation make sure that you are playing on the pitch and watch out for playing low or high on the pitch. It is very easy to do. Often striving too hard for notes which are not in your range will cause you to dodge the note centres and intonation can go either way, but my experience is that you will be forcing your lip onto a high pitch centre. A low pitch centre will be more relaxed, but out of tune and likely to split to a different partial.

Play a C, 3rd space. Relax and let the note fall to G and then to low C. Listen and feel for where it locks in. Repeat this on E, G, Bb, C and above. Listen for where the note resonates best and where it feels the best, then hold these ntoes. Especially in long tone practice where you have the time to hunt for note centres, relax and let the note settle. There is no rush. Remember the breathing!

In conclusion, your tone is part of your musical identity. It does not solely constitute your identity, so be aware of trying to create a musical identity on tone alone; it needs the support of artistic vision. Focus on creating a relaxed sound, follow the exercises and flow studies in order that you will play in a more relaxed manner and therefore better. If you do nothing else, check out Urban Agnas performing his flow studies. Listen, watch, learn, hear! Urban is fabulous sounding, and very relaxed in his performance methods. Finally, play emphasising the sound that you want to hear and enjoy what you do play.

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