Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Practice Tips

My practice set-up when I visit my parents at their house

Blog 115: Practice Tips

Back when I was studying at Muhlenberg College I had no real trumpet teacher for the 4 years I was there, instead I bought pretty much every book on trumpet that existed; Clarke, Arban's, Walter Smith, Colin, Schlossberg, Claude Gordon, Farkus etc(!)  I would play through book after book, getting stuck on certain exercises, rarely advancing and generally just toiled in mediocrity.  Without any guidance, I could only practice for about 2-3 hours a day before my chops would shut down…and those 2-3 hours were spread out over the course of an entire day; maybe 45 min in the morning, 45 in the afternoon and 45 at night or so.  Since I had such limited ability and limited endurance spreading out my practice time gave me the chance to recover between sessions.  It was an easy lesson to learn since it was pretty much all I could do to get as many hours as I wanted on the horn.

Senior year I remember I lived with a guitar player who was definitely a heavy practicer at the time.  He would be up in his room playing for 3 hours straight and then he'd come out, with his eyes dead and slow and barely able to speak.  This was my first exposure with 'mental fatigue' from practicing…something I'd never felt first hand because I physically got tired well before I would ever reach that point.

Fast forward to my time in NYC, after I began studying with Laurie Frink.  After 2 years of studying with Laurie the work load of drills she'd given me had reached about 4 hours…that's 4 hours without playing a single note of music..just technical studies.  Eventually I got my practicing up to 5-6 hours a day, which is what I still do.  Through Laurie's method I finally learned first-hand about mental fatigue since my endurance improved so much.  I still spread out my practicing into three sessions: Morning, Afternoon and Night, but within those sessions I've learned to pace my practicing differently so that I can maintain my mental focus and keep my physical ability together to play longer and get more done.

During the morning warm-up and technical studies, I play for 2 hours, giving myself many short rests between exercises.  During the afternoon and evening practice sessions I structure them differently though.  I play for 30 minutes, then I take a 10 minute break.  Then I play for 20 minutes, then I take a 10 minute break.  Depending on my mental focus that day I can keep up that pattern for 3 hours or so.  During the 10 min breaks I go to the Kitchen and drink some water, I check my email or maybe just lay on the floor.  But practicing in those short focused bursts is good for the mind and the body.  If you practice for more than 40 minutes straight, I'd venture to say your mind will probably drift at some point and you won't be getting as much as you want out of your practice session.  It's best to get the most out of the time you're spending practicing.

Friday, May 23, 2014

The Rehumanization EP

Blog 114: The Rehumanization EP

So happy to finally announce that 'The Rehumanization EP' is finally available on iTunes, amazon, and CDbaby.  I started recording this album last June(2013).  My plan was to record both a full length album and a shorter EP simultaneously, instead of doing 2 days back to back like most Jazz recordings, instead we did shorter days(4 hour sessions) spread out, where we could hit harder and have more time between sessions to figure out what we wanted to fix/clean up.  The end product was 3 separate recording days(June '13, Sept'13 and Jan '14) and two records.  'The Rehumanization EP' is now ready and available!

This EP is the first glimpse into what I've been up to these past few years. The music is intense, emotional, and deals with questioning many things we take for granted in the Jazz genre; including form, structure, style, melody and even the roles of the instruments.   I truly believe this is my first great record and am so happy to finally share it….even happier that in a few more months they'll be another full album to follow.  As of this writing 'The Rehumanization EP' is available for just $3.96 via an error or iTunes, so go pick it up before the price is adjusted and ends up higher.

Secondly, we'll be celebrating the release of this record with a show at Pianos Upstairs Lounge in NYC on Tues May 27th.  Two great bands playing before us; Cantina and Relatives.  Big fan of both these bands, it's going to be an awesome night of music, hope to see you there!  Show starts at 7pm, Crowley hits at 9pm


Tuesday, April 8, 2014


Couldn't pick just one motivational poster this time

Blog 113: Discipline

If you asked me what the most important elements to improving your trumpet playing were, I'd say:  discipline, consistency and knowing what to practice.  Discipline and consistency go hand and hand, since it takes will power and focus to practice every day.  I think without discipline and consistency improvement is essentially impossible, at least with regards to the trumpet.  I've had a lot of conversations with strangers in bars, airports, at parties etc about how trumpet really doesn't give you a day off and how incredibly unforgiving it can be as an instrument.  This is usually met with a lot of surprise.  I then explain that even if you just go light for a few days you'll notice some ability lost in your range, tone, or flexibility.  

My explanation regarding this has always been the regeneration of the tissues in your lips and mouth.  I read once that in all the places in your body, blood circulated in your mouth the second most (the brain being the #1 area for most blood circulation).  A great demonstration regarding bloodflow and cell regeneration is such:  When you get a cut on your arm, it'll scab, and then take around a week or more to heal, whereas when you bite your lip it heals within just a few days.  I'm not a scientist, but I believe it is for this reason that if you're not constantly maintaining your embouchure it will leave you quite quickly. 

For the reason that the body is in a constant state of flux, I think it is incredibly important to provide some sort of order if you want to play consistently and as I'm always telling my students 'if you want to play consistently, you've got to practice consistently.'  If you look to professional weight lifters who are trying to add more weight to what they can lift, it's a steady schedule with small incremental additiions of increasing difficulty.  Can you imagine a professional weight lifter(or any athlete) who takes off 3 weeks and then goes to pick up right where he left off?  The results would probably end up causing a lot of physical harm to the person in question.  Having a daily routine with both elements that maintain your current ability as well as aspects which expand, challenge and expose your body to new demands is essential.  There is no growth without preserving what you already have.

Lastly, knowing what to practice is an incredibly important element to improving as well.  As I stated in my last blog, it's important to be honest with yourself about what you can play and knowing how to build; knowing how to intelligently push your limits.  I still stand by my statement that I good teacher is the best way to go(finding a good teacher is a challenge in of itself though.)  I believe a good teacher has a system of increasingly difficult exercises to will slowly steer a student towards improvement in a brick by brick fashion.  This is exactly what my teacher Laurie Frink did with me (and all of her students).  It was a step by step process, each week going back and receiving the next in the series of exercises.  This is the method I teach as well; exactly what Laurie gave to me, taking into account a player's specific natural physical tendencies as well.  Over the past few years it's been incredibly satisfying to see Laurie's method work with my students.  The sky is the limit for any student that comes to the right teacher with discipline and consistent practice.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Why You Still Suck at Trumpet

Blog 112: Why You Still Suck at Trumpet

For anyone that's ever picked up the horn, you're probably not surprised to hear that trumpet is one of the hardest instruments around and I'd venture to say that at least part of that has to do with how people approach the instrument.  It's the reason trumpet players are usually the weakest in any band that they're in and the reason why so few of them actually ever improve their technique.

If I may backtrack to my time pre-moving to New York City, I think I made a lot of mistakes most overly-ambitious young trumpet players make; the first was thinking "The more you practice, the better."  While we've all heard stories of musicians practicing 8+ hours a day, if you're a young trumpet player who isn't already at a certain physical level that's just simple impossible and you're going to be doing more damage than good in attempting to up your hours in the practice room.  Like a weight-lifter attempting more weight than he's ready for, you'll most likely just hurt yourself and then have to rebuild.  As a second point, I'd say developing an awareness of how physically tired you are is important too.  It takes maturity, patience and confidence to know when to walk away and rest during your practice routine.  That's a hard lesson to learn for most….and I'd say most people never learn it.

Back when I was in college and without a teacher, I remember doing a lot of google searching, hearing what different pros were practicing, buying dozens of trumpet books and just diving in.  I'd work through one book of flexibilities one day, another book the next, spinning my wheels and never going anywhere.  One of the books I purchased was Laurie Frink(my future teacher)'s Flexus.  Since I'd heard Laurie was the best in the world I assumed that working my way through the book would make me an awesome trumpet player.  WRONG.  Despite my incredible discipline and daily practice I made very little progress and what I learned later was that I made 2 mistakes.  The first was assuming I was more advanced that I actually was, chalk that up to pride and ego.  I breezed through the early exercises, viewing them as easy and moved on to the stuff that I was barely able to play.  What I didn't know at the time was I had overestimated where I was at, and my actual foundation was weak.  Just like a building, you're not going to get very high without a good foundation.  The second mistake I made was since I had no teacher, I assumed every week I could just move onto the next exercise in the series. WRONG.  When advancing on trumpet, you expose your body to a new technique and then it adapts to make what you're asking of it achievable.  Sometimes this is a quick process and sometimes it takes a little longer.  With no teacher or guidance I was making a lot of assumptions on where I was at in this process.  I didn't understand what sounds coming out of the bell where progress and what were destruction.

Another mistake I made was not following basic principles that I later learned from Laurie herself; keep the mouthpiece on your lips, breathe through your nose so to not disrupt the embouchure, and tapping your foot to coordinate the physical demands in time.  All the tweaking, second guessing, and adjusting was negating the entire concept around the exercises, thus rendering them useless and destructive.  Since studying with Laurie and now teaching as well, I am so mindful to all sorts of bad habits, and I think having had nearly every bad habit in the book and learning how to fix them has made me a better teacher, in fact at this point I might even be a better teacher than player.  I am quick now to spot bad tendencies amongst my students and get ahead of them.  Every trumpet player needs a good teacher.  A good teacher doesn't just tell you what you want to hear.   A good teacher doesn't give you a daily physical routine that is easy.  A good teacher asses your current ability and knows what to prescribe to get you to the next level.  A good teacher continues to raise the bar and give you something that you're able to touch but not yet grasp.  There are many good players that have achieved a certain ability on the instrument, but that doesn't necessarily make them good teachers.  Any trumpet player/teacher that has no method or just gives you a "few things to check out" is NOT a good teacher.  So be careful.  In my mind, I will forever be a Student of the trumpet and my trumpet routine continues to evolve through objective self-assessment and continuing to raise the bar in a controlled fashion.  Looking forward into Flexus, there are still just a few advanced exercises that I'm working towards but can't yet play, fortunately I know what steps I need to take to get me from point A to point B.  I do my routine patiently as I continue to expand and improve my technique.