Good morning – here is a fun and exhausting set of exercises designed for flow, connection between lower and mid registers, and ease of production.
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It may sound kind of funny, but it’s also kind of true. I’d like to say that I’m an early riser because of my radiant and hopeful disposition towards a day promising the glory of art for art’s sake, the joys of connecting eager minds with the means to guide themselves to the heights of aesthetically robust expression, and the potential of the sun setting on a day of good deeds well done. But the main reason I can consistently drag myself out of bed in the early a.m. is because I know that if I don’t, something important is not going to get done and somebody is going to be pissed off, or disappointed, or let down, left hanging, or some combination of the above.
Now let me qualify, that person is most likely to be me, and that something important is probably going to be practicing my horn, but it rolls down hill from there. This isn’t a bad thing, actually, it’s quite the contrary. You have to take your motivation where you can get it, and my patented “Oh, shit.” method is a proven career jump-starter. Unromantic. Effective. What are the chances your tone will be perfect today anyway, or that you’ll play the great American solo, or that Lincoln Center will call with that gig you’ve been hoping for, or that the pretty girl in the next practice room will be moved to tears by the way you phrase that Bitsch etude, and coyly slide her number under the door in hopes you’ll call?
Chances are, today will be a day when you have to grind, working for an abstract goal that seems to have a nebulous chance of realization. Or, you could get an emergency text saying “Can you play lead on the second half of “Wicked”? lead player just blew out a blood vessel in his eye” (happened), or “Bootsy would like you to stop by his place and audition TOMORROW”, or one of a million uncomfortable, untimely, and inconvenient opportunities that don’t have the common courtesy to present themselves at a good time in your life.
So you might as well get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Getting up early is great training for that. Tomorrow when that bed feels all warm and snuggly, just remember the two magic words. If that doesn’t get you going, don’t worry, somebody else is already getting up and getting the jump on you. Have you considered a career in retail? They say the hours are pretty good.
Find a beautiful view in a natural setting, whether it be the red rocks of Sedona, Arizona during the magic hour just before sunset or a more modest, though perhaps equally awe inspiring rock bridge in Red River Gorge. Take in the scene. Notice the play of light, the vegetation, all of the elements of natural beauty that blend together to create a stunning vista.
Now, look down. Not just below the scene, but at the area right by your feet. What do you see now? Chances are, it’s not such a breath taking picture. In fact, it’s probably some disappointingly unromantic dirt, gravel, mud, sand, or some combination of random junk that one finds on the ground in any natural environment.*
* (the two pictures above where taken from the same spot in Red River Gorge)
As a serious musician, chances are you have (and will have) spent a significant amount of time and focus working on your sound. Most of the exceptional performers I’ve met can point to a period in their development in which they’ve devoted considerable time and energy to this end. And it’s a never-ending process because the sound you make on your instrument is not only your voice, but, for all intents and purposes, your calling card.
So when is your sound good enough? There are two correct answers at any given time.
Answer #1: NEVER. Answer #2: NOW.
So herein lies the problem. Sometimes, the closer you listen to your sound, worse it sounds. I’ve lost count of the hours I’ve spent over the years trying to “clean up” my sound in the practice room with ponderous long tones or flow studies. That, or fiddling with equipment in an attempt alleviate or mask imperfections or an airy sound.
I tried this approach in earnest while in the throes of battling an airy and inconsistent tone (over the course of YEARS). To be dedicated and thorough, I played hours of long tones, Schlossburg, Chichowicz flow studies, you name it. I can’t say for certain what will work for you, but I can say that focusing on the core of “my sound” in this way either improved nothing, or called my attention to everything wrong or imperfect in my tone. It sucked.
To compound the problem, many practice sessions were so intensely focused on tone, that the business of learning new and challenging music was left to end when I was tired and mentally drained. I became psychologically dependent on long hours of slow, repetitive exercises to feel prepared to play well. I became a Routine Zombie.
Two interesting things started to happen when my practice began to gravitate away from this rigid, “tone-based” way of thinking and practicing. When my practice focus shifted toward making musical lines easier to execute, my sound got better. A LOT better. It was as if I had performed the Jedi Mind Trick on my tone. I let my tone do it’s thing and stopped micromanaging it.
In other words, I took Answer #2 (Your tone is good enough NOW! ) at face value and proceeded accordingly.
The other thing that happened is that music started to get easier to play, since that was now the goal, which in turn freed up the sound even more. When the music got physically easier to play, there were more choices for how to phrase, how to shade and color the line. The process of playing music became considerably more interesting and more fun.
Working on tone is one of the most important aspects of being a professional and an artist. But it can, if you let it, chew up huge amounts of mental energy and practice time. There comes a time in every practice session when you simply must let go and move on to making music instead of just sound.
Happy Mothers’ Day from your friends at the Cincinnati offices of Lip Slur World Headquarters. To celebrate moms everywhere, we proudly give you “The Mother Pucker” a brand new baby lip slur we nearly died while bringing into the world. So when are you going to put down the trumpet and find a real job? Maybe find a nice girl to settle down with. Have you been eating enough? You look too thin. Is it too much to ask you to pick up the phone and give us a call?
Download “The Mother Pucker” HereThe Mother Pucker (18)v2
Here is the first in a series of some studies to add a little variety into your daily practice routine. Play them softly and with as many repeats as needed to make them smooth and effortless.
• Push the tempo (only slightly) as you go.
• Find the groove, then move on.
• Don’t play the entire study in one sitting.
• Add additional articulations at your liberty.
• Rest before you need it. By the time you need it, it’s too late.
The three most important things in jazz are, in order of importance:
This list is subject to change, but for today and the purposes of this blog, it’s iron clad. Yes, we know there’s that thing about what in means (not a thing) if it doesn’t possess that certain, elusive yet undeniable, element of rhythmic buoyancy and syncopation. So to that point, yes, a good melody does swing, regardless of style or genre. Now is also good time to remember the old adage that “all lists are bullshit except your own.”
Let’s start today with 2:46 of absolute beauty and effortless lyricism, perfectly crafted and perfectly rendered.
YOUR MISSION – SHOULD YOU CHOOSE TO DIG IT
Anything more you do on this, for today at least, is for bonus points. Just spend a little time playing along with one of the greatest there ever was. Learning cool stuff needn’t be a chore.
Extra Credit Theory Weenie Bonus Question:
What’s going on harmonically on the words:
“I GREET YOU”
Clue – it’s some hip %$#%$!!
Greetings from the Lip Slur World Headquarters home offices and packaging facility in beautiful and rainy Cincinnati. Our CEO is currently on sabbatical, or what we like to call the Witless Protection Program, so the staff here have been up all night making the musical sausage, as it were. We are proud to bring you, ad free, the world premier of “The Schnitzengruben”. Enjoy with our compliments and be sure to wait at least 45 minutes before practicing anything composed prior to the year 1803.
Remember: You can’t spell Schnitzengruben without zen.