Good Suggestions for Bad Health, by David Gordon
Always begin by setting impossibly high standards for yourself.
Compare yourself only with the greatest masters of all times.
Take all criticism as total truth and take it personally.
Condemn all your mistakes and imperfections without mercy.
View your work not as a committment but as a burden to resent.
Fixate on the outcome, and ignore the process.
Identify the success of every endeavor as an assessment of your value as a
Worry constantly about factors beyond your control.
Avoid all meditation and relaxation.
Eliminate your sense of humor.
Never listen to music for pleasure.
If you have a physical problem, seek a quick, easy solution outside
Don't exercise; eat anything at all, anytime you want.
Smoke, drink, use stimulants, take drugs.
Don't fasten your seatbelt.
Take on too much, never say no.
Rate everything as critically and equally important.
Ignore your support networks.
Don't ask for help.
Take no responsibility for your behavior.
Exploit the friendship of others for your short-term advantage.
Stay in the victim position.
When in doubt, blame someone else.
Have you heard the phrase, "Measure twice, cut once?" Carpenters who live by this rule of the trade are able to make a career out of their craft, and those who don't... don't. Imagine a picture frame. Each corner must be carefully measured and cut at exactly 45 degrees, or the frame will look more like something from a fun house full of clowns and mirrors than a product you would house your diploma or family portrait in.
Any of my SOSU trombone and euphonium majors will tell you that a signficant portion of their weekly lesson time is spent focusing on fundamentals. I consider this to be the pedagogical equivalent of "measure twice, cut once" described above. A typical lesson begins by playing some sort of melodic study, such as a Cimera or Bordogni. Through this music, we can discuss the proper use of air to create the necessary sustain and direction on long notes. The lesson may briefly divert into focusing on specific intervals, directional slurs or natural slurs if I can hear a pattern creeping into their playing. This is followed by Arban exercises or short, technique driven etudes from Hering, VanderCook, and other similar studies. By working on these contrasting styles, I can draw the distinction between legato slide technique (hold longer, move at the last possible second before the next note is articulated) and the slightly more relaxed, but just as careful slide technique used in technical playing. This approach is counter-intuitive, and must be seamlessly engrained into a trombonist's playing.
In my early undergraduate experience, my trombone playing suffered from a serious case of "cut first, ask questions later." This is a haphazard approach at best, and one I don't suggest adopting. The riskiness of this approach manifests immediately in shoddy performances, which should be reason enough to consider a more thoughtful and thorough approach. However, the more serious long term concern is the risk of compromised playing health. While I am certainly not an expert on these matters, I take my role as teacher very seriously, and wish to do no harm!
I don't mention these risks to scare anyone. In fact, I know many players who forego their daily routine and sound just fine...right now. But take a look at the best in the business, and across the board, you'll find that the players with the greatest command of their playing skills are the ones who know exactly where those skills measure up each and every day, and then apply those honed skills to their music in a deliberate, master craftsman sort of way. The fact that the oldest, most experienced master carpenters and woodworkers take more time to measure and make their cuts in a deliberate manner is proof positive that the longer I play trombone, the more I need to do the things that help maintain my playing abilities.
So I ask you...when was the last time you measured twice?
As always, I welcome your comments. Reply here, or drop me an email at brucefaske (at) me.com.
I am fortunate to work with a wide range of trombone and euphonium players, from beginner to college music major, numbering 40 to 50 players each week. Despite a large number of students, the problems that we face in private lessons are relatively narrow in scope. I believe that the root of most playing problems come from the first year or two of studying the instrument.
It was Abraham Lincoln who said, "Give me six hours to chop down a tree, and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe." For brass players, "sharpening the axe" encompasses a range of skills that must be consistently addressed to ensure continued improvement.
If you teach, ask yourself this question: "Am I doing everything I can to prepare this student for the next leg of their journey, or am I teaching for what is convenient now?
"Give me six hours to chop down a tree, and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe." - Abraham Lincoln
Take a second and let that quote sink in.
Can you apply this quote to your classroom or private studio?
How many of us feel so much pressure for our students to produce right now that we roll our sleeves up and start hacking away at the tree before we check to see if the axe is sharp? I spent a good portion of my 20-plus years of playing the instrument this way, and I am pretty sure that I don't stand alone. If you are a middle school or junior high band director, consider the following.
While you diligently drill the Greatest Ensemble Warmup Ever Written © each day, are you cultivating the richest, most characteristic sounds for each instrument? Is it worth spending the rehearsal time blending a Concert F between instruments if the tone is under-supported and weak? If they don't know what to strive for, they are reaching out in the dark.
As always, there is more than one path to success. My suggestions below are based on my own eyewitness view of the process.
There must be a model for each instrument to follow. Ideally, a private lesson instructor or masterclass teacher for each instrument could serve as this model, but if lesson teachers are not available or outside of your budget, there is a rich collection of recordings available to help you, from commercially produced recordings to Youtube (caveat emptor). Play music as they enter the band room for class, and before sectionals. Have it playing in your office: you never know when something you are playing could inspire a visiting student! Whatever your model, it must be as consistent as possible.
Set realistic goals. Often, in an attempt to check things off of the list, we get ahead of ourselves and gloss over very important building blocks of instrumental playing. For example, there is no need to play lip slurs that extend into the 6th, 7th, or 8th partial if the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th partials aren't rock solid. Using this rock solid approach, any future development must be build upon what is already known. If only new things are introduced without review of previously learned material, the various skills will be part of a vast wasteland of random facts, rather than an interconnected web of applicable skills.
Give them the benefit of the doubt. Though uninitiated, they will pick up on EVERYTHING you do, both good and bad. If you look back on your school year and are unhappy with the product, there is always something that can be done to improve the outcome. It isn't the demographic. It isn't the budget. It is the approach! Are you doing your own instrument selection process? Is your staff aligned to teach the same things to all students, or do students receive different messages with each teacher? Though it might appear on the surface as burning up valuable practice time, taking time to align these things will make all the difference when you DO get to the music.
As always, I welcome your thoughts and ideas in the comment section below!