In November 2015, I coordinated a Brass Clinic at Arkansas State University. Below is a copy of the handout I gave trombone students that day. As always, if you have a question about anything in this post, drop me an email at bfaske (at) astate (dot) edu. Thanks! B.F.
Have the right tools for the job, and make sure they work!
Imagine being a NASCAR or Formula One driver, trying to run the race with a flat tire? The car will still run, but it won't run anywhere as efficiently as it would if you stopped to fix the problem. Noisy or sluggish trigger? Slow slide? Take it to a quality repair technician - fix that flat tire! Email me if you need the name and number of a great repair technician!
If you don’t have to change the batteries in your metronome and tuner regularly, you should use them more often.
Now that I have an office with a sound system and a smart phone, I don't use my Dr. Beat as much as I used to, but when I was a student using practice rooms, I changed my batteries pretty often after I started using them every practice session.
MINIMIZE DISTRACTIONS!! If you use a smart phone or tablet to help you practice, put it on Airplane Mode.
Lots of students use metronome and tuner apps on their phones. Isn't technology great? However, if you really want to use it as a practice tool, you'll need to keep all of those texts and notifications from interrupting you every 2 minutes. Nearly everything can wait half an hour!
Learn the meaning of every word and marking on the page. Don’t guess – Google it!
This will help you know exactly what the composer wanted the piece to sound like. It's so easy to figure these things out now with a smartphone or computer.
Don’t always start playing at the beginning of the song.
When I was in high school, my teachers would ask me to start halfway through the etude or solo, and I would need a few seconds to "fast forward" through the music from the beginning to get my bearings. This is silly and unnecessary! What will you do if they ask you to play the last third of the etude on the audition? Be ready for anything. :)
Record yourself to know what you sound like to other people’s ears. I promise that it’s different!
Have you ever noticed that your voice sounds different on a voicemail or video than it does when you speak out loud? Your trombone sound works the same way. If you want to know how you sound to other people, the recorder is the answer! Are you always the person who finishes one chair below the cut? Take your playing to the next level by listening to your recordings, evaluate what you hear over multiple playbacks, circle the problem areas, and direct your practice there.
If you want to get better, challenge yourself to play with players who are better than you.
Being the "best trombone player at _________ High School" is certainly something to be proud of, but your musical world should stretch BEYOND the walls of your alma mater! If you are the big fish in a small pond, it's time to find a bigger pond! Audition for summer camps, music festivals, and solo contests. If you or your parents are curious about your "chances" of success as a professional musician, these outlets are a GREAT way to know for sure!
When you go to sleep tonight, someone is staying up late to practice.
I first heard this quote from Jeffrey Reynolds, retired bass trombonist of the Los Angeles Philharmonic when I was in high school, and it has absolutely been true in my experience ever since. No matter how hard you work, know that someone out there is hungrier and more ambitious. If you are satisfied with where you stack up, then go to bed with a clear conscience. However, if you've been slacking lately, it's probably time to get back to work. :)
When it comes to music, the turtle will always win the race. Start slow, stay steady, and enjoy the journey!
Too often, we get so busy that our practice sessions become rushed and frantic. When you feel these emotions taking over, it is even MORE important to practice slowly and deliberately. Remember the story of the tortoise and the hare? The rabbit was clearly faster than the turtle, but he was so confident in his ability to win that he fell asleep, while the turtle never stopped going. Are you the rabbit, or the turtle? The biggest difference will be your sense of urgency at the beginning of the process! Oh, and don't forget that this is supposed to be FUN! I would love to be able to go back and learn these things all over again.
Good luck on your auditions, and let me know if this handout helped you!
I often have students ask me what instrument they should buy, or which mouthpiece they should try out next. While I have my preferences on the subject of equipment, I also recognize that quality products cost a fair amount of money, and these purchases shouldn't be made on a whim.
I currently play an Edwards Alessi Model, T396-A, with a Griego 55 mouthpiece. I play this equipment because it helps me sound the way I want to sound in the various settings I find myself playing most often, namely solo recitals, brass quintet, and occasional large ensemble playing. I don't make a dime as an Edwards artist, and I don't make a dime off of any Edwards, Getzen, or Griego product purchased by my students. It is a relationship built on trust in great products and those who make those products.
My students play all kinds of trombones! If you attend a trombone studio recital or trombone choir concert, you'll see Conn, Bach, Getzen, and Yamaha trombones, and even more variety of mouthpiece brands. Most often, I suggest a 5G sized mouthpiece if you play tenor, and something near a 1 1/2 G for bass trombone. Over time, we work together to tailor equipment to what best suits the student, but these are solid starting points. My bass trombonists really enjoy the sound and comfort of the Griego GP mouthpiece, but both of these students found this mouthpiece on their own.
Bottom line? I've been primarily a Bach and Edwards player over the past 20 years, and the majority of that time has been with Edwards Trombones. If I saved the money I spent on various models and variations on models though the years and spent it on lessons with master players and teachers, I'd be further ahead in my playing than any new trombone could possibly help me achieve.
When you've practiced your way into better playing, you'll have better insight into when it's time to make an instrument change. Then make the trip to Elkhorn, Wisconsin and have Christan and his crew help fit you to a great instrument. :)
Hey everyone! I understand that it's been a while since my last post here. I've been spending more energy on my new podcast launch at www.getsomegrit.com. I urge you to check it out, as I discuss topics there that overlap with the kinds of material I post here. Anyway, on to the post!
I'd like you to consider a phrase made popular by University of Alabama football coach Nick Saban that, if you choose to follow it, will make your work AND play more effective, allowing you to squeeze every last drop out of every aspect of your life:
"How we do anything is how we do everything."
Or in other words, in everything you do, do your best the first time around.
When I was a kid, my dad spent years trying to instill the concept that doing it right the first time actually took LESS time than focusing on speed and glossing over things. It never failed that when I rushed through a job to get to what I wanted to do, that he would come behind me to inspect my work, and I would have to spend double the time on the project to get it right.
Want to make your music lessons fun? Prepare more carefully and thoughtfully. Don't plow through everything in every practice session! By being deliberate and focusing on less material in each session, the concepts are more likely to "stick" when you play for your teacher or on the audition day.
Want to make vacation more fun and memorable? Don't take your work laptop or iPad. Put a vacation message on your email, and stay present in the moment. Bring the same level of commitment to your leisure time as your work, and your leisure time will become more restorative!
Creating a proper work and play balance in life is crucial to long term success and avoiding burnout, however, the danger of "finding balance" often translates to graduated levels of effort on various responsibilities. By using the phrase above, you'll find that excellence becomes more of a habit, and easier to carry into every new project you take on.
One final thought for today -
As we wrap up the school year at A-State, I find myself thinking about how well the school year went, how proud of my students I am, and how much work we still have to do! This is a good thing - take time to appreciate what we've achieved, but always look forward to how we can make it even better.
But what can we do now to make next year even better? Spend a little time with these questions. Write them down on a note card or a piece of notebook paper. Really be honest with yourself here - it will make all the difference!
1. How was the end of the semester? Was it a mad scramble to get everything done, or were you able to handle the various items as they happened without too much added stress?
2. How much better of a (fill in the blank with student, player, friend, etc) would I be if I had followed all the advice of my teachers? How did you react to phrases like, "You really should think about..." or "It would be a great idea to...."? Did you write them down and implement them, or did they fade away with the ghosts of intentions past?
If you can honestly say that the end of the semester was manageable, and that you came out on the other side relatively unscathed, then you are likely organized, and have a good routine established which allows you to address each project for a short time every day, or every other day. It probably also means that you can honestly say that you listened to your teachers from the beginning. If you thought the end of the world was coming during the month of April, then it might be time to listen to your teachers more intently.
Now that you've taken time to answer these two questions, it's time to put this information to good use. How can you make Fall 2015 better than Spring 2015? I have a few suggestions that I really think will help.
1. Get and use a calendar. If you have an iProduct, you already have a great calendar app built right in, and if you have more than one iProduct, they sync seamlessly across the platform. Others might prefer a paper planner. The type of media used is less important than actually using it! (Bonus for going digital - the studio calendar, with every required event of the semester, is a Google calendar, which can be imported into your personal calendar with just a couple of steps.)
Put down everything you're going to do for the day. Block out meal times. Block out practice times. Block out hang time with friends. This is a great time of year to get used to the technology or the habit of putting pencil to paper! When you get back in the fall, it will be part of your routine to add each new event to the calendar. You'll be able to transfer all of your deadlines from your fall syllabi to the calendar as well, and set up as many reminders about that history paper as you think you'll need. :)
2. Practice fundamentals. Abe Lincoln once said, "Give me six hours to chop down a tree, and I will spend the first four hours sharpening the axe." For musicians, the "axe" is made up of the various skills on the instrument. Articulation, flexibility, range, scales, legato, clef studies, etc. Many of these can be covered in just a couple of books that you already own! Think Arban, Blazhevitch, etc.
Do you remember Legos? One of the things that makes Legos so awesome is that they always work! Any and every two pieces always fit together snugly. There is a level of quality control in the Lego factory that ensures this quality fit. Think of your fundamental work as "quality control" for your trombone playing. If you want every note you play to "fit" and sound its very best, then this work is essential. Test your fundamental work by taking repertoire that has troubled you recently, and record your performance. I would be shocked to find that your fundamental work didn't make the music sound better!
3. Read. I have heard it said many times that Leaders are Readers. There are some great books out there to help you focus your thinking and start next school year in a positive way. Click here for my previous blog post with book recommendations from earlier this spring. Also, instead of spending the summer Netflix binging an entire TV series, find a book in a genre of movie that you already like. Get lost in that world a bit, and you'll see your imagination grow and blossom in ways that will help your music making in the future. Then, go back to Netflix.
You don't need to read half a dozen books to be successful at this, either. Read a little, think about it, and tomorrow, do a little more. If a page really seems profound, mark it, read it again, and then move on. If you grow as a person and musician from reading only the first 30 pages of a book, then you have still grown!
4. Have fun! I know that this is a given, but I wanted to make sure I listed it anyway. :) Go to the beach. If you have several days off, pile in the car with 3 or 4 friends, split the gas evenly, and road trip to the Grand Canyon. Find some way to cut loose, but put it in your calendar, so that you'll commit to it. Just like the school year, the summer is always shorter than we expect it to be, and it can go by in a flash.
I know that I'm asking for a lot from each of you. I know that it's summer, and I'm supposed to leave you alone, right? But remember that when you chose to be a musician, you chose something that really doesn't have an off season. When you get back in August and you're playing like a champ, all of the work will be worth it.
Have fun, be safe, and I'll see you in August if not sooner.
A multi-state traveling, road warrior trombone buddy, Wes Lebo, posted a status update following a recent orchestral audition that started with the following sentence:
"Well guided hard work is never wasted, and dreams are not an instant gratification."
I couldn't agree more. I'm posting today because I know that many of you out there feel alone on your journey. It is easy to feel alone, because music is such a deep and personal journey. At the end of the day, while we collaborate with others and network like there is no tomorrow, you are the one who has to navigate that journey through the complicated series of decisions you must make each day. Whatever your struggle, please know that you're not alone. You're never alone.
I make no secret about the fact that I was a BAD undergraduate student. If 18 year old me studied with 36 year old me here at Arkansas State, I would probably have dismissed 18 year old me from the studio by mid October. I had no direction, and what made it worse was that when confronted with my shortcomings, I was combative and stuffed full of excuses. A couple of great teachers showed me grace - giving me what I didn't deserve - and I eventually found my way, however....
The journey from then to now was wrought with wrong turns, failed relationships, periods of financial instability, and more than my fair share of growing pains. There were times when I just wanted to walk away from music and be done, but any other career I would have chosen would only have served as a diversion. My heart would have stayed with music, and the resulting bitterness over not seeing this through to fruition would make any hardship along this path pale in comparison.
So, what does "seeing this through to fruition" really look like?
#1 - I wanted to be financially stable. This is a given - money isn't the most important thing, but it sure makes the other parts of life easier to focus on!
#2 - I wanted to finish my doctorate. It might seem silly, but I felt that if I could complete both graduate degrees in a reasonable amount of time, I would experience some form of retribution for the extra time it took to complete my bachelor's degree. While it was important for me to follow through and finish what I started, it was most important to make major breakthroughs along the way.
#3 - I wanted to find my place. Teaching college is so much fun, and if I had given up along the way, I wouldn't be doing this. Was I patient? Rarely. Was the grass always greener somewhere else? Absolutely. Did I fall victim to negative self talk and pity? Without a doubt. But because I am stubborn, I seem to be given the same lesson to learn over and over and over: be patient.
I have incredible students and colleagues. I get to share my "playbook of blunders" with my students, and if I am compelling enough, they will learn a few things from the mistakes I made. I believe that everything I have experienced in life has prepared me for this work, and that I am uniquely suited to this task. I would be miserable if I had quit along the way!
If I can ever be of any help, please contact me and let me know!
While nothing can replace time spent in the practice room, our growth as musicians requires more than the time spent within those four walls. I have found that many people I admire are regular readers. Below, you will find a few examples from my current stack of books. Some are new, and some are old - I learn new things from each re-reading of a great book, as my life circumstances change my perspectives. Click on the picture of the book cover to order at amazon.com.
Do you have any books that you would like to see here? Please reply with your suggestions!
I've subscribed to Seth's blog for several years now, and his short, thought provoking posts are a great way to start the day. His books are numerous and I like them all, but I find particularly important applications from this book as a musician.
We all have a limited amount of energy for each project we take on. This book has helped me learn where to direct my energy and to better determine which projects are worth my time and effort and which ones are dead in the water.
I have yet to read a Seth Godin "dud." I encourage you to check his writing out as soon as you can!
To say that I bounced around quite a bit in my 20's would be a big understatement. I remember waking up one morning with a revelation - it wasn't that I didn't know what I wanted to do, but rather that I knew EXACTLY what I wanted to do and was so afraid of adding more to my pile of failure that I would rather stay stuck in a holding pattern than tackle my fear and break through to something better.
Dr. Greene's book was the first of it's kind that I read, and my original paperback copy was so worn out that I had to replace it with a hardbound copy a couple of years later. His seven skills for performing your best under pressure are really great, and in my opinion, require revisiting every so often to be most effective.
Not everything I read is about work! While I don't have tons of time for recreational reading, I do think it is important to read some sort of fiction as regularly as you can. The creativity you develop when reading - setting the stage for your book in your mind's eye - is the same creativity you draw upon when you need material to help convey a mood or feeling in your music making.
I have friends who read this kind of book slowly, because they want to savor each page. Others, like me, tend to binge read - time stops when we grab a good book, and we won't get anything done until the last page is read.
Regardless of your reading style, make time for this activity - you'll thank me later!
More to come in Part 2!
Do you want to major in music? Maybe you have already been accepted as a music major. Parents, are you worried about your child going into a degree plan that is unfamiliar and risky?
The requisite statistics are sobering. Universities and conservatories graduate more students each year than there are positions in an ever-changing marketplace. Mom and Dad, you're right to worry, but I'm here to tell you that there is hope! Yes, it can be done. Yes, your child can not only survive, but thrive....but it will require their best effort.
There are a few things you can work on together to get a head start for next year.
Every music major will likely have to have 3 or 4 semesters of class piano in their plan of study at an American college or university. If you haven't had piano lessons before college, it can be daunting, especially in a class setting where you might feel like your questions are silly. I know I felt that way, and it made the entire experience much harder than it had to be. I was a pretty good trombone player going into my freshman year, but when I was in the piano room, all I could think about was how behind I was!
Like piano, music theory (or tonal harmony) can be overwhelming to someone who has never been exposed to the subject before. Piano lessons will help your theory, and theory will help your piano playing. Much like the relationship between operations in mathematics, skills in music are interrelated. Find a local pianist in town, and chances are that they can tutor you in BOTH theory and piano.
Every music major will have a "studio" for their instrument or area. On this website, I have a page with student biographies where you can learn some basic information about each student. Seek out the students studying the instrument at the school you want to attend, Facebook them and introduce yourself! Don't talk about your many honors and accolades in high school when you introduce yourself...just let them know that you're interested in doing what they do and let the conversation unfold naturally. With a few exceptions, I think you'll find that most of them are more than willing to share their experiences and opinions with you. You'll understand the music program from the perspective of the student, which can be a nice perspective shift from any brochures that the music program might give you.
I know this can be hard, particularly when you seem to lock horns over every little issue these days. I can almost guarantee that your parents are just as frustrated with you as you are with them. They see their kid, who just yesterday was running around in diapers, getting ready to go out into the world for the first time on their own. Guess what? Mom and Dad will be your lifeline that first year, as you learn how to iron dress shirts, budget your money, and figure out this thing called life.
There isn't a day that goes by that I'm not thankful for all my parents have done, and continue to do, for me. When I was 18, you might have gotten me to chop off a pinky finger before I would admit that in public. I was scared that I would fail. Ultimately, I had a rougher go of it because I was worried about the reaction when things DID take a turn for the worse. Above all else, when they mess up (and they will) hug them first and then get to the matter of righting the ship. Soon enough, they will be calling you more and more often with questions, and eventually, you'll be the smartest people they know. :)
In 2015, you have more opportunities and avenues to promote yourself than ever before. Social media and digital recording have become so user friendly that marketing your product as a musician is easier than ever! However, the product itself must be worth showcasing! There will be plenty of time for your own YouTube channel or an awesome website, but for now, the best place to be is in the practice room, doing everything your teacher tells you to do. :)
In the meantime, the following things will help your chances of employment, and if for no other reason than the rite of passage into the musician's world, you should do them:
For the gigs you end up playing, have basic business cards (I get mine at vistaprint.com) printed up so that when you're asked (and yes, you'll be asked...the music world hasn't gone completely digital, yet) you will have something professional looking to give them. Throw a handful in your instrument case, keep a few in the jacket pocket of your black gig suit, and a few more in your tuxedo jacket. Have extras in your car. Remember, each gig is an audition for the next gig, so stay on your toes, keep your ears open, and your mouth closed. You'll learn a lot if you handle it this way.
Start sketching your musical resume. Imagine two students showing up showing up to their college audition. Both are in freshly pressed dress clothes, and both sound great. One is able to present a crisp, freshly printed resume, while the other one scratches their head when asked about their achievements. While content is certainly important, the package is also important! The head scratcher without a resume might actually have a more impressive list of accomplishments, but they simply couldn't sell themselves as well as the candidate with the copy in hand. The resume writer might be so nervous in the moment that they can't remember anything, but they don't have to! Can you imagine, in a scenario where only one spot is open but two or more are auditioning, which auditioning player will get the nod if all other variables are equal?
If you already have a presence on social media, go over everything and remove anything that you wouldn't want your grandmother (or mother) to see. While it might be on the tightest lockdown available, sometimes all it takes is being friends with a mutual friend to be able to see enough on a profile to create doubt. Cultivate your online presence as much as you can, as early as you can.
Naturally, there are other points to consider, but this should give you a pretty good idea of where to start. This is a rich, fulfilling career path, and for those of you who can't imagine yourself doing anything else, then I invite you to give it all you've got! If I can be of any further assistance to you or your family during this tough time, please contact me for more information, or reply to this blog post below!
This post is for everyone, but with my new teaching position, my hope for the direction of this blog is to provoke thinking in my students at Arkansas State University I would love to hear your thoughts!!!
The things in life that mean something to me...really mean something to me...require regular work to stay healthy. There is no area of my life that is exempt from this phenomenon. For example, every relationship I have is directly affected by the quality and quantity of time spent together. It is the same with our faith (if that is part of your life), health and fitness (an area that I am the last person on earth to be posting about) and our career paths.
A dear friend posted a quote yesterday that I have been "chewing on" ever since first reading it. I haven't always followed this mantra, but when I have, the results have been no less than extraordinary:
"You cannot achieve your million dollar dream with a minimum wage work ethic."
No matter WHO you are, WHERE you are on the map, or whatever you might have DONE will disqualify you from achieving great and special things throughout your life. The only thing that will disqualify you is HOW you think about yourself and your situation. If you focus on what you DON'T have or how many mistakes you might have made, you are tying sandbags to your dreams.
This week I have challenged my trombone students at Arkansas State to write a short essay on WHY they are studying music. It will only ever be read by four eyes: mine and their own. I have asked this of them because I firmly believe that when I started focusing on the WHY (why=purpose) of my journey, my attitude changed, and shortly thereafter, my circumstances changed. When they focus on the purpose of their personal journey, those random Thursdays on October when assignments begin piling up may not be any easier, but they will be more manageable. This same focus will keep trombone in the daily mix as justifications for skipping warmups or practice sessions become easier to make. If the sandbags of our past are front and center, it can become easier and easier to put off practicing for an entire week, or even longer. After all, life stinks, right? I'm totally done for here at A-State. Why would practicing even MATTER????
It matters...a lot.
It matters because you will never have this much time to practice. Trust me. I know you're taking 27 hours a semester and have a part time job to make ends meet. I know you have a committed relationship that might even be headed to engagement or marriage. Even with all of that, you will NEVER have this much time to practice!
It matters because when you are ready to graduate, you will rely on me and other faculty for letters of recommendation. I will always be honest in those letters, because every time I sign my name to a document, I am putting my good word...everything I have sweat and toiled for...on trial.
It matters because, in my opinion, we as a culture have lost a portion of the fulfillment that comes with a sweaty work shirt and dirt under the fingernails. There is never a better night's sleep than one that follows an honest day of work!!!
Will completing the WHY assignment automatically qualify every one of my A-State students to compete for the title of The Finest Trombonist of Arkansas? No, it won't. However, I can guarantee that by holding onto old mistakes, blunders, and other old sandbags, none of us can expect our circumstances to change. What should be front and center is how you are going to make TODAY better than yesterday, so that the WHY that brought you to where you are can shine as brightly as possible.
If you're an A-State trombonist, a great way to make today better is to work up a little brow sweat in the practice room, day after day. :) When you are out in the working world, you will thank every teacher who pushed you to realize more of your incredible potential. I will leave you with a second quote, which encapsulates the concept of opportunity better than anything else I can think of.
"Tonight, when you go to sleep, someone will be up practicing your part."
I am honored to be your teacher. May we always bring honor to this great art form!
When I was eighteen years old, I packed up everything I owned into a green 1995 Pontiac Grand AM, and moved across Texas to Canyon, just south of Amarillo, to become a music major at West Texas A&M University. Not long after settling in, I met two older music majors that changed the course of my thinking about brass playing. The first, Eric Gilley, was a junior trumpet player, and the second was Jason Arnold, a junior tuba player. We formed a brass quintet, and started rehearsing on a regular basis. We hung out, and we talked shop. It was tremendous for me in multiple ways. These older music majors "walked the talk." I made lots and lots of bad decisions which were confirmed by both Eric and Jason regularly. Each had their own style, but they were both effective at encouraging me. Most of the time, just knowing that I had disappointed these guys was enough to make me think twice.
It is my hope that each and every one of you finds your "pack" - a group of friends that helps define your college experiences and memories. If you have a "pack" from the past, you should try to get them back together!
While Eric and I see each other all the time, Jason lives up in the northeast, so we don't see him much. This past weekend, Jason was in town visiting, and we "put the band back together" for an afternoon. It's been more than fifteen years since I met these guys, but we fell back into our old rhythm right away. We had lots of great laughs, but also some serious geeking out over two Chicago Symphony/Solti VHS tapes that Jason bought from the CSO Store and played until the tapes broke. Jason was special amongst us - he had taken a trip from West Texas to Chicago for a lesson with some old tuba player named Arnold Jacobs. He was a recording fanatic, and he was always sharing his collection with others. By introducing me to the CSO and the concepts behind their playing, he changed my thinking about playing brass instruments, too. It took me right back to the late 1990's, and it really was great spending time with both of these buddies again. :) Take a little time and enjoy these great performances. It would be even better if you could watch them with friends.
This post is for my students at Southeastern Oklahoma State University, but I believe that the materials presented here transcend the city limits of Durant to music students all over. After some deliberation, I have chosen to pose a series of thought-provoking questions. Remember - you are all wonderful people, but we all have room for growth! If you feel that a particular question or statement speaks directly to you, choose to accept it as constructive criticism on your path towards your goals. Improvement begins in 3.....2....1....