Sharpen Your Sword!

Discussion in 'Trumpet Discussion' started by Derek Reaban, Oct 31, 2005.

  1. Derek Reaban

    Derek Reaban Mezzo Piano User

    Jun 16, 2005
    Tempe, Arizona

    I wanted to share this with you.

    I read a very interesting article by Craig Morris several weeks ago called Fundamentally Speaking (scroll down a few times to see the article). In this article he makes a very important distinction in what he calls “foundation†exercises versus the “skill set†exercises. (Please read the article in the link. It’s short and provides some very good ideas). He divides the “foundation†exercises into two distinct categories: Balance / Centering and Strength. “Skill set†exercises include Articulation and Flexibility.

    I bring this up because when my oldest son started Kindergarten last year, I started driving him to school every day and I was not able to get in my Balance / Centering session in the morning. Muscle memory is a very strong component of everyone’s playing, and I was able to maintain my balance for quite a long time after I discontinued this regular morning session. Eventually though, the memory fades, and what used to be simple and easy becomes incrementally more challenging.

    Over the past two weeks I’ve been spending time getting my playing (sound production) back into balance. I played a Saturday night church service, a Sunday morning service, and a Sunday afternoon rehearsal and service this weekend. There was a lot of playing (I play about 2 hours per day on average and this weekend I played 3.5 hours on Saturday and 4.5 hours on Sunday). The thing that amazed me was how important those “balance†sessions are for me.

    When I have to do a lot of hymn playing, I know that I have to be careful not to play too loud for fear of “spreadingâ€. This leads to strength issues when I have to play solos during the service. I was balanced going into each of my jobs this weekend, and I was carrying this great vibrant sound with me. I didn’t have to worry about sound production at all. The hymns were very easy to sing out to the congregation (little physical effort on my part), and the solos correspondingly had that same ease of production that I’m used to when I haven’t gone overboard with loud low playing.

    I know I’ve commented on this quite a few times in the past, but how often do we focus on strength exercises at the expense of centering exercises? I know that when I was in high school and college I had never even considered doing centering exercises. How many people look at the Caruso exercises from a strength perspective? How about the Thompson buzzing exercises?

    I’m sure if I were to post a question like, “I have some important jobs to play this weekend and I’m easily going to be playing for twice as long as I usually practice per dayâ€, the majority of the responses would be related to how I should develop “strength†in the week or two prior to the jobs. By changing my mindset and doing the James Thompson exercises from purely a “balance / centering†perspective, I’m effectively taking the strength that I already have and multiplying it many times over. Much less strength is required when playing from a truly balanced state.

    My results this weekend are a direct reflection of this line of thinking. I know that the Eastman students spend the beginning of every practice day doing the first four Thompson exercises to “sharpen the sword†and allow them to get the most out of every playing day. How many of us are going into battle with a dull sword?

    P.S. My afternoon job was with Tim Moke and he sounded fantastic! They took a picture of us and I’ll post it if Tim forwards it to me.
  2. W Scott

    W Scott Piano User

    Dec 8, 2003
    Carson City, NV.
    Derek, it's always a pleasure to hear from you! From the sounds of things, the church gigs are agreeing with you!

    I'm not sure that I understand what the author (and you) are getting at here. What I seem to be hearing is that centering/balance is what a warm up is all about. (In a later article, the author has a very unusual strength building exercise to end the day with) Is this centering/balance a sound concept? A 'feel'?

    I'm wondering because I do something similar using the Pares scales book and a set of exercises from Vizuttis Technique book. I'm blowing soft; getting the sound flowing using long tones; concentrating on getting the horn to 'ring' and the notes to flow smoothly. Gradually I increase the speed of the exercises to a moderate pace, but I'm working mostly on getting me and the equipment working together to make as good a sound as I can. I usually work on this for about 15 or 20 minutes---but sometimes I go for 30 minutes or so. Is this what the author is talking about? And then progressing from there to skills exercises?

    I'm going to have to buy that Stamps book................
  3. Derek Reaban

    Derek Reaban Mezzo Piano User

    Jun 16, 2005
    Tempe, Arizona
    W Scott,

    Thanks for your message!

    With respect to centering and balance, I used to faithfully spend about 20 minutes each morning focusing on the resonant, vibrant quality of my sound using the James Thompson Buzzing Basics book (former Principal Trumpet in Montreal and Atlanta and currently at Eastman). This separate practice session allowed me to direct all of my concentration on the ease of sound production. There were no distractions, just a single focus on finding the center / balance in my sound using his unique exercise.

    When I got away from this (due to the “busy-ness†of lifeâ€) I found that while my brief “centering†drills prior to each session were very helpful (Adam leadpipe and Caruso 6 Notes), there was a true void in my playing. It was like missing Church for me. There was just something very prominent missing that I couldn’t get anywhere else.

    I found that while I still took the time to get the vibrant, colorful, resonant sound happening, I just didn’t stay in the sound long enough. I would move on to “skill set†exercises and take my sound with me, but after a while, I would lose that vibrant center. I had to continue practicing so that I could get through my Maintenance work and move on to music.

    I’m sure you can see where this is going…

    For me, when the focus is exclusively on “skill set†that’s where my conscious thought is. If I haven’t made enough deposits to my “resonant sound†account, when I go to my subconscious to make a withdrawal it may not find sufficient funds. At this point I’m drawing on conscious thought for both skill set exercises and sound production. Since the mind can really only focus on one area at a time, this is when practice becomes counter-productive for me.

    With about 2 hours to practice each day, I have to make some serious choices about how to apply my time. I found that by completely eliminating this balance / centering session (a minimum of 20 minutes separate from other practice), I was not able to be as productive during my other practice. My goal is to find a best way to incorporate regular centering sessions without losing too much in the way of skill set, and still find enough time to play some music everyday.

    Hope this helps!

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