The Role of Self-Awareness and Concentration During Practice

Discussion in 'Trumpet Discussion' started by trickg, May 13, 2005.

  1. trickg

    trickg Utimate User

    Oct 26, 2003
    After I finished practicing last night, I started wondering about the role self-awareness and concentration in improving as a musician, both in technique and musicality.

    I have been making a shift in my practicing lately and have been slowly moving out of a maintenance routine, and am now striving toward actually improving as a player for the first time in about 10 years. Due to the fact that some of my fundamentals and technique have slowly deteriorated over time, I have been doing very basic exercises:

    Long tones (with a focus on sound and clean attacks)
    Basic single, double and triple tonguing articulation exercises
    Basic articulation/finger coordination exercises (major scales in all keys and Clarke #2 from memory)
    Basic flexibility exercises (partial lip slurs in the staff and arpegios)

    At the moment, I am not using anything printed on a page for material to practice. All of my exercises are things that have either been memorized for years, or are things that I make up on the spot, and perfecting things through focused repitition is key. On the surface, none of this sounds very difficult, but my goal is to get the most basic of basics back to where I feel they should be before I allow myself to be distracted by trying to read exercises from a method book off of the page. This brings me back to the subject of the thread.

    Because I am not using any printed materials, I discovered last night that I am doing most of my practice with my eyes closed and I find myself in a "zone" so to speak. Over the last couple of weeks, it has gotten easier and easier to get into the zone and while I am there, my focus (concentration) and self-awareness of what is happening with my fingers, sound, tongue, chops is becoming more refined. This is not a new sensation to me, but something that I have rediscovered. Also, when I'm refering to the different parts of playing, they meld together to become one thing - the sum of the parts working in synchronicity to produce the whole.

    When looking at any trumpet player who has "made it" in terms of success as a musician, often times their success is partially credited to the instructors that they had, but when you get right down to it, who really did the work? The instructor could only give direction, but the self-awareness required to transcend simply playing notes and rhythms to make beautiful music has to come from within the player themselves. Some instructors might be better than others at directing the student and dictating the practice materials, but fundamentally, the improvement is made by the student alone, right? What role did the student's self-awareness take in helping the student to improve because in all seriousness, exercises only really help when done correctly with good focus and concentration, and a real awareness of what is actually coming from the bell of the trumpet. You could practice things for years and until you really became aware of how the pieces fit together to make the whole, eventually the time spent in practice comes to a point of diminishing returns, or at least that is a theory that I'm bumping around in my head.

    I just thought that this would be an interesting subject to chew on and discuss.
  2. trickg

    trickg Utimate User

    Oct 26, 2003
    BUMP! :D

    I thought that my post would generate at least SOME response!

    Another reason that I brought this up is that as trumpet players, we tend to look so hard into the mechanics of playing - specifically embouchure mechanics - that sometimes we are over-thinking some things and are thus counter productive toward making progress. I think sometimes if you just break things down into their simplest forms:

    Tone/sound production
    clean articulation
    smooth flexibility
    coodination of the fingers with the articulation

    and really focus on those most basic of basics, that focused practice in the zone of hightened self awareness can be just as beneficial, if not more beneficial, than touted exercises out of method books. This is not to say that I would ever advocate not using method books as a means to improve, but that if you have yet to develop your concentration and awareness of what is coming out of your bell, then the routines may not be as beneficial as they could be. I think that if you break things down into their simplest forms, even if the exercises that you are doing are simple, you are still going to be able to apply that improvement to the music that you play.

    Am I making sense at all or is this all jumbled?
  3. camelbrass

    camelbrass Mezzo Forte User

    Nov 5, 2003
    Dubai, UAE
    I do about 20 minutes or so of Caruso excercises during my practice routine where it's an absolute must to be in the zone..counting away in my head and making sure that I change notes at the right time but not really critically listening to myself. It's also a great routine for continually pushing your boundaries..I think it'll take me a lifetime to master "Musical Calesthenics for Brass".

    However, like you, I have a usual routine of scales, arpegios, slurs and tounging that because I play everyday does slip into remote control and can pretty much think about what I'm going to have for dinner. You're right I'm not sure how good that actually does me. What I've been doing recently is just going back to attacks..I'll pick a very simple piece and critically look at each and every I start the note, how I finish the note and try and make improvements note for note..micro manage my playing if you like. I find that it's giving me a new perspective and making my playing more musical. I find that I'm more and more drawn to the concept of singing the part rather than playing it and I find that those nuances in the treatment of each note make a heck of a difference. Don't get me wrong the basics are really, really important and I'll continue to do them but I'm trying to refocus my practice time on something that will make a difference to what people hear when I play not just my capacity to technically cope with a piece of music.

    The teachers I've enjoyed working with the most are the ones that expect that I have done the technical work myself with their guidance (Arban's is not rocket science) but their real input has affected me as a musician not necessarily a trumpet (or in my early career, a Tuba) player. I happily give them full credit for the latter.

    Just a slightly different perspective perhaps.


  4. trickg

    trickg Utimate User

    Oct 26, 2003
    Right! That's just what I'm talking about. Work the fundamentals to the point where playing ceases to be a matter of pushing valves, tonguing notes, working the chops and breathing, and it becomes a holistic experience where the sum of the parts becomes the whole.

    Once that is accomplished, then it becomes as natural as walking or talking - things that we do every day without even thinking about them. Once the fundamentals are at that point, playing trumpet becomes less about playing an instrument and more about expressing yourself through playing. What I am referring to in my title post is the cognitive and focused process that you go through to attain that level of facility.

    For me, it's a very strange concept - focus hard on the fundamental practice and get into the zone, so that when you play music you no longer have to think about the fundamentals - they just occur as naturally as breathing - and your zone is no longer about technique, it is about musical expression. When I'm practicing like that, it's almost like I am outside of myself and I'm not doing anything - it just happens, which is sort of a Zen-like idea.

    Or maybe I'm just a nut! :D
  5. Heavens2kadonka

    Heavens2kadonka Forte User

    Jun 17, 2004
    Lebanon, TN
    Y'know, this is a really good topic!

    I notice that when I practice, I play higher notes with much more precision when I am just playing it than when I play it off of paper. When you play without reading, you can focus more on producing the note, and making it sound gorgeous.

    Pieces that you memorize always sound better, don't they?

  6. camelbrass

    camelbrass Mezzo Forte User

    Nov 5, 2003
    Dubai, UAE

    If you're a nut I must be a nut as well.

    I think it's an extension thing. Get the fundamentals down, get your technique under control, be comfortable in the different registers, become stronger and it comes through in the music. It's that whole thing about talented players making it look and sound so easy. That only happens when the basics are absolutely that level of performance thinking 'can I make that entrance cleanly at 25?' just isn't an option.


  7. Billy B

    Billy B Pianissimo User

    Nov 5, 2004
    Des Moines, IA
    Self awareness, self image. Read and apply Psycho-Cybernetics by Maxwell Maltz.
  8. dbacon

    dbacon Mezzo Piano User

    Oct 24, 2003
    Scottsdale, AZ.
    My first hour is a form of meditation, all focus is on the sound I want and the sound coming from the bell. Get my sound closer to the sound I'm hearing in my imagination. Play and rest, start easy and keep it easy no matter how difficult the studies are. Energized flow right down the center of the sound, allowing myself to play as naturally as possible.

    How would Phil Smith sound playing this slur......

    In the high register, how would George Graham sound doing this exercise..... :think:
  9. davidjohnson

    davidjohnson Piano User

    Nov 2, 2003
    for over a month now, i've been making myself play much softer. it puts me on more of a 'musical automatic' and definitly helps me more aware...maybe i just listen harder because i'm playing softer. whatever is happening is good for me.

  10. tpter1

    tpter1 Forte User

    Jan 12, 2005
    Northern New York
    Check this out. This is taken from my college trumpet teacher's site:

    He discusses a sort of Taoist type of approach in regard to awareness as being totally aware of what is going on in your body and in the moment.

    I have this hanging on my wall in my band room, and consult it from time to time.

    I think all too often we can get taken into the "careless zone" where we are not really paying attention to what is going on within our playing; we are thinking about the job we're preparing for, the student who didn't practice again, our kids, what needs to be done for concert prep, etc. and just end up "going through the motions". While this allows us to maintain our level of performance (which really is not what's happening; we are either getting better or we go backwards or develop bad/lazy habits), it does not promote growth.

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