Accidental Success in Trumpet Playing

Playing by accident

I’m sure that at some point you have experienced an accidental success in trumpet playing. Such as suddenly hitting a high note without meaning to, or playing a perfect rhythm without even noticing.

This is what I call playing by accident. When students routinely play by accident, they move through the motions and enjoy the occasional success. They don’t go back to examine why the success happened, what they did differently, and how it can be replicated. Needless to say, these students take longer to learn new techniques.

My advice to all wishing to reach the next level is to never accept accidental success in the practice room. Always go back for more, examine, break it down and be mindful of everything that goes on when you pick up the trumpet.

Now sometimes, accidents cannot be replicated for a number of reasons:

  1. The student does not have private instruction. Without a person to guide you through your development you will hit a wall that only a professional can help you break. Much like anything else you might want to learn, proper teaching is a fundamental factor. 
  2. The student is in the beginning stages of learning. Notice that a beginning learner is not the same as a beginner trumpet player. I have seen many players with years under their belts, who are self-taught and have not been taught the techniques to dissect their mistakes.
  3. The student is in a state of change. This would include players who are doing an embouchure change or have experienced an accident that compromises their familiarity with their own playing.

Assuming you do not fit any of these categories, lets look at two ways you can learn to leave the accidents behind.

Experimentation without fear

In all my years playing and teaching, I do not think I have ever met a player who enjoyed making mistakes. I mean, that would be crazy right? Who actually wants to make mistakes?

Just because you don’t want to make mistakes in public, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t experiment with them in the practice room. Next time you play, dedicate some time to mistake making. Allow yourself to feel very comfortable with making mistakes, to the point where you can laugh at yourself. Only then, can you move to the next step.

Making mistakes on purpose. You read that right! 

Try missing the high note, cracking the D, flopping the trill, missing the sharp and sound awful. Now you might be asking yourself why would I want to do this?

The answer is simple. When you make the mistake, you can experience the requirements for it. I often find myself trying my best to replicate my student’s mistakes, because that is the only way that I can figure out the correction plan. 

Try doing the same thing for yourself. For example, if you are working on tone production, try pinching your lips together and notice the tight, buzzy sound you will produce. Then open up the aperture very big and try to play a scale. You will notice a very fat tone, that is difficult to control and quiet down. Reflect on what these feel and sounds like, and then find the happy middle. Now as you attempt to sound beautiful and balanced, you might notice some of your mistakes come into light. Maybe you were pinching a little all this time!

Get comfortable with mistakes and remember that we are human, not robots!

Quiet Song

Have you ever heard of the Quiet Eye?

This is a term coined by Professor Joan Vickers of Calgary University which refers to the gaze an athlete makes right before they execute a movement, like when a tennis player’s eyes lock on the ball immediately before they hit with the racket. 

I like to think of this in terms of Border Collies, you know, the highly intelligent shepherd dog. They have something Collie trainers call the “eye” or “gaze.” This is the look the dog has when their eyes are focused solely on the sheep so that they can react in less than a second when the sheep moves. 

Now for musicians, we need to focus on the sound or pitch we want to achieve, but since music cannot be touched or seen, we must create it in our mind’s ear as a “quiet song.” This is a song only you can hear in your mind; it is the model for what you wish to achieve. 

If you always have this clear in your mind, your mistakes will greatly decrease. By keeping the song alive your brain will prepare itself to execute it, refining all the small motor functions of the embouchure, tongue placement and air flow, to help you hit the bull’s eye.

Imagine your success as vividly as possible and even mimic all the movements needed, then play. Repeat many times to refine this technique.

Daily exposure is key

Now that you have a couple of tools to help you learn from your mistakes, apply them daily to maximize the results. If you need private lessons, check out the THQ Trumpet Lessons Online program. Get to work, and good luck!

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Download the THQ Warmup Guide to learn eye-opening tips and lessons that will take your playing to the next level.