Bad habits are hard to break, but it’s not impossible!
Here is a scary statistic: 99% of new students that come to me not only have no idea how to practice, but they’re actually making themselves worse on a daily basis by doing the things listed below.
I didn’t just make that percentage up either! Literally 99 of every 100 students that come through my doors don’t know how to avoid bad habits. Why? Because they don’t know what the incorrect habits are. Like the game telephone, incorrect trumpet playing habits spread and get worse from person to person until it finally lands on you…and you end up ¨smiling to play higher.¨
Sometimes you’ve been doing something for so long and you’ve dug a hole so big, that you have to work 20 times harder to get out and never fall back in. But like an old teacher once told me, do something everyday for 3 weeks and you will be on the right track. Here we go:
Your first note of the day is always a C below the staff
This is one of those things I burn into the skulls of my students. You are making your life so much harder by letting your first note be that low.
Let me put it this way: pick the easiest way to climb to the top of a mountain. 1) You start at the very bottom and hike OR 2) You get dropped off in the middle and hike.
The answer is obviously #2!
Trumpet playing works in a similar way. Starting below the staff everyday prepares your mind and chops to be “low,” and the journey to the top will seem much higher.
Instead, start in the middle, on middle C, and you will soon find yourself realizing that C above the staff is not so far after all. If you’re still working your way to middle C, try starting on a G on the second line of the staff. Just stay away from low C as your first note of the day.
You don’t warm-up before playing other things
If I had a penny for every time I say this every week…
Not warming up before playing anything else is the best way to destroy your chops. This is like not stretching before doing hard exercise, and then pulling a muscle. What you have to realize is that the embouchure is made up of tiny muscles that need exercise to become stronger. When you don’t warm-up, you shock these muscles and don’t give them time to “wake up.”
This is bad…very very bad. I have seen so many players ruin themselves by picking up the horn first thing in the morning, blowing a few high Cs and playing some marching band music. If you truly want to get better, begin your day with some long tones/Cichowicz studies and slurring drills. Try to fit at least in 10-15 minutes of warming up. It’s a wonderful thing and your future self with thank you.
When practicing a solo, you always start at the beginning
This may seem like a good idea but in reality, it’s a great way to waste time. If you already know the beginning, skip it! Start in the middle or the end and work on the stuff you don’t know. It may be frustrating to not sound as good for a bit, but by the time that solo & ensemble/honor band try out/church gig rolls around you will start strong and end with confidence!
You never practice performing
This is a big one. If you practice your solos but never play a run-through like it’s the real thing, you’re not practicing performing.
Performance is a learned skill and you have to practice it too. If you don’t, you will find yourself performing your solo and stopping when you make a mistake because this is what you do when you practice. Or suddenly realizing mid-performance that you’ve actually never run the piece top to bottom. That is not a good feeling!
A really great way to practice performing is to prop your phone on your night stand, press record video and go! Don’t stop no matter how many mistakes happen. After watching the video you will be able to hear the trouble spot you may have already forgotten about. Now you can work that spot and record again.
So record yourself, perform for your family and you will soon feel more comfortable come performance time. Also, I wrote a post on how to transform your mistakes during performance, check it out if that’s sounds up your alley.
One good habit at a time
If you’re finding yourself guilty of a few bad habits, its alright. Tackle one at a time and above all, try to get guidance from a qualified teacher. Going solo on learning the trumpet can be a real roadblock, as can studying from an unqualified instructor. A student of mine tells me his former teacher told him to puff his cheeks…because that’s what Dizzy Gillespie did. Oh boy.
Although the internet is a great place to learn, it’s also chalkfull of ill advice by players who are also just learning. Stay on the right path and follow the THQ facebook, instagram, or twitter and ask questions there. I’m also on youtube with some videos.
Of course, the absolute best way to learn is with a teacher. However, if traditional in-person trumpet lessons are not within your means, check out the online lessons offered here. They’re affordable and I’m always one message away for guidance.
I truly hope this helps you and your students.
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