How to Improve Old Playing Habits
As some of you are probably aware, being a comeback trumpet player gives you the unique opportunity to learn from your previous mistakes, correct course and rewire your old playing habits.
You may have also noticed that even after 10, 20, or even 30 years off the horn those old playing habits, and your feel of playing the trumpet are still there. That’s because any mental wiring you learn throughout your life never really goes away. Sure, it gets rusty and covered up without use, but those old neurological pathways are still there lurking in the darkness, waiting to take you down.
Because of this you may find your basic playing skills and old habits come back rather quickly. However, you might not necessarily want to play the way you used to! To make sure you don’t end up in that same sinking ship as before, you need to understand how to approach your practice in a more beneficial way.
It’s first important to understand that habits aren’t really good or bad, they’re just habits, and they exist for a reason. At some point you either deliberately chose them, or stumbled upon something that “worked” and just kept doing it. Obviously, some things only work for so long, and once a habit no longer serves us we tend to consider it “bad.”
The classic example of this is using excessive mouthpiece pressure to play in the upper register.
One day you’re sitting in a band or at home practicing, and you somehow stumble across the fact that when you push the mouthpiece a bit harder into your embouchure a higher note pops out. Whoa! You discovered the holy grail of trumpet playing – High Notes!
You’re feelin’ pretty darn good about yourself, and with this newfound confidence you strut through life knowing, believing, that anytime you want to play high you just cram the mouthpiece into your chops and BINGO!
Eat your heart out Maynard Ferguson.
Before too long you’ve got yourself a full-blown habit, which would be cool except that well after the fact you find all that extra mouthpiece pressure doesn’t really work out in the long-run. Pretty soon working on your range and endurance has gone from the thing that put the pep in your step to the horrible, twisted nightmare that keeps you up at night.
Frustrated, the next place folks go wrong is by trying to stop pressing so hard. And even worse, they try to do it at the upper limit of their range (yeah, good luck with that). But the thing is, the limits of your technique are where you are the most reliant on habits, good or bad. So the best way to change them is to come back down to the ground floor and give your mind and body a chance to figure something else out.
Trumpet playing is about finding balance. The air column, muscles of the torso, embouchure, trumpet and mouthpiece all contribute to this insane high-wire act we (voluntarily) embark on each day. And the thing is, a “good enough” balance can be achieved in many ways, especially in the lower/middle part of the horn. But remember that everything has its limitations, and because of this, your trumpet playing “form” is essential to your long-term growth.
By approaching your basic playing mechanics with a slow and steady mentality, you give yourself an opportunity to find the best way for your body. Eventually rather than jamming the mouthpiece into the embouchure, the muscles learn to move ever so slightly toward to mouthpiece. This positioning will maintain the seal between the lips and mouthpiece rim while also strengthening the embouchure, improving your flexibility, and control of the sound. This feel for playing can then be progressively applied to more and more range.
Now since old habits can’t really be “erased,” in a sense you must view each practice session as something completely new. Forget how you played 20 years ago and do things right, today. Practicing your basic mechanics and technique in a slow, systematic way enables you to rewire new patterns, and strengthen them to the point of greatly surpassing your old limitations.
For now, take the time to work your way through the 5-Point Mechanics Checklist. Do this in a technical, dispassionate way and always remember the Skill of Chill. If you discover you could be using your embouchure better, cool. If you notice that your breathing habits suck or you’re not using your tongue efficiently, great. This is the time and place to put those things in order.
Each of the five mechanical points are addressed through the Primary Practice Space and of course include a hefty dose of that Brainwashing that you’ve grown love oh so much. You’re just going to make sure your basic mechanics of sound production are OK. So long as they are good enough to begin with, your practice time will be well-spent. If something needs to be fixed, you’ll find easy, practical suggestions and exercises for doing just that.
All in all, the Ultimate Comeback Kit is a step-by-step, holistic guide built for comeback trumpet players to help you get back in shape and on track. You will relearn the basics, set up excellent practice habits from the start, and be led through a step-by-step guide for creating a manageable and systematic practice plan that fits into your life and doesn’t waste your time.
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