February 2015 Practice Update: Books, and Bright Spots

Hiya Folks,

Lots to cover this month. Let’s start with the business.

Monetization of Blackwell’s Trumpet Basics

I have decided to monetize this site through the use of affiliate links. What this means is that I will occasionally post a link to a product or service that I firmly believe in and/or use on a regular basis.

If at any point you want to support this site all you have to do is click an affiliate link (labeled “affiliate”) and purchase that item. The service provider will then pay me a small commission at no additional charge to you. All revenue directly supports the maintenance of this blog as an educational resource.

At no point will there be external advertising on this web site.

I largely find it annoying and want you to ENJOY coming here for a good read!

A Book Review (and affiliate example)

I recently started reading a very cool book about creating change in your life and others called Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard (affiliate). We like change here – considering that’s what practice is all about.

Here’s a summary of what I’ve learned so far and later I’ll show you how I’ve applied it to practice:

  • We have two parts to our brain – the intellectual “rider” and the emotional “elephant.”
  • The rider is the thinker. He/she can come up with profoundly intricate plans of action. The problem is the rider’s tendency to over-analyze, more or less wandering in existential circles. While the rider has lots of brains he has an easily exhaustible amount of strength, or will power.
  • The elephant doesn’t think too much, is reactionary, and very, very powerful.
  • To keep the rider from endlessly speculating you must find a plan that works and stick to it. This is achieved through a wonderfully simple and effective method called identifying the “bright spots.” In other words, look to the past and to others to find what seems to be working and do that.
  • Having a plan is only half the equation and you’ll need to find ways to motivate yourself for change emotionally. Once you’ve got the elephant on board the work is no problem.

(The book has all sorts of awesome case studies ranging from curing malnutrition in rural Vietnam, to correcting student behavior and helping clients get over deeply seeded psychological issues. If you’re curious please check it out. I can’t wait to finish it.)

Review of February Goals

February Daily Average – 91 min (Goal 90 min) – 37% Increase from January Totals

Practice Day Average 108 min (Goal 120 min) – 23% Increase from January Totals

Revisions and Projected Completion

While I did fall short of my “non-gig day” average, I was still able to improve substantially and am happy with my progress.

Going forward I’m focusing solely on a daily average. Having two separate workload days is not realistic for me at this point. Sometimes I just need to keep the horn off my face.

Also you should know I really wanted to give up on all this practicing about half-way through the month. However, having you guys as readers really motivated me to push myself. Once I decided to continue along, the work was actually no big deal. This leads me to believe that I am lazy and my mind plays tricks on me. Yours probably does too.

To keep things simple I’m jotting down the total minutes needed for the month on the back of my practice journal. As I practice I simply subtract that amount of time from the total. This method works well for me psychologically. I’ve used it previously to pay down loans, and am currently employing it to lessen my caffeine intake.

It looks like this…

total min

Any minutes over the requisite monthly total “rollover” towards the next month’s total.

The really awesome thing about this method is that once I hit the mark I feel completely comfortable taking the rest of the month off. Since I know (quantitatively) that I’m improving over time, the rest is completely guilt- free!!! This month I took four consecutive days off the horn and it felt amazing.

My March goal is a daily average of 105 minutes. Multiplied by 31 days this is a total of 3,255 minutes for the month. I then plan to increase the daily average by 15 minutes each month. At this pace I’ll reach my goal of a 4 hour daily average by the end of December.

Bright Spots: What’s Working?

Looking back on the past month’s practice I’ve noticed a few things that are getting results.

  1. Working fundamental skills for a predetermined amount of time. Right now I’m doing 15 minutes of lip slurs from Advanced Lip Flexibilities for Trumpet (Complete Volumes 1-3) (affiliate) and 10 minutes of double tonguing. I have added improvising to this list and will improvise for 10 minutes on each practice day. This means playing only what I have intuitive control over. I’m practicing a lot of jazz vocabulary but when I sit down to play tunes I’m doing a whole lot of “thinking” rather than just playing.
  2. I plan in detail what I’ll do at the beginning of the next session at the end of the current. This includes what key, where my focus is placed, and stylistic issues. This keeps practice time logically progressing toward goals and helps focus energy.
  3. Auto-regulating tempo. I start the tempo where I can comfortably play the given exercise and then make it 1 click slower as I go, per repetition.
  4. Long-Tones. Sort of. I’ve been holding out each note until I know for sure what the next one sounds like in my head, rhythm be-dammed. My neighbors might literally kill me.


Some of you who may remember back in August I released a post saying I had an ebook coming out (don’t worry, those receiving a free copy have not been forgotten). After completing, yes completing the book, I received some wonderful feedback and criticisms. I then decided to put the project completely out of my mind because I thought I could do better.

I am now ready to put the pedal to the metal on this project. The original manuscript was more theoretical idealism than pragmatic advice so I’ve decided to rewrite it to be more practical for the masses.

I’ve revved up my own elephant by planning the release on my 30th birthday. While I don’t have any of the stereotypical anxiety related to this age, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want something to “show” for myself by then. In other words the elephant thinks I’d be a real cool guy if I got this thing done in time 😉

I’ve planned deadlines for every conceivable aspect I could come up with.

It’s loose and dirty, but I think it’s going to work.

The End

As always I would absolutely love to hear anything you have to say. What are you practicing? How are you finding ways to improve the efficiency of your practice time? Is this site easy to read and comment on from your cell phone? Can you save me from myself?

Your internet friend,

James Blackwell

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One thought on “February 2015 Practice Update: Books, and Bright Spots

  1. FINALLY! THE BOOK IS COMPLETE. Now to get my hands on it and feed off of it. Taking a break from trumpet sounds completely scary. Even missing a full week a scary And that has happened. But now im taking better care of not missing a single day. But damn a month?! Thats…..interesting. Won’t your chops feel weird. I mean I remember in a lesson you gave me where you said even a day would feel like you missed a lot. As for practicing….a lot and a lot of the slurs from the lip exercise book 1-6 for at least 30 minutes, realtive minor scales and chromatic excercises from the clark book for 30 minutes. First page and etude so far. I won’t move on until I am completely comfortable starting with A,Eb,F and Bb. Those are the troubled ones at the moment. Slowly, but surely getting there.

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