January 2015 Practice Update: Month Review and Beyond!


Hello friends – thank you all for investing your time in reading this post. I’m thinking that at the beginning of each month I’ll look back on the previous months work, determine where I am in relation to my long-term goals, and make any necessary modifications. My intention is that you can use this information to make better decisions about how you direct your own energies and hopefully offer up some creative approaches to achieving your own playing goals.


This blog is a resource for the readers. If you like the direction the posts are moving – let me know! If you want something else – Let me know!

January 2015 Basics

At the beginning of the year I set a goal to get my practice time to 4 hours per day on non-gig days. The idea is to get my capacity for work up so I can learn more before I die. I want this because I fall into the trap (eternally) of thinking I’m running out of time. I do not intend to keep this schedule up forever, but I have to get there and keep it going for at least while because I said I would (in last month’s blog post).

This graph shows how many minutes I practiced each day in blue, and how many minutes I played for gigs and rehearsals in red (this is an approximation). The straight trend-line represents the practice time trend for the month, and the squiggly line shows a 10-day moving average (included for fun).

Jan Stats 2015

NOTE: A moving average plots data points at the average of a defined “period” (in this case 10 days). So each point reflects the last 10 days of practice.

January Stats

Highest Practice Volume – 138 minutes

Days Off – 1

Daily Practice Average – 66.26 minutes

“Non-Gig” (Just practicing) Day Average – 87.64 minutes

Psychological Review

At the outset I was pretty gung-ho. I admit that I did think my ability to practice greater amounts of time would progress linearly. I figured the longer I went the easier it would be to shed countless hours of productive work.

Yeah right…

In fact, as the graph clearly shows, my ability to practice followed a nice down-trend over the course of the month.

I gather this happened for a number of reasons, both trumpet and regular-life related:

First off, of the 18 instances that I “played out” all of them were as a lead player. This means lots of face-pounding. Some players like doing a lot of hard playing to build up what are often referred to as “road chops” but I personally find this tiring physically and psychologically. I wasn’t giving myself much “down-time” after the more aggressive gigs and it eventually wore me down (rest assured this isn’t the first time). Since playing the trumpet is currently my primary source of income it doesn’t seem realistic to just STOP. So there needs to be a balance between work, practice toward personal goals, and rest.

Secondly, Starbucks discontinued my favorite tea and since then life has been harder 😉

Course Corrections

First and foremost I will plan rest days (completely off the horn) at the beginning of each month. This month I will not play Feb 16, 26, 27, and 28. If I feel like more time off, I’m going to take it. I will also approach all practice in February “easily” from a physical standpoint. There is already enough heavy-lifting on the books and more always comes in last-minute.

I am aiming to increase my daily practice average to 90 minutes, and my “non-gig day” practice average to 120 minutes by the end of the month. I will calculate my current average every 5 days to keep on track. These calculation days are now marked in my calendar.

I was also writing in my practice journal “I easily practice four hours a day,” along with some other variations to try to convince myself I can do it. However, I think it works better for me to keep a running tally along the edge of the notebook and really drill an image of a larger number into my subconscious. I found myself hitting the 90 minute mark on practice days and feeling like that was “good enough.” So I’m going to increase the “good enough” mark to crossing 100 minutes.

Here’s what that looks like.


I have also decided to add in regular lip slur practice. I haven’t worked on slurs in at least a year, maybe much longer, and feel it’s time to get back on it. The plan is to practice lip slurs for 15 minutes on non-gig days. This is at the suggestion of Joseph Alessi – super-bad-ass trombone player – and you can check out his practice suggestions HERE). My strategy is to read through the Advanced Lip Flexibilities for Trumpet (Complete Volumes 1-3)
with a 15 minute timer – casually playing through the exercises at a comfortable pace, and addressing any issues as they arise. Also, I will plan where to begin the next lip-slur practice session as soon as I finish the one I’m working on. I’m not trying to master the exercises here and am considering it “eating your vegetables” type stuff.


So that’s what’s currently up with me. I encourage you to offer any and all feedback you may have. Otherwise I’ll just continue to blab on 😉

Until next time,


Did you Enjoy this Article? Please Subscribe to the Newsletter! New Subscribers encourage me to create more FREE content!

6 thoughts on “January 2015 Practice Update: Month Review and Beyond!

  1. Blackwell, I love that you are doing this. It is inspiring me to practice more. I started keeping a practice log in mid january for the first time since my undergrad at UNT. What software did you use to plot that graph? I am using pen/paper but since my brain thinks and sees stats and graphs better I might want to do something like that as well. My times are a little lower; my goal is 90 minutes on a 1 show day, 30 mins on a 2 show day and 1 day off/week. Keep this blog coming. Weekly updates! I would like to know what you are doing to fill 4 HOURS of time. I feel mentally exhausted and have improved and spinning my wheels after one hour usually. Also, how much of that is rest? resting time= playing time?

    • Hey Levi, thanks for reading! Glad to hear you’re back into the woodshed. I used Microsoft Word to make that graph (through excel). I also use regular spiral bound notebooks as well for the logs and then punch some numbers into the computer occasionally. I’ll make another post that outlines what I’ve been doing to get the time in. I admit that one of the greatest challenges hasn’t really playing a lot but rather building up my powers of concentration, working toward goals that take a long time, and believing that the practice will pay off. From a chops standpoint the VAST majority of my practice time is spent mentally rehearsing or singing/fingering etc. Most of what I’m working on these days is transcriptions/changes/jazz stuff so I’m really just working to ingrain the sounds in my ear and connect them to the fingers. I’l put all that into a post too. Thanks for the comment and more to come! Blackwell

  2. In a world filled with the drivel of self-proclaimed ‘experts’ it is refreshing to hear from somebody bold enough to share their goals and give true insight to the circuitous path taken to reach them. Truth is, few if any achieve their dreams by strolling down a straight, easy path. The hard lessons we learn through mistakes and false starts are the lessons that make a difference. Your fearless sharing inspires me to eschew trite exercises and shoot for the stars. Thank you for insight to the true human pursuit of excellence.

    • John, Thank you for the insanely nice remark! It’s empowering for me to know you’re digging on the info and finding the motivation to aim higher with your personal goals. Let’s keep it up! James

  3. Pingback: You Are Musically Talented – Stop Trying So Damn Hard | Blackwell's Trumpet Basics

Leave a Comment!