Slowly but Surely, Shirley?

Turtle Snail

Practicing slowly is something we know (or at least have been told) we should all do.

Recently a friend of mine sent me a great article on the benefits of practicing slowly (which you can read HERE) and this got me thinking about the various ways we can implement this strategy to improve our trumpet playing.

We’ve all heard someone preaching the benefits of slow practice, usually in relation to learning a passage, lick, or otherwise challenging technique. Well guess what? Playing efficiently IS a technique and we should approach our practice as such.


The fastest way to build efficiency is to build it slowly. If we are taking the time to practice exercises specifically designated to train the muscles of our embouchure then we might as well do it as effectively as possible!

Slow practice is all over sports psychology in areas such as golf and the martial arts. Just like developing a great drive or a wicked karate chop, training a burning trumpet embouchure is a complex physical task which needs to be built up piece by piece – this takes time.

We need to be playing (range development exercises, lip trills, etc) slowly enough that we can feel the tiny nuances of the muscles. Are we centering each pitch? Is our air stream constant? Are we using our embouchure in a way which will promote long-term growth?

Avoid the temptation to burn the candle at both ends and “iron in the wrinkles.” What we want is control.

Consider also your physical growth over calendar time. Everybody wants chops NOW but it helps to adopt the attitude that we have a long time to learn this stuff. When it comes to strength training the snail really wins the race. By slowing your progress over time you work out tiny inefficiencies and nuances which deepen your understanding of the required coordination. The more intimate your understanding of the movements the farther you will be able to progress. In other words, the deeper your foundation the taller you can eventually build.

Take note; the best way to ruin your form (which is what we are talking about here) is with fatigue! If your chops are tired, STOP NOW!


One way to implement this idea is to practice the same thing over and over (and over and over, and …) even after we think we’ve got it. This is what a daily routine is. By refining the same exercises over time (lips slurs, anyone?) we train super-coordinated muscles. This leads to the ability to make tiny changes in the line of fire which helps us play day after day (after day, after…) without damage.

As you develop a more intimate understanding of how to train your embouchure you may find that you are compelled to learn even slower as time goes on. By finding subtler inefficiencies where you are you raise the cap for where you can go. Keep your muscles, mind, and spirit fresh by committing to tiny changes every day.

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A great example of slow practice in the moment : Ben Hogan practicing his swing very slowly.

This guy kills pull-ups and in a subsequent video he suggests a workout of 5 pull-ups per day for 8 months to a year before moving on!!!  Talk about takin’ it slow!


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