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My Arban Adventure - My Method

My Method and Plan

In a recent post on, My Trumpet Journey, I mentioned my plan to systematically work through Arban’s Complete Conservatory Method for Trumpet. My plan is to record my practice sessions and rate my progress by listening to the recording and rating my progress.  Listening to the recording will help me to be more objective about my playing.  In fact, I have noticed many thingsArban cover in my playing while listening to recordings that I never noticed before.  I will be sharing more about that later. 

I will be rating my playing progress in several areas:

  • Notes – playing notes accurately, i.e., playing the right note
  • Timing – Accuracy with the timing
  • Articulation – Accurately articulating all notes, i.e., tonguing, slurring, etc.
  • Style – Accurately playing according to the style of exercise or study.
  • Tone – playing with good tone throughout the study
  • Tuning – playing all notes of the exercise or study with good tuning
  • Breath Support – playing with adequate breath support for all notes in the study or exercise and having enough wind to play to the end.

My original plan was to rate each of these on a scale of 1-5 with 5 being the best score.  So, a perfect rating would be 35.  Even though I still plan to rate it this way I think the easiest way to objectively arrive at an accurate rating is to mark each mistake or variance from perfect in each of the 7 categories.  For example, if I play the wrong note on two occasions I would make 2 marks in the Notes column. If I get behind in one measure I would make 1 mark under timing. If I played a note flat on two occasions through the exercise I would make 2 marks under tuning.

I would need to decide how many, if any, “mistakes” I would allow myself to make in order to determine if I made progress and/or was ready to move on to the next exercise.

Speaking of moving on.  At this point I think I will expect to play an exercise a specified number of times with a certain rating.  For example, before I would move on and consider an exercise “mastered” I would document progress by playing an exercise at least 10 times with no more than 2 mistakes, or a rating score of at least 33.  You might choose to have at least 10 times with a perfect score before you move on. 

I will be working on my methods as I work through Arban’s Method.  Hopefully, by the time I’m done I will have a useful tool for productive practice as you work through any piece of music.

I’d like to make a comment about philosophy related to practice.  I have come to realize an error in my previous philosophy and thinking about practice.  In the past, I would try to check off an exercise or etude as quick as possible, move on the next and never look back.  I have come to realize I was cheating myself and not being productive in my practice.  There is no hurry.  I need to play it as many times as it takes to play it well.  It’s a win-win situation.  I learn the piece better, I gain the skills being presented in the piece, and I gain endurance, stronger embouchure and improved breath support.  Actually, I guess that’s more like a win-win-win-win situation.  Awesome. 

My next post in the series, My Arban Adventure, will be my thoughts, comments, and insights about my first week’s experience. I never would have dreamed I could learn so much in such a short time. 

The adventure continues…


Refining My Learning Philosophy and Method

As you can see by my title, I am in week 2 of My Arban Adventure.  In this second week I have had several important insights.  I will be sharing those insights with you in this post and the next.  In the next post, Week 2b, I will also share some audio examples. 

During this second week I have refined my basic philosophy related to my method of working through Arban.  I will be taking my time with mastering exercises and studies in Arban.  What I mean by this is I will be structuring my practice routines so that I will play an exercise a small number of times each practice but I will continue to play them each practice over a longer period of time.  I believe this is a more effective method for “mastering” a piece of music and since I don’t have any time limits or deadlines I can focus on quality. 

Learning how to play music correctly involves many components:

A basic understanding of the music itself (notes, rhythms, key signature, meter, tempo, etc.

Reading the music—the process of seeing the music and interpreting what you see and translating it into coordinated body functions including embouchure, diaphragm, finger movements).

Intensive, focused, practice on difficult passages to master smaller phrases of the larger piece, as needed.

Coordinating all of the above into basic ability to “play” entire piece of music at a slower tempo, if needed, without mistakes and over time, increasing tempo to desired rate.  Initially, this might be just making it through the study but over time quality will come.

As mastery improves, focus shifts from getting the basics (rhythm, notes, difficult phrases, etc) under your belt to playing it musically.

Playing a piece musically involves accurately playing basic notes rhythms, etc. accurately, on a consistent basis and adding stylistic components, i.e., dynamics, accents, tempo changes, attacks and releases of notes, etc.

You can see in “mastering” a piece of music you are actually mastering components and layering them on top of each other to produce the finished product.

I believe this is accomplished more effectively over a longer period of time.  To play musically you have to be able to do some parts without conscious effort—they have to be put on auto-pilot allowing you to concentrate on the interpretation of the stylistic components. For example, your fingers must be able to press the valves in the right sequence as your diaphragm exerts the right amount of pressure against your embouchure to produce each tone at the correct dynamic level at the exact same time your fingers press the right valve combination. Also, you embouchure is working to correctly restrict the column of wind the correct amount to produce the exact stream of wind that will cause your lips to vibrate at the correct rate while focusing this stream into the mouthpiece so that it cleanly passes through the throat and into the trumpet—vibrating through the length of the trumpet, which depends on the correct valve combination, and out the bell to be heard and enjoyed by anyone who is close enough to hear it.  This is quite a process for what might only be a sixteenth note, possibly, one of dozens that are similar but not the same.

My point is, you must train your muscles—arms, hands, diaphragm, lips to work together without you having to concentrate on each intricate part of the process.  That is only accomplished over time.

So, I am choosing to play each study a few times per practice session over a longer period of time (maybe, 3-6 weeks, or more) depending on how quickly I fully master the study, including all musical knowledge and ability that can be gained from this study.  And, in order to squeeze out more from each piece it might be necessary to play an exercise with a completely different style—staccato rather than legato. Also, by using mastered studies occasionally in warm up or cool down helps continue the process of mastery.

Since I am not facing any specific deadlines I am taking advantage of this opportunity to work on mastering 30-40 Arban studies at the same time playing each 1-4 times per practice session.  This mean I am playing 3-5 studies in each of 8-9 sections of Arban (i. e., “First Studies,” “Syncopation,” “Slurs,” “Scales,” etc.). Each study is at a different level of mastery—but that is always my goal for each.

This does several things: it helps me stay interested because of the variety of studies in each practice session and I’m able to reinforce my learning by layering skills from one study on top of skills learned in other studies which I believe gives me a firmer foundation and provides for increasing flexibility and well-roundedness as a musician.

Refining My Methods - Even More

I record my practice sessions so I can listen and learn from a more objective point of view.  I have learned many surprising details about my playing through listening to these recordings.  I have been able to make changes in the way I play that have made a big difference in my sound—thanks to recording practice session.

I try to play each study from beginning to end without stopping—playing through mistakes which greatly improves my ability to recover after mistakes.  Also, playing the whole study builds endurance with embouchure and breath support and coordination of all parts.  I go back and practice phrases that I might consistently have trouble with and then play the whole piece again, at a slower tempo if necessary.  Once mastered at a slower tempo I speed it up and continue playing in future sessions till I feel and hear in the recording that it is mastered at the correct tempo and with appropriate style and dynamics.

I use the metronome extensively in practice (you will hear that in some of the upcoming audio examples).

When I listen to recordings to determine how ready I am to move on I rate my playing based on several specific criteria: playing notes accurately, articulation, timing, style, adequate breath support, quality of tone, and tuning.  The recording helps me determine more objectively how well I play each study or exercise in each of these areas.

My goal is to improve my playing—to be the best I can be and reach my full potential.  That might mean playing some exercises a few times daily for six or eight weeks or more.  I have shifted my focus from speed to quality—from “adequate” to “mastery.”

OK, so that’s the philosophy that is the foundation for my adventure through Arban.

Arban, First Study #15 on page 14

Arban, First Study #15 on page 14 1 09142011.mp3|saved 1 09142011

The next two exercises are from page 14.  They are very similar but in different keys (F major and C major). These exercises are good for working on many basic fundamentals of playing trumpet: articulation, tone, timing, and breath support. Another important aspect of playing musically is keeping the tone consistent on the higher notes and the lower notes.  On this recording I was able to play the whole exercise in one breath.

Arban, First Study #16 on page 14

Arban, First Study #16 on page 14 2 09142011.mp3|saved 2 09142011

On this exercise I take the tempo a little slower than the previous one and I didn't have enough breath to play the whole thing in one breath. It is obvious where I take my breath. 

Arban, First Study #17 on page 14

Arban, First Study #17 on page 14 5 09142011.mp3|saved 5 09142011