My Arban Adventure - Week 2
Refining My Learning Philosophy and Method
- Recording Practice Sessions
- Early Insights
- Audio samples to listen to
Refining My Learning Philosophy and Method
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
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.
Recording My Practice Sessions and Early Insights
Recording my practice sessions has really been an eye-opener. I have learned a lot about my playing. The bad news is many of the things I have learned are things I need to change. On the other hand, the good news is most are easily changed. I have to admit, I was really surprised by some things, but I’ll get to that in a minute.
Below you will see a waveform graphic of me playing “First Study #2” in Arban. The first thing I noticed when I looked at this is the shape of each note. Instead of a full sound from beginning to the end of each tone, you can see they are more wedge shaped. Being aware of this has helped a lot with improving my tone. You can see in some of the later samples that I was more aware but permanent change will take some more time.
Arban, First Study #2
The next graphic is “First Study #3,” you can see the note shapes are similar. With this study I also noticed some vibrato that I wasn’t trying to do—it has become so automatic over the years it was just happening. Even though vibrato is not bad, at times, I noticed some of the time my vibrato is a little slower and wider than I wanted it. So, I need to be more aware of it to make sure it is what I want it to be. I want to control my playing rather than my playing (habits, etc.) controlling me.
Arban, First Study #3
The next exercise is “First Study #5".” You can see that I started out trying to be more aware of the shape of the note (working to keep the tone full to the end). At this point, I had not seen the shape of the note (the waveform using an audio editor) but I had heard it fade away. Hearing the recording of the previous exercises did help me make adjustments to my playing. I was very pleased to hear an almost immediate improvement even though it was small. To be sure, it will take a lot of time and effort to make permanent change, but, if I hadn’t heard that I needed to change I would not be making positive corrections. I had often heard of the benefits of recording practice sessions but I never did it since I was always in too much of a hurry and I really didn’t think I would hear anything helpful in the recordings.
Arban, First Study #5
One of the most important things I realized by recording my practice is my sound (tone) is a lot different than it sounds to me while I am playing (not necessarily bad, but very different). The obvious reason is the bell is aimed away from me and I hear the sound bouncing off whatever is in front of me. But, even more than that, I think it is because what I hear is more than merely what is being projected into the room. I am also “hearing” the vibrations that are being transferred along my jaw and to my ear.
My next insight related to the recorded sound is I was playing louder than I realized. Once I listened to the recording I decided to play softer (lighter) and I noticed my tone improved immediately.
Also, articulation on the recording is a lot different than what I was hearing while playing. At times, my articulation was much cleaner (clear attacks, etc) than I thought—this was true with the hard tonguing. On the other hand, when I was playing a more legato passage the tonguing was not as “clear” as I thought it would be.
When I played more softly the articulation was generally better, especially, staccato notes. I believe playing softer worked so well with improving my tone because I was intensely focused on improving the tone which included better, more accurate, attacks and constantly being aware of the shape of the note.
Below is “First Study” #6 on page 11. You can see and hear that even though I was making some progress with “shaping” the note (maintaining a consistent shape to the tone from beginning to end) I was still struggling with old habits. Some progress but a long way to go.
Arban, First Study #6
The next waveform graphic is “First Study” #11 on page 13. I actually played this several times in different ways—loud, soft, heavy or light articulation. This is medium volume with lighter tonguing and more staccato notes. With the waveform you can see there is about equal amounts of silence and sound. Until I listened to the recording I was consistently playing this louder with heavier articulation. After hearing the recording I realized softer and lighter produced much better tone. There will be times when I will need to play louder with heavier articulation but for this study lighter and softer was much better.
Arban, First Study #11
The next exercise is First Study #14 on page 13. This is a very similar exercise to #11 above but in G Major whereas #11 is in F Major. I played this one a little louder and a little more legato. Also, I was playing along and about halfway through I couldn't help myself--I threw in a little ornamentation. :-)
Arban, First Study #14
Another insight from week 2 relates to the importance of proper breath support. Proper breath support is vital for the best possible tone. Without the proper breath support the tendency is to pinch or squeeze the note out with your embouchure and/or excessive pressure on the lips with the mouthpiece. This produces a thin and often unpleasant tone not too mention the problems this causes with your lips, at the very least it dramatically shortens your stamina and may possibly even lead to permanent damage.
Another consideration about proper breath support is the need to mentally prepare for the notes you plan to play (place the note). What I mean is to have your embouchure and breath support ready to play the note--to anticipate, physically, what is needed to place the note exactly where it is supposed to be. This takes a lot of practice and focused concentration. There are several leaps in these exercises and if you don't anticipate the note and "hear" it in your mind it is way too easy to miss the note.
Arban, First Study #15 on page 14
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
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