Reframe and Redirect – A More Thoughtful Way to Practice

Reframe and Redirect – A More Thoughtful Way to Practice

Reframe and Redirect – A More Thoughtful Way to Practice

I had some fun writing this for Trumpet Magazine Online, a publication that has most of its following in Europe. I thank my students both in my T5 Mastercourse and the New England Conservatory and their hard work, which reminded me of these lessons – I often need to remind myself that they work for me too!.

Written by Ben Wright

In

 

 

 

 

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What’s the biggest difference between a recorded audition and a live audition? You have the ABILITY (double edged sword here) to record it as many times as you want or have time to with a recorded audition. When it is live, you get one shot. Most of the recorded auditions now are being asked to be done straight-through, with no edits. This takes more planning and preparation than being able to record one selection at a time. It also gives us as the listeners a better overall idea of your playing.

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How to Make Audition Recordings

How to Make Audition Recordings

How to Make Audition Recordings

I hosted a free Zoom seminar this January to try to help folks sort through the issues that come up when recording auditions. It was interesting to see what came up.

What’s the biggest difference between a recorded audition and a live audition? You have the ABILITY (double edged sword here) to record it as many times as you want or have time to with a recorded audition. When it is live, you get one shot. Most of the recorded auditions now are being asked to be done straight-through, with no edits. This takes more planning and preparation than being able to record one selection at a time. It also gives us as the listeners a better overall idea of your playing.

There are some other differences we don’t often think about…With live auditions, when it finally comes to it, we just walk in and play. Getting there takes a lot of planning – transportation, lodging, etc. but it all takes place well in advance of the actual playing.

Recorded auditions require advanced planning as well: reserving a space, setting up equipment, setting recording levels, making sure lighting is decent (“Will the heat be on in the church choir room where I am recording?”). ALL of these things need to be done as much as possible before the day of the recording so you can just show up and play. After all, it is hard enough to do that! So do this prep before the recording session as much as possible.

It seems these days like people really don’t love recorded auditions – I get it, playing for people and either knowing they are sitting on the other side of a screen or seeing their smiling faces makes a big difference.

Trouble is, there’s this thing called COVID… maybe you’ve heard of it…

Yeah – it’s a whole THING. Anyway…

Most schools and music festivals aren’t allowing live auditions, which is a shame, but try to find a place of acceptance of the current reality, and just DO YOUR BEST. That is what we’ve been doing for two years, and we will continue to do the same until we reach a new normal, and are back playing everything live etc! So, keep that chin up, and let’s find some better ways to approach recording so you can get into the school/festival/orchestra/polka band of your dreams.

Here were the things that came up in the meeting and that seemed to stress people the most, in no particular order:

  • How do you know when the recording is “good enough”/done?
  • How many sessions should you give yourself to get it done?
  • How nice/big/resonant does the room in which you record need to be?
  • What kind of mic do you use/what works well?
  • How do you deal with feeling like once you press the record button everything feels DIFFERENT?
  • How do you decide what to record when you’re given the choice of excerpts and solos?

Let’s dig in here…

Set up a healthy number of sessions as it relates to the music you have to record.

How to decide how many? As many as you can manage and still sound good! That being said there are some things to consider:

  • How often can you reserve the space?
  • How many times can you run through the list and still sound good? (the lower this number, the more sessions you should allow yourself – HINT: the harder the list, the lower this number will be!!!)

The number of sessions you schedule should also be governed by a simple rule – the better you can prepare for recorded auditions, the easier they will go.

Should you try to “step it up” when we are recording?

NOOOOOOOO!!!!!

This is the biggest mistake musicians make when auditioning or recording. If you’ve set up your sessions in an organized manner, the only thing you are doing is trying to play in the sessions the same way you practiced. This means that how you practice is critical. As much as possible, you must try to play with the ideal version of the music in your head (this assumes you have listened to enough recordings to have chosen a favorite and memorized the nuances of said favorite player). That way, when the red light is on, you just listen to that version in your head that you have been hearing for weeks/months/years and trust your body to produce it as well as it can in that moment.

You don’t really need to think about where to place your feet when you walk down the street – you just do it. Recording is the same. Set yourself up well with your logistics and then JUST PLAY.

 

 

Written by Ben Wright

In

 

Teachers often say JUST DO YOUR BEST. I did it just a few paragraphs ago – we don’t assume you will play your best – we just want you to follow through on the training that got you this far and toss your hat in the ring. I have won 4 auditions for full time orchestras and made semis/finals in all but two of the rest of the auditions I’ve ever taken. I have played my absolute best exactly TWICE, and neither time was in a final round (semis for the Kennedy Center Opera and semis for 4th in Chicago Symphony). The whole point of having good practice habits is to raise the overall level of our playing. That way, we can still find success when we play in the 70-95% range and not have to rely on the rarified air of that elusive top 5%!

So, the whole last paragraph summarized: how you practice is how you should record, and if you’ve practiced well, your recordings are likely to go similarly.

Morgen Low, an excellent trumpeter in the New World Symphony was attending and made this excellent observation:

“It took me a while to realize I should be preparing for a taped (recorded) audition as if the live audition were the day I’m recording and not just do it over and over until a good take magically occurs.”

Amen: treat recorded auditions with the respect you would a live audition. That means, take care of yourself in the days leading up the “audition” (recording). Avoid overplaying a couple of days prior to the “audition”. Block off the time so you don’t have taxing rehearsals or concerts the day of or the night before whenever it is possible.

Remember, you are going for quality, not quantity.

Use a decent mic (ranging from a Yeti Snowball mic on up to… ) – whatever you have access to that captures your playing most accurately. For all of my recordings in the past two years, I have used an Apogee Mic (creative name, right?) and Logic Pro – it is a plug and play mic that captures my sound in a very accurate way. I have colleagues at work with much more sophisticated set ups – it all boils down to personal preference. A good middle of the road USB mic is the Blue Yeti, which you can get at big box stores like Best Buy etc.

KNOW HOW TO USE YOUR EQUIPMENT!!!

I use Logic Pro but there are lots of other routes to choose.

If possible, have an assistant (friend/mom/dad/ etc) to help set up equipment (not to mention schlepping it)

set the levels (or have them figured out ahead of time) etc.

If you are recording in a large resonant space, try to keep the mic around 10-12 feel away and at least 6 feet in the air to avoid a direct bell sound. This way, you get the best combination of your actual sound plus a little ambient help from the room (without it being too boomy).

If you have your choice of material to record, make sure you cover the basics: Classical/Romantic styles at a minimum, something loud, soft, lyrical, loud, and technical. For instance:

  • Haydn Concerto (classical soft, lyrical, technical)
  • Pines of Rome (romantic, lyrical)
  • Mahler 5 (romantic, loud)
  • Petrouchka (technical)

It is rare to have your choice of what to record. Choose things you play well and which cover these bases.

In summary:

  • Plan ahead and schedule plenty of sessions
  • Practice well!
  • Know how to use your equipment.
  • Allow time for set up (this is more planning).
  • Play it like you practiced it
  • Think big picture here – how do you hear it in your head?
  • Quality is the goal, so recording over and over alone won’t achieve your goals.

If ANY of this info was new to you, write it down on a to-do list! Take action to make this whole thing go more smoothly. Allow yourself as much time as you think you will need as it relates to all things with your sessions and then add 15% – you may still find you barely are comfortable, but over-budget here!

You can do this!

 

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What’s the biggest difference between a recorded audition and a live audition? You have the ABILITY (double edged sword here) to record it as many times as you want or have time to with a recorded audition. When it is live, you get one shot. Most of the recorded auditions now are being asked to be done straight-through, with no edits. This takes more planning and preparation than being able to record one selection at a time. It also gives us as the listeners a better overall idea of your playing.

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Re-frame to re-learn – teach an old dog new tricks on the trumpet or any instrument

Re-frame to re-learn – teach an old dog new tricks on the trumpet or any instrument

Re-frame to re-learn – teach an old dog new tricks on the trumpet or any instrument

You CAN teach an old dog new tricks

I am 46. I don’t think of that as old, but I have been working in full-time orchestras now for over 23 years. I left school in 1998 to start working and yet, in the last three years, I have learned more about how to play the trumpet (and thus, how to teach the same stuff) than at any other time in my life!

Do you sometimes feel like you are stuck in a rut with your playing and don’t know the way forward? Do you feel like you have a lot of good information from various sources over the years of your education and subsequent work life but can’t quite figure out how to fit it all together? Feel free to shoot me an email, any time and we can talk about what’s going on! benwrighttrumpet@gmail.com

Written by Ben Wright

In

I was stuck in a rut for sure. The lucky part is that I was stuck in a rut with members of the best brass section anywhere. But, feeling like what I was doing didn’t always feel sustainable caused a lot of stress for many years. With the time off caused by the pandemic, things started to come together for me. Namely, I figured out the right mix of fundamentals to keep the ship steering straight, no matter what I was playing in the BSO or Boston Pops – second on an all-Beethoven week means bombing away on low notes. Playing assistant principal on a John Williams Pops program with a rehearsal and concert the same day means playing all over the horn. Performing such a wide range of styles requires balance and for years I didn’t have it. Now, I know, for instance, that piccolo playing during those all-Beethoven weeks is crucial to keeping my upper register viable. Doing my Stamp routine at least three times a week in the middle of the day keeps my face feeling stable and durable.

When I was a grad student, Mark Gould said to me that the back pressure on a High C is the same as a C in the staff. I dutifully nodded and said “OK”. I had NO idea what that meant, but I tried for months to figure it out. Years actually went by, and I forgot about it until I heard him say it to one of my students in a masterclass he gave at NEC. I had a head scratch moment and then forgot it again – I had new-born twins, and forgot MANY things during that time. 

Then a year ago, during a lesson with a grad student at NEC, I figured it out – instead of the way Mark put it to me, what I would have said was, the AIR pressure on lower notes needs to be nearly as high as the air pressure we use to play higher notes. This concept has been the key for expanding my range, flexibility, and consistency in a major way. 

For instance, we can easily play a G in the staff with the air we have in our mouth! It sounds crummy, but it just shows it can happen without engaging the diaphragm and its accompanying abdominal muscles that move our air up and out through the embouchure. However if you increase the air PRESSURE in your lungs by attempting to move a lot of air through a very small hole (the aperture) and develop the control to parse that air out depending on how loud you want to play, there will be more life in the sound in the lower range, more security in your attacks, and more ease when going from lower notes to higher notes. Try it!

So, no matter your age, you can learn to play better. I had a student in my Summer T5 2021 session who had trouble articulating quickly and was concerned about endurance while playing his freelance gigs. In making some small changes to the way he uses his body with some Alexander Techniques, talking Jacobs-style breathing, and adjusting some of his habits, he felt much more secure and sounded WAY better. 

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Building accuracy and confidence: playing the trumpet (or any other brass instrument) is like shooting free throws…

Building accuracy and confidence: playing the trumpet (or any other brass instrument) is like shooting free throws…

Playing a brass instrument is like shooting free throws…

Steve Nash is the second-best free-throw shooter of all time at 90.43%… just behind Steph Curry, depending on the week!

Nash shot 90% on his first free throw and 91% on his second free throw. That one percentage point difference is smaller than the other players in the top five who were all 3-5% worse on their first free throw. The first free throw is harder because the player needs to access long-term muscle memory. Once they have shot their first, the muscle memory is pulled from their short-term memory which lends the higher percentage to the second shot.

Why was Steve Nash’s first-shot percentage better than the other top shooters of all time?

He practiced his motion three times before EVERY free throw, so he was accessing his muscle memory from his short term memory (see photo).

What does any of this have to do with music??

Think about how many times we put up our instruments and don’t imagine hitting the first note – we focus on any number of other things our excellent teachers have asked us to think about:

  • Breathing
  • Clear Articulation
  • Pitch
  • Character
  • Dynamics
  • The list could go on, and on, and on…

We just performed Frau Ohne Schatten and in the middle there is one of those Straussian head scratching entrances in the second trumpet. Totally calm moment with soft trumpet octaves, then a sudden tempo change, introduced by the 2nd trumpet with an exposed solo entrance (full disclosure: I had it with clarinet, but as he said, “I’ll just ghost you”. – gee thanks!). Yet another one of those trumpet moments where you either feel like a hero or a dog with its tail between its legs. Here’s what it looks like (I can’t share the sound clip per BSO rules…):

Some notes on the trumpet are squirrely like rock climbing – you need just the right foot hold to safely keep climbing. I’d say A-flat is definitely one of those notes for me. It has a narrow slot and is easy to miss it high or low! In this case, instead of stepping or reaching calmly up to its little notch on the trumpet, you are leaping there! After an initial clam or two, due mostly to not understanding the tempo change, I settled into my routine on and off stage. The first thing I did was ask Mike Martin to play the last couple of bars of the soft thing so I could focus on the A-flat. Then, in the preceding section, I imagined what it feels like to nail an A-flat… over and over, and over. Accessing that muscle memory is the key. All the while I was breathing slowly to try to slow down my heart and calm the nerves. Off Stage, when I was warming up or practicing, I would randomly come in (in character, and in the new tempo) and play the lick. I got more consistent and nailed all the performances, I’m happy to say. Since we are playing it on an upcoming tour, I am glad to have figured out how to dial this one in!

  • Playing any instrument is a mini-athletic event.
  • Carmine Caruso said it takes nearly 200 muscles to play one note on a brass instrument – that’s nearly a third of the muscles in the body.
  • Playing music requires tremendous coordination and timing.
  • With brass instruments, many of these actions occur internally so we cannot see them, BUT THEY ARE THERE!!

What if there was a way for us, while we are sitting in an audition or performance to do the same thing as Nash’s practice free throws? I actually started doing this a few years ago before touchy entrances in the orchestra and my percentage of ideal attacks went up dramatically. This leads to more confidence, less stress etc. I try to do it all the time now when I am practicing.

For your next challenging entrance try this:

  • Raise the trumpet up nearly to the lips
  • Feel the time – maybe even tap your toes.
  • Hear the pitch – imagine what it feels like to play that pitch
  • Take the breath that matches the entrance
  • Articulate with the energy that matches the character
  • Repeat several times before the entrance
  • Practice it this way on and off stage
  • In the performance, DO WHAT YOU HAVE PRACTICED!
  • For the love of Rodney, don’t try anything new at that moment!
  • Watch and listen as your percentages go up!

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What’s the biggest difference between a recorded audition and a live audition? You have the ABILITY (double edged sword here) to record it as many times as you want or have time to with a recorded audition. When it is live, you get one shot. Most of the recorded auditions now are being asked to be done straight-through, with no edits. This takes more planning and preparation than being able to record one selection at a time. It also gives us as the listeners a better overall idea of your playing.

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The Best Zoom Settings: Learn More in Your Lessons

The Best Zoom Settings: Learn More in Your Lessons

Written by Ben Wright

In

I have met and worked with many fantastic trumpet players since spring of 2020 via Zoom: American, Canadian, Asian, Australian, Spanish, and British players; older players and younger; amateur and pro. I feel lucky to have been able to help so many people from the safety and convenience of our respective homes/countries. Even now that it is safer, I am still thankful for the Zoom interface and its ability to reach far and wide. 

I wanted to share some info on how you can make your distance learning lessons go smoother from a technological standpoint.

Often I hear people say: I need FANCY equipment to make zoom lessons work, right?

No!!!

Are you among the people that have expanded their minds and improved their playing over the last year by taking lessons with experts all over the world via Zoom? I know that for many of you the answer is yes, but just in case…

Do you need a mixing board, preamp, condenser mic, DSLR camera in 4K, internet at warp speed, and/or supercomputer to make trumpet lessons work on zoom? 

Nope. Can you use just a cell phone on 3g or slow WiFi? Well… sorry, no. 

Here’s what I use: MacBook Pro (2018), Apogee Mic (that’s the model name, but you can use any plug and play USB mic in my experience to excellent effect as long as it has a way to adjust gain control), corded Ethernet connection to Verizon Fios, and an Apple AirPod in one ear with a corded backup nearby just in case.

 

I’ve made excellent connections with my online students using similar setups with GREAT results since March of 2020. 

Does it help to have some setup tips? Yes- here’s a great zoom setup guide. 

Make sure you are running the latest Zoom version by clicking Check for Updates (any time Zoom doesn’t work well this is your first place to check :

Once you are sure you have the latest and greatest version of Zoom, open Zoom and select the cog wheel in the upper right corner:

Once into the settings menu, select “Audio” on the left and check or uncheck the options as shown below:

Click on “Advanced” at the bottom of the screen. On the following page, set echo cancellation to Auto.

Next, select Video on the left side of your settings window and uncheck HD – this will ensure that more of your internet bandwidth will go to your audio feed and reduce lag.

 

That is it for Zoom settings.

As far as to use WiFi or a corded connection (called an Ethernet cable), always choose the latter as it will ensure the most reliable connection (especially if, like me, you have 11 year olds playing Minecraft on the wifi!). I bought a 50’ cable for mine to connect to the router from Amazon for under $20.

Once you have done these things, you can be reasonably sure that your Zoom lesson learning can be maximized! 

 

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What’s the biggest difference between a recorded audition and a live audition? You have the ABILITY (double edged sword here) to record it as many times as you want or have time to with a recorded audition. When it is live, you get one shot. Most of the recorded auditions now are being asked to be done straight-through, with no edits. This takes more planning and preparation than being able to record one selection at a time. It also gives us as the listeners a better overall idea of your playing.

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