The high octane fuel to improve your trombone playing

I thought of something I’d like to add to the very beginning of my upcoming book, Rhythm Savvy. The further I get into writing and recording for the book, the more I believe that this tool can help players improve their musicianship. That improvement, however, won’t come immediately or by magic, and that is what I’d like to briefly convey at the outset of the book.

From the book:

How will you improve your trombone playing?

For a moment, let’s take a step back from this book. You could just start reading and methodically playing from page 1 through to the last page, expecting a complete makeover of your command of time and rhythm as an end result of the effort. You might notice some improvement in your sense of time, but improvement in something as complex as your inner clock and the stylized projection of that clock through your trombone requires a certain type and amount of work.

As I wrote in my book Trombone Improvisation Savvy, there is an inner game to improving your skills in order to get the point you desire. If this inner game is not being played well, you will have a much harder time becoming the player you wish to become, regardless of the resources you employ or the amount of time you spend on them. Practice makes perfect is not necessarily true. In fact the wrong practice can make you worse.

The foundational step in improving any skill is simply having a strong sense of where you wish to go. Playing trombone (or doing anything) well is a journey and if you don’t have an idea of where you are going, you’ll never get there. So, how clearly can you answer the following question: How do I want my trombone playing to sound? Put a different way: What does my ultimate musical voice on trombone sound like? The more specific you can be in your mind, the better, since this “vision” will direct your thinking and activities that get you there.

In your mind’s ear, can you hear yourself playing as a more skilled player? What is your defining attribute? How could someone pick you out of a random playlist of trombone players?

Now, you might be saying, Wait, I’m not trying to set the world on fire. I just want to play better than I do now. That’s perfectly fine, and that doesn’t change a word of what I just wrote. You must know where you wish to go before you can get there. Anywhere. If you have a hard time playing syncopated rhythms or playing on top of a drummer who plays complex rhythms, being specific about that particular challenge is the first step.

The second step is clarity about your current skills, which is why within the book I frequently admonish the reader to record themselves as they work through the book. Clarity on your current skills is as important as clarity on where you want your skills to eventually be. Most of us play better in our minds than we actually sound. I don’t mean to depress you, but simply to warn you against carrying an inaccurate idea of your playing. Even so, I frequently hear players bemoan how badly they think they play, but that is not clarity or honestly about their true capabilities either. And holding on to a vision that you suck actually holds you back. The broad generalization that you are simply a poor player hides from you those things you may actually do very well. Read the post on how the brain creates new patterns. Those neural pathways are also created by how you think about yourself, so holding on to a self-deprecating belief that you play poorly will make it harder to spin those tires out of the muddy rut. Recording and critically listening is the key to knowing how you actually sound.

As you read and play through this book, keep the following in mind:

  1. Improving your playing skills takes time and discipline. Rather than blowing through the book page by page, take an exercise within the book with which you struggle, and practice it as regularly as your schedule permits. Record yourself at least in the beginning so that you have a reference after time to gauge your improvement. If, after a couple weeks of daily practice on a specific skill, you hear no improvement, reconsider your approach. Are you doing the exercise too fast? Are you doing the exercise version that is too advanced for you right now? Are you playing over your mistakes rather than stopping and isolating where you stumbled, then drilling on that particular area?
  2. One of the biggest impediments I hear from players is their lack of focused listening to themselves as they play. In a coaching session after the student has played something, I’ll ask, “What did you hear?” Often they have no idea or will offer a very broad evaluation like, “It didn’t sound good.” one of the benefits teachers provide is to offer feedback of the performance to the student. But a critical skill of the student is to hear for themselves those aspects of their playing that can be improved. The point is, learn to deeply hear your own playing. One indispensable tool for that is recording.
  3. You do have the capacity to play beyond expectations. You have far more capability than you believe or utilize. Know that you can be the player you wish to be, and you will have taken a huge step in that direction.

Keep the above in mind as you start using this book. Your hard work, positive self belief, accurate assessment of your current playing, and vision for your future playing will add the high octane fuel to your use of this or any other book or method.

 

2 Comments

  1. Walter George on May 11, 2018 at 2:49 pm

    Mike,

    Thank you for this disclaimer on what to expect from doing the exercises in your new book.

    Others have voiced similar comments.

    One writer said – ” what do you expect? Are you going to learn a new language doing exercises in a book? Of course, not, you have to go and live with the people who speak that language. Music is not any different. Where can you go to do that ?
    Mike Longo talks about actually playing beside great musicians, watching, feeling and smelling every one of their nuances, All things you cannot get listening to a record.
    Jazzadvice.com has a number of ebooks on the importance of visualization that you talk about. Noa , a psychologist, on bulletproofmusician.com, has interesting articles on studies that have been done on musicians to see what helps and doesn’t with their performance and learning. There are definitely some take-aways, and some good, better, best ways to practice.
    Perhaps someone can put together an immersion, boot camp like 8 hr a day program using the best practices info noted above to really come up with a proven program to drive home the important principles and help aspiring musicians make real progress.
    Right now the process of learning seems very unpredictable. In one breath, you hear the secret to progress is learning to transcribe your favorite players. But then you hear, to make this work, you have to do it by ear and not write anything down at first until you are finished. Then you read, transcribing did not help me and the reason is I tried to use too big chunks of the transcription instead of single/half measure chunks.
    Another thing you hear people write abut is going slow and not trying to do more than one thing at a time. Trying to do more does not translate into learning more; one has to focus on learning one thing at a time. One person went so far as to say you should really try to conquer one thing each day, because if you don’t do this, you will walk away each day feeling you have not learned anything. Another person once asked – what is the difference between a pro and amateur ?- the pro will practice something til they can do something perfectly 10 times in a row, whereas the amateur will stop after doing it once right.
    So many good pieces of advice; now to do it and make progress.

  2. Walter George on May 11, 2018 at 3:56 pm

    Mike,
    In thinking more about things you have said , one helpful addition might be a video for each chapter, with you doing every exercise, us seeing and hearing you do it. That would keep our attention and make it more likely we would hang in there and actually do the exercises. You have already commented that you did not think people were getting enough out of your books and you started making a video on each book. Just a thought.

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