Good Advice My Teachers Gave Me

Here are a few nuggets that helped me over the years.

Run.  Wind instruments are an aerobic activity.  The lead trumpeters who play high and loud all night long do it with air.  The diaphragm is much larger and stronger than the lip muscles and therefore should shoulder more of the effort.  My teacher said some pros run a lot–“Ten miles a day, my friend.  Get serious.”

Every day you don’t practice, someone else does.  My middle school band director told me that one.  In the cutthroat world of high school Allstate auditions, this was very much true.  People improved quickly, and nobody led by more than a length.

For every day you don’t practice, it takes two days to get back to where you were.  My first band director told me this one.  When you’re ten years old and have been playing for a week, it’s reasonably accurate, though there was no attempt to quantify “where you were”.  Half a decade later my private teacher said it was more like riding a bike; you’ll start off wobbly and get tired soon, but you still know what you’re doing.  On the other hand, Håkan Hardenberger said in an interview that each day we must learn to play the instrument from the beginning.  We’re mortal, so another way to look at it is that you only get to play for some fifteen, maybe eighteen thousand days; you don’t want to miss too many.

Pay attention to dental health.  True, a brass player should rely on wind and lips more than pressure, but I’ll be past my peak the day I start losing my teeth.  In the long run, dental health also is important for heart health, which you need for running.

Listen to recordings, but play with other people more.  You need to be steeped in the literature and hear how professionals play.  You need to listen to recordings of yourself; it’s very motivating.  However, you get much more information, a firehose of it, from playing with other people: you watch as they do it in the moment, and you get immediate feedback on everything you do.

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The Most Beautiful Melody: Misty

The A section is pretty straightforward, largely arpeggios and some conventional scalar passing tones.  There’s little dissonance beyond major sevenths.  However, although the phrases are arpeggiated, the overall line starts out chromatic: landing on the major seventh, going down a half step to the third of the minor v, then down an half step to the third of the IV.  It takes a whole step down for a brief suspension on the fifth, and then it goes to a 3-note motif in the major scale: 3-4-5 on the I, 3-4-5 on the vi, 3-4-5 on the ii (with an octave jump and implying the 4) and 3-4-5 on the V to end on the 3 of I.

All of that is rendered more interesting by chord substitutions and turnarounds, but the melody on its own stays pretty tightly in the key.

The bridge, on the other hand, creates tension and keeps it building on a single chord for two bars, resolves for two, builds tension on a single chord for two, and spends two bars in a normal turnaround.  I do a lot of substitutions, but they don’t change the tonality: instead of Bbm – Eb7b9, I do an edim-Bbm, and for the amin7sus I do some diminished chords that all spell out the same.  The A section comes back in predictably.

Overall, it’s probably the use of arpeggios with mid-stream octave changes that obscure the simplicity of the melodic idea without losing its comfortable familiar consonance.  It wouldn’t work without the tension, and cramming all of that into a few bars in the B section is perhaps overcompensating.  I don’t really see a lyrical reason for the contrast, but it makes a nice overall arc to the song.

Aria music stand light

Here’s why I like my Aria stand light.  It puts bright light evenly across two facing pages, and it’s invisible to the audience.  It’s cool, so I don’t burn my hand, and I don’t have to keep replacing the bulbs.  Also, anyone who gigs a lot knows the power outlet is always just one foot too far away, so either you have to clutter the floor with extension cords or you have  a taut line to trip over.  Well, the Aria has a 3-foot extension on its power cord.  That may not seem like a big deal, but it makes a difference to me.

Also, the thing is lightweight and sturdy and scratch-resistant.  It’s clearly designed by someone who has done gigs and dealt with these problems.  (A string bass player, it turns out.)

The polarized light hasn’t been important to me, and it’s a bit awkward to carry around in the original box.  You need to get a carry bag for it.  Overall, it’s a bit pricey, but since it’ll last a long time and you don’t have to buy bulbs, that offsets some of the cost.  But really, it’ so much better than an incandescent light that I’m glad I paid the money for it.  I deserve it, and it’s one more thing that helps a gig go smoothly.

Transcription, Arranging from scratch, and Rote rehearsal

Each time I do an arrangement for Play It With Moxie, or any other group, I go through the same few steps before I ever start writing notes.

When you decide to cover a song, your first decision is whether to make a faithful reproduction or make it your own.  Reproducing the recording has several benefits.  The audience will respond to the familiar.  With a transcription you can hand out the sheet music, play the recording, play along with the recording as a group, play it without the recording, and have the song ready very quickly.

On the other hand, if you learn the original improv solo you will be assured of capturing the style but not necessarily the soul; and you might be as good as the original, but you will not be better.  Personally, I’d rather have my bandmates’ minds in the moment rather than trying to pull from some distant recording.  If you create your own version, everyone’s had a chance to put their stamp on it, to get invested, to be eager to share with the audience.  Also, if you do it straight off the recording, the audience may not care because they could just listen to the recording.  You will never sound as much like the original band as the original band does–you may be better, but you won’t be more like them than they are.

You may not have a choice.  If your band doesn’t have the same instruments or voices, you might not be able to pull it off.  I prefer to take it consciously in a different direction, put a different beat to it, play it like you play some other song–especially if not all the players are familiar with the recording.  Sometimes it’s best to hand out lead sheets at a rehearsal, have someone play it solo, then have people join in and make an arrangement out of a jam.  Still, you’ll have to preserve the characteristic recognizable parts somehow, if only in the introduction or chorus.

Finally, you don’t have to use everyone all the time.  There’s a lot to be said for playing your strengths and not getting in your own way.  Bottom line, you need to know your players, their instruments, their capabilities, and how they blend.  That’s going to come from trial and error, and that’s a worthy way to spend rehearsal time.