Wednesday, December 27, 2017 by Brett Lemley | Philosophy
Over the years, I've noticed a lot of patterns that keep recurring through both my trumpet playing and in life. I started working them into my teaching, slowly figuring out where these observations fit into the grand scheme of brass pedagogy, and in my studio they've come to be known as my "Rules." So much so, in fact, that upon some mishap or other, a student will sometimes stop and say "I know, I know, Rule #2," and we'll have a laugh and continue.
So, after a good while using these rules in my teaching, and in my life, I offer them to you as my first blog post on my new website. This is meant mostly for my students, but I'd love to hear feedback from anyone who finds them interesting.
Rule #1: Don't Freak Out
Often, I'll have a student who's maybe nine or ten months into lessons, and they'll run into something that's been giving them trouble, and they'll get frustrated or even upset. I love this moment, because it gives me a great chance to really hammer home how I feel about making music. I'll stop the lesson for a moment, give a solemn nod, and say, "Well, you know, this is a good time to remember Rule #1." I then ask if they remember what Rule #1 is, and of course they have no idea what I'm talking about. I then encourage them to tell me what they think it might be. "Always do your best" is a common response, or "Concentrate."
I'll always say, "That's a good rule, but it's not Rule #1." I give them a couple more chances, then I'll tell them what I think is the most important rule in trumpet playing, and indeed in life:
Don't Freak Out.
This always gets a puzzled look, then a chuckle. Then I can explain that there's no endeavor in life where freaking out is your best option. In fact, freaking out will usually get you deeper into trouble than you were before. In the case of the student, getting upset or losing control won't solve whatever problem they're facing. Being calm, on the other hand, will give them the opportunity to look at the problem rationally, and they'll be able to solve it more easily, especially if they've got me there to help. At that point, they are ready for Rule #2:
Rule #2: Pay. Attention
This is the one that leads to the most problems in lessons, and probably why there's an accident every morning, noon, and night on the highway. In all honesty, the problem that my student freaked out about in the above example was probably caused by not paying attention. Why on earth would someone play a B-natural when they're in a flat key? Why would they play a half note for just one beat?
They're not Paying. Attention.
In most cases, if the player is paying attention to what they're doing they're not going to miss the flat, or mis-count. Just like a group of drivers who are all observing their surroundings are not going to go around hitting each other. Look at the time signature, look at the key, check out the range and the rhythms, start counting in your head. Just like: Check your speed, check your mirrors, check the other cars, et cetera.
This leads to inevitable questions about forgotten fingerings, what key they're in, how long a certain note is, and so forth. I never answer these questions directly, but rather I guide them to the answer, as long as they follow:
Rule #3: Never, Ever Guess. Always Think It Through
In my studio, a guess is always wrong, even if it's accidentally right. The reason is, you can't replicate a guess. It's better to think it through and be wrong, because we can fix the reasoning process, but I can't fix a guess. If a student skips a step, that's cool, we'll find that step and make sure they get it right. But, I never accept a guess, and my students know I can always tell. :)
Well, that's it for now. I do have a rule #4, but 3 is a better number for this sort of thing, so I'll leave it there for now. Let me know what you think!