About Me - August 25, 2007

Five-year anniversary

All of my anniversary articles: 2 years - 3 years - 4 years - 5 years - 6 years - 7 years - 9 years - 10 years - 11 years - 12 years - 13 years

I recently completed my 5th year of playing the trumpet since returning to the instrument, so here's my five-year anniversary article.

RANGE AND ENDURANCE

In last year's anniversary article, I wrote that my playable range had extended up to a Bb above the staff. Since that time, those Bb's have been getting easier and easier. Even better, I'm now able to hit a high C or two with relative ease each day when improvising. I've yet to include any of those C's in my jazz trumpet recordings, but hopefully they'll make an appearance in the not too distant future. Some of you may wonder what all the fuss is about, but given my struggles with range, a high C is definitely something to be happy about.

One thing I've noticed with the C's is that it's still difficult for me to hear them in my head when improvising. For that matter, it's even hard for me to hear a B (natural) above the staff. To clarify, I can certainly hear these notes if somebody else plays them, and I can hear them when I play them on my horn, but I have trouble hearing them in my head BEFORE I play them. This makes perfect sense when you consider the fact that for the past 4+ years I couldn't play higher than a Bb when improvising. My ears and my brain simply aren't used to the hearing higher notes in my solos and they're not used to thinking of these notes as viable playing options. I know it's just a matter of conditioning and in time I'll be able to hear high C's in my head, but I think it's an interesting phenomenon nonetheless.

I don't have much to report regarding endurance. My endurance had definitely improved over the last year, but I can still tire myself out quickly if I revert to my old habit of using too much mouthpiece pressure.

FINDING TIME TO PRACTICE

In my "Comeback Journey" article, I wrote that finding time to practice is one of the biggest challenges facing most comeback players. Well, time has definitely been taking its toll on me lately. Since my first practice session begins at 7:30am, I'm usually able to practice fundamentals. More often than not, I can get in an ear training session as well. But lately, my after-work jazz improvisation session has been nearly impossible to squeeze in. For example, I recently went two weeks in a row with less than 30 minutes of jazz improvisation practice. It's awfully hard to improve when averaging just two minutes a day of practice! While those two weeks were an exception to the norm, my workload still makes it difficult for me to get in sufficient practice time. At least I am improving and I suppose any rate of improvement should be welcomed.

EAR TRAINING

Online ear trainer - click to try!Speaking of improvement, I continue to make great strides with my daily ear training practice. Last year I wrote that I was using my ear training tool to play 7-note melodies by ear at 150bpm. Thanks to my new "Jazz Lick" melody option, I'm now playing 8- and 9-note melodies by ear at 150bpm or higher. I give the jazz licks a lot of credit for this advancement since they provide a somewhat familiar (i.e. not totally random) melody which is easier to remember. Since the melody is easier to remember than totally random notes, I can spend more effort on playing by ear and less effort on trying to remember what the melody sounded like in the first place. I still practice totally random melodies in my ear training sessions, however, just to keep things fresh.

I've also spent more time improvising with my ear training tool. I'll use the R(hythm)Section feature to generate random major and minor II-V-I progressions of 48 measures in length. I then start the ear training so it's playing around 100bpm or slower. Without looking at the key, I then listen and sing notes that fit in with the key. From there, I might do a little vocal improvisation (scat singing) or I'll just pick up my horn and improvise by ear. The important thing is that I sing each note to myself before I play it. I might not always play the right notes on my horn and I might not always sing notes that fit in perfectly, but at least I'm trying to do so. By consciously forcing myself to hear first, then play, I'm ensuring that I'm truly using my ears to guide my playing rather than relying on pre-learned patterns or theory.

In last year's anniversary blog entry, I mentioned that I have good days and bad days with ear training. On good days, my ear training sessions are a breeze. I can play most of the exercises perfectly by ear and I feel great about my progress. On bad days, my ear struggles to lock in on pitches and I make lots of mistakes. Well, after another year of practice I still have some bad days, but at least they are becoming fewer and farther between. Also the magnitude of the mistakes I make on those bad days is less severe. Where I might have once missed 50% of my attempts to play by ear, I now miss about 30% or less. And, more importantly, I'm now much less hard on myself on those bad days. If I do make a mistake, I shrug it off and continue to practice. It's been about 3.5 years now since I started to practice ear training daily, and I've now got the perspective to know that bad days are just part of the journey. As long as I continue to make forward progress in my ability to play by ear (and I certainly do!), there's no need to worry about a few speed bumps along the way.

MY JOURNEY THUS FAR

I still have a long way to go but I'm finally reaching a point where I feel like it's all starting to come together. Sure, my rate of progression isn't as fast as I'd like, but during these past five years I've made some great improvements in my playing, my ability to play by ear, and in my overall musicianship. It's been a great journey thus far and I can't wait to hear myself five years from now!

Comment by Robin

Congratulations on reaching the 5 year mark. It's great to follow your journey on this site. You have created a fantastic resource for all trumpet players. I am just about to reach my second anniversary as a trumpet player. Reading about your progress (and listening to your recordings) has been an inspiration to me as I have been learning. You say that your rate of progression has not been as fast as you like, but from listening to the recordings I think it has been quite dramatic.

One thing I haven't heard you mention is whether you are playing with others and sitting in at jam sessions etc. This is something that has helped me immensely. I certainly had to put my pride and dignity to one side for a while when I started doing this, but I am sure it has accelerated my progress and certainly boosted my confidence.

Please keep posting - I love this site!

Rob

Comment by Rick

Hi Robin/Rob,

Thank you for the nice comments and the encouragement. When I started playing the trumpet again (after 7 years away from the instrument), I often wondered if I'd ever play well again. The first year back was so difficult that I often thought of quitting once again. Thankfully, I stuck with it and am now playing at or above the level I was at when I stopped playing the first time around.

From your comment, I'm not exactly sure if you're learning the trumpet for the first time or whether you're also a comeback player, but in either case you must be doing pretty well if you're already playing in jazz jam sessions after two years.

I have played in jam sessions in the past, but I don't have much interest in playing out yet. I do agree, however, that it's an important step in the learning process. In the comments to my 2005 jazz recordings, there are a couple of comments where I elaborate on my thoughts about playing out: http://www.iwasdoingallright.com/jazz_improvisation/95

Thanks again for writing!

-Rick

Comment by Chang

Hi Rick,

I continue to read your columns with interest, particularly the ear training part of your anniversary pieces, since I am on the exact same path, albeit on guitar (as you may recall)! It has been a little less than 1 yr for me doing consistent and disciplined ear training, and I am on 4-note melodies (up to perfect 5th only) at a snail's tempo making a frustratingly large number of mistakes. But after reading your updates, I realize that making a lot of mistakes is all just part of the process. Slowly but SURELY, I too will get better and better and be playing 9-note melodies at 150bpm. I can't tell you how exciting a prospect that is for me!

I am curious: in your 4-year anniversary piece, you mentioned that you would still occasionally struggle to lock in, which would cause you a lot of frustration and would start the onslaught of self criticism. How have you progressed in terms of the frequency of bad days as well as your ability to cope with the resulting negativity?

Cheers,

Chang

Comment by Rick

Hi Chang,

I just added a new paragraph to the EAR TRAINING section of the original post that answers your question about "bad days" and negativity.

Thank you for your continued contributions to this site!

-Rick

Hello Rick,

Thanks for the great site. I downloaded your eartrainer last night and it works offline as you say - that's a really nice addition.

I have to say, your playing sounds very good. I think you would be well ready to play out with other people if you wanted to - indeed better than most. I put that off for a long time and I wished I had started earlier.

I am a harmonica player who switched to chromatic harmonica about 4 years ago in order to play jazz. I realised too that ear training was very important in jazz, and I went using ear trainers pretty much every day while I was commuting for about two years. It made a big difference, although I was ear training without the instrument. Life circumstances changed and I haven't been doing any ear training for a while. It's interesting (to me anyway) that although I try to play jazz, I don't have any pure jazz samples on my site, more so blues influenced stuff - I can always give you a listen to some of the jazz, but it's not for general public consumption yet!

I'm in the process of switching embouchures too, and it's eating up a lot of practise time. It's something that will provide a lot of benefits in the long run, though, so it's worth it.

Wa it yourself that mentioned looking forward to another 5 years - can I ask you, do you have a "plan", in terms of continuing practising or playing music with others / composing /going pro / not going pro?

I'm guessing you work in software if you put together a nice site like this with a cool ear traing app as well...

All the best,

Eugene

Comment by Rick

Hi Eugene,

Regarding my plan for the future... my only real plan is to continue practicing the same sorts of things that I'm practicing now and to enjoy every day that I play. I can't predict how good I'll get, but I think it's safe to say I'll never be good enough to play trumpet professionally as a jazz musician; at least not at the level I'd require. I would like to play with others at some point (not necessarily in public), but as I've mentioned elsewhere on this site, it isn't a priority for me right now.

And you guessed correctly, I've been a professional web developer and software engineer since 1995.

Thanks for writing and best wishes to you and your development as a jazz harmonica player.

-Rick

Thanks, Rick. I appreciate the kind wishes! Best of luck in your quest.

Eugene

Comment by Matt

I happened upon your site today and have been thoroughly impressed with your approach to jazz improv and your meticulous documentation of your progress over the years.

I noticed you mentioned that time has become a factor in keeping you from practicing as much as you'd like. I'd recommend reading a book by Tim Ferris called "The 4 Hour Work Week". Tim also maintains a very informative blog (http://fourhourworkweek.com/blog). He, like you, seeks to better other's lives by documenting his own revelaitons.

I'm looking froward to incorporating some of your tips in my practicing, especially the info about jazz improv and ear training.

Keep on blowin'...

Matt

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