For the Record

Do you ever catch yourself walking by a mirror and you just have to stop to check yourself out?  Maybe you straighten your shirt, brush the hair out of your eyes, or just smile back at your image?  This momentary glimpse of yourself is a chance for you to adjust anything that may be out of place, note that you can do better getting ready the next time you leave the house, or verify that you do indeed look like you think you should.  Looking in the mirror and being honest about what you see isn’t always easy, and it doesn’t make you vain.  If you care how you present yourself, you must be willing to look in the mirror!

Now let’s take this to the musical stage.  Of course we want to look in an actual mirror before performing to make sure we’re put together visually, but is there a way we can we check our sound and quality of performance in a mirror?  Well, yes there is- we can record ourselves!  Recording devices are our best way of capturing an aural record that can be very valuable in evaluating our playing.

Make it a goal to record yourself during practice sessions, rehearsals, lessons, and performances.  Give your recording an audience by playing it for others you trust, and then do personal listening to study how you can improve for the next time.  If you’re in a habit of recording daily, you’ll get another chance to fix any flaws tomorrow!

Recording yourself doesn’t need to be a big ordeal, where you bring in all this fancy equipment and hire an assistant to help you capture a commercial quality recording.  Your recordings can be as simple as using your phone, laptop, or small digital recording device.  Occasionally, the sound quality will be a bit distorted, so listen for the general effect, and adjust the placement of your recording device the next time.  If you get in the habit of recording yourself daily, you will eventually figure out the best placement of the device and microphones.  The day I got a smartphone, it was like owning a personal visual/audio compact mirror.  Frequently, I record myself with my phone in my purse and listen to it on my drive home.  I am certain that doing this helps me to capture the reality of what and how I played, and it points me directly to the areas that need work while it’s still fresh in my mind.

Recording yourself in practice and in performance and actually taking the time to listen to the recording is vital to every musician’s success. You wouldn’t want to be playing your heart out, only to find out that you were a quarter tone sharp the entire time and didn’t know it until you listened to the recording, would you? Or what if you were certain your last performance was horrible, you were way out of balance and thought there was no way the audience didn’t notice that you forgot to slur certain passages but then, you happened to hear the recording and the non-slurred passages actually sounded pretty smooth, and the horn was just right in the mix? Gosh, that’s reassuring!  Let’s say you felt good in the performance, you thought you sounded great, and you really wish that you could have recorded it so that you could use it on your next audition application or website.  All the more reason to record all the time!  If you habitually record, then you will be able to build up your audio files and collect important records of your performances.

The fact of the matter is that recordings don’t lie.  Recordings merely capture what happened.  It is up to us to be brave enough to take an honest listen to our sonic reality and to make adjustments for next time.

“I hate cameras.  They are so much more sure than I am about everything.”                                                                                                                                         ~John Steinbeck

“Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.”
~Philip K. Dick

Just Do It.

Don’t try …              

Just Do It.

A famous slogan by a world renown athletic company.  A poster hanging in my undergraduate professor’s office.  Words to live by.  These three simple words convey power and concise direction, and we should use them consistently in lieu of the words “don’t” and “try”.

“Try to shut the door on your way out, okay?”  Well, if you try to shut it, doesn’t that imply that you might not succeed?  Now, what if I say, “Please shut the door on your way out.”?  There’s no question you will “Just Do It”.  Transfer this to your horn playing.  When you sit down to learn your F harmonic minor scale, you will either do it or you won’t.  If you try to do it, I am fairly certain you may be inviting failure to your practice session.  If your goal is to learn your F harmonic minor scale, then “Just Do It.”  Maybe it will take you longer to achieve your goal, but isn’t that worth the time invested?

The next culprit is the word “don’t”.  Maybe you’ve heard this before, “Don’t think about the pink elephant in the room.”  What is the only thing you can think of after reading that sentence?  THE PINK ELEPHANT! So, if we don’t want to be thinking about the pink elephant, let’s say something like, “Think about purple unicorns.”  Use instructions that are clear and that point toward the solution and divert attention away from the problem.  To relate this to horn playing, let’s say you’re playing the first movement of Mozart’s second horn concerto.  You’re playing the B-flat major scale passage and tonguing every single note.  Instead of me saying, “Don’t tongue every single note. Try to slur the first two notes, and then tongue the rest”, I should say, “Slur the first two notes, and tongue the rest here.”  You either will do it or you won’t.  After a few passes, you will get it for sure.  My job as either player or teacher is to make instructions as clear as possible, so that you and I both know exactly what I am looking for.  Your job is exactly the same when you’re practicing alone.

So, now let’s be honest.  I occasionally slip and say, “try that again” or “don’t play that so loud there” or “try to keep your chin flat”.  Improvements upon these directions would be “do that again”, “play softer there”, and “keep your chin flat.”  Does this mean I am a hypocrite and I should be reprimanded?  No!  It means I have room for improvement (don’t we all?).  When I casually say “try” and “don’t do this or don’t do that”, I think of it as a reminder that I am not being as affirmative and direct in my suggestions, and I will do better with the next set of words that come out of my mouth.  Being hard on myself about a slip here and there is a waste of energy that is best saved toward thinking before speaking!  Consequently, it is easier to avoid these words if you practice speaking without them in your normal life and conversations.  Trust me, nobody will point out that you aren’t using the words try and don’t as often.  If anything, challenging yourself to omit these words from your regular playing and teaching process will encourage you to use new words and be more creative.  You will certainly be more productive with all the doing and none of the trying.

Some replacement words for “try” are:
Do, go for, make it happen, play, copy this, again, and perform

To eliminate the word “don’t”, concentrate on the solution and what you or your student should “do” instead.

“The shortest answer is doing the thing.” 

– Ernest Hemingway


TIME Management

8 days.  That’s how long it’s been since my last post.  Why?  Well, there’s been a mountain of mute orders at TrumCor, classes and lessons taught, concerts attended, convocation played, more lessons, two big concerts performed, and all the practicing in between!  That doesn’t even include the training for my upcoming 10k race, meetings, and regular household duties.  Needless to say, it’s been busy, and while I view this blog as important and something I need and want to do, it is certainly an item on my “to do” list that is not an immediate emergency or a must … which brings me to the topic du jour:


If you ask me, there are the things you must do, the things you need to do, and the things you want to do.  Hopefully, you want to do everything in all three categories, but occasionally it doesn’t work that way.  For instance, that government class that you can never seem to read the current events for and are always a day late and a pop quiz short of a good grade- maybe that’s not a class you want to take, but it’s one you must take, and you need to read the darn paper in order to be prepared for the next quiz!   But, if you take that extra time to read the paper, you will potentially have to postpone practice time or some other activity related to your major that you must, needand want to do.  So, do you have time to do it all?  Of course you don’t feel like you do, or you would do it!  But I would venture to guess that you have more time than you think.  One way to find out is to write it all down.  (the above example is an excerpt from my past as an undergrad 🙂 Yes, I had trouble preparing for my government class, and yes, I had excuses for why.  And yes, I took my own advice and eventually got it together in time to get a good grade!)

You can make an excel spreadsheet or chart to help you visualize where you have time and where you don’t.  Start by filling in all of the must do’s.  These must do’s would be classes, appointments, concerts, rehearsals, lessons, work, and other events with a pre-determined start and end time.  Next, determine the need to do’s.  These need to do’s would be practice time, reading time, eating, preparation time, study time, sleep and any other event that is not firmly scheduled but is directly tied to the success of your must do list and overall goals.  Last is the want to do category.  This would be things like organize the bedroom closet, clean out the car, have lunch in the park, reading a book, grocery shopping, watching the latest movie, messing around with garageband, exercising, calling your best friend, going to a concert, etc. (you can probably sense through my suggestions the things I want to do!)

When you start with the must do events on your spreadsheet, it shows you very clearly where you have time for the need and want to do’s.  In my spreadsheet, I list everything besides the must do’s in the “TO DO LIST” column and find available spaces in my week in which to place those items.  It makes me feel better to see on paper that I DO (!) have time for these things in spite of feeling overwhelmed and behind!  Whenever I am feeling extremely inundated, I get my spreadsheet out and get to planning my time.

So, now you have downloaded and printed your spreadsheet and prioritized and scheduled your time and events, but you are running out of energy and feeling a bit worn out.  Did you really remember to leave time in your schedule for a good night’s rest or a nap?  What about meals? I know I have to schedule extra time in the morning to prepare almost my entire day’s worth of meals- breakfast, lunch, and snacks, PLUS lots of water (this take me 10-15 minutes).  Adequate rest and nutrition is essential to your productivity, health, and overall success as a student or professional.  Your health is your wealth, quite literally!

In addition to using this spreadsheet to help you schedule your time, I have some other suggestions for staying on track and getting the work done:

1) If you schedule practice time at school in a practice room or office that has windows, place a piece of paper over that window so that friends and colleagues don’t peek in and distract you 🙂

2) Turn the TV, computer, and phone off when you’re reading, studying, and/or practicing.

3) Set an alarm when you have a limited amount of time to perform a task.

4) Schedule time to help others in need – it will give you perspective and humility.

5) Every now and then, take a day OFF from a rigorous schedule when you can do it without endangering your preparation for commitments made.

6) When you take care of your business, reward yourself with a night out with friends or some other outing.

7) When you look at how full your schedule is, SMILE! You are getting things done and making an investment in your present and future career, and that is a tremendously beautiful thing!


“He who fails to plan is planning to fail.”      

                                                                                 – Winston Churchill during World War II

“The key is in not spending time, but in investing it.”    

                                 – Stephen R. Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People


TCU Latin American Music Festival- “Tribute to Osvaldo Lacerda”

Friday, September 30, 2011 at 7pm

First half of program is:

Son de Mexico from Suite Americana……..Enrique Crespo

                                TCU Faculty Brass Quintet

Dr. Jon Burgess and Colt Worley, trumpets – Heather Test, horn 

             David Begnoche, trombone – Richard Murrow, tuba 

Quinteto Concertante………………………………Osvaldo Lacerda
1. Scherzo
2. Chote
3. Seresta
4. Rondo
TCU Faculty Brass Quintet

Trilogia……………………………………………………..Osvaldo Lacerda

                                   TCU Brass Ensemble

Dobrado, ponto e maracatú……………………..Osvaldo Lacerda

                                   TCU Brass Ensemble

Puerto Rican Bomba………………………………..Traditional

                                    TCU Brass Ensemble
TCU Faculty Brass Quintet

Teaching Yourself to Listen

All too often, taking a private lesson can feel like a negative exercise.  You play something you have worked tirelessly to perfect for the teacher, you nail it, they listen critically, comment on something positive, and then BAM!  The onslaught of stuff that you came to hear about.  The stuff that’s holding you back.  “Your sound … your articulation …  your pitch. YOUR PITCH!”  And then, you get to work and begin the process of improving the deficiencies.  And ultimately, the entire experience becomes a positive and you learn valuable tools for next time.

As the student in this situation, you may walk away feeling like you’ll never be able to play well enough to satisfy your teacher.  After all, you thought you just nailed your etudes and excerpts, but it still wasn’t “centered enough” or “musical enough”.  What gives?  When will it be right?  Well, I’ve been there and will certainly be there again, and my advice to you is to start teaching private lessons. Like, yesterday!

When you teach private lessons, you learn to listen and diagnose.  When your student plays for you, suddenly, you hear the make up of their sound and a million questions start to go through your mind.  For example, “What is that fuzz in the tone?  Why is it so grainy when they go to the middle register?  Are the teeth closed or maybe it’s the back of the throat?  How do I tell them that this sound is not exactly what to strive for? Maybe it’s the right hand….that will be an easy thing to fix.  Should I just come out with it or suggest some simple changes first and see if improves?  Ahhhhh!” Take a deep breath. Find a positive comment about your student’s playing, and then get to the issue of the sound.  Model the sound you would like to hear, and start with that.  When you trade playing back and forth, ask your student to describe the differences.  Begin to introduce your suggestions and instructions for improving.  Utilize the suggestions.  Work together. Point out when it is getting better.  Ask if they can tell it’s improving.  Use this experience to teach your student how to listen to themselves just as you are listening to them. This is perhaps the most valuable thing you can ever teach your students.

Private teaching can be overwhelming at first, but the good news is that you are now listening and critically thinking about every part of your student’s sound production.  You are so involved in how the air is being drawn in to the body and exactly how it is being exhaled through the throat, mouth, embouchure, mouthpiece, and instrument and how the right hand affects it.  Oh, and what type of room are you in? Where is the bell pointed? Is the bell on or off the leg?  As you walk away from the lesson, this time as the teacher, you can’t help but think about how you produce your own sound. Have you given as much thought about your own sound production as you just gave to your student’s?  I can only imagine you want to race to the practice room to find out!

As a new private lesson teacher, imagine how much more effective you will be in your personal practice sessions.  You will be equipped with the advantages of critical listening- the kind of listening your teacher listens to you with!  By the way, how do you think your teacher became so astute in his/her listening and diagnostic skills? Most likely from having such dedicated students as yourself!

While I don’t formally take as many private lessons as I teach these days, I am constantly learning from my students and colleagues.  My ears are always open for business. Additionally, many times a day I say, “As I’m talking to you, I’m also talking to myself.”  I offer these words to my students to assure them that I, too, can benefit from listening to my own advice, and that I am hearing it as I say it (and not just saying it for fun).  Listening to yourself is as important as listening to others. Some call this “practicing what you preach.” 🙂

“Listening looks easy, but it’s not simple. Every head is a world.” — Cuban Proverb

“Who speaks, sows; Who listens, reaps.” — Argentine Proverb




Three Things To Do

I remember being a young student and making the big transitions from ‘doing what I was told’ in early adolescence to ‘thinking for myself and thinking I knew better than anyone else’ during my mid-teenage years and then going right back to ‘doing what I was told’ for my early adult years- specifically when I was studying horn with my major professors in college.

Because I was constantly surrounded by excellent musicians and teachers, I recognized early on in my undergraduate studies that I didn’t know as much as I thought I did, and I had long way to go before reaching my goals as a horn performance major and future professional musician.  The competition was stiff, and the standards high.  Therefore, the only plausible thing to do was what I was told by those who knew the score.  I believed and trusted my professors’ instructions implicitly, because after all, they were working as professional musicians and I was not…yet.  I figured if it worked for them, it would work for me eventually.  I took notes, nodded my head, memorized, and downloaded the instructions straight to my body’s central processing unit.  I then thought about what I was learning, but I never questioned or argued about the assignments.  I knew there must be good reason for me to be assigned the task, so I made a job of “doing now” and “asking questions later” when difficulties arose.  If I could sum up the most valuable core lessons I learned to just 3 instructions, it would be:

  1. Learn all scales, all majors, all forms of minors, all keys…from memory…full range.
  2. Practice a minimum of 3 hours a day (rehearsals don’t count but mental practicing does).
  3. Take every opportunity to perform that you can.

Instruction #1: Learn all scales, all majors, all forms of minors, all keys…from memory…full range

Scales are essential to everything we do as musicians- they are our musical vocabulary.  In a mid-range single octave scale, one can sound like a million bucks.  But upon further investigation, might we find some “scale-etons” in the closet?  What happens when you ascend into the upper register?  Does the tone stay full, in tune, and easy to produce?  Maybe it’s a struggle to get above the staff, and playing a C major scale 2 octaves shines a BIG, BRIGHT light on that inequity.  Suddenly, a C scale stands for “Can of worms”, and once it’s been opened, it has to be dealt with.  Whether you are a performance, a music education, or engineering major doesn’t matter.  It becomes more about knowing there is a job to be done, and you are the only one who can do it.  And if you are a music major, isn’t this precisely the kind of skill you need to have or acquire to be successful on your instrument or in front of a classroom?  Why would one argue with having to deal with the “Can of worms” if it will make them better? Hopefully, one wouldn’t.  Now take the C scale into the lower register….what do you find?  What does the tuner have to say about it?  Is this becoming the most challenging “easy-no-flats-no-sharps” key ever encountered, now that you’re really listening? Chances are YES, and that is only the tip of the iceberg on what learning scales will do for your playing!  Once you gain command over the range of your instrument, you can really hone in on the patterns and learn to hear the intervals that distinguish each scale form- IN ALL OCTAVES!  The mastery of all keys is invaluable to being able to transpose, it enhances musical interpretation, sightreading ability, and facilitates playing technical passages.

Instruction #2 – Practice a minimum of 3 hours a day

Musicians are in many ways like musical research scientists who need time to devote themselves to discovery and problem solving.  Practicing is your laboratory time.  When I first began pursuing this rather lofty goal of 3 hours per day, it was tough.  I had to re-prioritize everything and make time to practice.  Meetings got canceled, social events delayed, homework put off, and sleep was only in my dreams…all for the precious practice time.  I MUST PRACTICE 3 HOURS became not only my daily goal, but a mantra. Because this was priority number one, my standards started changing for the better, I started hearing myself with more critical and perceptive ears, I started to figure out how everything worked together to create the end result, whether it was good or bad.  I was paying quality attention to my craft.  I had TIME to work out the kinks.  How could you not manage to get better if you put yourself in the way of improvement?  If I were looking for a cure to some disease, it seems the best way to do that would be to research, experiment, brainstorm, and write it all down- and spend more than 30 minutes a day doing that!  Well, horn playing is no “disease” (most of the time, anyway- ha!), but one can really start to make progress when the time searching for the “cure” is being invested.

Instruction #3 – Take every opportunity to perform that you can

Just like you practice daily to get better at your instrument, you have to perform often to improve your ability to perform.  Sure, to a non-musician, it may seem like performing is no different than a regular practice session or rehearsal.  However, most performing musicians can testify that is not always the case.  In performances, many musicians (myself included!) experience nervousness and different mental processes than when they are in a regular practice session. At first, the presence of these nerves and thoughts is extremely surprising and distracting.  Young and older musicians alike must understand that while the nerves may never completely disappear, they do dissipate as you become more in control and experienced in dealing with them.  Therefore, your main charge is to get out there and perform a lot!

Practice your performance in your practice sessions and practice performing regularly!

“No one who can rise before dawn 360 days a year fails to make his family rich.” – Chinese proverb

Be dedicated.  Be invested.  Be present.  Be consistent.

Faculty & Friends Chamber Concert

The Faculty & Friends Chamber Series at TCU presents four concerts featuring world-class artists from the TCU School of Music faculty and their friends in chamber music programs.
Each concert begins at 7:00 pm in PepsiCo Recital Hall.

Admission $10/general admission, $5/students and seniors, free with TCU ID. $32 Season Pass available only at the TCU School of Music Office, Ed Landreth Building.

PepsiCo Recital Hall (in the Walsh Center for the Performing Arts) is located at the corner of South University Drive and West Cantey Street. Free parking is available in a lot north of the facility.

This is a required event for TCU horn students.

Genghis Barbie Concert

Genghis Barbie, the leading post post-feminist feminist all-female horn experience, is the most innovative and energizing chamber ensemble of its generation and beyond. With a combined 26 years of conservatory training, Genghis Barbie delivers to you a visceral and unadulterated musical adventure. Performing arrangements of pop music from the 70s, 80s, 90s, 00s and today, Genghis Barbie is the most versatile and expansive group on NYC’s classical/pop/rock/jazz/indie/alternative/punk/electro-acoustic scene.

Genghis Barbie was incepted in a unique moment of ingenuity when Freedom Barbie, Jungle Barbie, Velvet Barbie and Attila the Horn converged and vowed to create distinctive, interactive and personal performances. In addition to their busy New York City performing schedule, Genghis Barbie will be embarking on their first international tour in the fall of 2011. Genghis Barbie aspires to appear on the Ellen Degeneres show within one calendar year.

Pace Yourself!

A jug fills one drop at a time.  One reads a book a word at a time.  To reach the summit of the mountain, you must climb one foot at a time.  You lose (or gain) 50 pounds, one pound at a time.  To run a marathon (or any distance, really), you must take one step at a time.  Get the drift here?

We all want to be fabulous musicians and teachers NOW, but is that really how we become such?  By just wanting it really badly?  No, not exactly.  You have to want it and START pursuing it….one note and one instruction/action at a time.  But, be ever mindful that you just might never have a clear and present moment when you say, “Okay, today I have become a fabulous musician! I have worked so tirelessly, and now I have arrived.  Mission accomplished.”  In fact, your success in any profession or skill can often seem elusive and isn’t always measured in terms of a specific date on the calendar, income earned, job offers, auditions won, or numbers of concerts played.

Success is much more subjective than these easily counted items.  Success in your field may come in the form of inspiring others around you to be better or maybe by getting invited to share your ideas and thoughts with a class about your field of study.  You may simply find that success means that you are excited to do your work and share with others- and you would do it for anyone who asked.  Success is relative to what is important to you.  There are some days that I feel the most successful when I have just been able to pay the month’s bills, get in solid, uninterrupted practice time during a break, or teach a day’s worth of lessons without saying the words “don’t” or “try”.  Again, I say success is relative.  Instead of getting overwhelmed by the bigger goals I have set to be a fabulous musician and teacher, I take delight in recognizing the little investments I have made toward them on a daily basis…and who’s to say that I am not already a decent, good, or even fabulous musician and teacher?  I am sure that somewhere in the last decade and a half, I have made a positive and valuable impact on students and audience members in some way.  Isn’t that success?  To me, it is.

So, what if I have somehow rounded the corner of my musical marathon and made it to the thirteenth mile?  Or, what if I have crossed the finished line already?  I guess I will be signing up for the next marathon in a different part of town and get to training (possibly buy a new pair of running shoes!) ….I love the process THAT much!

Enjoy the journey.