Practicing only physical exercises and no musical
content, for too long of a time, can cause some serious problems in your
I've thought about eighty different ways to begin this
essay and this warning was the only way which made sense. It IS a warning and a
very serious one.
Over and over again I've seen players who have had
physical problems on the trumpet who thought that the answer was to divorce
themselves from musical work until they get their physical problems straightened
out. They focus only on rudiments such as lip slurs, long tones and pedal tones
in an effort to fix the problem.
It's okay to do this for one practice session. It's okay
to do this for one day. It might even be okay to do it for two or three days -
but to me, that's really pushing it. But I've known of people who only
practiced physical stuff for months or even years.
Not a Prerequisite
You see, physical work is NOT a prerequisite to musical
work. If anything, it's the other way around since any physical work you do
SHOULD be for a musical purpose. We don't learn long tones for the sake of doing
long tones. We don't do lip slurs for the sake of doing lip slurs. The object of
doing physical rudiments should be to create positive results in our musicality.
I will agree that physical rudiments are important and
that we all need to do them. They isolate trouble spots in our playing by
reducing the numbers of tasks to be done at once. Take long tones for example.
Long tones require only one task and that is to play a single note. There's no
need to spend mental energies on articulation, flexibility or anything else
besides tone production. This is great when it's used as a rudiment. It helps us
see things in our playing which we cannot see in a more active context.
But the fact is, real music is not isolated to one
physical aspect. Music requires a complex combination of all the physical
elements. And while isolating individual aspects helps us to analyze
specific problems in our physical playing, it is not enough, on it's own, to
help us learn how to balance ALL of the physical aspects in order to create real
Learn Balance Through Music
Of course, the best way to learn how to balance all of
those physical aspects is to practice music, real music, not just exercises.
That's precisely why I end each of my physical practice sessions (I call it my
"routine") with a lyrical study. Playing real musical phrases and
melodies brings all of the physical attributes of our playing into one place and
gives it a purpose. By practicing a Concone (or something similar) at the end of
a physical practice session, it's like saying,
"Okay, I've done this by itself and that by itself.
I've done all of these things individually. Now let's see what happens when I
put it all together."
By if you go weeks or months without trying to "bring
it all together", you can quickly become rusty at it. Part of the reason
for this is that most of what we do when we play musically is subconscious.
There are so many physical things going on when we play real music that we
couldn't possibly think of all of them, consciously, at the same time. So we
learn to pass those tasks over to the subconscious side of our brains. People
who only practice rudiments and never music find this difficult to do. They want
to control everything and it simply isn't possible. Our conscious minds cannot
think of more than one thing at a time.
Stay On Course
Another problem with not practicing music is that it's so
easy to loose track of what physical work really needs to be done. As I said,
rudiments should be used in response to musical problems. How can you know what
your musical problems are if you never play anything musical? If you choose your
rudiments only according to your playing on other rudiments, you could be
heading in a very strange direction in your playing.
And I've seen this happen. I once met someone who played
some amazing things in the way of physical rudiments. It was simply amazing. And
yet, since this guy had divorced himself from all forms of musical playing, he
couldn't play a melody to save his life. He started off by focusing only on the
physical rudiments because he was doing so poorly in that area. His plan was,
when the rudiments sounded better, he would begin practicing music once
But in his eyes, the rudiments never got better, not
better enough that he thought he was ready to begin practicing music again.
Whenever he made progress in his rudiments, his standards would go up and he'd
see other things he wanted to improve in his rudiments. That's human nature.
We're all like that. And for that very reason, he would have NEVER been ready to
practice musical stuff because his standards kept increasing with the
That's why I limit my physical work to no more than half
of my total practice day. Recently, my physical work has been far less than
half. I do my routine once a day and then I practice several hours worth of
If you're one of those players who only practices physical
stuff and would like to practice other, more musical stuff, but don't know what
to practice, then check out my "Check List of Things