In my previous post, I mentioned that I have recently set about attempting to make myself a more resilient trumpet player with help from Dr Noa Kageyama’s online course The Bulletproof Musician.
It’s been a few weeks since I last looked at Dr Kageyama’s course materials, and I have not yet completed the course. I have, however, made some significant changes in how I practise and how I prepare for performance under Dr Kageyama’s influence — and one of these has been in the area of listening.
And to whom have I been listening? Well, in fact, to myself.
Noa Kagayema encourages wanna-be-bulletproof musicians to record themselves often, and to listen back carefully to what they’re doing .
To support this practice, it’s important to have some technology available that makes this process simple and hassle-free. For me, StudioMini XL, an app for Apple devices, has met this bill perfectly.
Here’s an example of the so-called “jazz” rhythm at a 170 tempo:
I have made one very important discovery through this process: the difference between what I (think I) hear while I’m playing the trumpet, and what I hear on listening back, can be quite dramatic. When I’m actually playing, I typically believe I’m playing in time with the beat. However, when I listen back, I find I am very often late on the beat. When I’m playing, I think that my tonguing sounds fine. When I listen back, however, I hear that I’m tonguing way too hard, and need to find some way of backing off. When I’m playing, I think my intonation is terrific, but when I listen back, I find that I often “scoop” my notes. The list goes on. When I’m playing, I never notice how my notes begin, but when I listen back, oh what a mess! And so on.
I imagine this idea of listening back repeatedly might strike you as pretty obsessive, and in a way I suppose it is. However, Dr Kageyama has some good tips on how to stay positive while doing all this listening. For instance, he suggests you note down in writing after each practice session what went well and what improved, as well as to note one instance where you showed great effort and persistence. I’ve been doing this myself, and I do find this is an effective antidote to pessimism.
Rather to my surprise, however, I have found that the overall effect of all this listening has not been to make me punishingly self-critical, but rather the reverse. It’s certainly true that I hear lots and lots of faults in my playing through this process. However, at the same time, because I am so involved in the process of recording and listening and thinking about what I might change, I feel much more empowered, and in charge of my own progress.
When those jazz know-it-alls tell we aspiring jazz musicians to “listen, listen, listen”, I’m sure they don’t typically mean “listen to yourself”. However, that mightn’t always be the worst advice in the world!