Playing techniques · Teaching techniques

Never Mind the Day Job

For 12 years after graduating from music college, I considered myself to be a professional trumpet player – in that my primary income came from playing the trumpet. Like many other musicians I also pursued other avenues on the side, such as teaching, arranging, etc. There are a multitude of fabulous musicians who manage to keep incredible practice and performance levels up even though they have numerous balls to keep in the air. This requires a huge level of commitment and focus, and is not the subject that I am going to address here!

This is about players who are either coming back to the trumpet after a period of time away, or manage to continue playing to a high level even though they are gainfully employed full-time doing something completely different.

Having made a career change 5 years ago and taken a ‘proper job’, I continued to try to rely on what I thought I knew about practising to get me through the occasional engagement that I would take on. Practising became physically painful (both to me and anyone unfortunate enough to hear it) as I went back to my ‘tried and tested’ routines that used to set me up nicely for a tough night’s work. The gigs were a huge struggle as I battled with the new mind-set that the best that I could expect was to ‘get away with it’.

Eventually I made a choice to stop playing completely as I could not enjoy it if I did not feel that I was playing at my best … and I could not work out how to achieve that whilst doing a 50-60 hour per week day job. Predictably though, as any recovering trumpeter will tell you, the urge to play again just got too great!

About 18 months ago, I realised that I needed to start enjoying playing music again. My day job involved talking about trumpets all day, and aside from some instrument testing, I had gone for over a year without doing any practice or performing. I needed a plan, and the first step was to clarify exactly what I wanted to achieve, what time resources I had available, and to come up with a clear and realistic set of expectations.

So… 20 minutes practice, 4-5 days a week.  This was what I felt that I could commit to. It sounds like nothing, especially to players who are accustomed to having a mouthpiece surgically removed from their chops after a long day in the studio!

I wanted to get back to a decent, solid and functional technique, and most importantly a core sound that I was happy to listen to.  I left behind the study and practice books that I used to use through college and as a young pro.  I dusted off old materials that I had used in high school as well as researching new stuff that was pitched at the level that I was aiming.  Have I yet achieved the standard that I intended? NO … Am I enjoying playing the trumpet and performing again? Most definitely…YES!

My advice now for anyone looking to get back into playing the trumpet, or trying to find a new way of incorporating some playing into an already busy schedule, is ‘take it back to basics’ and make sure that you find materials that you can enjoy practising.

I have found some really interesting resources on this subject that I recommend that you check out:

The Comeback Trumpet Player by Mark Hendricks:

Tools for Trumpet Players with Day Jobs: Workshop Notes by Dan Hallock:

Starting Over Again by David Brown:

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