WindWorks Trumpet Academy › Forums › WindWorks › The Illusion of Competence – ALL MEMBERS MUST WATCH!!!
Thanks Greg! Another great video full of truthful insight, this one with a concise overview and a lot of specific guidance on how we can “check in” on the various aspects of playing.
I think the concept of “Illusion of Competence” is a great one.
What are we doing when we start our day playing?
Do we go through a warm up routine someone else came up with for us without any thought about why we’re playing what we’re playing or whether it is working for us?
It’s perfectly fine to play other’s warm up exercises–many of us play Stamp, for example.
But without having a keen awareness of the sensations we are feeling as we start our day, how our the lips responding to the air? How are things feeling and sounding? What adjustments are necessary to improve the sound, what can I / should I let go of–what unnecessary tension and engagement exists in the body?
I still play Stamp a lot, but I don’t always do the same thing every day. One thing I’ve done that’s helped me is to “take control” of things and not focus on playing exercises necessarily as written but focus more on feeling and sit on notes a bit before moving on and paying attention to what’s happening (how it feels, sounds, etc.) as I make minor movements and experiment with trying to do more with less engagement, etc.
It is so easy to lose that awareness, especially when we’re distracted by the various aspects of playing (articulation, fingering, dynamics, rhytym/timing, reading, playing in a group) and ESPECIALLY when we are distracted on our emotional attachment and focus on the results we want to experience from our playing (i.e. obtaining certain pitches) rather than learning from objective experimentation with letting go of tension in the body and increasing efficiency.
I’m still on this journey and want to accomplish a lot more on the instrument, but I’m thankful to be playing at a level I never dreamed possible. It’s not a straight line upwards, there have been peaks and valleys for sure–the lowest point actually came AFTER I had accomplished quite a bit, about a year in. That was kind of surprising, but makes sense in hindsight. I had finally learned how to play above the staff and was progressing quickly, but didn’t really understand how or why I had been progressing. As I started subconsciously focusing my attention more and more on my newfound range and ability and less and less on the Process that got me there, I started backsliding to old habits and my playing started deteriorating and my range decreasing. I didn’t understand what was happening or why and almost lost hope and gave up. Thankfully, I didn’t.
I’m not a great player, I’m doing this for fun and personal development/fulfillment. But I am a “Driver” (as defined in the video). I consistently and relentlessly think about what it is to play the instrument and look for insight from others on playing, nearly all of which reinforces WindWorks’ principles/mantras, etc. And I don’t take anything for granted, I keep an open mind until I have an opportunity to experiment with it and understand it by experiencing it for myself.
Another way to look at this might be humility–are we approaching the instrument with a healthy degree of humility? If any instrument or activity can teach humility, it’s playing trumpet…
Are we starting the day by objectively observing how the production of sound is happening using Passive air through an embouchure/aperture with minimal engagement / tension? Or do start out by somewhat rushing through a series of warm up scales, paying little or no attention to how it’s feeling or sounding, not taking the time to pause or repeat or alter what we’re doing to address any issues we’re experiencing?
I have no playing commitments and don’t play in a group anymore, so I have the luxury of going “all in” and taking my time. I realize there are times when players can’t do that and need to get on with it.
But some of the great players in history have said something to the effect of “We must learn how to play again everyday”. I believe this is the nature of the trumpet. Our bodies are not a constant–our hydration level, swelling of the lips, degree of rest, environment and a whole host of factors effects our ability to play.
We must consciously focus on how the delicate balance of Air and Shape is, or is not, working (optimally/freely/efficiently) to produce sound and objectively learning from that success or failure (we learn more from failure, btw).
We can’t blindly follow a routine or play exercises without really asking ourselves why we are playing what we’re playing–what is it that we’re hoping to accomplish? Our teachers are merely guides, they can’t literally tell us what specifically to do as they can’t really know what it is we’re doing inside the mouthpiece and our bodies, they can only look for clues. We must own our playing, our success and our failure.
Thankfully, it does get easier and better. The “bad days” come less and less often. It took a while for me. The first year or two, for me, I would have great progress for a period, then I would have a “bad day” and not really know why. Sometimes these periods would last a bit with some good or great days mixed in to add confusion and frustration. Eventually, with a renewed focus on the principles to got me where I had been before and paying close attention to what I was feeling, I got back on track and progressed to a new level.
Now, about 3 years in, I couldn’t remember the last “bad day” I had up until this week–they are few and far between. And when I do have them, I feel like I’ve learned how to deal with them and a better sense about why they occurred.
And my “bad day” is better than the best “good day” I had 3 years ago… Three years ago, I couldn’t play much above the staff, never touched a High C or anything above. My “bad day” Thursday included my playing above the staff to an E and F above high C with a relative ease I wouldn’t have thought possible 3 years ago… But I was feeling stiff and had a “fuzzy sound” in the low register up to G on the staff and I was not playing as well and things didn’t feel as well as they have been normally. I realized that I have just been overdoing it a bit on my range development.
I rested up today, will make sure to hydrate and am looking forward to seeing how things go tomorrow. I’m confident it will go good. But if it doesn’t, I know what to do–I will refocus my attention on the basic production of sound using Passive air released through relatively relaxed lips, looking for an ease of ascending with minimal engagement on passively released air. And I’ll try to take it easy, but will “check in” by playing some music–something I have found important to do to keep ourselves honest. I have caught myself feeling bad about a “bad day” because harmonic slurs or other exercises didn’t produce the Results I wanted them to, then when I play a piece of music I have played before I play it as good or better than I ever have before–kind of puts my “bad day” into proper context…I can’t tell you how many times this has happened to me, but it’s been a lot–perhaps more often than not on those “bad days”. So much of playing is MENTAL and we are simultaneously our worst enemy and greatest resource / only hope.
My $.02 FWIW. Keep the Faith, but don’t just blindly play exercises expecting to improve through repetition…playing the trumpet is mostly about coordination, not development of strength…focus on how it feels and sounds and learn from those objective experiments, develop your own “check in” points that help you determine how it’s going–for me, this has been a variety of musical passages or exercises (an interval in a piece of music, etc.) that has been a past “coffee moment” that I repeat each day to check that I’ve held on to that newfound ability that I had in a past “coffee moment” achievement.
John, this is simply magnificent and it thrills me to be a part of your development. I am copying this and saving as an article for all to read. It ticks every single box. You are supreme leader, king and guru of the Driver Club!!! Thank you. Greg
Thanks Greg, you’re very kind. I was thinking more would chime in… 😄 Things have been going great, thanks in large part to you and WindWorks and others on this forum who’ve helped me with their tips. Just started a renewed focus on WindWorks exercises again. I think this will be a great year.
Awesome Video, Greg! I’ve been a member of Windworks since October and it’s been a very challenging yet very fun experience. After re-watching this a few video times since you first posted it, I’ve recognized a huge flaw in my posture and never noticed until I closed my eyes and just focused solely on bringing the tuba to my face. Initially, everything seemed fine. I had loose shoulders, had pre-set the pitch for a low C, hummed and sang a few notes and passively released the air on my palm as well as with a tissue and visualizer.
I played a low C all while eyes were closed doing my best not to worry about the result. At this stage I was just observing what kind of sound I’ll get and take note of it; not caring if it sounded bad or out of tune. The sound wasn’t great I could feel my lips instantly tighten and grab the mouthpiece creating I believe synthetic oscillation. It didn’t feel very good to play and my throat instantly tightened choking the sound.
I put the tuba down and just walked around clearing my head doing my best to stay as emotionally detached from the sound as possible and just observe what happened. Everything was as chilled as far as I could tell and knew something was happening right before I played the note and just spent the next 20 minutes figuring it out.
I sat down picked up the tuba. I was letting it rest on my lap first, closed my eyes and then lifted it and brought to my face. same process as before, humming/singing/ tissue/visualizer and passive breaths. I released passively and the low C was far fuller and felt great. It practically exploded and I’ve had many moments like this before but it never was consistent. I put the horn down and just tried to process what happened. The posture was identical and I inhaled just as did before and it just spoke with ease. Then suddenly it crossed my mind that it was possibly lower in the body rather than the face. Perhaps the synthetic oscillation was a by-product of some other compromise in the system and not in the face or neck or even throat.
With that I went back to the tuba, same process as before, closed my eyes and lifted the horn and let it rest on my leg. I was scanning for unnecessary tension lower in the body. Nothing as far as I could tell. Finally, I began bringing the horn to my face and at that moment I felt some push against my abdomen region. I opened my eyes and saw that the tuba was practically mashing itself against my abdomen pushing right up against my diaphragm. It was a lot of force but I could barely feel it and never noticed until several repeats of just bringing the horn to my face.
Immediately I bring move it away slightly so it’s no longer forced up against my diaphragm and with that the note practically exploded out of the horn. Let me tell you it felt really weird in the good way. It felt so open and loose I practically told myself: “It cannot be that easy. That’s just so open.” This explained a huge part of my inconsistency. Sometimes, I brought the horn too close to me and forced itself against my gut. Imagine trying to play with someone’s hand pushing against your gut. This created choking in the throat which in turn forced my lips to tighten up and engage to compensate for all the strain.
My rehearsal went great today. I was actually playing loud and with ease with the same sensation as when I moved the tuba away from my abdomen and was met with compliments from the conductor for the volume and the tone being produced.
Sorry for my long story but I really wanted to share with everyone my personal story of how when you think you got it it can be very easily (and quite often!) far from the truth. Be aware and on the look out for the illusion of competence. It’s ubiquitous! Thank Greg for this brilliant program! It has been a true game-changer and I’m looking forward to spending more time on this course.
Cheers from Canada!
@bheiner What a brilliant story, thanks for taking the time to share. You will definitely help some other participants along the way. All the very best. Greg
just a thumb up for your last videos.
Though I left the Trumpet off for more than a year now, I keep watching videos 🙂
I hope I’ll get back to it one day, full reset, and be a better trumpeter.
Thanks for all the videos, the advises and all the energy you put into helping us out into our journey !
Hi Greg. I just wanted to say how much I, like many others, appreciate what you’re doing here. Personally, I don’t think I’m under any illusion of competence – I know I’m rubbish and have a long way to go – but I love the sound of the trumpet and the occasional success keeps me going. Maybe one of these days I’ll pluck up courage and have an online lesson, but until then all the best and good luck at the ITGC.
PS: I really did watch video no.3 right to the end 😉
A very important video and aimed directly at me I feel.
I want to point out to anyone who might still not have an easy high register something I’ve connected with recently as the criticality passed me by the first time “around”: i.e. the importance of getting the tissue test correct and especially with the visualiser.
I’m now beginning to understand how important getting the breath focus is with the mouthpiece (and hence with the visualiser). I think I wasn’t getting the correct aperture corner tension which I think let the air become unfocused when the mouthpiece was positioned. Now that I’m getting the breath focus and can get a good tissue test with and without the visualiser I’m finding the ease of getting to the high C is so much greater; the effort feel is now very very close to the low C effort. So my effort reduction is nearer 90% than the target 1%.
I’m still working on getting a 100% passive breath and have worked on this from day 1, but whilst I quickly understood the aperture corners part in the process I hadn’t directed enough attention to getting the focus.