Ray Mase is one of my absolute, all-time favorite trumpet players.  He plays in the American Brass Quintet, Orpheus Chamber Orchestra and teaches at Julliard Aspen Music Festival.  He has the most singing, vibrant, lyrical tone I have ever heard on the trumpet and is a huge influence on my playing.  I highly recommend his CD, “Trumpet In Our Time”.  The article that follows is one of his on how to practice more efficiently by setting realistic goals.

Practicing Essentials

Raymond Mase

I have seen over the years that many students do not use their practice time efficiently and often do not use their practice materials to best advantage.  To improve, I recommend a different approach: one that clarifies the purpose for different types of practice and focuses on goal setting.

I think the main problem is that most of us do not set realistic goals for our practice time.  To improve, set clear but modest goals, ones that involve small steps, not big leaps.  Then you can make a realistic commitment to achieving them.  The practice method I have developed encourages players, since they are able to see their progress.  In addition, it emphasizes playing musically.

Maintenance Practice

In the early part of my routine I engage in the first of three types of practice, which I call the Maintenance Practice.  It involves only a short period of time.  Out of a hypothetical two-hour practice session, it would last only 20 minutes.  This is the time where I try briefly to hit many different aspects of playing. I do not necessarily look at it as hitting the most extreme parts of my playing, but I look at it as hitting everything within reasonable limits.  I wouldn’t call it a warm-up, because that implies that I must do this in order to play – and that’s not the case.

In the Maintenance Practice, I am doing a self-exam; I cover as much as necessary to review my technique.  This should include work on aspects like tonguing, slurring, soft and loud tones, and high and low notes.

Some examples of useful literature are the Clarke Technical Studies, Arban Studies, Nagel Rhythmic Studies, Goldman Practical Studies, and Shuebruk Graded Lip Trainers.  The goal is to make me familiar with all aspects of my playing, so that I get a feel for what works and what doesn’t.  I then use this information to guide me in the next part of my practice: the Specific Technical Practice.

Specific Technical Practice

The Specific Technical Practice is where I really want to focus on things in my playing that need particular attention.  What many of us normally do in practicing is just skip around.  We put a book of music on the stand and just flip pages.  This is not focused, not an efficient use of time.  I select items from technical studies (e.g. Werner 40 Studies, Porret 24 Etudes, Charlier Etudes) that will help my specific problems.  I may need help from a teacher or fellow player in selecting such items.

Then I assign myself material and really stay with it, playing it daily for a specific number of days.  I put a date on it and even write notes on the page about how it is going and what I am trying to achieve.  If I don’t jot it down, I tend to lose track and can’t tell whether what I did three days ago is better or worse.  This way, over several days, I can show myself those incremental improvements in playing that are hard to spot, but so essential to making progress on the instrument.  Achieving gains from practicing is like the gradual physical growth and change you experience as a child.  You don’t wake up one morning and say, “Ah, yes, yesterday was when I grew”.  If my allotted practice time were two hours, I would spend about 60 minutes on this section of my routine.  I might be able to work on from four to six different problems during this time.

Musical Practice

The third and final part of the routine is Musical Practice.  It is here that I practice the music that I am required to learn for performances.  I work on any upcoming solo or ensemble passages that need polishing, but include easier material as well.  That could include pieces from the Concone Lyrical Studies, the Bordogni Studies or even pieces in the Arban book.  I select pieces where I can just play and do what comes naturally.  This is a very important part of my daily routine.  Without it I may never play easily and will always be tied up with technique.  The greatest compliment that I received was when someone in the audience came up after a performance and said, “You played so well that I forgot you had a trumpet in your hands.”

In speaking, an enormous vocabulary is not useful unless it allows me to express my own thoughts more concisely.  We practice and develop trumpet technique because it allows us to express ourselves musically, in an effortless and meaningful way.  I hope that the routine I described, with its balanced use of three types of practice, will bring about this kind of playing for all that try it.