The Age of Instant Knowledge

We are lucky; we live in an age when information is only seconds away. Think of the question, problem or statistic, use Google and we will probably get an instant answer. We're conditioned to expect this luxury, and we use it well… most of the time.

But is it possible that this instant knowledge is placing our musical studies in an inappropriate context? Can we find the same fast answers in our practicing as we can in our cybernetic explorations? Answers are easy to find but correcting and adjusting these problems is another thing. Instant answers do not create instant experience or instant wisdom.

Seeking a fast fix is not a problem found only in one country. It is found in North American, European, Japanese and players everywhere. The questions are always the same, for example: "How can I make my high register better??" Or "How can I make my low register better??" Sometimes a teacher gets the impression that a student would like a few sentences written down on a piece of paper like a medicine prescription written by a doctor.

Question: What do I have to do to get my high register better?

Answer: Decrease the size of the aperture in the lips, create a light vowel inside your mouth ("ee" for English, "i" for other languages), use enough air pressure to assure a ratio of overtones that is consistent with the lower register and enough mouthpiece pressure to assure a good seal for the greater air pressure!!!

Now it's dangerous! We've put into words what needs to be done, but the chances are nearly 100% that those instructions will be exaggerated and perhaps create serious problems. Development of the high register, low register and all aspects of playing is a series of micro adjustments which frequently, when put into words, become extreme and pathological. Development of any part of our playing comes by listening, experimenting and repeating.

Now comes the problem of the age of instant knowledge. Most students today are blessed with great intelligence; it's not difficult to recognize that human evolution in the last 50 years has created young people with higher intelligence and quicker learning capacity, but this blessing can sometimes be a problem. Frequently the fast minds of this cybernetic age don't understand the necessity or have the patience for practice and repetition, and they will not develop these micro adjustments into the subtleties of sonic beauty.

A tuba student today is able to understand, conceptualize and play an etude of Blazhevich, Bordogni and Kopprasch in a very short time but the proclivity of the same student is to stop the work before it is finished which results in these subtleties of sonic beauty never becoming realized.

Solution: All instrumental improvement comes from hearing in our mind's ear what we want and working to realize it while playing.

In great contrast to 50 years ago, there are abundant examples of wonderful playing available today, most serious young players have heard many of the performers and their recordings that are available; these recordings, as well as being enjoyable listening, are just as essential to our instrumental growth process as a metronome or a tuner.

At least of equal importance today is the availability of recording ourselves and hearing what we sound like without the horn in our hands, without having to move air, deal with articulation, fingers and all the many things that can distract our concentration from simply hearing how we sound.

It's very strange though, when I ask students if they have spent time listening to any of their working sessions, frequently they say "No, it's not good enough, it's not going to sound good?!" If I may be very blunt for a moment; that is unbelievably dumb, especially for a new age of highly intelligent students! Most of us have a fairly clear idea of how we want to sound, the instant playback we have available today can help us reach our goals a lot sooner. How often should we listen to ourselves? That's personal, but two or three times a week seems reasonable.

Perhaps it also needs to be said that practicing ought to be done in an atmosphere of thought and listening, without those two things it's a waste of time.

Imagine listening to the greatest tubist in the world, not some famous player but the most wonderful tubist in the world that exists in your imagination, the player you imagine is unique and extraordinary. Where does this wonderful player come from? It's the best that there is heard from the world of your imagination. Let this virtuoso lead you in the development of your own playing; the concept of excellence is already there in all of us; listen for it.

London, January 3, 2005

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