Clark Media Productions

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Filtering by Category: Brass player health

The Zero Four Thirty Experiment

Yes, that is a picture of my giant NPR coffee mug (the mouthpiece is just to give a little scale…)

Yes, that is a picture of my giant NPR coffee mug (the mouthpiece is just to give a little scale…)

So, this summer, I decided to try out a new concept...  In my life, I’ve been neither a morning nor a late night person, but rather I seem to be able to adjust to whatever the alarm clock says fairly easily.  This is especially true if I wake up with any consistency.  

After reading a book called Extreme Ownership and hearing an interview with the author on the Tim Ferriss show, I became convinced I needed to try an early wakeup in order to get some things in my life done.  I am happiest when I start my day with a sense of accomplishment and don’t wait until late morning before I get to do any “work”.  Traffic and school drop-off circumstances being what they are, I would often find myself not getting to any work or personal productivity before 9:30 or so every morning.  Also, hitting the ground running at the whim of two energetic little boys sometimes left me, ahem, a little cranky! 

Jocko Willink, the author of Extreme Ownership, usually puts out a tweet every morning about 0430 - it’s usually just a photo of the face of his watch with the time.  I would continually see that photo in my twitter feed every morning as I had my coffee and breakfast with my family, and it made me begin to consider whether I, too, could take control of my day, and find a better sense of accomplishment by getting a bit of a jump on my daily work.  I also thought that by getting up every day at 4:30, I might be forced to not stay up so late in order to have some “me time”, a habit that was perpetuating a cycle of tiredness and a feeling of not getting to things that are important to me during my day.

I started at the beginning of August, and I honestly thought I would make it about 5 days and quit.  The first couple of days were a little hard, but I had an extensive personal project that motivated me, so I was able to keep at it.  By the end of the week, shockingly, waking at 0430 felt quite normal, and I was habitually waking slightly before the alarm clock, which is normal for me when my body has a consistent schedule.

The funny thing was, I REALLY liked it.  There’s nothing quite as great as a quiet house in the morning.  I had time to accomplish a lot of personal work and projects, practice trombone (with a mute!), and just have some focused alone time at the start of my day, which has done wonders for me mentally.  Here are some other benefits:

  • I don’t feel stressed when it’s 9AM and I haven’t started anything that I need to do for the day
  • I’m able to give my children the attention they need from the moment they wake up, and not be cranky and impatient during the early part of our day
  • I’ve been able to do all my audio and video editing in the mornings, and spend evening time with my wife
  • Trombone practice has been more consistent
  • I have broken the cycle of staying up late, in order to have time to myself
  • My bedtime has shifted earlier
  • I’m no longer tempted to have that 3rd or 4th beer of the night, as I stay up late and get absorbed in working on some project or other.  This has been a very important piece of the puzzle for me.  It’s easy for me to eat or drink alcohol late in the day in order to “prolong the moment", and sometimes I would find myself with food or drink that I didn’t necessarily want, but was just having because I was up and didn’t want the “me time” to end.

One thing I decided early on was that if I got up at 4:30, and I felt tired as hell, then I would give myself a pass to go right back to bed, with no guilt.  That has worked great.  I don’t sweat it if I wake up and feel like I just can’t do it that particular day.  It gives me some flexibility, and again, no guilt over not “achieving” something.  I think it’s easy to get wrapped up in always getting things in, whether we are really up for it or not.  I think this causes a lot of less-than-quality time spent doing things, whether it’s family time, trombone practice, or working out.  Back in my Ironman days, I worked out many times when I should have just taken a nap, or slept in!

So, do me a favor… Do you have any routines, morning or otherwise, that help your productivity and happiness?  I’m curious to hear what works for all of you!  Leave a comment on the website or Facebook.  I look forward to hearing from you!  Oh, and if you need to get in touch, try me about 4:30 tomorrow morning, I’ll be up.  😃



Vacation this week!

Be back soon.... I hope everyone is having a great summer! If you haven't subscribed to my email list, click the link below. Find me on Facebook (virtualtrombonist), or YouTube and like, subscribe, and share!  Thanks so much for your time and for your comments and support. 

Enjoying some cool clouds today and finding some peace! 

Enjoying some cool clouds today and finding some peace! 

Finding your Klopfgeist...wait, WHAAAAT???

In continuing my obsession with all things Logic Pro, I've taken an interest to something that, on the surface, seemed to be a pretty simple feature...the Klopfgeist! What is a Klopfgeist, you ask?  Well, check out the video to find out!  If you have any more questions about the Klopfgeist in Logic Pro, or other topics you would like me to cover, leave them in the comments!

Instant sound - fixing my own sloppy practice habits!

With all the technology available to us these days, it can be easy to get lost in the variety of practice aids available to musicians, not to mention simply getting distracted by social media and other fun apps on our devices!

Over the past few years, I've found something that helps me make my daily trombone long tone practice a little more engaging, and also scratches my itch to involve technology and audio recording into my routine.  This can be a fun way for brass players to inject some fun into our practicing, as well as possibly learn some new technology skills.

A couple of years ago, a friend of mine mentioned that he sometimes used the decibel level meters on an analog mixer when he played long tones. As I had never heard of this, I asked him to explain what he meant!  He described that if he turned on his microphone and simply watched the level meters on the mixer, without even recording anything, the visual feedback of the meter activity provided a great cue for him to avoid missing slight dips and sagging in his tone.  After I got home, I gave it a try on the setup I had at the time, and found it to be a pretty cool way to spice up my long tone practice.

With the availability of digital audio workstations, including freebies like GarageBand and Audacity, the possibility to use something similar to our old analog meters is readily available.  I've been learning the ins and outs of Logic Pro X over the past year, so most of my experience lately is with Apple's flagship DAW.

I enjoy this kind of practice for a couple of reasons. First of all, it works. Healthy tone production is half the battle on a brass instrument, and for me, long tones are the basis that keeps my playing healthy and grounded.

Occasionally, I feel like I lapse into sloppy habits in my playing, with one of the biggest being my tendency to make my warmup so chill and mellow that I lose all sense of timing and immediacy of tone production. "Letting it happen" is all well and good until you have others depending on you to start a note at an exact place in the space-time continuum!  

While doing some basic long tones a few months ago, I just happened to be fiddling with my computer, and I had the DAW up and recording. The click track was running and I noticed after I stopped playing and looked at the track waveform that after every sharp tic of the click track, it took a little time for my sound to really kick in. In other words, I was hearing in my head those words that every brass player dreads, "You're late!"

After scraping my ego off the floor and drying my tears, I set about figuring out exactly what I was doing.  I could see the sharp tic of the metronome, followed by a slight space, then the beginning of my trombone sound. The sound started as a small point and blossomed into a full tone. So not only was I late, I was getting a "wah" or slight blooming of the sound as well.  Damn.

How to fix this?  First of all, I felt the need to just remind my body what it feels like to expel air instantly, and on time. The simplest way, for me, is to hold my palm flat in front of my face and blow air, with articulation, directly at my palm. Not hard, but making the air hit my hand instantly and right with the tap of the metronome.
The next step was the same but substituting a mouthpiece buzz where the air alone had been. Same process, but concentrating on a healthy, full buzz that started instantly.

Finally, I moved back to the horn. I recommend starting at a medium volume - we don't want to substitute brute force for excellent air usage and timing. I have found that a little of this practice goes a long way to helping me create a healthy sound.  You may practice Remington long tones, scales, easy Arban exercises, or whatever you enjoy to implement this session into your routine.

Besides GarageBand, Audacity, Logic Pro, and Protools, there's a great iOS app called Tonal Energy Tuner.  TE has a screen called analysis that allows you to watch a wave graphic while using the metronome.  It runs whether you have the click on or off, and whether you are recording or not as well. I use this a lot as an easy and quick to set up solution when a full on audio program is not feasible. 

I hope this simple exercise helps you to get some healthy sound production happening in your practice. I welcome anyone else's methods or ideas in the comments!

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