I was in a brass masterclass being taught by a world class brass player. He made a comment that was spot on.
“Brass instruments really are slave instruments. You gotta put in endless amounts of labor.”
He’s right. No matter how good you are on a brass instrument, if you stop doing the things that make you good, even for a few days, you stop being good. Think of weightlifting. The world’s best weightlifter, if he takes a certain amount of time off, is no longer the world’s best weightlifter.
Slave labor isn’t a good metaphor, though. Not because it’s inaccurate, but because, to the degree that any metaphor is going to affect your behavior (it will), this one will make you want to practice less, not more. Who wants to feel like a slave?
This might seem awfully nitpicky, since we all know not to take metaphors literally like that. But things like this are worth thinking about and fixing. Any smart person isn’t going to consciously take the metaphor literally and think themselves a slave. But every person, no matter how smart, will do exactly that, subconsciously.
If you buy into the “slave” metaphor in any way, then it’s operating in an “always on” state, without you thinking about it. Just because you don’t notice it affecting you doesn’t mean it isn’t affecting you.
An accurate but unhelpful metaphor like “slave labor” will decrease your motivation and practice results by a little bit, all the time. That's why it deserves our attention. If we replace it with a more helpful metaphor, then your motivation and results will receive a tiny boost--all of the time.
Have you ever driven through a rich neighborhood? I don’t mean upscale--I mean RICH. With mansions, gates, driveways bigger than your house, thousands of feet of road between houses, and probably at least a mile between the neighborhood and civilization.
Let's say you live in one of those houses, so every time you leave, you have to drive back all that way just to get to your home again. You have this unbelievable wealth, and it’s yours to enjoy, right this second if you want, if you would but travel the small distance to go to it.
Here’s the thing. Over time, that small distance between your mansion and the rest of the world is going to stop feeling so small. After awhile, it’s going to feel like a full-on pain in the ass. Imagine if it took you ten minutes just to get to the main road so you could start driving to your destination?? Ugh.
But it’s ok! You have an amazing house--your wildest dreams come true--at the other end. Whenever it becomes a drag, you remember that part of having such a magnificent house is that’s it’s a little out of the way. In order to fully experience your wealth, you indulge in a bit of inconvenience.
That’s how I view long tones, tonguing exercises, and slurs.
If I really do my long tones, tonguing drills, and slurs every day, things go great. It becomes fun to play my instrument, because it’s fun being good at stuff. Once I’ve done them, I’m back in my mansion, actually enjoying all of my wealth.
If I try and get away with skipping them, I’m the rich man who lives in the rich house, who’s decided that the rich house is a little too far away, and that I’d rather throw a sleeping bag on the side of the road and hang out there all day instead. I’m still wealthy, but I’ve made myself effectively homeless.
Yes, I might not feel like driving that road for the millionth time, but WHY WOULD I NOT TAKE THE TIME TO GO BE IN MY MANSION???
Having wealth is one thing. Being in a place where you can enjoy it is another. The greater the treasure you’ve built on your horn, the more fun it is to go to where the treasure is.
Drive the ten or fifteen minutes it takes to actually be in your mansion.