Making Music like Bud

A couple of months ago, a musician friend of mine posted some advice from the legendary first trumpet players of the Chicago Symphony, Bud Herseth. I copied it for myself and offer excerpts of it to you, because I think these sayings have application outside music:

-I do believe in warming up, and as I grow older I find that it takes a little longer to get all the brain cells and all the red corpuscles going. It’s a fact of life. You know, a warmup is just a practice session gradually approached – that’s really all it is. You try to cover some of the fundamentals, first of all to get a nice freely-produced musical quality sound. And then you go through a few articulations, and gradually extend the range until your top, bottom, and middle registers, articulations, and lungs, are all there.

  • There are appropriate times for beauty and crudeness – use both.
  • Be consistent, and NEVER PRACTICE BUT ALWAYS PERFORM.
  • Never have any tension in the body when playing, just learn to always relax.
  • Only practice in 45 minute sessions, that is what Bud does.
  • There is nothing wrong with your chops, your mind is messing them up. High register is no more physical than low, it should be as easy and sound just as good. Don’t make such an issue of it. This habit must be worked out and will eventually go away, however there is only one way to get rid of this bad habit, and that is to apply concepts every day in your playing.
  • When a note sounds beautiful, it is in tune (and vice versa)
  • Don’t think, just play beautifully. Your ear will tell you, and do all the work for you if you allow it to. Don’t try to place notes, but let them go where they want.
  • Always take 10 minutes or so off after the first 15-20 minutes of playing (the warmup).
  • Rest, like Bud. FEEL FRESH ALL THE TIME.
  • Project a message when you play, never impress with mere mechanics.
  • Put words to everything.
  • THINK ONLY WHAT IT SOUNDS LIKE, NOT WHAT IT FEELS LIKE!
  • On soft playing – play soft as if you are playing loud. Flow air the same as a forte.
  • Picture the whole phrase before you start to play. Do this all the time.
  • Every note must have direction – always must be going somewhere.
  • Send a message when you play.
  • For etude practice, get them clean slowly, then speed them up.
  • WHEN YOU MAKE A MISTAKE, BE PROUD OF IT. PUT YOUR HORN DOWN AND STARE AT THE CONDUCTOR. UNLESS HIS EAR IS GREAT, HE WON’T KNOW. IF HE DOES, FINE! (I’m not sure whether we should do this in real life, since it’s shifting blame to others unfairly, but it frequently works in music–KB)
  • Don’t just listen to yourself on ensemble playing – let the ensemble help you on your entrances so you can be part of it and not playing along with it. All accompaniments will help you to play. Have them in your head so you just don’t play out of context.
  • Listen to good artists, and know what you want.
  • A trumpeter’s life is risky, and you have to be able to take those risks. No great playing is accomplished if a person is afraid of playing. To be timid or favor notes or ranges is running away from that risk.
  • DON’T THINK YOU HAVE PROBLEMS TO WORRY ABOUT IN YOUR PLAYING, JUST CERTAIN ASPECTS OF YOUR PLAYING AREN’T PERFECTED YET. DON’T WORRY ABOUT ANYTHING IN YOUR PLAYING, JUST ENJOY IT!
  • REMEMBER – BIG SOUND ALL THE TIME.
  • Keep your horn free from ANY dirt inside. Clean it weekly if necessary. Clean mouthpiece daily. Clean horns and mouthpieces so nothing is ever in the horn.
  • I would rather jump right in and make mistakes than be timid.
  • Have the attitude of “I can play anything”. This is necessary for great trumpet playing.
  • Always, after hearing someone play something, say “I can do it better, or if not better, different.”
  • Whenever you have difficulty technically, think of the passage more musically, that’s what is wrong.
  • The reason Herseth is better than you are, is not that he tries harder, but he thinks musically. It is amazing what the chops can do when you get the head out of the way!
  • Don’t think of auditioning for a job, or against someone, just offer what music you have to offer. If they like it, fine. If not, that’s fine too, go somewhere else. Just make music and enjoy yourself. If you do get excited, apply it to the music and not to the situation. Your goal should be to play as well as Bud, not to have a particular job!!!
  • You never really know how much Doc and Bud hurt when they are playing, just play beautifully and forget how it feels.

I think life is an art, and an artistic mindset is necessary for living life to its fullest. With Lent coming up in a week, I think a lot of the principles can be translated into prayer and practice of living. Making music pleasing to God is what our lives are about; the compassion of our hearts is the instrument we’re trying to master. Don’t just play as well as Bud, play as well as Jesus. Practice might not make us perfect, but it can help us make better music with our lives.  In walking the walk of Christ, we’re not practicing, we’re always performing.

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