Tuesday, April 8, 2014


Couldn't pick just one motivational poster this time

Blog 113: Discipline

If you asked me what the most important elements to improving your trumpet playing were, I'd say:  discipline, consistency and knowing what to practice.  Discipline and consistency go hand and hand, since it takes will power and focus to practice every day.  I think without discipline and consistency improvement is essentially impossible, at least with regards to the trumpet.  I've had a lot of conversations with strangers in bars, airports, at parties etc about how trumpet really doesn't give you a day off and how incredibly unforgiving it can be as an instrument.  This is usually met with a lot of surprise.  I then explain that even if you just go light for a few days you'll notice some ability lost in your range, tone, or flexibility.  

My explanation regarding this has always been the regeneration of the tissues in your lips and mouth.  I read once that in all the places in your body, blood circulated in your mouth the second most (the brain being the #1 area for most blood circulation).  A great demonstration regarding bloodflow and cell regeneration is such:  When you get a cut on your arm, it'll scab, and then take around a week or more to heal, whereas when you bite your lip it heals within just a few days.  I'm not a scientist, but I believe it is for this reason that if you're not constantly maintaining your embouchure it will leave you quite quickly. 

For the reason that the body is in a constant state of flux, I think it is incredibly important to provide some sort of order if you want to play consistently and as I'm always telling my students 'if you want to play consistently, you've got to practice consistently.'  If you look to professional weight lifters who are trying to add more weight to what they can lift, it's a steady schedule with small incremental additiions of increasing difficulty.  Can you imagine a professional weight lifter(or any athlete) who takes off 3 weeks and then goes to pick up right where he left off?  The results would probably end up causing a lot of physical harm to the person in question.  Having a daily routine with both elements that maintain your current ability as well as aspects which expand, challenge and expose your body to new demands is essential.  There is no growth without preserving what you already have.

Lastly, knowing what to practice is an incredibly important element to improving as well.  As I stated in my last blog, it's important to be honest with yourself about what you can play and knowing how to build; knowing how to intelligently push your limits.  I still stand by my statement that I good teacher is the best way to go(finding a good teacher is a challenge in of itself though.)  I believe a good teacher has a system of increasingly difficult exercises to will slowly steer a student towards improvement in a brick by brick fashion.  This is exactly what my teacher Laurie Frink did with me (and all of her students).  It was a step by step process, each week going back and receiving the next in the series of exercises.  This is the method I teach as well; exactly what Laurie gave to me, taking into account a player's specific natural physical tendencies as well.  Over the past few years it's been incredibly satisfying to see Laurie's method work with my students.  The sky is the limit for any student that comes to the right teacher with discipline and consistent practice.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Why You Still Suck at Trumpet

Blog 112: Why You Still Suck at Trumpet

For anyone that's ever picked up the horn, you're probably not surprised to hear that trumpet is one of the hardest instruments around and I'd venture to say that at least part of that has to do with how people approach the instrument.  It's the reason trumpet players are usually the weakest in any band that they're in and the reason why so few of them actually ever improve their technique.

If I may backtrack to my time pre-moving to New York City, I think I made a lot of mistakes most overly-ambitious young trumpet players make; the first was thinking "The more you practice, the better."  While we've all heard stories of musicians practicing 8+ hours a day, if you're a young trumpet player who isn't already at a certain physical level that's just simple impossible and you're going to be doing more damage than good in attempting to up your hours in the practice room.  Like a weight-lifter attempting more weight than he's ready for, you'll most likely just hurt yourself and then have to rebuild.  As a second point, I'd say developing an awareness of how physically tired you are is important too.  It takes maturity, patience and confidence to know when to walk away and rest during your practice routine.  That's a hard lesson to learn for most….and I'd say most people never learn it.

Back when I was in college and without a teacher, I remember doing a lot of google searching, hearing what different pros were practicing, buying dozens of trumpet books and just diving in.  I'd work through one book of flexibilities one day, another book the next, spinning my wheels and never going anywhere.  One of the books I purchased was Laurie Frink(my future teacher)'s Flexus.  Since I'd heard Laurie was the best in the world I assumed that working my way through the book would make me an awesome trumpet player.  WRONG.  Despite my incredible discipline and daily practice I made very little progress and what I learned later was that I made 2 mistakes.  The first was assuming I was more advanced that I actually was, chalk that up to pride and ego.  I breezed through the early exercises, viewing them as easy and moved on to the stuff that I was barely able to play.  What I didn't know at the time was I had overestimated where I was at, and my actual foundation was weak.  Just like a building, you're not going to get very high without a good foundation.  The second mistake I made was since I had no teacher, I assumed every week I could just move onto the next exercise in the series. WRONG.  When advancing on trumpet, you expose your body to a new technique and then it adapts to make what you're asking of it achievable.  Sometimes this is a quick process and sometimes it takes a little longer.  With no teacher or guidance I was making a lot of assumptions on where I was at in this process.  I didn't understand what sounds coming out of the bell where progress and what were destruction.

Another mistake I made was not following basic principles that I later learned from Laurie herself; keep the mouthpiece on your lips, breathe through your nose so to not disrupt the embouchure, and tapping your foot to coordinate the physical demands in time.  All the tweaking, second guessing, and adjusting was negating the entire concept around the exercises, thus rendering them useless and destructive.  Since studying with Laurie and now teaching as well, I am so mindful to all sorts of bad habits, and I think having had nearly every bad habit in the book and learning how to fix them has made me a better teacher, in fact at this point I might even be a better teacher than player.  I am quick now to spot bad tendencies amongst my students and get ahead of them.  Every trumpet player needs a good teacher.  A good teacher doesn't just tell you what you want to hear.   A good teacher doesn't give you a daily physical routine that is easy.  A good teacher asses your current ability and knows what to prescribe to get you to the next level.  A good teacher continues to raise the bar and give you something that you're able to touch but not yet grasp.  There are many good players that have achieved a certain ability on the instrument, but that doesn't necessarily make them good teachers.  Any trumpet player/teacher that has no method or just gives you a "few things to check out" is NOT a good teacher.  So be careful.  In my mind, I will forever be a Student of the trumpet and my trumpet routine continues to evolve through objective self-assessment and continuing to raise the bar in a controlled fashion.  Looking forward into Flexus, there are still just a few advanced exercises that I'm working towards but can't yet play, fortunately I know what steps I need to take to get me from point A to point B.  I do my routine patiently as I continue to expand and improve my technique.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Studio Shit

Brad Lays down some background Organ

Blog 111: Studio Shit

Gonna be a busy month.  First I went into the studio last thursday and did some fixes, edits and over dubs on 'The Rehumanization EP'.  We added some organ pads on a track, an extra guitar line and added some cool effects that'll help the transition between tracks.  I'd share more info but I want it to be a surprise.  All that's left now is mixing and mastering, so I can see the finish line.  Besides that, if all goes as planned, next week my good friend Agnes Fohn is going to take some photos.  I've actually never had professional press photos taken, mostly because I hate posing for pictures in general.  I've used some studio photos that were taking back when I did my 1st record back in 2009 for all my press stuff up to this point.  It'll be good to have some new photos.  Agnes takes cool photos so if one looks right, maybe I'll use it for the cover.

On top of the work towards the EP, I'm heading into the Studio again next week to record the last of the tracks for the Full album(which will most likely be released in the summer/fall.  This week we'll be rehearsing those four songs: 'In Dreams', 'Gotta Get Out of Here', 'Still Here', and 'As Long as it Takes.'  We've been attacking four songs per studio date which is working really well.  At the end of this recording day I should have 9 songs total to use for the album(The EP has 4 songs.)  Since the EP will come out first it'll give me more time to do cool studio shit and really tweak the Album and make it perfect, since there's no rush.

Lastly, we must have played well at our Rockwood Music Hall show back in December because they invited us back.  We'll be playing there again Mon March 3rd.  Looking forward to it!  My plan this year: Release Albums, Play Shows, Make Great music.

OH and I redesigned my actual website, Check it out: http://www.joncrowleymusic.com


Saturday, January 4, 2014

The New Year, 2014

Some photos Agnes Fohn took at our Rockwood gig on 12/16/13

Blog #110: The New Year

Hey Everybody,

I'm just sitting in my apartment, just finished practicing.  It's nice and cold outside and we're buried in snow here in Brooklyn.  Apparently my attempts to keep active on this blog have failed since the last time I wrote one was back in August.  So I assume an update is in order first: we recorded again back in September, another short 4 hour session that we got some great material from.  From our two session so far I've already figured out which songs are going to be on the EP, which will be about 30 min of music and will be released first.  We just need to do a little cleaning up on those tracks and then it's on to editing, mixing and mastering..I also need to get some photos taken and work on getting the album cover art and design going.  It's been a little bit delayed because the studio I use has been so busy, but it'll be worth the wait.  The tracks sound fantastic and I can't wait to share the music with everyone.  The stuff I've been playing since I started this blog is so dramatically different, I was listening to my first album today and I can't even recognize that person in comparison to what I'm doing musically these days.  Also trying to book one more short recording day to finish the full album, that'll probably be released near the end of 2014.  Should be a very exciting year for me hopefully.  I'd also like to get my music out there a bit more this year, play more shows etc.  It takes a super long time to develop one's own musical identity/voice, and even to develop the skill to play an instrument well and I'm really feeling like I'm finally getting into that zone.

Other than that, my group played a show a few weeks ago at Rockwood Music Hall, here in NYC.  First of all, we/I have decided to finally just call the group CROWLEY, after many various band names blah blah blah.  I write all the music and though I'd really prefer to keep the same band line-up, it's super tricky here in NYC where juggling everyone's schedules can be difficult, so I've decided to just call it CROWLEY.  Luckily I've been able to keep a steady line-up and everyone I've been playing with and recording with has been sounding awesome and really coming together.  The Rockwood show was super fun.  My friend Michael Eaton set the whole thing up, which was great.  We played a 45 min set and just hit as hard as we could, I sold a bunch of CDs and made some cash from the pass-the-hat…more importantly I always view playing live as a chance to win people over to what we do and the music we make, which is hard to describe.  Even though no one knows who I am, and I get ZERO press, people are always asking us when we're playing again and asking to sign up for the mailing list, buying CDs, so it feels good to play live, I'd like to do more of it in 2014, I've just never been great at setting shows up and doing the whole networking/smoozy/politic-y bullshit.  Chalk it up to my aversion to phony-ness, or maybe my introversion/shyness.  But anyway, hopefully we can play at Rockwood again, we've had a hard time finding a 'home base' since Sycamore stopped having music last spring.  Here's a song from the show: 

So besides playing more shows, I've got some ideas for some different future projects and musical concepts I'm working on, but i'll wait to share those until the EP and CD are finished first, it is easy and a mistake to move onto the next thing before finishing what you're working on first…plus I like surprises.