Tuesday, 10 July 2012

One step back, two steps forward

I started playing the trumpet at 11 years old and by 18 I had worked my way through the various examinations, attaining the final and most advanced level 'with distinction'.

Needless to say I felt rather pleased with myself. 

On the back of this success I applied for and gained a place at music school. Again I felt rather pleased with myself.

My trumpet tutor was a past co-principal trumpet with the London Symphony Orchestra: very highly respected.

I played for him. He listened intently and when I had finished playing he said, 'We need to rebuild your technique from the bottom up. We need to start by working on your breathing and the way you place the mouthpiece on your lips.'

No gentle easing into things. No mention of the intricacies of the music or my interpretation of it. It was an instant and gigantic step back to basics.

Suffice to say I no longer felt that pleased with myself.

At first I was crestfallen. It took me a week or three to come to terms with it all. The amount of work I was going to have to do! The things that I had taken for granted that I was going to have to relearn! The bad habits I was going to have to overcome!

But over the next 3 years and with the expert help and support of my teacher I was able to rise to the challenge. I learnt how to breath properly, pulling the air down into my stomach. I practised this until it was completely natural to me. I repositioned the mouthpiece upon my lips, putting more emphasis on the bottom lip and less on the weaker and less mobile top lip. This took a while to get used to as it meant that I had to build up a completely new muscle structure around my lips and mouth and within my cheeks. But again I just kept practising until it all merged comfortably into place.

By the time of my final trumpet recital I was a changed player. By taking a step back I had, eventually, taken at least two forward. My tone was fuller than before and my stamina, very important for a brass player, was much improved. Also, I could play high notes that were previously unattainable for me.  

Now, after 3 years hard work and having taken a significant step towards my degree, I had earned the right to feel somewhat pleased with myself.

Sometimes the best way forward is to take a step back. It can feel disheartening at times, but if you stick with it the dividends you eventually receive can be well worth it.

Taking a less senior job, going back to school, resitting examinations, restarting a project: all of these present opportunities to rethink your approach to things. How can you add to your knowledge and expertise? How can you take advantage of interesting opportunities and creative options that were missed first time round?

So the next time you are presented with a challenge that necessitates a disheartening backward step, do your best to focus upon the specific opportunities it could present:

  • Now that you have a valuable second chance what will you do differently?
  • What new avenues or approaches will you explore and try out?
  • How will you build upon what you learnt first time round?
  • Which areas will you pay more attention to and work harder at?
  • Which areas do you wish you had taken the time to enjoy? How will you make sure you do this?

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