How to Eat an Elephant

Q: How do you eat an elephant? A: One bite at a time.


OMG. HELP. I want to curl up in a ball and CRY. WTF? NO WAY MAN. It's Impossible. I'm out. I quit. I can't.

I'm want to say that I'm embarrassed/ashamed to admit that I too, have had all of these feelings. When a piece of music, audition, passage, solo, etc. comes before me that makes my inner 7 yr. old boy start whining, (otherwise known as "extreme concern, focus, nervous, ) - my first instinct to avoid the piece.

Play something else, do what I'm good at, distract myself, or even, NOT PLAY THE HORN. When I was a high school student, and even through graduate school, I was always afraid of "What will other people think? I can't play that, what if they hear me?"

Otherwise known as F.E.A.R. F: Frequently E: Eagerly A: Avoiding R: Responsibility

Let's face it- it's my bed. I made it. Whatever I have chosen to practice or work on to this date has put me in this position. There's nothing to be gained by lamenting over what I didn't do, or can't do, but EVERYTHING to be gained by FACING my fear and owning the passage.

Maybe I won't nail it today. I might not even get it right in time for the concert. BUT, I can make progress, get better at it for whatever short term goal (concert, audition, etc.) I have in front of me right now, and more significantly, make significant progress in ensuring that it won't plague me in the future.

So my friend, what's to do? - When you find a piece of music (or your piece you're currently avoiding) look it over, and let your gut be your guide- what part are you avoiding, what part do your eyes skip past, what part do you wish wasn't on the upcoming gig? - be bold, be brave: START THERE.

If you take care of your chops with a good routine (warm-up) and spend 70-80% working on the "problem" or challenging passage, you will ALWAYS be in better shape than if you either run the piece down & spot check, or avoid it entirely.


  • Always use a metronome
  • ISOLATION & REPETITION: Pick a tiny area and work it back and forth, upside down, in different keys, etc.
  • SLOW IT DOWN!, then incrementally increase the tempo- by BABY STEPS.
  • Start SLOWER than you want. Take the tempo you think you should start at, then subtract 20bpm. If you're super brave, divide it in two!
  • Take the horn off your face: Sing it, clap it, tap it, play it on a piano. If you don't have the passage firmly in your ear you're fighting a losing battle.
  • Record yourself: Yes. It's humbling. It hurts. Do it. Do it again. Be gentle, but be constructive. You will always be a worse critic of your playing than others, but it's the only way to truly hear what's coming out of the horn.
  • POSTURE, RHYTHM, SOUND, AIR . . then notes. As odd as it sounds, I increasingly find that when I focus on good airflow, body posture, rhythm, and tone, I ALWAYS do better. If I do goof, I find that I am much more quickly aware of it, and more significantly, have a better idea what to fix. If you blow down the center of the tone/pitch/note, you will nail it, or know immediately "this is not the note I'm going for." Trust yourself, go for it.
  • WRITE IT DOWN. I am amazed at how often I see no markings in students music. I have made it a mission to rebel and WRITE EVERYTHING (in solo repertoire, not band music). By marking it in, I am making a statement to the ape who moves my slide (the unconscious mind)d WHAT I am looking for, and more importantly, WHAT I'm trying to fix here.
  • Never begin a passage without a goal clearly in mind- in the beginning, literally say it aloud, ask yourself in a full voice, "What am I looking to accomplish here?" or "What do I want to sound better?" I think you'll be surprised at how much it helps, and how much more effective your practice time will be.

Please comment below:

  • How do you face your fear and get to work on something you want to avoid?
  • What specific practice tools/methods do you use when tackling a passage?

Pardon me, my elephant is ready, time to hit the woodshed!

$0.02 Dr. J