I suck, I'm not your favorite Student!

I suck, I’m sure I’m not your favorite student. . .” muttered my young dejected friend recently. I was taken aback for a moment, but then had to laugh. Not at him--but at the concept. I suppose I can understand his perception that my “favorite student” is going to be the person who:

  • plays the best
  • has the most talent
  • worked the hardest that week/practiced the most

In all honesty, he couldn’t have been further from the truth.

I see students that run the gambit from beginners through adults, advanced college students, and professionals. I truly do love working with each and every one of my students (although some of them do make me want to pull my hair out on occasion) -- I don’t think I could have a “favorite” student, but if I did, it’s certainly not based on talent or ability.

What gets me excited, engaged, and switched on, is a student that loves to play, and works his or her hardest to get better. Sometimes they have prepared their material, at other times, not--but they have an infectious joy of learning and truly WANT to be better. Attitude, energy, and a desire to learn is what makes a relationship really take off between a teacher and student--when there is a breakdown in communication, or if one of us is feeling overwhelmed by schedule/life/family/deadlines/etc. it can create a truly challenging environment for both teacher and student.

Something that definitely can lead to student anxiety is a lack of preparation.

(OK- My students, don’t read this part--we’ve ALL DONE IT. Face it, stuff happens. We’ve all had a week or two from hell, gotten lazy, didn’t prioritize, etc. If I could go back in time, I really wish I could kick myself in the head, then practice more as a youngster. I guess we all figure it out eventually-- I did make up for lost time, but as you age, life becomes increasingly complex, forcing you to fight for every spare moment- DON’T waste this time guys- life it going to get complex quickly.)

Tom Ervin, former professor of trombone at Arizona State University has some great thoughts on practicing, and some particularly insightful ideas on the relationship between a teacher and student that I found very enlightening. In a nutshell, the professor is responsible for sharing everything he can to help you become a stronger player and person (even when you may not have the current perspective to realize its benefit). Mr. Ervin asserts that it is approximately 50% of the student responsibility is to prepare the material, “so neither of us dreads your next lesson.”

I find this particularly poignant as I reflect on challenges with students, and my own lessons where I felt things really fell apart (or felt attacked) -- I now have the distance, maturity, and perspective to realize that when I was defensive in a lesson, or it went poorly, it was almost always due to:

  1. my own defensiveness (My Playing = ME as a person) - and any feedback was interpreted as a personal attack, criticism, etc. rather than, “hey, this needs work”
  2. I just wasn’t prepared. (No matter how much I might have convinced myself at the time that I was.)

It’s been an interesting week, as we enter into the Thanksgiving holiday, students (and we teachers) are entering a truly frantic time of year. Students are realizing that finals are coming up, deadlines are approaching, final projects become due--blood pressure rises and patience runs thin.

As a teacher, and performer, this is the busy time of year for us all- student and studio deadlines occur simultaneously with one of the busiest upcoming seasons with Nut-cracking, holiday parties, casuals, and touring acts doing holiday shows. I realized last week, as I forgot to pack my slide, that I might be a bit overwhelmed myself.


As I think now upon all the things I am thankful for-- my family, my talent, my friends, and those I am fortunate to work with--I want to wish you all a very Happy Thanksgiving, and I am truly thankful for the opportunity to speak with you here. Thank you, for reading this, and for the influence and impact you have had on my life.

For those of you that are currently struggling, feel overloaded, and are feeling a bit lost- I have a quick bit of advice that I hope will help:

  1. DO NOT COMPROMISE YOUR STANDARDS. Set incredibly high goals. Work your butt off- practice hard, get in the time you need, and don’t ignore what you dislike in your playing--work on it!
  2. Be a little gentle with yourself. If you truly are giving your best, or even if you have MOMENTARILY slipped up, realize, that was then-- let’s move forward. Have rigid long term standards for yourself, but be FORGIVING and KIND in the short term. Something might sound awful today (since you’re trying something new) but, it might make EVERYTHING easier in the long run.

Realize, you are playing a LONG game, (lifelong), and that as you get better, you will raise your new standards, and you’ll keep working on this your entire life.

I suck.

You suck.

________ sucks.

Your job is not to be as good as __________, just be better than you were yesterday. Even if it doesn’t sound better today, what have you learned? What did you try that was new? What have you discovered about your playing that may help in the future, or will help someone else?

See you at the top.

Dr. J

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

Creativity: Inspiration & Perspiration

In a never-ending quest to "suck less" I find myself at times drifting, dealing with projects that "aren't critical or important" but nonetheless have merit--but don't seek to fulfill my purpose, or bring me closer to my destiny.

Without getting mushy & metaphysical, I think we all face an internal battle--doing that which is truly important to US and is doing good--either in the world, or in our own physical, character, emotional, intellectual, or skill set "muscles".

I recently underwent a surgery for a torn meniscus of the left knee and was reminded by a physical therapist of a tenet that I hold most keenly in my trombone playing, a "muscle has only two states- growth and atrophy." Simply, a muscle is either getting stronger, or getting weaker.

I believe that as players, teachers, and humans we struggle with a similar challenge- either being on track, or getting distracted.

I had a young student contact me regarding the outcome of a recent audition. He stated firmly that he was ready to "knuckle down" and "do whatever it takes." With that in mind, I think it important to reflect on the two primary elements to achievement - Inspiration & Perspiration.

You must have the inspiration to get better, achieve, suck less, , or you won't have the desire, or the energy, to get your butt out of bed and get to work! Sure, we have the short term pain of deadlines, job, gigs, school concerts, etc., but the LONG game goal- where do YOU want to be, and WHO do you want to become--that's the real game, which requires a bigger vision and plan.

Second: PERSPIRATION. Simply put- get off your butt and get to work! Have a plan, get a coach, and go gangbusters toward your goal with everything you've got- and then go a little more. Check in, mark your progress, plan your practice sessions (or life/project/work/etc.)


With that in mind I wanted to share two quick things that have spurred on my thinking, then it's back to work:

Gang, Constraints & Blocks: Merlin Mann, a great thinker in the organizational field (and very funny) recently re-fired his defunct podcast with a great 10 minute audio post on blocking time.

Get Inspired: I worked with my friend and colleague Barry Green, author of The Inner Game of Music recently doing some PowerPoint presentations for his recent book The Mastery of Music. In in there's a great anecdote by Dave Brubeck and his inspiration for some of the rhythmic complexity found in his later compositions- astride a tractor in the Central San Juaquin Valley. I found this video and couldn't help but smile.

Bottom line: GET INSPIRED, then GET YOUR BUTT IN GEAR! What am I doing to do this for myself? Well friend, I wrote this article (to publicly put me on the line) and am enjoying a great cup of coffee, listening to my favorite trombonist play the Michael Haydn alto trombone concerto (which I've committed myself to do in a month ) - now that I'm fired up and REALLY WANT to practice- it's on.

I'm headed to the woodshed to practice- what are you going to do TODAY to make yourself more happy and FULFILLED as a human, player, parent, teacher, etc? (regardless of career) - I'd appreciate your thoughts in the comments field below, then GO AND GET YOUR BUTT MOVING!

Best, DrJ "I suck, You suck. I practice today so that I will suck less tomorrow."


Ask J: Tonguing, Articulation, and Airflow

I am having a problem with tounging, especially when I'm playing legato.I feel uncomfortable, I ikeI might have a crappy attack, the note may not speak, or something will go wrong.

Its pretty agrivating sometimes, and it's making progress on the legato movement of the all state piece, and the rhapsody for euph slow.

I kinda feel more comfortable when I toung directly on the back of my teeth, opposed to on the roof of the mouth directly behind them.but when playing above the staff, tounging directly on the teeth feels kinda ackward and like a long strech....but it does kind of make things cleaner.

so, what are a few things that I should keep In mind???

Hi there- thanks for your question!

Articulation can be a funny thing- it’s almost a “Jedi mind-trick” in that, by visualizing (or thinking) the articulations in your head, you immediately engage the appropriate musculature (and tongue placement in the mouth). When I’ve struggled most with articulation, I almost get an obsessive focus on the tongue and the sound that isn’t working, and then everything seems to get worse (as you mentioned, it gets more aggravating).

Here’s the solution:

  1. ALWAYS focus on your air- the tongue is a light (and momentary) interruption (read here- NOT STOPPING, that leads to other problems) of the airstream. When we focus on the tongue, we almost always forget the #1 rule- BLOW THROUGH.
  2. While the air is moving in a non-stop fashion, think “TOH, TOH, TOH” for staccato, “TOH, DOH, DOH, DOH” for legato or “TOH------------------” then non-stop air for valve slurs or trombone glissando practice.
  3. In general, the tongue hits about where the back of the tooth meets the roof of your mouth (or a little lower) and as you play lower pitches, it gets closer to right in-between the teeth. Note: It’s only literally between the teeth on VERY low tessitura playing--down in the low pedal register. The lower you play, the more “quasi-legato” the articulation becomes--it ends up becoming a very light “doh” or even a “noh” or “loh” depending on whom you listen to.
  4. In short- break it down (do all of these at a slow tempo, then after all are successful, gradually increase the tempo)
    • take the passage that you’re having trouble with and first play a whole note on the first pitch of the passage.
    • next, play a series of progressively shorter pitches without sacrificing the CONTIGUOUS AIR SUPPORT (i.e. fully connected) - halves, quarters, etc.
    • then play the rhythm of the passage on a static pitch (maybe down an octave for a high passage, then up in the proper octave)
    • Finally play the passage in an additive process- 1st three notes, 1st four notes, etc. until you complete it.

I suspect the reason it feels “kinda awkward and like a long stretch” is that you are over focused on the muscles of the “tonguing” and not thinking about blowing through the passage, note, and horn- always focus THROUGH the instrument and passage, not “to” it.

Hope this helps- please check in and let me know how it works out!


“I practice today, so that tomorrow, I will suck less than I do today.”

Free Lesson for Beginners/Introduction to Dr. J

Hi there! I truly appreciate you taking the initiative to come visit my page and see this post!  I've had a little server trouble and am about to start a lesson right now- I will update this page later this afternoon.   Please check back, and also feel free to contact me directly if you have any questions, or would like to get started on your musical journey right away!


Dr. J

Why I love the 15 Minute Warm-Up, and so should you.

Q: Dear Dr. J - Why are you such a maniac about the Brass Buzz and the 15 Minute Warm-Up?

Answer:I like 'em so much, I bought the company!


Not true, but full disclosure up front - I love the 15 Minute W.U. and the 20 Minute W.U. so much, that after 10 years of use, I have collaborated with Mr. Davis to help him with some of his current projects- this is not a "paid testimonial".

I, as all of you, have been doing long tones, lip slurs, etc. since the dawn of time. . . .well. . . . for me, since about fifth grade. I had a great teacher who got me started doing the Remington Warm-Ups and and similar exercises. I DID do them, but not as often as I would have liked, and certainly, NOT as thoughtfully as I now wish I would have done.

As Malcolm Gladwell talks about in his now often quoted book- it takes 10 years or 10,000 hours of practice to master a skill. What people often leave out, is that it takes THOUGHTFUL practice, not just the time.

Q: Why do I use the 15 Minute Warmup, or the 20 Minute Warm-Up on a daily basis?
A: Because it provides structure, pitch and rhythmic reinforcement, and gives me a "starting point" or "emergency w.u." that I can do at a bus station or in the car on my mouthpiece, or when at home it's like stretching/running the bases- then I can supplement it with other exercises that I need that day, or my face tells me that it needs more of. I often follow it with another 20-40 minutes of flexibility, articulation, range exercises, but always start with the accompaniment (EVEN THOUGH it may seem seem a bit "cheezy" to some) - as it allows me to:

not. . . . procrastinate. . . . or. . . . put. . . . it. . . . off. . . . .

If nothing else, in 10-15 minutes, I have hit all the major areas that I need when going into a gig/etc. and will be functional. For those of use with kids/day job/unexpected events- this is a godsend, as I put it on my phone/iPod, and can buzz along with it when traveling or have a few minutes of downtime.

I cannot recommend it highly enough (again, not a paid plug) - There's a reason why Remington codified the exercises in the Remington Warm-Ups (it's the kind of stuff great brass players had been doing for the last few hundred years in various fashions - lip slurs, long tones, articulation, etc.)

The 15 Minute Warm-Up helps me "Get 'er Done" while constantly reinforcing my internal sense of TIME and PITCH. My internal auditory precognition (hearing the pitch and sound before I play it), pitch accuracy, and internal sense of time has greatly improved since I started using Mr. Davis' books in 2000.

I can't recommend it highly enough- if you're not sure, go pick up his video lesson - he's got a fan appreciation promo going right now where you can pick it up for only $5! - I'll attach it below.


Sorry for the long post, but have found in the last third of my career, as I have been using it nearly daily since 2000, that it has made a huge impact in the stability, strength, and accuracy of my physical chops, and my mental focus & discipline. I work with students from 3rd grade through professional, and I have seen an increasing challenge in getting people to discipline themselves with a "daily routine" as we all did "back in the day".

The accompaniment (even if lighthearted or "cheezy") makes a big difference in the rhythmic and pitch fundamentals, but also in the "I hit play-and play til it's done" department- it removes the resistance that we all occasionally face when picking up the horn to do the daily routine.


Use the links below to claim your prize, and thanks again for your support!

15 Minute Warmup CODE: 4xR9E
20 Minute Warmup: CODE: V8W3w

15 Minute Warmup: CODE: 74dsD
20 Minute Warmup: CODE: V33uj

Michael Davis and Hip-BoneMusic