Are You Guilty? Stealing Is Stealing!

I think it’s a pretty safe bet to say that everyone commits intellectual property theft to some degree in their daily lives. Some steal more than others, but we are all guilty of it. The following video explains why this kind of theft has become so prevalent in our modern society.

I have experienced intellectual property theft for many years now. Within weeks of the publication of my first book people were sharing copies of it without my permission. Since then it has only gotten worse, not better.

On the one hand, you cannot say that it has hurt me if I never had it to begin with. Right? Things are different for me than they are for people who were already established before the internet made intellectual property theft so popular. But on the other hand, what if people actually paid me for everything they’ve ever taken? Where would I be in my career today?

I know there is an entire generation (or two) that believes music should be free. Those people are shallow thinkers who cannot see this topic any deeper than the topmost level. They do not look deep enough to see just how many people are hurt, including themselves, when people do not get paid for the work they do.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the video.

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Life Builders: Anna Miller

Anna Miller – My Grandma

Since my New Year’s Eve gig last month was in Atlantic City (working with the David Caceres band at the Gold Nugget), I decided to go early, take Pearl with me, and spend a little time with my relatives from my mothers side of the family. I had been wanting to write a Life Builders post about my grandmother and I can’t think of a better time to do that than right after we finally spent some time with her.

This Life Builders Series is dedicated to acknowledging the people who have contributed to my success in life. This series is actually an offshoot from the other series I’m working on called Love Is. The Life Builders Series is part of the way that I am exercising “love” as it is taught in 1 Cor. 13. The Bible says that “Love is not proud.” The more I prayed, studied and observed pride and love in my life, I realized that the way that we exercise not being proud is to acknowledge those who have lifted us up. When we fail to acknowledge God and other people for what they have done for us, this is pride in its purest form.

My grandmother contributed to my success in life both directly and indirectly. She contributed to my success indirectly through my mother. Much of what I listed in my mom’s Life Builders page is stuff you can trace back to her mom. But even though I have spent very little time with my grandma over the past thirty years, there are some very specific things in my life that I can trace back to my conversations with her.

A Wellspring of Wisdom

My grandma is a wellspring of wisdom. I didn’t appreciate her in this way until I was older (and she would say that this is normal). The more I grew up, living on my own in a world that often seems so lacking in wisdom, the more I realized how valuable my grandmother is in that respect.

One of the reasons I waited until now to write this Life Builders post about her is because I was beginning to question my memory. Ha! As I get older, I trust my memory less and less. And I was beginning to wonder if I was just over exaggerating. Is my grandmother really as wise as I remember her to be?

That’s something most people know about me who know me well. I am not a person who just says stuff if I don’t mean it. I tell this to my students all the time. I feel obligated to keep saying it, not because it’s not true (yes, I understand that some people believe that if you say something like that all the time, then you must be covering something up), but because most people in society today DO just say stuff that they don’t really mean. I don’t want people to think that I am like that. All of these Life Builders are genuine and I wanted to be certain that I wasn’t just remembering things wrong.

But on this recent trip to see her, my grandmother confirmed my memories and opinions. She said several things that made me think, “wait a second, I should write that down!” He he he… What’s interesting is that she isn’t just TRYING to sound or look wise, in a superficial sense. No, my grandma’s wisdom is really something that just overflows from her personality. She is like a spring that bubbles up every day common sense.

Oh what I would do to be able to spend a few hours a week with her, just hearing her talk!

Watching My Weight

One of the earliest words of wisdom I can remember that my grandmother said to me was that I had the same body type as my great grandfather. She warned me to be careful with my weight. When she said that, I thought she was nuts. I don’t think I weighed much more than 125 lbs at the time. I was always a very skinny kid. But sure enough, I ballooned to 279 lbs by the mid 90’s. That’s when I remembered her warning

Here’s the thing about that… If I remember this right, she didn’t say I was going to get fat. She told me to watch the way I live to avoid getting that way. She made it clear to me, even though I wasn’t ready to hear it or understand it yet, that our health is largely our choice.

In that respect, she continues to be a huge inspiration to me. At 92 she remains very healthy and has set an example that I want to follow. Yes, it is my choice. I do have control over my weight and other various aspects of my health. Thanks in part to my Grandma, I am no longer 279 pounds.

Active Living

I remember when Grandma told me about some girls she worked with who were taking aerobics classes. Long before I ever read this same advice in a book by Stormy O’Martin, my grandmother said that she advocates an active life style over formal exercise classes. Almost word for word, she told me the same things that O’Martin says in her book; to take the stairs instead of the escalator, to walk more instead of driving everywhere, to make choices in your every day life that will require physical effort.

I  try to live that way today. She has inspired me to live that way. When we always choose to do things the easy way, then no amount of exercise can really make up for it. That’s why there are so many people out there today who have “cut” bodies but can’t do anything with them. That’s not healthy. That’s nothing more than cosmetic maintenance. When you live an active life style, you develop strength in the muscles you need most. This is something my grandmother taught me decades ago.

It’s Not Her Age

Before you get the wrong idea, I don’t want you to think that my grandmother is so wise just because of her age. There is that popular belief that wisdom is just a natural byproduct of old age. Well, my grandmother was a very wise woman long before she was “old.”

The Bible says that we should seek after wisdom, that wisdom is better than jewels (Proverbs 8:11) and that when we pray for it, God will give it to us (James 1:5). You don’t have to wait till you are old before you can have access to God’s wisdom in your life.

No Internet

Grandma lives in a quiet town, in a wonderfully peaceful home. She doesn’t have internet or anything like that. So she won’t be reading this or responding online. I guess that’s one of the reasons I have put off writing about her in one of these Life Builders posts. For the older people I want to honor this way, I have mailed them privately, via snail mail, to tell them how I feel and that I appreciate them.

That said, I felt it was important to include her here anyway, so that OTHER people know that I appreciate my Grandma. Please remember that the biggest, most important reason I am doing this publicly is to set an example. I would love to find out, years down the road, that I have inspired others to acknowledge the people who have contributed to their own success. That’s what this is all about. It’s not about me and all the wonderful people in my life. It’s about YOU.

Please follow my lead. Take an honest look at your life to see all the things people have done for you to get you where you are today. Do you want to move forward in your life? Do you want more out of life? This is the way forward! You are the result of many people’s love and effort. If you want to move forward in your life, the first step is to acknowledge those people and the differences they made in your life.

As always, I have not shared everything I could share about my grandmother. I have specifically chosen not to post her picture and I have not given you all the details of how she has inspired me.



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Music Without a Pulse Is Dead

Heart Rate

Feel the Pulse

I often tell my students that counting is not just for beginners. There is never a time in your music career when you are “good enough” to stop counting.

I had an epiphany one Saturday, on a gig after eight hours of teaching that day. It was a big band gig with David Caceres in the foyer of the Wortham Center (probably a gala for the Houston Ballet). As I sat there, I realized just how much counting I do on every gig. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I am counting constantly, every song, every measure, every note. There is never a time when I am not counting.

Why would I be thinking about this on a gig?

It was one of those days when all of the students needed work on the same thing. On that day, I had taught eight hours of lessons before the performance and I was talking about rhythms for at least six of those hours. So the topic was already on my mind when I got to the performance.

Rhythmic Guessing Games

It’s been my experience in over 30 years of teaching that most students who have troubles with rhythms just guess “how fast” the notes are. When they see half notes and whole notes, they play slow. When they see eighth notes they play fast and sixteenth notes are “really fast.”

Rhythms are more precise than this. There is a very mathematical organizational structure to rhythms, but before you throw your hands up in the air saying “but I’m terrible at math”, you should know that we are talking about sixth grade math here. If you understand division and ratios, then you can understand how rhythms work.

The truth is, guessing the rhythms will always get you in trouble. Whole notes are not always slow and sixteenth notes are not always fast. It doesn’t work like that. A half note is precisely half as long as a whole note. The ratio is 2:1. Very simple. A quarter note is precisely one forth of the whole note and one half of a half note. And so on…

Rhythms Are Measured Against the Beat

The problem is, even when you understand the ratios of rhythms, you may still have trouble playing those rhythms accurately if you do not have a sense of the pulse. Rhythms are measured against the beat, against the musical pulse of the song. If you do not have a feeling for that pulse, you have no frame of reference for performing a rhythm correctly. Without feeling the pulse of the music, you have nothing with which to measure the duration of each note. That’s why I say that “music without a pulse is dead.” If you cannot feel the tempo while you play, then you cannot play the rhythms accurately. It is impossible.

I teach various solutions to this problem. The most common and most accessible solution is to ask the students to count themselves off each time they play. It’s amazing to me how many students just start playing without feeling the beat before they begin. If the piece is in common time, simply count to yourself, “one, two, three, four.” For about 80% of the students, this is enough to fix their problems with rhythmic accuracy. Counting yourself off (mentally – it need not be out loud) helps to establish the pulse before you begin a phrase.

Subconscious Counting

As I have said in previous posts, my teaching is full of statements that seem to contradict themselves. I have told many students that there is a time when you can stop thinking about counting the rhythms. But that statement is a bit misleading. When I say that, I am really talking about counting consciously. We never stop counting, but there does come a time when the counting is done in the background of our minds. It is not always front and center in our thoughts.

That is our goal for much of what we do when we practice. We want to get to a point where most of what we do is automatic. Musical excellence is not something we acquire with our conscious minds. No, music excellence spills out from our subconsciousness. It does not mean that we ever stop “thinking” about the music. The thinking is just deeper down, out of the way so we can consciously think other, higher level thoughts.

Feel the Beat, Then Play the Rhythms

That said, I would like to say it one more time, just to be absolutely clear. You must feel the beat first before you ever become any good at playing rhythms. If you have trouble with the beat, your first priority must be to fix that. How to fix it will have to be a topic for another day. At this point its just important that you understand the relationship between the musical pulse and the rhythms. You cannot have a rhythm without a pulse because it is the pulse that defines the rhythm.

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2013 Concerto Competition

2013 Concerto Competition
Sunday February 3rd
Bay Oaks Country Club
Bay Area Youth Symphony
The Bay Area Youth Symphony Concerto Competition is open to all BAYS members and features tremendous rewards for students. Please click here to learn more about becoming a Bay Area Youth Symphony member.
2012 Winners of the Concerto Competition:
$100 Abraham Eyre (Violin) Preparatory Orchestra, Home Schooled
$500 Victor Liaw (French Horn) Friendswood Junior High
$1000 Olivia Davis (Bassoon) Clear Falls High School
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Self Esteem Desn’t Lead To Success

Self esteem doesn't lead to success.

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Update and Theme Problems

TypingAs you can see, I have had to change this blog’s theme. I updated WordPress to stay up to date with all the new features and such. Unfortunately, the theme I was using isn’t compatible with the new version of WordPress and was causing all sorts of problems on the administrative side of the blog.

I have mixed feelings about this problem. On the one hand, I have had far fewer problems with WordPress than most software (local or remote) I’ve ever used before. That’s a good thing. And to be absolutely clear, the problems I had were not on the WordPress side, they were all caused by the theme – which is a free theme and they have no obligation to upgrade it for free.

But that creates a bit of a problem. For as long as I am using free themes, I will always run the risk of having something like this happen again. Since I don’t make any money off of this site, I really can’t afford to go in the hole to pay for a supported theme.

Another option is to learn how to write my own themes. That way I can make my own updates when I need them. Yeah, right! It’s not that I don’t have the skills to do that. But where would I get the time? If you are one of those who believes that “time is money,” then this is actually a more costly option than paying for a supported theme.

The third option, which is the option I have chosen, is to keep the blog as generic as possible and just switch themes if and when I need to. If I keep things simple, then the switches should be relatively painless.

Now, switching themes takes very little time. But time is something I don’t have much of right now. I am extremely blessed to have so much work to get done in January. But the price I have to pay for that is cutting back on less urgent tasks. Although I do consider this blog to be an important task, it is not urgent. So it has taken me this long (several weeks) to get the theme switched and ready to use again.

That’s what I’ve been up to. I appreciate all the wonderful comments I have received from people who have been enjoying this blog. I can see in my stats that it is NOT a popular blog, but that doesn’t matter to me. What matters to me is that the people who read it actually get something out of it. And the comments I’ve gotten in the past month or so have communicated this clearly. So I wanted to make sure to thank all of you who took the time to share your thoughts about this blog. It really does mean a lot to me.

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Driving Straight Through Your Sound

Speaking of Analogies

In my most recent trumpet lesson post called Trumpet Analogies, I wrote about why trumpet and other brass teachers use so many analogies. Today’s post is about one of those analogies.

How to Get a Good Trumpet Sound

Straight RoadIn the context of sounding good on the trumpet, I tell my students about how I used to watch my father driving when I was a young boy. I remember how puzzled I was to see him turning the steering wheel on the straight roads. The road was straight and he was driving straight, but he was constantly moving the steering wheel, left, right, left…it didn’t make any sense to me.

How could we be going straight if he was turning the steering wheel?

Of course, the answer to that question was that my father was making minor adjustments while he was driving to insure that the car stayed straight with the road. I remind my students that cars do not drive straight by themselves. There is no position on the steering wheel that will always make the car stay straight on the road. Because of road conditions, weather, and the constantly changing nature of any vehicle, these minor adjustments are necessary.

Stay Straight for a Great Trumpet Sound

These are precisely the same types of minor adjustments we must make while we are playing the trumpet to get a great trumpet sound! The road conditions of our musical journey are constantly changing, so there is no right way to play. Obeying vague instructions such as “open your teeth” and “pucker your lips” is the musical equivalent of trying to hold the steering wheel in one position in hopes that you will drive straight. Playing a certain way all the time and holding to that regardless of the musical environment will eventually take you off the road and into a ditch. You must constantly adjust if you are to sound good on the trumpet.

You Can’t Drive Blind

Another aspect of this concept is that, in order to drive straight, you must have your eyes open to see if you need to adjust the steering wheel. The equivalent to this in trumpet playing is listening to your sound. I am convinced that 90% of bad sounding trumpet players do NOT listen to themselves as they play the trumpet. They “drive blind.”

If you want to sound better on the trumpet, you must first see (hear) where you are going and then you must see (hear) where you are. The minor adjustments you make must be based on the discrepancy between the two. If you know what you want to sound like and you hear that you are not sounding like that, then you must do something to point you in that direction.

Making a good sound on the trumpet is a complex issue. Much of it is physical, but as I pointed out in my Trumpet Analogies article, most of those physical mechanics are hidden from our view. The only way for us to be certain we are driving straight through our sounds is to open our ears and listen to what’s coming out of the bell. If you sound good, when you sound almost like the professional trumpet players you’ve been listening to, then hold all of those mechanics in place. But when the sound suffers, you need to adjust the mechanics until you are closer to that “sound model” that you have in your mind.

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