Me holding my trumpet. Credit to Qing Li, my best friend, also a trumpet player.
Over my four years of training
in trumpet, I questioned many times if I should continue to waste my time in playing the trumpet.
I have been playing the trumpet in a community band for over four years now. In terms of playing the instrument, it has been very painful for me, until recently, something magical happened.
I sounded terrible. And maybe because I can’t breathe properly, I always feel out of breath when I play more than 5 musical measure. So I cannot follow the proper tempo with my team members. (Can you imagine how embarrassing that is when playing in a band?!)
When the music
has over high D, I can only play down the octave, because there is just no way for me to get to those notes and follow the tempo at the same time.
Can you imagine the sound of cutting metal with a saw? That is how my trumpet sounds.
Me holding a trumpet during group practice. Credit to Qing Li.
The peer pressure is probably the most disturbing thing. Everybody plays so much better! Even new members who joined a lot later than me are playing better and better, and are catching up fast.
But I was not making much progress. I felt no matter how long I stay, or how I practice, I won’t play as well as other people. I would just be wasting time if I kept doing it.
“Should I keep wasting more time playing the trumpet?” I asked myself many times.
But I really like the band. We attended many parades around the bay area, playing music in different neighborhoods. I love seeing people’s smiles when they see us play. We even attended parades in Portland, SeatTle, LA. It was a lot of fun.
Being in the band made me feel like I was in high school again. I am very close to the band members, and they are one of the important reasons why I didn’t want to quit.
I am also very fortunate that I have a really good friend in my trumpet section alway encouraging me not to quit and just follow through. I wanted to be with them and grow with them.
My lovely friends at the band who always encourage me to keep going.
However, I still struggle a lot, since for four years, I hadn’t been making much progress. I couldn’t even practice a lot of band music because playing those just makes me out of breath and tired.
We have a really good trumpet teacher, Matt. One day, I was again very frustrated, I really wanted to finish a matching music that was quite challenging to me, but it just seemed impossible.
I couldn’t catch my breath so tempo was off, and there was a section that I couldn’t play completely, because it starts too high. I practiced a few months already, but it was not going anywhere.
So I said to Matt, being very frustrated: “ You are a professional trumpet player, hearing beautiful music all the time. How can you stand hearing me play these awful sounds for so long?!”
But Matt said, “Well, as a musician, a very important thing is accepting how we play. There is no need to compare with others as long as you are making progress, that is what matters.”
Hearing that, I thought, “Wow, even professional players need to accept their own play. Maybe I shouldn’t be that anxious because I did play better than when I first started. I could only play up to three notes at the beginning. Now, I can at least play from C to the second C.”
Practicing with Matt. Credit to Qing Li.
So I tried not to feel bad, and just kept doing some really basic warm-up like scales, easy lip slurs, or just some breathing exercises for short period of time. And I completely avoided the high notes. At some point, I wasn’t playing at all since I was just not feeling well.
But then one day, after haven’t touched my trumpet for a while since I had been weak, I picked it up and played a few notes.
WOW… The sound was so much fuller, and the most important thing was, I wasn’t feeling very tired when I reached the higher notes like I was before. I wasn’t out of breath and I could feel my belly supporting it. Even though I wasn’t able to play the higher notes yet, but I could hear some good tones, like shimmering metal sound that the good players make!
So I started to try some more scales that I couldn’t do before, and some band music. It was so much easier! It wasn’t that I could play music like The Stars and Stripes Forever all of a sudden, but I can feel a good leap from my previous plays. And many things taught by teachers were making more sense to me, meaning I started to know how to apply them now.
The following days, I tried to practice a little every day. I am not perfect at every music yet, but I can feel the momentum is getting better and better.
I didn’t know which part was fixed. I don’t know how they were fixed. I did learn something: no practice will be wasted, even if it is a very short practice, as long as we don’t give up.
So, that requires one thing: accepting how we are at every stage of us. We cannot compare ourselves to others. We could be a bit slower in learning or in anything, but we can do it!
I am not playing at a perfect level; in fact, I don’t think I can ever reach a level where I can stop practicing. I think this is the amazing part about music and our life.
So I tell myself: accept every stage of my life, keep learning, keep practicing. No time is wasted. Even if there isn’t a big progress, life is still beautiful, and someday, life will show the flower that was planted along the journey.