Date: Wed, 18 Oct 2000 12:01:24 -0400
From: Mark Flegg <>
Subject: RE: Achieving Excellence


Wow, that is some of the most insightful writing on practicing that I've seen in a long time.  I've been keeping a practice journal off and on for about a year and a half now, and agree with your findings 100%.  In fact, your message is inspiring me to put more effort into my log.

I have done a couple of things differently to you, in that, to help me remember what I have practiced on previous days, in addition to the written journal, I created a form that records what specific exercises/keys/metronome markings I work on each day.  The sheet covers 5 days, so I can look back on the previous 5-10 days each time I begin my practice and quickly assess what I need to do.  This doesn't really add anything above what the journal does, but I found it easy to miss things when I had to pour over my sometimes long-winded written notes.

I've been thinking about requiring my more advanced students to keep a practice journal.  You've given me some good ammunition in making a solid case as to why!

Some specific thoughts follow:

>We all have the ability to think critically.  It's hard work to think
>critically all the time.  Sometimes it's easier to just respond to a
>question by saying "I don't know".  It requires less mental thought.  I
>can't tell you how many times I have used the phrase, "I don't know".

I would say that if there's one thing that prevents players who practice from improving, it is this.  It's one thing to say "that's hard"...  It's another thing entirely to say "that's hard because I have this specific deficiency in my playing".

>Case 1 - By identifying that I had a response problem, I began to do some
>research on my problem.  Using the TPIN resource, I discovered that my
>embouchure was based on a more open set.  Using a closed set, and focusing
>on this with each attack that I made for the last two months, I have greatly
>improved my ability to have all of my notes speak more clearly at a very
>soft dynamic level and at the bottom register of the instrument.  I have
>also been introduced to a technique called Whisper Tones, that Chase Sanborn
>advocates in improving response.

You might want to talk to some David Hickman students (or Mr. Hickman himself) about those Whisper Tones.  He teaches what he calls "Pop Tones", which I suspect are the same thing.  They're great not only for response issues, but also for making sure you have the pitches/fingerings in your head without wasting  chops.

>Case 2 - Given discussions on TPIN about using the H.L. Clarke Technical
>Studies book as prescribed by Claude Gordon, I noticed that Claude's
>students mentioned "K" tonguing these exercises, it addition to single
>tonguing and multiple tonguing.  With my limited daily practice, I knew that
>I would not be able to add K tonguing a complete set of the Clarke studies.
>I opted to try K tonguing some of the studies in the Eddie Lewis Daily
>Practice Routines which I use regularly.  I was shocked that I was not able
>to K tongue large intervals.  This was something that I had never tried, and
>based on questioning my ability to multiple tongue easily above the staff, I
>decided to try some experimentation with one of the elements of multiple
>tonguing, that being focused K tonguing.  By identifying this weakness, I
>have incorporated some K tonguing into my daily routine, with marked
>improvements in just several weeks.  This approach of critical thinking
>allowed me to form my ideas in my Daily Log, throw out those things that
>didn't make sense for me (i.e. try to play a complete series of the Clarke
>studies using K tongue at the end of my practice day), and arrive at a very
>tangible compromise (K tongue some of the articulation studies that I play

Try doing the Ka/Ga tongue while buzzing just the mouthpiece.  That'll really kick your butt.

> snip <
>Without my Daily Log, I never would have asked these questions, and I would
>be less of a player due to the reluctance to think critically (i.e. "it's
>hard work to write this down and I'm tired").  The Daily Log has certainly
>elevated my playing level by engaging my mind in those areas of my playing
>that have always been weak.  Critical thinking is much more tangible for me
>if it is written.
>experimentation, I would have to say that this is the best thing that I have
>ever done for my playing, and I would highly recommend it to all players
>that are interested in making focused improvements through critical
>thinking!  Best of luck with your pursuits.

Somthing you didn't mention, but I think is an integral part of the system you've been applying, is focused discipline.  I would think that going through the exercise of writing in that journal every night, and requiring yourself to be honest and critical in your thinking and writing, will increase your mental discipline and focus over time.  I'm guessing that there are a lot fewer "I don't know" statements in the third month than there were in the first.  Same goes for excuses for not practicing.  By forcing yourself through the process every night, you develop the habit of practicing, even when tired, which replaces the older habits of watching the TV, or whatever else one might do.

All in all a very inspiring message.  Thanks for taking the time to write it and send it.