Thursday, April 28, 2011


Arnold Jacobs - “I sing the notes in my head as I play them. It doesn’t matter how my lips feels or how I feel.”

When me and several of Jake’s students were in the process of contributing to his book, Song and Wind, I told Brian Fredrickson, author and publisher, that those words were the most important in the book. In that statement, Jake says nothing about air, embouchure, tongue, lungs, diaphragm, or any other body part. However, he does strongly imply that those things don’t matter at the conscious level of the brass player’s awareness. He says that his commitment to mental singing is his most important consideration no matter of how his lips or the rest of him feels physically. Such simplicity is the secret of his success as a musician and teacher.

Roccoism - “We must have a simplistic approach to the intricate complexities of playing an instrument or doing anything else in everyday life.”

Arnold Jacobs - “I want you to have the mind of a child, not that of an analytical adult.”

“You may be analytical about the music but you must not be analytical about how to produce it.”

“You must give dominance to the music you want to produce, not your instrument.”

H.A. Vandercook - “If you can sing it, you can play it.”

“Keep it simple.”

Meredith Willson - “The Think System” from The Music Man

“Nobody has to teach you how to whistle. It’s quite simple. You just have to think the tune to have it come out perfectly clear.”

Robert Carter - The Secret of the Ages

“The real power of the mind is in the subconscious. The conscious mind is only a gateway to subconscious.”

Roccoism - “Our approach to playing an instrument should be no different than the other things we do in everyday life.”

Adolph Herseth - “Think sound not mechanics.”

“Paralysis by analysis.”


The subconscious mind is not intellectual it’s reactive. If we touch a hot stove, it will react immediately to removed our hand. There are no intellectual considerations about whether the stove is harmful or uncomfortable or about how to respond. A powerful conscious will is required to override the reactive mind that wants to remove your hand from harm. It’s not possible to consciously stop your heart from beating or to stop breathing for an extended period.

This subconscious protective response is much more powerful than the conscious will . Although the response protects us from harm in everyday life, it can sabotage us when we have an instrument in our hands.


In time, our experiences, positive or negative, become associated with the instrument. If our playing history is mostly successful, the instrument will reinforce the continuation of the positive experiences. However, if we develop a history of failure, the instrument will have a powerful negative influence on the subconscious. That influence will motivate the protective reaction of the subconscious mind to prevent us from the continued emotional and physical harm associated with it. When the instrument becomes a hot stove, a variety of physical symptoms, from paralysis to uncontrollable shaking (dystonia), will make an ugly appearance.


Brass players and vocalists experience the negative symptoms of failure at two levels. There is an anxious emotional response that all musicians experience when they fail and there is also physical discomfort. A friend of mine beautifully described the physical discomfort he experiences while playing the trumpet. “It feels like I’m trying to push a piano up the stairs.” A horn player, who I have worked with recently, described physical discomfort in her entire face.


Our natural response to physical or emotional pain is to eliminate it. We may take a medication to reduce the pain of a headache or we might remove ourselves from a toxic personal relationship.

Roccoism - “Feeling good is a by-product of playing correctly. We cannot motivate correct playing by trying to feel good first.”

Most often, brass players respond to the physical symptoms of failure by trying to “fix” what seems to be wrong with their breathing, chops, tongue, or fingers.

Adolph Herseth - “There’s nothing wrong with your chops. Your mind is messing them up.”

Malfunctioning body parts (chops, tongue, lungs, etc.) are the result of a problem in the brain, not the individual body parts. People who stutter have nothing wrong with their apparatus of speech. Many stutterers can easily sing lyrics with no malfunction. The problem and the solution to the problem is in the brain, not the vocal chords, tongue or lungs.

I remember the first lesson of the principal trumpet of one of the second tier American orchestras who was in serious jeopardy of losing his job. His first words to me were, “I just came from the doctor. The bad news is that there is nothing wrong with my chops.” I responded, “That’s the good news!”


Many brass players complain, “I was a better brass player in high school.” or some earlier time in their lives. “What has happened to me?”

What has happened is that a history failure has developed and that history has become powerfully associated with and reinforced by the instrument in their hands. Why does anyone develop a history of failure? The simple answer is that some musicians never really learned how to be successful. Others alter their state of mind from what had originally brought them success.

Roccoisms - “Sound Motivates Function.”

“Feel and fail are four letter words to a brass player.”

Adolph Herseth - “Sound is the criterion for how we do this and that.”

“Paralysis by Analysis”

All musicians experience a certain amount of physical input when they play or sing. When that input becomes dominant over an awareness of sound, the musician has opened the door to a room of failure and misery.

Arnold Jacobs - “We cannot produce sound through sensory systems which provide input to the brain. We must stimulate the motor systems to produce output.”

“Eighty to ninety percent of our consciousness must be devoted to an awareness of the sound we want to produce. Awareness of how we feel or of the external sound must be peripheral not dominant.”

If a brass player, any instrumentalist, or vocalist gives dominance to “feel” (input), output (motor function) becomes greatly diminished or ceases completely.


When there is a symbiotic relationship between the conscious and subconscious levels of awareness and function in the brain, wonderful accomplishments can be achieved.

Adolph Herseth - “It’s amazing what we can accomplish when we get the interference of the (conscious) mind out of the way.”

When the relationship is antagonistic, function ceases. The power of the imaginative and intellectual conscious mind can only be realized by an equally powerful subconscious response.


Roccoism - “Climbing the ladder of musical awareness will bring you to the notes you want to play.”

The subconscious (reactive) mind does not react independently of the conscious will unless there is no conscious will to react to. If you consciously think about lifting your right hand, the subconscious mind will not lift the left hand instead. When playing an instrument, the subconscious mind will function to realize the conscious awareness of sound. The realized sound will always be at precisely the same level as the player’s conscious awareness. The familiar phrase, “garbage in, garbage out”, is an accurate description of what occurs.

When the conscious awareness of sound is vague or absent, the reactive but irrational subconscious mind, will react by attempting to create a more powerful awareness of sound in another manner. It will revert to the lower level sense of feel and will attempt to the player’s convert lips (mouthpiece/embouchure) into ears.

Roccoism - “Playing by feel is like trying to empty a swimming pool with a straw.”

Since the lips are capable of producing sound but not detecting it, there is no auditory information available to realize and no playing mechanics will be motivated.


Roccoism - “Imagination is a much more powerful force than intellect because imagination motivates the amazing power of the subconscious while analytical intellect attempts to by-pass it.”

Robert Carter in his book, The Secret of the Ages, tells us that the real power of the mind is in the subconscious. Every moment of our lives, the subconscious mind motivates whatever is necessary within us to maintain life.

The father of one of my brass students is a computer engineer. I once asked him if all the computers in the world were linked together, could they provide the same life sustaining functions of our subconscious mind? He replied, “No, they couldn’t keep an ant alive.”

If the subconscious no longer provided life sustaining function, could the conscious intellectual mind substitute? The answer again is no. When we attempt to substitute for the power of the subconscious with conscious analytical intellect, we will fail. We don’t have enough intellectual capacity or awareness of the internal body parts necessary to motivate the many physical functions necessary to sustain life. Computers were invented and developed to compensate for our intellectual shortcomings!

What motivates the incredibly complex mechanics necessary for the flight of a bird? It obviously cannot be analytical intellect since the intellectual capacity of a bird is quite low. It must be imagination. The bird has a conscious awareness of where it wants to fly which is usually to find food or escape danger. There is no conscious awareness of how to make it happen. Along with sustaining life, the mechanics necessary to fly are a function of the bird’s subconscious. This ability is already present in the bird’s subconscious from before the time it emerges from it’s shell.


Every experienced school music teacher is aware of the question most often asked by their students after, “Can I use the bathroom?” In many years of teaching, no wind player has ever asked me about embouchure or air! Universally, the question music teachers hear most often is, “HOW DOES THIS GO?” The students understand that their ability to execute the notes is correlated with their musical awareness of the notes. Our ability to learn speech is based on the awareness of the sound of words, not an intellectual understanding of how to say them.


Adolph Herseth - “When encountering problems technically or musically, first sing (vocally) than buzz the mouthpiece. Transfer the singing and buzzing to the instrument.”

Herseth says nothing about air (fat, fast, slow etc.) or embouchure (tension, relaxation, or mouthpiece placement)!

The highest level of musical awareness is achieved by repetitions (sets of three) of vocalizing and buzzing away from the influence of the instrument. When we play the mouthpiece alone, we must maintain the same internal mental singing that is required for external vocalization. The only thing that is different when buzzing the mouthpiece is that we substitute lips for vocal chords.

Roccoisms - “I gave up tuba playing a long time ago. Now I play an 18ft. mouthpiece with valves.”

“Play the mouthpiece, not the instrument.”


Roccoisms - “The level of tone production on an instrument is equal to the level of the player’s mental commitment to the sound of the music.”

“The subconscious mechanics required to play an instrument are motivated by the musicians conscious musical awareness, not the reverse.”

“The highest level of musical awareness is achieved while singing vocally or mentally singing when playing an instrument.”

“Transcend your instrument with a powerful awareness of the sound you want to produce.”

Arnold Jacobs - “I always believe that it’s important to be somewhat unconscious of our physical maneuvers but highly conscious of our musical goals.”

“The key to success, playing an instrument, can be found in speech.”


A high level of musical awareness is required to transcend all influences such as the feel of chops, or the negative conditioning associated with the instrument. I have developed a very basic formula that elevates the musician’s musical awareness.

Roccoism - “My students and I have failed to apply the SING, BUZZ, PLAY formula. However, when we did apply it, it has never failed us.”

1. The Repetition of Three - Sing vocally and Buzz the mouthpiece in any combination of three repetitions. Familiar musical phrases should be buzzed loudly to encourage tone production. Midrange transposition may be used if the music is too high or low to achieve a resonant sound.

Example - Sing 1X - Buzz 2X; Sing 2X - Buzz 1X; Buzz 3X etc.

2. Repeat the sets as necessary until you are able to transfer the singing and buzzing to the instrument. Sometimes only a single repetition of singing or buzzing is necessary.

3. The ultimate goal is maintain mental singing while playing without any preparatory repetitions.

4. The commitment to mental singing must be total, without any other considerations or concerns, such as air, embouchure, or fingering (slide).

5. Applying this formula, a history of success must first be achieved in the practice room. As the player experiences more success, their expectation of success will grow.

Roccoisms - “Your subconscious mind already knows how to play the notes. It only needs to be highly aware of the notes you want to play.”

“We always realize our expectations, positive or negative.”

“Ben Franklin said, "The only truths in the world are death and taxes. There is a third truth. SING, BUZZ, PLAY

“There is no reason for your success or failure other than your state of mind.”