Tuesday, December 20, 2011



Your determined pursuit of perfection will lead to greater imperfection if you cannot accept the inevitable reality that an element of failure is a necessary component of creating success.

You must celebrate your moments of success and accept your moments of failure so that you are joyful when you play rather than in despair.

Poor sound can be transformed into quality sound. Silence cannot be transformed into quality sound.

Focal dystonia is a symptom rather than a disease. Any physician understands that treating the symptoms of disease does not lead to a cure.

Your subconscious mind will respond faithfully and powerfully to your imaginative conscious will if you don’t interfere with intellectual self analysis.

Imagination is a much greater motivator of the power of the subconscious mind than intellect.

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

Robert Carter (The Secret of the Ages, 2007 Wilder Publications)

The conscious mind is the gateway that allows access to the power of the subconscious.

Arnold Jacobs

If you cannot accept crudity, you cannot create quality.

Adolph Herseth

If I didn’t miss any notes, I wouldn’t have any friends.

Paralysis by Analysis

Maurice Andre

I expect the notes to be there.


A brass player, or any musician, has no opportunity to test or modify their musical product before they present it to an audience. However, computer programmers or electrical engineers can fully evaluate and modify their work until they have complete confidence of its value. They rarely face consequences of failure unless their evaluations and modifications are incorrect.

Because of the precarious acoustical characteristics of brass instruments, a 100% expectation of success is not possible, even for the greatest players. A certain amount of failure is inevitable. Excessive failure over time is debilitating. The negative psychological impact of too much failure is not as great for an elementary musician as it is for a professional whose livelihood and self esteem depend on a high level of success. The negative consequences of failure are greater for the musician who is expected to produce.

The musicians who come to me most often for help are experienced professionals whose careers are in jeopardy. In time, their fear and anxiety becomes powerfully conditioned to and reinforce by the instrument in their hands. This powerful association, conditioned reflex, was first demonstrated by the Russian behavioral psychologist Ivan Pavlov in his well known experiments with a salivating dog. The instrument becomes an enemy rather than a friend.



The perfectionist musician cannot not tolerate imperfection with a instrument in their hands. As a result, much of the time they are dissatisfied with their performance because perfection is not a realistic goal. As their dissatisfaction grows over time, the instrument becomes a powerful reinforcing influence motivating mechanical paralysis.

Parents celebrate their children’s first intelligible words or first steps. The positive reinforcement encourages their continued development. If the child was scolded for their imperfections, paralysis would set in and all development would cease.

A personal friend, with a doctorate in psychology and works as a therapist, dreamed of becoming a professional pianist when she was a child. Her father, who was a fine pianist himself, was her teacher. When there were visitors to their home, she was always expected to perform for the guests. However, she was only allowed to play until she made a mistake. When she inevitably made an error, the impromptu recital was terminated and she was asked to leave.

Since she was not allowed to fail, the consequences of her inevitable failure eventually caused paralysis to the point where she could no longer even sit at the piano. The piano became a powerful factor reinforcing her emotional pain, anxiety, and personal disappointment.

There is a response in the subconscious mind that reacts to protect us from emotional or physical harm. When we touch a hot stove, are response is not a conscious intellectual event. We don’t think to ourselves, “This is uncomfortable. I don’t like it. What should I do about it?” Our subconscious mind reacts powerfully and instantly to remove our hand from the uncomfortable situation.


The brass player has a double barreled shotgun pointed at them because they experience both emotional pain and physical discomfort when they fail to execute the notes they want to produce. If a pianist or violinist plays the wrong note, they may experience personal disappointment but they do not experience physical pain. The rejection of the air column within a brass instrument is quite uncomfortable. A friend once described it, “like trying to push a piano up the stairs.”



Most people never realize their dreams in life because they are paralyzed by their fear of failure.

Adolph Herseth

A trumpeters life is risky business. No greatness can be achieved if the player is paralyzed by fear.

When a musician fails in performance, deep emotional pain and fear of continuing failure come instantly. Their expectation of success weakens and their expectation of failure grows in a accelerating downward spiral.

Maxwell Maltz (Psycho-Cybernetics, 1960 Prentice-Hall, Inc.)

The mechanisms of success and failure are the same.


We always realize our positive or negative expectations because our subconscious mind will faithfully react to satisfy our conscious will. The exception is if our will directs intentional or perceived self inflicted harm.

The subconscious mind may respond independently if there is no conscious will.

Our expectations are usually the result of creating a history over time. If our legs function properly to get us out of bed everyday, we will expect them to function the same tomorrow.

Since the subconscious mind does not distinguish between fantasy and reality, it is possible to create an expectation motivated by imagination. I frequently use this technique in my private teaching. I will ask students to imagine that they are me or someone else whose playing they admire.

First Case Study

I worked with a fine oboist, who was completing her DMA at a major university. When she brought out the case with 20-25 reeds, I asked her to choose the best and worst ones. There was no hesitation picking the worst one, but she struggled to choose the best reed.

Finally, when the two reeds were removed from the case, I asked her to use the worst one. The anguish of her facial expression indicated that she did not expect to succeed. I asked who her favorite oboist is. When she replied, I said, “Do you think he could play the worst reed successfully?” Without hesitation, she replied, “Yes!” I instructed her to pretend it was him playing La Gazza Ladra. She immediately performed the solo beautifully Her reed and oboe became inconsequential and the music was the only thing that mattered. Her commitment to the music allowed her to transcend her expectation of failure which was powerfully reinforced by the reed.


I received a call from a very fine professional flutist who I knew as an excellent high school musician. Sadly, she told me that for the previous fifteen years, her right hand has been somewhat paralyzed and she experienced pain while fingering. She also mentioned that she had been to flute teachers and medical professionals worldwide but no one has been able to help her.

I first asked if her hand functioned normally when she was not playing the flute. She said yes and added that the doctors could not find anything physically wrong. I immediately knew the physical malfunction was the result of her state of mind. Since her mind was causing the problem, I understood that her recovery must be to alter her state of mind. She had lost her mental commitment to the music and was now focusing on her right hand. She was desperately trying to eliminate the pain and to make her fingers function.

H. A. Vandercook

Keep it simple.

If you can sing it, you can play it.

Arnold Jacobs

I sing the notes in my head as I play them. It doesn’t matter how my lip feels or how I feel.


The highest level of awareness of sound is achieved when we mentally sing the notes as we play them.

It’s just the singing and buzzing no matter where your mouthpiece is located.



The most effective technique to bring her awareness back to the music was to have her vocally sing as she fingered and to mentally sing as she played.

Since I understood that the flute was reinforcing her paralysis and pain, the first step was to sing vocally without fingering. After several repetitions of vocal singing, I ask if she thought she could sing and finger the instrument while it rested on her lap. She replied affirmatively and was able to finger freely and without pain.

I asked her to alternate repetitions of vocally singing and fingering with singing mentally while fingering. She gradually brought the flute to playing position. I told her to mentally sing and play but only when she expected to succeed. She was able to play a short passage normally and without pain the first time she tried. It was her first moment of success in many years.

I wanted to know what had happened to cause her paralysis and pain fifteen years prior. She replied, “I started giving eighty flute lessons a week to make a living.”

She was listening to so much low level performance that the elementary tone production dominated her awareness. Her subconscious faithfully responded to realize the elementary level playing that she was allowing into her conscious awareness. As the physical symptoms of her failure became more severe, she became anxious and very unhappy. Her physical and emotional pain became associated with flute and her subconscious mind perceived it as a harmful object, causing paralysis as it erroneously tried to rescue her from harm.

Jay Friedman

After a day of teaching, I sound more and more like my students.

Because Adolph Herseth understood the negative impact of listening to low level trumpet playing, he only accepted very advanced students. When a student leaves my studio, I always play my horn to renew my awareness of sound. Jake taught thirty hours of lessons per week but never allowed the mostly dysfunctional playing he heard to negatively impact his personal playing. He always separated his teaching from his personal performance.

Adolph Herseth

There’s nothing wrong with your chops. Your mind is messing them up.


The music tells us everything we need to know.

Arnold Jacobs

We must give dominance to the music not the instrument or ourselves.

I believe that we should be somewhat unconscious of our physical maneuvers and highly conscious of our musical goals.

Adolph Herseth

Sound is the criterion for how we do this and that.

When encountering problems technically or musically, first sing then buzz. Transfer the singing and buzzing to the instrument.


In over forty years of studio and classroom teaching, not one student has ever asked me anything about air or embouchure! Any music teacher is well aware of the question they hear most often.


The students are constantly telling us what they need and most teachers ignore it. Instead, many teachers force feed students useless information that is very destructive to those who take it seriously. My students frequently complain about conductors and clinicians who instruct them to give dominance to paralyzing self analysis. Here are the worst examples:


The instrument is already full of air. Since it has no sound, they should say fill the instrument with sound.


Sound motivates function.


On a single breath, I can sustain a soft note with a tuba for 30 seconds but I can only play a very loud note for 1-3 seconds.


Attempting to breath only from the stomach will reduce the vital capacity by 50%! No one tells an athlete to breathe only from the diaphragm otherwise they would collapse from exhaustion.


It is not necessary to teach you how to breathe because you have been doing it very well for your entire life.

The list of erroneous comments is endless but the most destructive are about embouchure analysis and breath control.









It is not necessary to study air or vocal chords in order to talk. It’s the sound of the words we want to say that motivates the mechanical function of speech. Nothing is different when we have an instrument in our hands. Our awareness of the music will motivate the mechanics required to play the instrument.

While playing, a wind instrumentalist has only a very vague awareness of air pressure or air flow. Since we cannot detect air, we should focus on what is detectable, SOUND!



Your acceptance of failure will allow you to minimize the consequences. Your inability to accept failure will maximize the consequences.

You don’t need to enjoy or celebrate your moments of failure, but you must accept the fact that they are going to occur as you strive for success.

Your response to failure must be to act in a manner that leads to success not more failure.

Shinichi Suzuki

We can teach a child how to play an instrument the same way they learned to talk.
“THE THINK SYSTEM” from The Music Man by Meredith Willson

Marion, the Librarian

Harold, is it true that you have invented a revolutionary new system of teaching music called THE THINK SYSTEM?

Harold, the Bandmaster

Yes, it’s really quite simple. Nobody has to teach you how to whistle. You only have to think the tune to have it come out perfectly clear.


Your ability to speak is not motivated by intellectual analysis of breath and vocal chords. The mechanics of speech are motivated by the sound of words. In the same manner, your ability to play an instrument is motivated by "The Sound of Music".

Arnold Jacobs

The key to playing a brass instrument is found in speech.


  1. Thank you for the Christmas present - I do jump immediately to your postings when they appear on my reader, and while some may find it repetitive, that is exactly why I like it, because I need to hear those reassuring Roccoisms again, because I need to know "This comes from Arnold Jacobs" because sometimes my faith in my own ability to whistle, to talk, to breathe, it falters and gets tangled up in the complex rules and philosophies held by others, and it is hard to keep that focus without these reminders now and then, to keep the faith ;)

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