The Monthly Morsel

Each month ABQ will blog on topics of interest to musicians, music-lovers, and brass players.  Have something you want to hear about? Send us a message.

  • Alliance Brass Quintet

Quality Over Quantity

My 6 month old daughter still can’t roll over. She arches her neck and back, brings an arm

and foot across her midsection, but can’t yet shift her hips past that center of gravity tipping point. I know that many children dive into this earlier than 6 months, but my daughter is well-nourished and has a bit of weight to heft. Her body urges her toward this goal, and she works through as many preliminary steps as she can while failing over and over.

When we talk about instrumental practice, we usually focus on quality, but there is something to be said for quantity, especially in attempting something brand new. You just can’t hope to refine quality without some measure of quantity.


I was recently playing back and forth with a student, doing some simple slurred ascending arpeggios. The student eventually made it up to high D, and in the attempt to get up to high E flat he hit the high D two more times. We stopped and conversed:


Me: Great job, you just hit 3 high Ds. How many times in the past week have you tried to play up to high D?

Student: (laughs) umm… zero.

Me: Ok, how many times in the past month would you say?

Student: Still zero.

Me: Past 6 months, 8 months?

Student: …..


This student hoped to improve his high range, but never actually attempted to play in this range. I told him the fact that he had not tried for a high D in the past 8 months (likely much longer) and just hit 3 in a row was amazing, and to think what might happen if he went for it weekly, or daily.


As long as we are broadly focused in the long term on a good sound produced with consistent ease, we shouldn’t be afraid to encourage a student to log a vast quantity of failed attempts when learning something new. Encourage and embrace analyzed failures, and be patient as the path to quality reveals itself. Get a student to change “I can’t” statements to “I can’t yet always.”


However, the comparison to my daughter’s process only goes so far, because long after she has 100% mastered the act of rolling over, I can't say that I, myself, won't still miss the occasional high D...


-Steven Duncan


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