The Satisfaction of Figuring Something Out

A thumbnail from  my rendition of the Star Spangled Banner .  You're welcome, USA.

A thumbnail from my rendition of the Star Spangled Banner.  You're welcome, USA.

I began playing trumpet in 5th grade.  I could say it was my first ever musical instrument, but I'd be lying.  My music studies began with my general music class in elementary school that led to such offshoots as handbells group, recorder, and (my fiancée's favorites) advanced recorder.  But playing music began in earnest with the trumpet and so I always have a soft place in my heart for tooting the ol' horn. 

"Firsts" have a major significance in many people's lives.  When young, an experience by definition takes up a larger portion of your life because you only have so many portions accumulated to date, and so the significance is heightened: first kiss, first time away from home, first beer.  If you're lucky all of these things coincide to form an epic weekend when you're 15.  My personal musical trajectory branched off from learning the trumpet and went into the world of large brass (trombone, euphonium) in high school, as well beginning my foray into the other side of matters audio, namely audio production.  But as my world expanded evermore with picking up a cheap drum set, songwriting and keyboard playing, I always had my trusty trumpet case nearby, now lousy with band stickers and other adhesive musical swag I've acquired here and there.  

Picking up the trumpet again has been a 2-fold endeavor.  1) It's a great sounding horn and fun to play, and 2) since I've been playing Rhodes I've become fixated on lugging as little gear as possible to and fro, and with a trumpet you get something the size of a briefcase whereas with electric piano you get the privilege of hauling something similar to a casket with a dead body inside.  And so this process of reacquainting myself with trumpet has put me into a mode of remembering my old trumpet playing process, as well as what it means to have a knowledge deficit and how that void is then filled.

As I grow older and tend to have fewer "firsts," I start to feel the dull sting of that old adage: you can't teach an old dog new tricks.  Sayings are fun because they're both catchy and kitschy and the truth embedded in them can be powerful to uncover, especially in a personal manner.  So with re-learning trumpet, I'm finding it's more so an exercise in actually learning how to learn, which isn't so much hard as it is tricky.  Hours in the day seem to fly by and responsibilities tend to pile up and the perceived capacity to hunker down with a trumpet feels sometimes almost inappropriate.

What's weird is the trumpet playing knowledge is actually still there but it's the physicality of playing that's most out of shape, specifically the tiny little muscles in my mouth that (like the other muscles in the rest of my body) are weak and feeble (SEE: above picture).  I still have the finger movements and general posture of a horn player, but the "chops" are rough and I find myself tired and spent after short bouts of playing.  But I've been committed to getting this ball rolling again and I'm already seeing the small gains achieved day after day, and it feels good to latch on to these small increments of progress.  Even more so, it's the stuff that I am now newly learning that I too feel great about.  My musical universe has expanded since the 5th grade and the 4 notes it takes to toot out "Mary had a Little Lamb" just isn't doing it for me any more so part of the fun has been learning the tunes that currently float my boat.  And this has been the enjoyable mental revisitation I've been indulging in: I remember back to the days when I would sit for hours cranking away at a passage or a run of notes and not being able to get it, but after a while it would seem to fall in place and then it becomes something that you can't imagine ever not being able to do.  I'm dialing up that same gratification now, it's like I can feel the neural pathways being etched into my brain with each new riff I get under my fingers.

I've also realized that the every new song I learn is my most favorite current song, so the process of building up my mental songbook is like a continual excitation of the joy of playing music.  Learning the inner workings of someone else's tune is like taking a puzzle apart and seeing the amazing and beautiful connections of how the pieces actually fit together.  It's great, and helps immensely with the reverse engineering process that can be so pivotal to understanding music, be it for the songwriter or the audio engineer.

Karl Benitez