The Weekly Round-up

January 2015 has been strong so far, as things go. I’m motivated and happy, and looking forward to the experiences, results, and opportunities that being motivated and happy will bring. I set myself some reasonable but slightly challenging goals (like re-introducing myself to the world of studying various musical topics), and so far I have been maintaining them.

Tuesdays are Blog Days for me (I will certainly write on other days if the inspiration strikes, but I will at the very least post something on Tuesdays), and I’m not feeling particularly inspired by anything new, at least not enough so to write anything great about it. So on days like today, Tuesday Blog Day will be something of a weekly round-up. Here we go!

This Week At Husting Low Brass Studio:

Reading: The Music Teaching Artist’s Bible, by Eric Booth. I picked this up thinking it was about being a better private teacher, but it’s more about how performing musicians can engage their communities in order to reach audiences. It’s not exactly what I do, but it’s given me some great ideas and I’m considering looking more into the idea of becoming a Teaching Artist in the Cities.

Practicing: Tyrell Etude #20, which has some feisty arpeggiated sextuplets that sound awesome when executed correctly. It makes me feel like a fancy concert violinist.

Rehearsing: Metro Brass ran through some new music on Sunday night and rehearsed some pieces that have been in our book for a while. We have a new location for rehearsals that keeps us positioned in a tighter half circle, and in my opinion it was very beneficial to our ensemble unity and flexibility.

Performing: On Saturday my yet-unnamed R&B project recorded a demo at Terrarium Studios in NE Mpls. We put three songs to track: Keep Me In Mind by the Bamboos, Sledgehammer as performed by Maiysha, and Right As Rain by Adele. This is a group of consummate pros and it was a pleasure to play with everyone.

Listening: John Mark Nelson, the new OKGo record, an 80s pop playlist, The Bamboos (seriously hip funk/R&B outfit from Australia), and starting to feel my January urge to mainline a lot of Prokofiev Piano Concertos.

Teaching: Back to basics this week. I’ve had many of my students focus on ‘letting go’ of their air and sound and pushing the limits of what they can play. You don’t know your limit until you test it. There’s no room for playing it safe when you play a brass instrument.
On that note, I had some amazing lessons with students this week that got me really pumped up about how great y’all are. You, my students, inspire me daily.

Relaxing: I took on the January Challenge at my yoga studio, Yoga Sol. 15 classes in January. Tonight will be #8!
I’ve also developed a major obsession with the Avatar: The Last Airbender universe, and I am 100% not ashamed because it is the best thing to ever happen to me. #WaterTribe

The Power of I Don’t Know

Something I’m still learning how to say.


Regularly, new students will ask me, “Am I playing the right mouthpiece?”  My answer is usually, “I don’t know.”  This answer often surprises them.  I explain that because we are just starting to work together, I’m still learning their strengths and weaknesses, and planning how to address them.  That might include equipment.  It might not.

I don’t know.

It’s important to be aware when “I don’t know” is the best answer.

In college football we’ve been told all year that the SEC is the best conference and that the Big 10 is not very good.  In the bowl games this year, the Big 10 went 3-1 against the SEC.  So which is the better conference?

I don’t know.

We’re given long term weather forecasts daily.  You can open the weather app on your phone and get one right now.  I’ve done this a number of times when planning travel.  It’s astounding…

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What I’m working on this week

AKA A fresh look at something familiar.

Learning to rely on your ear, if it’s not intrinsic for you, can be pretty terrifying. As a musician I have a good feel for phrasing, tempo, and style, but “playing by ear”, i.e. hearing a tune and repeating it back without seeing the music, has never been my strong suit. In college my two required years of music theory, which included a fair amount of melodic and rhythmic dictation, were a constant source of stress.

Of course, part of the problem was I never filled in a lot of the holes in my earlier music instruction and these classes were far more advanced than the basic theory I’d been given in high school. UW was generously equipped with a music learning lab where I could have gone to self-tutor, but did I ever go? Please. (Music students: don’t be a fool. Go study ear training)

Flash forward to grad school at UNT, and the concept of ‘tune jury’: Jan would select 12 tunes for each of us and we’d be required to learn them in all 12 keys, tested at random. I remember struggling vainly with “Over the Rainbow” in B Major, but ultimately having to test it in Eb, to my tremendous relief. Jan wanted us to follow our ear through these tunes, not thinking about key but about melody, but I was never quite able to do that. The best I could do was analyze the structure of each tune and quickly transpose it.

Over time I’ve sort of fooled myself into thinking that I play by ear this way. In reality, I’m playing by theory, thinking in scale degrees or patterns in order to maneuver different keys. I don’t think there’s anything fundamentally wrong with that, but I decided this week to train myself a little differently.

I started singing each tune in solfege first.

Yeah, you’ll say, but isn’t that just scale degrees?

Technically, yes. But solfege was created for ease of singing, with one syllable for each pitch, so that vocalists could transverse their melodic terrain without having to stutter. It’s also easier to sing a song when you have lyrics, right? Because melody and story are linked in our brains. So solfege becomes a sort of consistent story, with each pitch serving as a character in play. That makes it easier to change key, and helps us hear the specific intervals that make up a tune.

Try it on a simple tune this week. Let’s say “Ode to Joy”-
OtJ starts on the third note of a major scale. That’s solfege “mi” (sing “Do,a Deer” to yourself if you can’t remember solfege). Below each line is what it would look like in the key of C.

Mi mi fa sol sol fa mi re do do re mi mi re re
Mi mi fa sol sol fa mi re do do re mi re do do
Re re mi do Re mi fa mi do Re mi fa mi re do re sol
Mi mi fa sol sol fa mi re do do re mi re do do

Can you sing it on solfege on C, play it on your instrument, and then transpose it (by singing it first and then playing)? Try it for a week in different keys (flats AND sharps, beloved band students of mine), and see what it does for your pitch recognition, intonation, and ability to play by ear.

Happy practicing!

January Special!

Promotion Time!

I have room for 5-7 more students in my studio. Book weekly lessons in trombone, baritone/euph, or tuba from me between now and February 1st and I will discount 3 months of lessons by $20/month!

Bonus! If any of my current students refer a friend to my studio, the current student will receive 1 free lesson for each referral.

Email me at for more details.

BrassChix 2015

My dear friend Sarah Schmalenberger, who teaches horn at the University of St Thomas, is again putting on her yearly seminar for women and girls who play brass instruments. This year she’s doing things a little differently, partnering with the fine folks at Schmitt Music to do an equipment and technology day.

Check it out, it’s an awesome day of inspiring performances, networking, and above all, camaraderie for ladies who kick brass. 🙂

Brass Chix 2015

Level of Expectation

Good read, students! Remember that it’s not about how long you practice for, but what you accomplish.


Here’s one of my least favorite phrases:

Good enough

What that means to me is that it’s not as good as could be, and that it’s okay to settle for less than an optimal result.  I’m not okay with either thought.

Level of expectation can be a difficult topic of discussion, as everyone is in a different place.  So I will try to be as clear as possible.  There are many times when I’ve witnessed players of all levels finish a performance and say something like:

…but that’s not how I play.”

Here’s the truth:

That is how you play.

If you’re unhappy with your level of performance, it’s likely that you should be unhappy with your preparation.

Too often, people dutifully spend time in the practice room hacking away until it’s time to be done for the day.  When a performance comes around, they think the mindless…

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