Me so Horn-y

One of my nephews started playing saxophone in school.  I went up to Baltimore to give him a music lesson yesterday.  He’s very hard on himself.   Have you ever seen someone make a mistake and then have a mini-tantrum at themselves?  You musicians know how music is.  When you practice you make constant mistakes.  It takes hours of shedding over days/weeks/months/years to really be able to express yourself like you want.

Now imagine if flubbing just one note or holding just one note too long makes you feel like you don’t deserve to live.  So it’s never just a music lesson with him.  It’s kind of like therapy.  And it’s frustrating for people who tutor or teach him.  I’m hoping that I can help.  I tried to communicate:

  1. Mistakes are a part of learning.  Practicing means that you’re attempting something challenging so you’re not going to get it right the first, second, third, or even the one hundredth time.
  2. If someone were sitting here in the room with us saying things like, “You’re stupid.  You’re never going to get this.  You can’t do anything right.”  What would you think about that person?  What would other people say to that person saying mean things to you?   Well, guess what.  You’re doing that to yourself.  You’ve got to get past mentally/emotionally abusing yourself.  You have to show yourself the same love, respect and patience that you’d show your best friend.
  3. Yes, I make mistakes and express frustration, too.  (I brought my pocket trumpet with me so we could play together, which was both fun for me and very helpful for him, especially since it’s been so long since I’ve played a horn.)  But it doesn’t hurt.  It doesn’t hurt me when I mess up.  It doesn’t make me feel bad about myself.  I just keep going.

He did make a lot of progress, musically speaking, though.  I was able to answer some questions.  There aren’t other musicians in our immediate family.  I’m usually pretty good at figuring out the way to reach people when I try to teach/tutor.  You know, get a feel for their learning style, quirks and psychological motives.  All learning comes with personal baggage attached.  Some people feel inadequate, some feel like they have something to prove, some want to show off, some want the approval of a teacher, some want attention or quality time, and so on.

Fascinating, frustrating and rewarding.  All at the same time.

Anyway, I started writing the above to say how much fun I had playing the trumpet again.

Unfortunately, when I ordered the Cecilio pocket trumpet, I bought the less expensive one.  The one without the fancy valves.  So the valves stick.  Very frustrating.  Beautiful instrument but … I guess I’ll have to see if it can be repaired or adjusted.  I’m cleaning the valves as I type.  I washed them and now they’re drying.  We’ll see what happens.

Today I whipped out the ol’ cornet I bought from a pawn shop years ago.  Oiled it up and it sounds pretty good.  I don’t, but I can feel the potential there.  A little control returning.  Man, it feels so good.  We’ll see where I am in a few weeks.

Expect to hear a little trumpeting on future recordings.


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  1. Janna

    That’s awesome Gary. I rented an alto sax for 2 months once and it was super-fun to start to learn, but I quit when I realized the time it would have taken me to get good was more than I wanted to put in. Kudos to you for both picking up the horn and for having patience and love for your nephew.

  2. garyarthuryoung


    Aw man. You, I miss. I suffer from vitamin J deficiency.

    You picked up alto sax for a bit? Very cool. It does take time. Kind of hard to practice in an apartment, too, but we’ll see. I was playing under a comforter today to mute the sound. Cornet fortress.

    You worked with kids. If you have any advice, I’d be glad to hear it. It’s hard to reason with someone who’s determined to feel inferior about himself. I’m more determined, though, that he won’t be his own antagonist.

    Hi, Janna.

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