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  • Writer's pictureMatthew Anklan

College Chops

When I was a student in college, keeping in good-playing shape wasn't a big deal. I had several ensemble rehearsals each day, playing in various classes, daily and nightly practice sessions, and on top of that I maintained a private studio of about 20 middle and high school students and played with one of the busiest party bands in town. Oh yeah, and somehow had time for homework...

My first year in college an older, professional player made a comment about how strong I sounded and said, "College chops, enjoy it while it lasts!" I have been out of college for a few years and have found myself in a few situations where I really needed those "college chops." This got me thinking - there must be some way of practicing that can imitate the kind of playing I was doing in college.

Almost every day my schedule looked like:

- Daily morning routine

- Improv class

- Practice

- Lesson(s)

- Big Band rehearsal(s)

- Other ensemble(s)

- Teaching lessons for a few hours

- Practice or gig

So, the plan is to re-organize my practicing throughout the day to keep as strong and "together" as I was in college:

- Daily morning routine

- Practice tunes (new and old):

- Practice big band/orchestral literature (with recording if possible)

- Practice C and Piccolo trumpets and literature

- Teach lessons

- Practice or gig

The above list is just an example, but I'll either write down or make a mental note of all the playing I should be doing in a day and check them off as I go along. As a teacher and player, my schedule varies wildly from day to day, gig to gig. Set amounts of times for each session can and should vary depending on availability and need, but if each of the categories is met for, say, an hour each day (give or take), then I can play for 5 or 6 hours before I even get to the gig, which is often 2 to 4 hours. This sounds a LOT like college... and with college, you get college chops.

Students often ask me what is the best way to improve endurance. My answer is always that if they want to be able to get through a 3 hour gig, they need to be spending 3 or 4 hours on the horn (minimum, outside of rehearsals, etc.) each day so that a 3 hour gig doesn't feel like an EVENT or extreme challenge. There is a certain mental and physical toughness that is earned this way, and it must be maintained rigorously post graduation and throughout a musical career.

Want to get back in shape or develop "invincible" chops? Write down realistic musical goals and at which times throughout the day you are going to achieve each goal. Check them off as you go. Give it two or three weeks and take a mental note of how far you've come. Soon enough those around you are going to take note and wonder, what's the secret?!

Good luck!!

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