Welcome to the Bell Curve System of Practicing

bell curveJust what is the “Bell Curve System”?

A Bell Curve is a representation of graduated increase and decrease of anything. It could represent income changes, temperature differences or the stock market. It is a gradual representation of change and this “gradual” change can be beneficial to your practice habits. I will illustrate this concept by using a practice habit most trumpet players use every day.

The proper use of the Clarke Technical Study book.

Open your book to the first series and we will begin.

Start on the first exercise and continue to the last example. Visualize the bell curve featured above. Your first exercise started at the lower left corner and as you ascended, your placement on the curve continued up to the top. Most musicians would then start on another type of exercise such as a lip flexibility exercise. When using the Bell Curve System, the player needs to gradually descend in order to continue on the graph. To accomplish this, you will need to retrace your exercises starting from the last to the first. This gradual decent will be more productive than jumping to another exercise.

Why do we need to gradually make changes in our playing?

A very good example of the benefits of gradual change in our practice routine would be our struggle to increase our high range. If a player attempted to increase his/her upper register by attempting octave slurs, the amount of stress on the embouchure would be considerable. If on the other hand the player executed skips of a third, the amount of stress on the lip would be lessened greatly. Now consider the amount of change on the lip if the player played up an octave through a chromatic scale. This last example is without doubt the smoothest and least taxing way to reach the octave above. Once achieving the highest note, the least amount of stress on your embouchure would again be a smooth descending pattern down to where you started. The gradual increase and decrease on your embouchure will greatly benefit your development.

In what other ways can a gradual or bell curve approach be implemented in your practice routine?

Range is one way to use the bell curve process; another is in increasing speed in your playing. Take the same Clarke exercise and this time use it to increase your speed in fingering. Play each exercise at a slow tempo and gradually increase the speed to a point where you want to achieve. Instead of beginning a new set of exercises, retrace your same scales back to the first and gradually decrease the tempo until you return to the first exercise at the original speed. By applying the same bell curve concept to the speed of your scales, you will gain more control than if you only run through the scales at one speed from top to bottom.

Once you understand the benefits of applying a bell curve approach to the simple exercises suggested here, you can apply the same concept to a more broad use, such as the material used in your practice period. A Bell Curve approach can apply to the beginning of your practice all the way to the last exercise practiced. Let me illustrate how this would be applied.

Daily practice session.

Begin at the lowest point on your bell curve. Start with a gradual warm-up such as long tones and gradually increasing your work load, then retracing from the most strenuous to the lest, where you started.

Now increase to the next level up your bell curve by beginning your next more taxing exercises such as a finger buster offered in the Clarke Technical Studies book. Begin easy and increase your work load toward the end and then again retrace your exercises back to where you began.

Again increase your work with something more taxing such as etudes. Begin easy, increase the difficulty and then retrace to the beginning.

Once you have reached the most taxing level of your practice period, it is now time to repeat everything in reverse, thus following the bell curve back to the bottom and thus the end of your practice session.

What are the benefits of all this increase, decrease work load routine?

Once you follow this pattern, your embouchure will let you know how beneficial it can be. Those days of “I don’t understand why my chops feel stiff” will be over. The gradual increase and decrease of your work load has great benefits such as a consistent and dependable embouchure as well as a consistent increase in other techniques such as flexibility, speed, and endurance. Those bad days will be noticeably fewer.

What other ways can the Bell Curve method be applied?

During a week period, this concept can be applied to each day of your practicing. Start the week easily and increase to mid week and decrease to the end of the week.

By now it should be obvious as to how you can apply the Bell Curve method. I’m sure you can find other applications for this method and benefit from the practice.

Bruce was a member of the faculty at the University of Northern Iowa, School of Music in Cedar Falls from 1969 until his retirement in 1999. He has performed with many well-known entertainers such as Bob Hope, Jim Nabors, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme, Anita Bryant, Carman Cavalara, Victor Borgie, the Four Freshman, Blackstone the Magician, Bobby Vinton and John Davidson.

One thought on “Welcome to the Bell Curve System of Practicing

  1. Bruce Chidester

    Good to know. If you are still using the same technique, it must be working for you.

    It works for me!

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