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Trumpet and Self-Evaluation

September 29th, 2012
music, trumpet

Listening to recordings of myself playing trumpet, I don't sound very good. My tone, intonation, stamina, range, and articulation border on awful. But every time I play trumpet for a dance I get people coming up to the stage telling me how much they enjoyed my playing and how much fun it was to dance to. I think my mandolin playing is much better, and I like how I sound when I listen to recordings, but no one ever comes up to say how much they liked it. What's going on?

My working hypothesis had been that trumpet is a really different sound, and I usually play it for a short time at the end of a few sets, not long enough for the novelty to wear off. So people mostly are enjoying the idea of "trumpet! brass!" and my actual playing doesn't register so much. Perhaps a few dancers who are also musicians are unhappy because my technical inability really grates, but on balance dancers enjoy it a lot. So while I definitely should keep working on my chops until I get to the point where I'm adding more than just the idea of trumpet, I'd thought it was fine for now.

A recent conversation with a dancer/musician friend, however, has me wondering: perhaps my trumpet playing has much more variance in how much people like it. So the majority of people might dislike my playing but be too polite to say anything about it while a small minority are happy enough to hear any sort of brass that they have a good time and then come up to the stage to let me know about it. If this is the case I probably shouldn't play trumpet at dances any more until I get better at it.

I'd do pretty different things in these two cases (keep playing it at dances vs stop for a while to get better), so it would be useful to tell which one (or some other?) is accurate. How do I tell them apart? When I ask friends what they think they generally say positive things, but is that just our unwillingness to criticize people? So, hoping that people are more willing to be honest when not talking face-to-face, and considering that I really do want to know the answer so I can best give dancers a good time, if you've heard me play trumpet for a dance, what do you think explains my conflicting evidence?

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