Tuesday, July 27, 2010


WARM-UP AND MULLIGANS (Warm-up the mental game.)

Arnold Jacobs once told me, “You don’t need to warm up, Dick. You’re playing 5 hours a day. The embouchure is just meat; there’s blood flowing through it all the time. What you do need is a maintenance routine.”

Another time he told me, “One of the best performances I did of Bydlo (from Pictures at an Exhibition)was when I was down in the coffee shop during a recording session and I was told Reiner had changed the order. I went running up the stairs buzzing a few notes. I never played it better.”

I have found in golf and music that time spent in a library or other quiet setting is often better preparation for a performance than a crash course on the driving range (practice room). It is better to visualize what you want to happen than rehearsing what can go wrong. Now golf is a bit more physical than playing a musical instrument. And it isn’t something I do 5 hours a day. The point is still relevant, however. While some stretching is beneficial, actual practice on the range should not be relied on and can actually put one in the wrong frame of mind.

“There are two tubas; the one in your hand and the one in your head.” Mr. Jacobs was a big proponent of practicing music on the mouthpiece. Many of us were inspired by the resonance of his buzz on low notes below the clef. New students like me were unaccustomed to buzzing C below the clef and took the challenge as a separate goal. Jake never stressed the sound aspect of buzzing. He even allowed buzzing up an octave or covering the end of the shank to add resistance. For him it was “Mouthpiece Solfegio”. Many of us went overboard with it as a separate goal.

We didn’t witness much of this first hand but Jake studied scores and listened to recordings as part of his own practice. Solti was conducting Das Reingold and Jake had been listening to a recording Solti had done in Berlin. Jake said the tuba player played the long sustained low parts without a breath and he was afraid Solti would expect the same. With only a modest lung capacity, he said 2.9 liters at his prime, he knew he could not do it and went to Solti to explain in advance. Solti said not to worry. In Berlin they had brought in two BBb players from the local band and they alternated breathing.

It is better to walk the course, study the greens, and calculate yardages then to play a crash study round on the course. I make notes to myself about my golf game. We know that players will often walk the course before a game. We know that caddies study a course before a game. I find that I sometimes play better after studying my notes and sometimes play worse after going to the driving range. It’s also better to get a good night’s sleep before an exam than to stay up all night cramming. This is even more true of a physical ‘exam’ like a golf game or a concert.

Chevy Chase said in Caddy Shack, “See the ball; be the ball.” Corollary: “Hear the music; be the music.”

I had my tuning slide shortened when I lived in Chicago and found myself pulling out an inch farther when I moved home to Cleveland, such was the difference in pitch between the two cities. That’s a quarter inch to a trumpet player and a half inch to a trombonist. I remember talking to Mr. Jacobs about the Gabrielli brass recording session in Philadelphia. Three great brass sections from three great orchestras, Philadelphia, Cleveland and Chicago. He said they were having coffee after they had already put the first side ‘in the can’ when someone exclaimed, “Hey. We never took a tuning note.” Such was the musicianship of all those players to match pitch without bothering to take a tuning note. How often does a lesser ensemble tune for hours only to play out of tune. The instrument in the head trumps the instrument in the hand. So it is with golf.

There are no ‘Mulligans’ in golf or music. (A ‘Mulligan’ is a "do-over" on the first tee.)

Mr. Jacobs assigned an exercise in the Pasquale Bona book Rhythmical Articulation. He gave me the book so I knew it must be important. The next week I played it in my lesson. He came down hard on me for failure to subdivide the triplets juxtaposed with quadruplets. What a great book the Bona was for learning to sight read. I read it in treble clef because the trombone version was not yet available. After two years away, I brought in the Bona book at my first lesson back. I had practiced the entire book. Part way through one selection Mr. Jacobs closed the book. “We don’t need to work on these, Dick.” We never opened the book again in a lesson. He saw that the lesson had been taught and learned. It was a great lesson in sight reading preparedness.

I got called to play the off-stage band part in the Verdi opera Othello when the Metropolitan Opera was in Cleveland. The part was not in the excerpt books. The few scores had all been checked out of every library in the area. There was no rehearsal. An hour before the gig I went to Public Auditorium where the Met played but no one was in place. So I waited. A half hour before the performance I approached the librarian and was told, “You don’t play ‘till the second act. I don’t have time to worry about your part now.” I didn’t get the part until half way into the first act. It was an ophicleide part, as I recall in C# minor, arppegiated above the staff. Although it was quite playable, it was one that I would have preferred to have practiced. I went into the men’s room and buzzed it through on the mouthpiece. I ran into Mel Broiles, the principal trumpet. (It was his turn to play in the off-stage band.) I asked if there was anything I should know about the performance. He said it was going to be the loudest f&^%$%$ band I’d ever played in. That was the rehearsal. Standing with my big York on a dark stage with one light over the entire band it went well. No Mulligans. Jake had prepared me well.

Golfer John Daly burst into the PGA limelight with an impressive win at Crooked Stick Golf Course in 1991. Daly was the ninth alternate and had packed his car late Wednesday afternoon when he had moved up to fourth alternate. He headed for Indianapolis from Arkansas and got to his hotel room at midnight. Without a practice round, Daly found a way to control his enormous drives, putted like a dream, shot 69-67-69-71 for a 276 and a three-shot win in his first ever PGA Championship. Talk about no Mulligans; he didn’t even have a practice round. As Jake said, “You shouldn’t rely on a particular routine. You never know when you will be stuck at a railroad crossing and have to go on cold.”

I am not suggesting practice is a waste of time. To the contrary, it is exceeding necessary. Scales, arpeggios, the Bona book. There is a point, however, when it is done for it’s own sake without a purpose that it can be deconstructive. Harry Herforth used to say “Practice does not make perfect. Practice makes habits.” The same is true on the driving range. Bad golfers hit balls. Good golfers imagine themselves on the course and pick targets and create challenges.

Neither am I suggesting that warming up does not have its advantages. I do suggest it should not be relied on for golf or music. I further suggest that a good warm up for either should never be a crash course or cramming for an exam. A useful goal for warming up should be to recreate the feel, both mentally and physically of a positive and confident performance. Knowing that the warm up is not a requirement for good performance frees the performer from panicking due to lack of time or immediate success in the practice room or on the practice tee.

“What I’m doing now is showing off.” Said Mr. Jacobs as he was ‘warming up’ before a master class. He had told me once never to practice on stage. “You never know who might be listening. The conductor may hear you from his dressing room.” And so it was that after a Cleveland Ballet performance a conductor from a European Orchestra sent word that he would like to take the whole brass section home with him. Unfortunately it was not a firm job offer. As a bogey golfer in my mid-sixties at the time of this writing, I have no delusions of ever experiencing an analogy in golf. What I do take from this is to not ‘practice’ on the driving range before a round of golf. That’s not to say I don’t go to the range before a round. I simply go with a different purpose. I am there to remind myself of things I know that are not automatic. I am there to re-awaken the feeling of a good swing. After all, I am not playing golf five hours a day as I once did with the tuba.

Warming up on the practice tee can be similar to warming up before an audition. There is a dynamic of ego that can come into play if one is not careful. I took an orchestra audition once where one candidate walked around the room playing right in the face of others. Perhaps it made him feel good but it only proved to everyone around that he was obnoxious. In a golf foursome as in a pick-up band section, it can be a point of pride to see who is the ‘A’ player, aka the section leader. Sometimes the jockeying begins in the practice room or on the practice range. Sometimes it has been pre-determined. I have seen musicians plunk themselves down in the first chair only to disgrace themselves in rehearsal and be moved down. I once played in a golf scramble where the self appointed ‘A’ player told the other three to ‘lay up’ and then ‘I’ll hit the drive we will use.” That story would end best if I told you he blasted one out of bounds. In fact he hit a nice drive. I did retell the story to other club members and everyone agreed he is a chump no one likes to play with. I decided not to be the chump no one wants to hire for the next gig. I chose to sit last at least on new gigs. On the golf course I am content to be the ‘B’, ‘C’ or ‘D’ player who comes through in the clutch when the ‘A’ player chokes.



One of the best golf tips I’ve heard is “Swing easy. Learn to live with the extra yardage.”
Have you ever watched a musician or athlete perform and thought “Boy, he makes that look easy.”?
It’s not because he’s making it look easy. It’s because he found the easy way to do it.

“Weakness is your friend.” It was a favorite comment by Mr. Jacobs. What did he mean by this? He said it another way on occasion. “Atmospheric pressure will play the horn.” Mr. Jacobs was an authority on respiration as it applies to wind instruments. While others stressed the importance of ‘blowing from the diaphragm’, he knew that ‘blowing from the diaphragm’ was no more relevant than pumping blood with the heart. Yes, the heart pumps blood; no, you can’t control it. Try it. Pump blood with your heart. One, two, ready, go. Now stop. (Just kidding.) It’s an involuntary muscle as is the diaphragm. The diaphragm is a one-way muscle. It takes air in by contracting. It RELAXES to expel air. It is therefore atmospheric pressure that plays the instrument. (Note that Mr. Jacobs stressed that air brought in by the downward descent of the diaphragm was only half of a full and complete breath. Another 35% was sideways action of the ribs controlled by the intercostal muscles which swing the ribs outward like inverted bucket handles. Another 15% was upwards expansion controlled by muscles of the chest. Relaxation to expel air was just as operative in these other areas. From a personal perspective, one of the best things I got from Mr. Jacobs was permission to do what I did intuitively. It was common pedagogy at the time to ‘breath from the diaphragm without moving the shoulders.’ I knew intuitively that was a handicap in loud or low passages. It was advice I disregarded during performance. Having been to the mountain and seen the guru, I had permission, and even the dictate, to do what I knew intuitively was necessary.

And how does this relate to the golf swing? The gravity swing or let the club do the work. I have a friend who outdrives me by a good 50 yards and outscores me by 15 strokes. He talks about the gravity swing, meaning he gets the club in position at the top and as the hips and shoulders turn in sequence, he simply allows the club to follow as gravity brings it down and around. Ben Hogan said of the grip “Hold the club as you would hold a little bird. Tight enough that it can’t get away; yet loose enough that you won’t harm it.” The amazing thing about the relaxed approach to the swing is that it works for chipping and pitching too. Swing easy; learn to live with the extra yardage.

He makes it look easy because he found the easy way to do it. Freddie Couples said of his swing, “When I am at the top of my game I feel like I’m doing nothing.”

"When I swing at a golf ball right, my mind is blank and my body is loose as a goose." Sam Snead



“Think your sound to the back of the auditorium.”
As a student at Curtis, young Arnold Jacobs took musicianship classes with the Philadelphia’s legendary oboist Marcel Tabuteau. “Think your sound to the back of the auditorium” was an axiom Jake took from those classes.

Being quite poor in 1968 (the Army paid $89 month when I first went in) I usually sat in ‘student’ heaven when attending Chicago Symphony concerts. The steep rake of the upper balcony in Symphony Hall gives one the feeling one is sitting right over the tuba. We marveled at the amount of sound coming from the back row of the orchestra. Moreover, it was a wonderfully articulate and clear sound. Was it that magical Helleberg mouthpiece? Was it that unique enormous tuba? Most of my studies with Jake were between 1968 and 1972. Walter Nirschl had not yet made the copy of the York. Holton had made a few approximations but they were somehow not as good. Was there something unique about Jake’s equipment? I had acquired an original Helleberg mouthpiece from a fireman’s bandhall on a pickup gig. They were pleased to have a shiny new mouthpiece in exchange for the old Helleberg stuck in the old tuba kept in the hall. Years later I cobbled a third York together from Holton CC and 6/4 York BBb tubas. It was very gratifying on gigs to hear other musicians say “Good to see you on this gig. I know we will hear the tuba tonight.” A heady thing for a tuba player to hear. (I didn’t practice hard and lug this big beast to the gig to not be heard.) Concept of Jake well in my head and ‘magical equipment’ in hand, I made the pilgrimage back to Chicago for a tune-up lesson. No longer teaching in the storied basement on South Normal, I went to the studio on Michigan Avenue, pulled out my big York. The sound images memorized in the upper balcony of Symphony Hall in mind, I played Wagner excerpts at a marvelous fortissimo only to be told “That’s nice Dick, but you play too loud.” We played ‘pass-the-horn’. Would that that lesson had stayed with me. Unfortunately it’s like the golf swing and I learn it over and over. Ken Venturi said, “Golf is a game of finding your swing, losing it and finding it again.”

Although I had played in the Chicago Civic Orchestra, I had never had the opportunity to play in the Chicago Symphony next to Mr. Jacobs. Now we played ‘pass the horn’. In spite of all the technical knowledge Jake loved what he called the regurgitation method of teaching. He played on my tuba. I played on my tuba. It was like watching Freddy Couples swing the driver up close and then handing it to me. No effort. But he ‘hit it on the screws’ and put it down the middle of the fairway. Although golf is a game made playable by all levels because of the handicap system, there is something about playing with someone whose swing you admire. It does rub off. I have had the extreme good fortune to have played in many wonderful musical ensembles with many great players. I hope some of it rubbed off. Music and golf parallel.

Mr. Jacobs spoke of a pseudo-inspiratory maneuver. He was referring to a change of body posture that emulated a big breath but did not result in much air being taken in. He had students work with a breathing tube. It was nothing more than a 1” diameter pipe a few inches long. When inhaling through it the focus was on the air, not on the anatomy. He tricked us into focusing on the result, not the method. Golf catalogs are filled with pages and pages of teaching aids.

Hitting long is like playing loud: a clear sound projects better to the back of the hall than a distorted sound resulting from an aggressive maneuver. A ball goes farther down the fairway than it does down the rough. An in-tune note projects better than an out of tune note. A ball struck squarely on the sweet spot travels farther than a ball mashed on the toe. Pseudo-inspiratory maneuvers and isometric contractions are counter-productive to flow. Let the club (tuba) do the work. Our job is simply to guide it.

Raise your arm with a bent elbow as when you ‘make a muscle’. Have someone pull on your fist to add resistance. Your bicep performs this maneuver. Have your assistant offer resistance as you push your arm down in the opposite direction. Your tricep performs this maneuver. Now slowly lower your arm without the resistance of an assistant. This is your bicep relaxing. And so it is when you expel air. The diaphragm simply relaxes. It may require assistance near the end of a long exhalation. It will be the abdominal muscles and other surrounding the thoracic cavity that assist. It is not the diaphragm. When it activates during exhalation it causes isometric contractions.

The great golfer Bobby Jones said “Many shots are spoiled at the last instant by efforts to add a few yards.”

All of this is not to say you shouldn’t try to hit a long drive; all of this is not to say you shouldn’t try to play loud. I find in trying to play relaxed at golf I sometimes get mentally relaxed. This is not good. I see it happen to my wife on the golf course. When, and only when, she asks what went wrong with a shot, I simply say “Stay with it.” Loud and long are best achieved through movement, not by isometric contraction.



For a golfer, a putt within a foot is a ‘tap-in’, no pressure. A twenty foot putt is also no pressure because we don’t expect to make it. It is the four foot putt that can cause the most anxiety. And so it is with the exposed pianissimo attack at the timing of the conductor with all eyes, or ears, on the performer. It is a combination of mental and emotional toughness but also confidence in basic techniques. It is a fearlessness and willingness to make a mistake discussed elsewhere but also confidence in basic technique. With a wind instrument it is the unpressurized release of air discussed under ‘PEDAGOGY’ below. For the golfer it is confidence in the reading of the line, but also confidence in the set up and the stroke. Most golf instruction teaches that the short strokes with the putter should be initiated by the largest muscles. With the eyes directly over the ball, the putter gripped like Hogan’s live bird, and the wrists and arms forming a firm but not tense triangle with the shoulders, a simple rocking of the shoulders moves the putter smoothly and straight. There are many variations to this and many styles of putters but the common principal is that the delicate little putt is executed not by the small muscles prone to over-react but by the large muscles. Mr. Jacobs would initiate the exposed pianissimo with the air, not the embouchure and certainly not the glottis.



It is said that golf is a game of opposites: You swing down to make the ball go up, you set up right to draw the ball left, you set up left to make the ball go right. The shorter the club, the higher the number. And of course you must stay firm but relaxed.

I once heard a band director admonish his band to play softer telling them “Anyone can play loud. It takes a real musician to play soft.” His concert was painful to listen to. He had stifled their sound. Having played with some major orchestras I can say that the reason they can play so soft is because their loud is very loud. It is the contrast. See Barth’s axiom #1.

If a musician has difficulty keeping the pitch through a crescendo, he should practice a diminuendo. I prefer to test intonation with a fortissimo as it is less likely to alter the pitch. When testing new instruments for pitch I prefer a fortissimo slurred up to a questionable note followed by a fortissimo slurred down to the same questionable note. This shows the range of the pitch ‘center’. From this it is a matter of controlled relaxation to maintain the same pitch at a pianissimo.

It is contrary to common instruction but I play better golf when I warm up with the full swing of the driver and work down to a pitch with a wedge.


In golf there is a tendency to over-correct. Far too often a short putt is followed by a long one. Far too often a push slice is followed by a pull hook. In both golf and music it is crucial to stay focused on the desired result, not the past blunder. We learn in music that if we miss a note low, the correction is not to play the next one as high as possible. And so it is in golf that the good golfer does not follow a short putt with a long putt. He simply goes back to his routine with focus.

When the conductor asks for more we tend to blast out with everything we have. When he tells us we are too loud we tend to fake it only to let him have it with both barrels at the concert. This is not musicianship; this is emotions overriding common sense. This happens in golf too. When your opponent outdrives you it is best to stay with your routine and focus on your best rather than attempting to outdrive him.



When my oldest grandson was 5 we took him to miniature golf. After a hole-in-one there was praise, shouting and jumping. When the next 10 holes failed to produce another ace he fell on the ground exclaiming he couldn’t do it and would never do it again. There are many great lessons we learn from golf and music. We learn that with dogged determination we make incremental progress. We learn that as Dr. Bob Rotella’s said in his book title “Golf is not a game of perfect”.

One of my worst rounds of the Summer was so bad that when I realized my score would go well over 100 I started picking up my ball on bad holes. I new guy had joined our group. He too was a senior golfer. He striped the ball 300+ yards down the middle time after time. I knew enough not to compete in that arena. His swing was very, very quick. Mine is quite slow and relaxed. By comparison I was sure I was not being influenced. I was. It took 17 holes for me to realize that although I was swinging slower than the new guy, I was still not in my tempo. Finally I parred #18. Having ‘figured it out’ and it being early in the day, I asked the group if anyone wanted to play another 9 holes. Two agreed, partly out of pity for my plight that day. I shot par on the extra nine. My best round of the Summer. Whether in golf or music, we must stay true to ourselves. We must play our own game.

Mistakes happen. In music and golf, there is no such thing as a perfect performance. In both it is how we react to those mistakes, how we keep our focus on the goal, that determines our success. Adolf Herseth, principal trumpet in Chicago was giving a master class and wanted a student to come up on stage to perform. There were no volunteers. “I know you are all afraid to make the first mistake. I’ll do it.” Herseth picked up his trumpet and made on awful sound. He went on to explain that everyone is going to make a mistake. Lesson number one for the day.
A friend from the music industry was a pretty good golfer. His goal was to retire from music to Florida and become a golf instructor. A torn rotator cuff caused him to give up golf. It wasn’t that he couldn’t play; it was that he wasn’t as good as he used to be. I suggested he lower his expectations and just enjoy golf. He couldn’t do it. I understand. After developing Focal Dystonia friends suggested I play in community bands and the like. I can’t do it. I’d rather remember how good I was than demonstrate how bad I am. It sounds strange to say that I am fortunate I was never a really good golfer. But I can just enjoy the game at my level. I know musicians who feel the same about music. I do, however, aspire to be as good as possible. I had an adult tuba student once who played an excerpt with bad rhythm. When I pointed it out he told me it didn’t matter because he played for his own amusement. I asked him if it amused him to play it wrong. Golf and music; such similar pursuits.



Crescendo means start softer.
No one will notice if you are playing MP and drop down to P at the beginning of a crescendo. They will, however, notice the big crescendo. There are many corollaries to this.

Don’t play a loud passage any louder than the softest note.
Ron Bishop offered this advice about Ride of the Valkyries: “George Szell said little notes are like little children. They require more attention.” You will not find a better performance of the Ride than Szell and Cleveland. Mr. Bishop is a wonderful teacher and a marvelous person with a wealth of knowledge. There is a list of the top 10 things a golf fan should do. Play the Old Course at St. Andrews is one. Shake hands with Arnold Palmer is another. There should be a musicians list too. Musicians may not get to play Carnegie Hall but they can shake hands with, and better yet, take a lesson with, Ron Bishop. Be sure to include Ride of the Valkyries. I consider myself blessed. Thanks to Mr. Bishop I got to play at Carnegie Hall with the Cleveland Orchestra and thanks to my wife searching her ancestral roots I got to play the Old Course at St. Andrews.

I took some lessons with Ed Anderson, bass trombonist during the Szell/Wagner recordings. He said of it that they felt like they were playing the sixteenth notes twice as loud as the rest of the passage. When he heard the playback he was a believer. I wish I could share this with players I hear at tuba displays. I also recommend taking excerpt lessons from trombonists. They are more likely to be on an audition committee than a tuba player.

I used to sing in a do-wop group, bass, of course. One time we ventured out of du-wop and sang the Country-Western song Elvira. I was feeling my oats and really belted out the ‘Giddy Up a Oom Poppa Oom Poppa Mow Mow’. I have a low C but it’s not as loud as the octave above. The low C sounded incredibly feeble. I quickly learned to sing that lick no louder than the low C and take full advantage of the microphone.

Jack Nicklaus was on the driving range hitting 7 irons. A loud mouth in the gallery kept repeating that the great Jack Nicklaus hit his 7 iron 150 yards, the same as he did. Nicklaus, seeming somewhat annoyed, turned and said “Watch this.” He hit his 7 iron 225 yards He then turned and added, “I choose to hit my 7 iron 150 yards.”



Mr. Jacobs never read it, at least during my studies, but many people likened his teaching to The Inner Game Of Tennis, a book by W. Timothy Gallwey. Of all the books about the mental game, many regard this as the best. It is not hard to apply it to golf or music. It has been said that golf is 60% mental and 40% mechanical. (Change the percentages according to the source.) The point is that the mental side is more important than the mechanical side. I suggest that for both golf and music this axiom misses the point. Golf (Music) is 50% emotional, 25% mechanical, 5% mental, and 10% luck.

“Golf is a game that is played on a five-inch course - the distance between your ears.” ~Bobby Jones “Thinking instead of acting is the number-one golf disease.” ~Sam Snead.
"It is nothing new or original to say that golf is played one stroke at a time. But it took me many years to realize it." ~Bobby Jones
“Golf is a game of misses and the winners are those with the best missed.” ~Kathy Whitworth
“There are two kinds of golf; golf and tournament golf. They are not the same.” ~Bobby Jones
“You can tell a good putt by the noise it makes.” ~Bobby Locke
“When I think about three things during my swing I’m playing poorly; when I think about two things I have a chance to shoot par; when I think of only one thing I could win the tournament.” ~Bobby Jones
“No good player ever swings as hard as he can. Power is a matter of timing, not overpowering the ball. ~Arnold Palmer
“Many shots are spoiled at the last instant by efforts to add a few more yards.” ~Bobby Jones
“The ultimate judge of your swing is the flight of the ball.” ~Ben Hogan
“Through preparation and hard work, you can prepare yourself for a mental attitude-a ‘zone.’ When it happens, all you can see is the ball and the hole.” ~Payne Stewart
“Of all the hazards, ferar is the worst.” ~Sam Snead
“Fear comes in two packages-fear of failure, and sometimes, fear of success.” ~Tom Kite
“Golf is more in your mind than in your clubs.” ~Bruce Crampton
“The mind messes up more shots than the body.” ~Tommy Bolt
“Don’t be too proud to take lessons. I’m not.” ~Jack Nicklaus
“Success in golf depends less on strength of body than upon strength of mind and character.” ~Arnold Palmer
“I never pray that I may win. I just ask for courage to do my best.” ~Gary Player
“Be brave if you lose and meek if you win.” ~Harvey Pennick
“When you’re playing poorly, you start thinking too much. That’s when you confuse yourself. ~Greg Norman
“Thinking instead of acting is the number one disease in golf.” ~Sam Snead
“You can talk strategy all you want but what really matters is resiliency.” ~Hale Irwin
“To be consistently effective, you must put a certain distance between yourself and what happens to you on the golf course. This is not indeifference-it’s detachment.” ~Sam Snead
“The greatest single lesson to be learned from golf is mental discipline.” ~Louise Suggs
“Focus on remedies, not faults.” ~Jack Nicklaus
“You need a fantastic memory to remember the great shots and a very short memory to forget the bad ones.” ~Mac O’Grady
“You tend to get impatient with less-than-perfect shots, but you have to remember less-than-perfect shots win Opens.” ~Curtis Strange
“Most golfers prepare for disaster. A good golfer prepares for success.” ~Bob Toski
“Some people think they are concentrating when they’re merely worrying.” ~Bobby Jones
“To play well you must feel tranquil and at peace. I have never been troubled by nerves because I felt I had nothing to lose and everything to gain.” ~Harry Vardon
“Golf is a matter of confidence. If you think you cannot do it, there is no chance you will.” ~Henry Cotton
“Try to think where you want to put the ball not where you don’t want it to go.” ~Billy Casper
“The most successful way to play golf is the easiest way.” ~Harry Vardon
“Enjoy the game. Happy golf is good golf.” ~Gary Player
“Golf is like a love affair. If you don’t take it seriously, it’s no fun.; if you do take it seriously it breaks your heart.” ~Arnold Daly
“Golf is a game of finding what works, losing it, and finding it again.” ~Ken Venturi

Mental, Schmental! Jake often attributed mistakes to ‘paralysis-by-analysis’. Every golfer knows there is no place for thinking on the golf course. This is an oversimplification to be sure, but the message is clear. With either activity we can tie ourselves in knots by overanalyzing. I have been fortunate in my brief career to have played in many wonderful situations with fantastic bands and orchestras. The most intimidating solo situations were no different than standing on the first tee of the Old Course at St. Andrews in Scotland. My caddy told me that the juxtaposition of the first and eighteenth fairways make this “the widest landing area in all of golf. Put your ball down the middle.” He went on to say that he had caddied for an American the previous week who was so intimidated by this, the oldest and most revered course in the World, that he could not tee up his ball. The caddy had to tee it up for him. Mental, Schmental! It is emotional to step from the back row of the orchestra to play a solo in front. There is a personality required. Michael Jordon WANTS the ball in the last 5 seconds when his team is down by two. Tiger Woods relishes coming from behind in the final round. A friend of mine played assistant to a famous 1st trumpet in a major orchestra. As the strings allowed the pitch to climb during a long trumpet rest my friend quietly asked if they should push in their tuning slides. “$#(*& $. I’ll show them where the pitch is.” he replied. He played a little louder on his entrance and the strings came back down to A=440. It’s not only emotional, it’s a personality that can’t be faked. It can be cultivated by doing the preparation. It can be cultivated through sports psychology. It can be enhanced by going to the mountain to see the guru. (Unfortunately some have the confidence without the musicianship to back it up.)

“I’ll be able to score as soon as I get my swing thoughts alphabetized.” So goes the golf joke because swing thought must be a singular focus.

Some musicians are better ensemble players than they are soloists. You might guess it has to do with not handling the pressure of the spotlight. Golf has shown me another dimension. There is an extra motivation of playing for the team. Weekend golfers frequently play a 2 man or 4 man Nassau. To be sure part of the reason is to take away some of the pressure. But I believe there is an extra motivation for many in playing for your team.

When we say there is no place for thinking on the golf course, we don’t mean that we are unaware of the wind direction, the slope of the green, the pin position and the like. It means that once we have made a decision about where we want the ball to go, and when we have decide what club will get the ball there, we turn the process over to what Timothy Gallwey calls ‘Self Two.’ When you have made your decision, shut off your brain and ‘pull the trigger.’


While working for a manufacturer, I took some new trumpets to Frank Kaderabek when he was principal trumpet in the Philadelphia Orchestra. Frank asked me about the International Trumpet Guild conference from which I had just returned. I told him about a well known trumpet player who got a case of cotton mouth during a recital. Frank was shocked. “Why would you get nervous playing for a bunch of trumpet players? You couldn’t have a more understanding audience.”

The corollary in golf is so obvious it hardly necessitates mentioning. You can turn on the television any Sunday and watch a golfer bogey a hole and come back with a birdie. You can watch a player hit a ball into the water and knock his next one stiff. Conversely you can also watch a player implode, all set in motion by one bad shot. Hardly a week goes by that the commentators don’t talk about how a player needs to put the bad shot behind him and focus on the next. Be Here Now. Play in the moment.

Incidentally, the Colonel Bogey March, aka theme from the movie Bridge Over The River Kwai, was written in 1914 by Lieutenant F. J. Ricketts under the pseudonym Kenneth Alford about a military man who was also a golfer, presumably carrying an 18 handicap. As the story goes, rather than yell ‘fore’, the Colonel would whistle a descending minor third. Lyrics (vulgar) were added by British soldiers in World War II. The counter march in the movie was an addition by Malcolm Arnold. Sometimes the relationship between golf and music is subtle, sometimes not.



Arnold Jacobs’ marvelous 6/4 CC York tuba was originally made for his teacher at Curtis, Phillip Donatelli, tubist in the Philadelphia Orchestra . Donatelli found it too big for his use. There were two of these tubas built by ‘Pop’ Johnson at J. W. York and Sons in Grand Rapids Michigan in 1938. Donatelli suggested that Arnold buy one of these as the young student did not yet own his own tuba. It was the tuba Mr. Jacobs played through his entire career. Coincidently Fritz Reiner was the conductor at Curtis and followed both Arnold Jacobs and this tuba to Pittsburgh and ultimately Chicago. Was the York tuba part of the Chicago sound? I suggest more than the tuba being part of the Chicago sound, it was part of Arnold Jacobs’ development. When I first studied with Mr. Jacobs I played a Bach 7 mouthpiece with a Meinl-Weston Bill Bell model CC tuba. I struggled with the Petroushka Ab. Jake said “Maybe it’s the equipment.” He picked up my horn and played a wonderfully centered loud, clear Ab. “Nope. The Ab is fine.” I was puzzled. Some months later I brought a larger tuba to a lesson and had found that it worked better with a Helleberg mouthpiece. Jake was finally pleased with my use of the air. I said, “But Mr. Jacobs. I’m playing the same. It is a different mouthpiece and a different tuba.” After some discussion he acknowledged that I was responding differently to the stimulus of the equipment. Needles to say I bought the tuba. I hadn’t played the old one for a year, and out of curiosity picked it up and played Petroushka. The Ab soared out clear and loud. Jacobs likened it to a hot stove. We touch it every day and pull our hand away. One day the stove is cold but instinctively we pull our hand away. It took a year for me to forget the stove was hot. Sometimes I have to ‘punish’ a bad putter by leaving it in the garage for a few months. When I forget that the stove is hot I get the putter out. It performs better after a rest.

I believe Jacobs developed into the player he was in part because of his equipment. The same was true of Bill Bell. The same was true of Harvey Phillips. Jake told me one time Harvey tried the York and said “I don’t know how you can play this.” Jake had a horn like Harvey’s that Conn had sent him. “I can’t play it.” was his comment. In a similar manner two golfers would develop different putting strokes if one started with a belly putter and one started with a standard length blade putter. All three were marvelous players. All three were different. Each developed as he did because of the musical situations in which they found themselves. I believe too that their equipment led them down their individual paths as well. There is a debate in the golf World about whether the golfing greats of the past would be competitive with today’s golfers. Would Bobby Jones or even Harry Vardon hit the ball as far as John Daly or Tiger Woods if they had the technology of modern equipment. What about the converse? Would Tiger Woods be able to compete with Harry Vardon on clubs from 1897? More importantly would the players develop to the same level on equipment from a different era and technology? I shrug when I see comments posted critical to youtube tunes of the past. Young musicians are quick to criticize the old recordings that may not hold up to the best of today. What they fail to take into consideration is that those performers of yesteryear paved the way for today’s standards. Never mind that the best recording equipment from 1950 pales in comparison to what can be done on with a simple laptop computer today.

Another example of the equipment shaping the player is Phil Michelson. A naturally right-handed person, Phil learned by watching his father and mirroring him. Some left handed golfers learned to play right handed because there are more right handed golf clubs. For Phil, having his natural controlling hand being the leading hand certainly had an influence on his game. He is the number 2 golfer in the World.

I heard Jake play the Vaughan Williams on his York with the Evanston Symphony in 1969. During my lessons he played it in his basement and had me stand across the room with a decibel meter as he compared a bell-front Meinl-Weston to a Besson F. He wanted to perform it with the authentic British sound. He also wanted to project. He also didn’t feel comfortable with F fingerings. Ultimately he played it on the York. Walter Sear once said “When the chips are down, you turn to the equipment you’ve played on most of your life.” Though he sounded like Jake on all three, there was a comfort level, partly intonation related, with the York. I believe equipment helps form the player but after that, the player sounds much the same regardless of equipment. I feel it takes at least two months of exclusive play to truly evaluate new equipment. It takes that long for the equipment to remold the player. Mr. Jacobs used the Besson F for his recording with the Chicago Symphony because it was the instrument it was written for. I think it unfortunate that Mr. Jacobs did not chose the York. It would have left a legacy of the great man on the instrument for which he was famous.

Side story (no golf corollary): Fritz Reiner, conductor of the Chicago Symphony for much of Jake’s career, came back from Europe with a Viennese style F tuba. He made Jacobs play it on the Berlioz Hungarian March. F tuba was not Jake’s cup of tea but moreover the main valves are on the left hand on the Viennese F tubas. Reiner went over the march faster and faster until Jake finally reached around in an awkward position to play the valves with his right hand. Reiner finally backed off.

I was playing golf with a friend who had just purchased new Ping irons. “These work great and allow me to just swing easy and let the club do the work.” “Don’t your old ones work well if you just swing easy?” I asked. He had to admit that they did but he had gotten out of the habit. Apparently some of it has to do with confidence in your equipment. Sometimes we buy new clubs just to break a habit. Sometimes we buy new equipment because we refuse to believe the problems originate with us. It must be the equipment. Perhaps a psychologically healthy approach. I need a new putter. I need a new mouthpiece.

A friend of mine was in a pro-am golf tournament/demonstration with Lee Trevino. Lee had a short shot over a tall tree. He laid flat his two iron (normally a club used for long shots with a low trajectory) and the ball sailed over the tree as if struck by a nine iron. The amateurs praised him for the ‘trick’ shot. Said Trevino, “You don’t understand. Any one of the guys on tour can do that. You think you shoot well at home but you have no idea how good the guys on the pro tour really are.” Professionals play in spite of their equipment, not because of it.

There are musicians who play one mouthpiece their entire career and never even think of experimenting with a change. Others seem to change at the drop of a hat. I trumpet player I know took a lesson with the great William Vachiano. Vachiano dug into a barrel of mouthpieces and pulled out ‘just the right mouthpiece for him’. He traded my friend even up. My friend assumed his mouthpiece went into the barrel until he went back for a mouthpiece a week later and saw Vachiano playing it. So it is with golfers and putters. Some play the same putter for years and some seem to change almost weekly in the search for the magic putter. Jake had a medicine cabinet in his basement filled with Helleberg mouthpieces. A favorite mouthpiece of his in lessons was an adjustable cup mouthpiece and a frequent alternate to his usual Helleberg was a Schilke 66 used when he wanted to ‘make the York sound like a smaller horn.

When building a professional flute a very tight pad seat with a light touch is one of the goals. However it is the professional that knows when a pad is not seating properly and can apply a little extra pressure to close the hole. It is the beginner that needs the best seal with the lightest touch. And so it is with golf and perhaps most endeavors. Beginners need the best equipment.

A professional plays in spite of his equipment.
A student develops in a particular way partially because of his equipment.
Problems arise when the equipment in our hand is in conflict with the equipment in our head.



Mr. Jacobs gave a master class and was working with a trumpet player. The excerpt was played moderately at best. Jake simply said, “Play that again and show me how ‘Bud’ (Adolf Herseth) would do it.” The student played it again and did a marvelous job. “Why didn’t you play it that way the first time?” Jake asked. “I’m not Bud.” the student replied. (The audience roared with laughter.) I do hit the ball better when I am demonstrating how Freddie Couples swings. Unfortunately I laps back into the moment of being me and my score goes up.

Ben Hogan and others have commented that golf is a game of misses. No one strikes the ball perfectly every time. Success has to do with the quality of your bad shots. Useful advice for musicians.

We suppose that the ‘Jacobs Sound’ was a result of the famous York tuba. While the characteristics of that instrument clearly contributed to the way Mr. Jacobs developed as a player, it is also true that Mr. Jacobs sounded like ‘Jake’ regardless of equipment. One characteristic of the ‘Jacobs Sound’ was the attack transient. Have you heard a singer who starts every note a little under volume? Many do it. Some string players do it too. It is often done in the guise of expressiveness. To me it exudes a lack of confidence. Find the pitch before you bring it up to full volume. Some singers and many string players jump right in with a note at full volume. To me that sounds much more confident. Mr. Jacobs had many gadgets in his basement studiofor measuring sound, pitch, air-flow and the like. A simple VU meter was a stimulus for attack transients. Try it yourself. Play a note while watching a VU meter. Don’t make mini crescendos. Start the note at full volume and sustain it. Perhaps it will feel like an accent with a crescendo. The feeling of crescendo is because the lungs deflate faster when they are full and slow down as atmospheric pressure equalizes. I have found that the attack, like vibrato, feels overdone to the player by the time it is noticeable to the listener. I have observed that that crisp attack in the tuba was part of the ‘Chicago Sound’. Jake’s sound added to the brass section, not the bass section.

It is important to note that Jake did not pressurize the air before an attack. He described it once to me. He likened mis-use of the tongue to putting your thumb over a water spigot, turning on the water and then releasing the thumb. An explosion of water follows. He advised to simply turn on the water while flicking the thumb over the flow to create an attack. He drew a large ‘H’ with a small ‘T’ inside it on my lesson book to describe an attack. He said some musicians pressurize behind the tongue and wait for the conductor to give the downbeat. This leads to explosive attacks or worse. The Jacobs approach was to hold the air in the manner of mid panting, hence the big ‘H’.

There are two golf corollaries. One is the change of direction at the top of the backswing. It works best when it is smooth like the panting air. It is essential for putting. The other is the short chip. A slow chip often results in a double hit. A short chip, like a pianissimo, benefits from a nice crisp attack.

When the Army transferred me from Chicago to Virginia Beach, I asked Mr. Jacobs if he recommended anyone with whom I should study. He tried to name tuba players in the area. I suggested that since I had already studied with him, it must be someone at an equal level. He thought for a minute and then suggested I take musicianship lessons with a cellist. He, after all, had taken musicianship lessons with Marcel Tabuteau. I wondered why he suggested a cellist. On reflection I think of the way he played Eine Faust Overture. The descending seventh was almost a glissando, a slur played on one string like the cello did. As I listen to some of Jake’s recordings, I now see that there was a cello in his head and a tuba in his lap.

Players I know who can emulate the ‘Jacobs Sound’ with an immediacy on the front and a healthy vibrato are afraid to do it in audition or in concert. I miss it. With the cello in mind I understand it more now and believe that many conductors (although not all) would find it extremely musical. I wish I had done it more.

I have talked to other Jacobs students about their lessons. There are many common threads. There are also some surprising differences. Mr. Jacobs did not waste time on things that did not need work. And when a problem was fixed he did not revisit it. Like my one etude in the Bona book, we addressed a problem and moved on. So it is with a good golf coach. I like to think that Jake did not want to bring something to the conscious level if it was working well at the sub-conscious level. He did not want to inspire paralysis by analysis.

I have read some clinic notes and lesson notes that musicians have written after an encounter with Mr. Jacobs. Some are subjects that I did not experience with Mr. Jacobs. This is to be expected. One of his finer strengths was that he worked with us all from a point of our own strengths and weaknesses. Some of the stories, however, fly contrary to what I know Mr. Jacobs preached. I have seen written commentaries about Mr. Jacobs mentioning diaphragm as proof that one must have a strong gut and ‘blow from the diaphragm.’ Nothing could be more at odds with what I learned in my several years of studies with him. I have seen music lessons and golf lesson at which the teacher wants to teach what he learned even if it is not what the student needs.

Keeping in mind that 50% of the air is downward expansion of the thoracic cavity, 35% is sideways and 15% is upward, a player who was deficient in one of these areas might take from his lessons something entirely different than a player deficient in another.

This individuality is even truer in golf. There are so many fine motor control movements, so many actions that must coordinate in sync to make a good golf swing, that when one correction is learned it becomes the Holy Grail until something else goes wrong. (And something else always goes wrong. Even for the pros.) There is a striking parallel between Mr. Jacobs teaching approach to music and Harvey Pennick’s approach to golf. There are golf instructors who teach ‘one correct swing’ for everyone, regardless of somatotype and regardless of physical strength and prowess. Harvey Pennick accepted that an endomorph could not swing like an ectomorph. He accepted that a person with a hockey background was not likely trainable to a classic reverse C golf swing. Mr. Jacobs tested his students for vital lung capacity and never demanded more than was possible in length of phrase. In fact, he told me that once Reiner had demanded a longer phrase than he was capable of. He took a rubber anesthesia bag to the next rehearsal and when Reiner asked for more, Jake blew into the bag and held it up demonstrating that there was a limit.

Comparisons could also be made between Arnold Jacobs and Ben Hogan’s teachings.

I admire a teacher in golf or music who encourages his students to use similar equipment. Why should a teacher not want a student to have the same advantages in emulating the results for which he came to that teacher? However, I quickly learned to avoid golf teachers who did not take into consideration my somatotype, my background, my age, my strength (or lack thereof) and so forth. It is easy to spot a teacher in golf or music that teaches everyone the same way. It is one thing to expect similar results. It is another to expect everyone to follow the same path.

I know a trumpet player who studied with another trumpet player who took lessons from Mr. Jacobs. The first trumpet player was evidently overly tight in the abdomen. Jake got him to loosen up. (‘Weakness is your friend.’) This trumpeter kept a check on himself by pressing on his abdomen with his hand as he set the trumpet on his face. This was then passed on to his student who then taught this as a routine to his students. In the process something that grew out of a lesson with Jake became dogma to another generation of students that may not have even needed the lesson. So it goes with golf.

I think Brian Frederickson nailed it when he summed up the essence of Arnold Jacobs teaching by titling his book Song and Wind. Timothy Gallway summed it up for Tennis with “Trust Self Two”. Harvey Pennick summarized golf with “Take dead aim.”

A teacher once told me the Vaughn Williams Tuba Concerto couldn’t be played on a CC tuba. So I did it on my Junior Recital. (It was in 1967 and I can forgive the restrictive advise.) I played Variations on _____ at a high school solo and ensemble contest and got a 2 rating because I played it too fast. He thought it should be characteristically lugubrious. (There weren’t many show off pieces back then.) "People have always been telling me what I can't do. I guess I have wanted to show them. That's been one of my driving forces all my life." Ben Hogan.

Side story (no golf corollary): Jake also played string bass when he attended Curtis. He was rejected for lessons on bass. He auditioned for a bass teacher who had limited English. The teacher asked for “a minor scale”. So Jake played a C minor scale. (It turned out he wanted the “A minor scale”.)

Side, side story no golf corollary): I was in a lesson with Mr. Jacobs when the proof tape copies of the Trombone Tuba excerpt album arrived. He played a few excerpts during my lesson. I jokingly asked if he would be sending the record around so that other orchestras knew how the excerpts should be played. There was a long, long silence during which I knew my attempt at humor was viewed as inappropriate. Finally he said “No. Let ‘em buy their own.”



I once had a music teacher who said little more than “You made a mistake.” Go back to letter _. Not a particularly inspired or inspiring pedagogical approach. He taught fear of failure.

Some golfers say they do not play against an opponent. They play against ‘old man par’. Non golfers may know the expression ‘Par for the course’. This is a target goal based on length of the holes. (Most courses are par 72. It is said that the average weekend golfer rarely breaks 100.) When they play against ‘old man par’, what golfers are saying is that they try to play their best without regard to what their opponents do. They play against par not against fellow golfers. Golfers learn early on that, as Bob Rotella said in the title of his book, “Golf is not a game of perfect.”

One log some golfers keep is a ‘Ringer Score’. A ‘Ringer Score’ is kept for a frequently played course and is continually updated keeping the best score ever shot on a hole-by-hole basis. A hole-in-one is so rare that some golfers never experience one. Not that it isn’t possible; it’s just that there is an element of luck. It is an ‘eagle’; two under par for the hole on a par three. The same is true of an eagle on a par four or a par five. No matter what your skill level, the golf gods must smile on you for an eagle. I once eagled number eighteen on my home course. It is a difficult uphill par four into a ‘potato chip’ shaped green. I am wise enough to know that if I live for another thirty years and play every day it will not likely happen again. In fact I am happy on the rare occasion when I par that hole. Nonetheless I now know that an eafle is possible. It is now part of my ‘Ringer Score’, the accumulation of best scores on each hole. Professional golfers are more than capable of a birdie (one under par) on every hole they play. A tournament is four days of eighteen holes a day at par 72 per round. One under par on each of eighteen holes would be a round of 54. Even though a birdie is within possibilities on every hole and in fact eagles are possible, no golfer has ever shot a round lower than 59 in PGA tournament play. If 59 is possible and has been done, couldn’t it be repeated in a four day tournament? It has not yet. Four days of tournament golf times par of 72 is 288. A birdie on every hole would be 216. To date the lowest tournament round ever is 265 posted by David Thoms in 2001 followed by a 266 by Phil Michelson the same year. This is a long way of saying that ‘Golf is not a game of perfect’.

A golfer may finish his round of tournament play an hour before the last group. It is not possible to play against your opponent in that scenario. And so golfers learn to play against ‘old man par’. A musician must learn to measure his performance against the ideal in his head while accepting the reality that comes out of his horn. A musician can only perform to a percentage of his ideal in an audition. Whether the audition committee holds the same concept of ideal is beyond his control. Ben Hogan said all he could do was send the golf ball on its way. It was up to the winds to guide it safely to the green.

As with music, our goal is that an imperfect performance is good. Golf is about the quality of your misses. Musical performance is about the level of your mistakes.



Borrowing from Timothy Gallwey, “Trust self two; it is an incredible computer.” Turning over control to the sub-conscious mind can be a challenge for many. It is instinctive for others. As I reflect on the concept ‘paralysis by analysis’, it may be slightly overstated. Playing a musical instrument or striking a golf ball with total conscious control of the myriad of fine motor muscle movements may be more like working a complicated math problem with a pencil and paper. It’s not that it can’t be done; it’s just too slow to be competitive. Turning over control to self two is like using a high powered computer. To continue the analogy, the computer must have the software and the data to make the calculations. The software can be likened to muscle tone. The software can be likened to muscle memory. Loading the software is done in the practice room or on the driving range. Programming the computer can be done in a library or while watching a golf tournament.



Seven thousand golfers tried out for the U.S. Open golf tournament in 2006. They were trying out for 156 spots in the tournament but about half of those spots were filled by golfers who had exemptions based on past tournaments. When I was making the audition circuit for tuba positions in symphony orchestras there might be 90 applicants for a position and 30 might be accepted to audition. The winner’s share of the purse for the U.S. Open is about $1.5 million as of this writing. The base salary in the major symphony orchestras in 2010 is about $100,000. The U.S. Open runner up gets $810,000, and the third place winner earns $480,687. Though the runner up in an orchestral audition doesn’t get any prize money, he is not competing in a field of 156 trimmed down from a field of 7,000.

The toughest audition I ever took was for faculty at the Naval School of Music. The audition involved prepared music, sight reading, scales and arpeggios along with string bass and bass guitar. The audition process was done in a manner that provided concrete documentation of what the applicant could not do. This was to protect the committee in the event of a congressional investigation if a rejected applicant were politically connected or so motivated to complain about the result. I played the Vaughn Williams and the Effie Suite and some sight reading that paled in comparison to the Bona book Mr. Jacobs had assigned in a previous lesson. I was asked to play the break strain from Stars and Stripes by memory. Then scales and arpeggios. After flying through the scales and arpeggios I was asked to arpeggiate a series of dominant seventh cords around the circle of fifths starting on C. I did so and was then asked to add a ninth which I did. I was then asked to add an eleventh until one committee member said, “That’s enough. Clearly he knows what he’s doing.” (I had been a music theory/composition major in undergraduate school. I jokingly tell people the circle of fifths saved my life.) Even though I was in the Army, because this was a Navy School, it was expected a tuba player should double on an entertainment instrument. Fortunately I had played string bass in high school orchestra and had played bass guitar in a rock band.

Does this sound like a rigorous audition? That’s not why it was the toughest audition I’d ever played. The tough part was knowing that if I didn’t win this transfer I would be transferred to an Army Band in Viet Nam.

I think about this audition and contrast it to the story Allen Kofsky tells of his hiring to the Cleveland Orchestra by George Szell. The Cleveland Orchestra in 1955 had only three trombones on staff. Szell hired Kofsky as an extra when the score required. Kofsky had moved to Cleveland to help his father in his construction business. Szell had Kofsky play bass trombone, assistant principal, bass trumpet, whatever was needed. After a year of playing extra, Kofsky told Szell that he couldn’t work part time because it conflicted with the construction business. Szell hired him full time where he remained for another 39 years.

I can’t help think of Allen Kofsky’s story when I think of my audition at the Navy School or when I hear a musician say “I really need this gig.” I’ve seen musicians at auditions who are unemployed and have a pregnant wife at home. I’ve seen professional golfers in similar situations. Cortez wanted his men to fight with desperation when he invaded Mexico so he burned the boats. Desperation may be good for war but it is not a good state of mind for a symphony audition or a golf match.

It In 1970 Jack Stephens, the president of Augusta National Golf Club was joined on the first tee by a new member. The newcomer suggested they have a little wager. Jack replied that they played friendly games for $10 at Augusta, and that would be fine. The newbie said, "At my home club back in Detroit, we play for a hundred-dollar Nassau." "My, that's impressive," Stephens said, "but we keep our betting to $10 here."

The new member grumbled all the way around the course, making comments that Augusta members were a bunch of pikers. Jack just let the grousing go without responding.

When they had finished the round and adjourned to the members' card room, the man suggested they have a game of gin rummy. Stephens said that would be fine, and the custom at Augusta was to play for a penny a point. "You've gotta be kidding me," the man said. "At my club in Detroit we play for $10 a point."

Having listened to this refrain for four hours, Stephens had heard enough. He asked, in a voice loud enough for all in the room to hear, "If you tallied up all your holdings - stocks, real estate, the whole nine yards - what would you say your net worth would come to?" Newbie said, "Oh, I'm probably worth between 15 and 20 million." Stephens took a deck of cards from the table, slapped it on the bar and said, ""I'll cut you for it!" For the first time that day, the new member was overcome by silence.

I have seen golfers who thrive on high stakes and others who crumble under the pressure. Whether in golf or music, it is good to know which you are so you enter into the right games.

THE YIPS (and Focal Dystonia)


One lesson I did not learn from Mr. Jacobs was how to avoid the yips. Unfortunately it was a lesson I learned for myself, the hard way. Golfers call it the “Yips”. Musicians call it Focal Dystonia. I know people who have ‘gone back to square one’ and ‘rebuilt’ their embouchures. The problem as I see it is not ‘the embouchure’. It is some habits that have become improperly ingrained, perhaps from over-use, perhaps from over-analysis. To play a brass instrument we spend years taking fine motor muscle movements of the face and training them to behave like automatic responses to demands for a musical result. (I bristle when I hear someone say “Breath from your diaphragm.” That is like saying “Pump blood with your heart. One, two, ready, go.” That was the point of the breathing tube Mr. Jacobs used. It focused our attention on the air, not on our anatomy.) When the embouchure behaves at a subconscious level, as the vocal chords do in speech, fixing a problem by bringing the action to the conscious level only compounds the problem.

Put in terms of the ‘Self Two’ computer, I would say the process has been totally turned over to Self Two but one of the files has become damaged or has been moved. Have you ever put so many programs, so many files, so many pictures on your hard drive that it bogged down? Have you ever deleted files to clean up space? Have you ever inadvertently deleted a file that was necessary for a program?

Mr. Jacobs taught “Play by sound; not by feel.” But he taught us to breathe by feel. We learned the ‘feel’ of a full breath and we ordered the body to achieve that feeling of fullness when we took a breath. One of the best golf lessons I had was about feel. My instructor got my club in position at the top of my backswing and admonished me to memorize the feel, not the mechanics of how I got it there. This freed my mind to focus on the task of swinging the club through the ball. For my level of golf, ‘See the ball; be the ball’ is too advanced. The required muscle memory has not been grooved. I didn’t take up golf until the age of 45. ‘See the club head; be the clubhead’ is a more attainable goal for me. If I can make a good move on the ball, if I can pass the clubhead squarely through the ball, I can then turn over the results to the elements. The wind, the ground conditions will do what they may. I did my part. The musician must make his notes fit into the larger ensemble but he cannot be responsible for an out of tune or badly balanced cord, only his note in it.

Anyway, my two cents worth about ‘focal dystonia’ is to practice less with the instrument on your face and spend more time training the tuba in your head. This flies in the face of our training that says to practice more. More lip slurs; more arpeggios; more scales etc. I certainly did that and I’m here to tell you one thing for sure. That doesn’t work to fix Dystonia. You must do drills, but once learned, there is only damage to be done by beating them to death.

If you think you are developing Focal Dystonia, your focus is in the wrong place. Play in spite of your embouchure, not because of it. Practice on the tuba in your head more than the one in your hand. It was this approach that allowed Lee Trevino to play a wedge shot with a two iron.

Jake often said, “Don’t ask a question. Make a statement.” Golfers say it another way. “Don’t ‘pull the trigger’ until you are committed to the shot.” In concert, musicians do not have that luxury. When the conductor gives the downbeat, they must respond. What they can do is be ready with a statement instead of a question.

Applying the lessons I learned about Dystonia, I do not spend hours putting. If I had the time to devote to golf that I used to spend on the tuba, I would study greens, I would watch others putt. I would roll golf balls on greens by hand. That’s not to say I do not go to the driving range. I have a long way to go to get my swing with the driver, fairway woods and irons automatic and repeatable. And I spent far too many formative years becoming a musician to consider myself any kind of athlete. What I do look for on the range is to memorize the feel and develop repeatability.

Golf legend Harry Vardon said “One should guard against playing too much golf. Thirty six holes a day is enough.”

Of course I can’t go back in time and prove it, but I feel that had I taken a year off to play golf when I first developed ‘Focal Task Specific Dystonia’, I would still be able to play tuba today. I think the fix for my chops could have been better learned on a golf course. At the time of writing this I saw a golf channel interview with David Duval. Duval was the number one ranked golfer in the World in 1999. He is one of only three golfers to have ever shot a 59 in tournament play. He dropped to number 260 by 2005. He said to the interviewer that he should have taken a year off when he started his downward spiral. My wife and I turned to each other with a look of surprise because it so echoed what I have so often said about my chops.

At the time I developed FD I had never held a golf club. I was 33 when I developed Focal Dystonia. It wasn’t until I was 45 that I found golf filled that void previously filled with hours of tuba practice. If I could go back in time with the intention of being a better tuba player I would work on being a better musician and less on being a tuba player. I would study more scores and attend more concerts. And I would have taken up golf earlier. As I said once before, the most important lesson I learned from Dystonia was that playing tuba was something I did; not who I was. It was my job; not my identity. Keep the other aspects of your life in perspective.
See you on the links?

Richard Barth, June 2010


Post Script
I had a friend proof read this. He said Mr. Jacobs told him he was going to play golf when he retired. My friend said, "You should start practicing now." Jake said, "Oh, I am. I have tapes of Arnold Palmer swinging and I'm putting that image into my mind."