Rate of Return

Thanks for visiting this page, and deeming my comments worthy of a few minutes of your time. It has been far too long since my last post, but then again, I wanted to make sure there was something of merit to post rather than simply rambling at random! Today’s post is not about anything technical, or even musical, regarding trombone playing, but rather is about how we invest – invest our time, concentration, and even money – in the practice room.


There are already numerous articles out there regarding practice techniques and strategy, but my comments are much broader and simpler. Over the past year or so, I’ve been living a separate life in the real estate investment world. Not only has it been a wonderful distraction and a way to exercise a “different muscle”, but it has been enlightening and incredibly educational. Oh yeah, it’s also profitable! Many of the concepts I have been learning apply directly to music — foremost on my mind right now is the importance of a wide network and fostering relationships — while some concepts simply don’t relate.


During a meeting this past week, an associate was discussing rate of returns: short-term versus long-term. A lightbulb went on over my head: time for a new blog!! An oversimplified explanation of rate of return is how long it takes to get your initial cash investment back. After that, everything else is profit. Many investors look at the long-term return of purchasing a building foremost. These folks are considering their profit in several years – perhaps 20 years or more — after the building has been bringing in rents and appreciating in value over a long time. Primarily, the goal is to have the building pay for its own operation, plus recoup the initial cash investment. The big payoff comes when you sell the building after significant appreciation. That’s where the real money is made. The downside of this is the cost of having your capital (money) tied up for a long period of time before it starts to pay you back, also known as opportunity cost.

Even simpler: imagine how pathetic the interest rate on your savings account, or possibly even 403B/401K looks when you consider how much money you need to have in there to compound interest! Of course, accounts like these have a different purpose and functionality, and you have to keep putting money into them so they build exponentially – hopefully!


So, what about short-term returns? Most real estate investors will be looking at something called “Cash Over Cash”, which is the rate of how quickly you recoup your initial investment, measured over the course of a year. Let’s say you purchase a $100,000 building and have to put down $20,000 towards the mortgage. During the first year, you profit $20,000 after taxes, mortgage, maintenance, etc. That $20,000 profit completely reimburses your initial investment, thus being a 100% “Cash Over Cash” return. That’s a damn good investment, a fantastic short-term return, and would qualify for what I would call a “unicorn”.


So how the heck does this apply to trombone or music at all? I will attempt to draw some parallels. I wager that most of us have grown up practicing for the long-term return, doing our daily diligence to develop the skills we need over a long period of time. Of course, this is necessary to acquire these abilities with a standard of excellence, but why can we not focus on – and achieve –  short-term returns as well? I’m not talking about cramming to learn a piece in a day, but setting up a solid goal for yourself and a method to achieve it in a relatively short amount of time. There is also a difference between short-term returns and a quick fix. You want to play a high D, but can’t seem to get above a Bb? Sure, you could jam the horn into your face and squeeze your butt cheeks together, but this is a quick solution that we all know is not dependable – or healthy!


Still too vague and abstract for you? Here’s an example from personal experience. Years ago, I decided to learn and perform Folk Rabe’s Basta. I was playing over 10 recitals that year, and it fit perfectly into the program I chose. The only problem was that I couldn’t play all the against the grain rapid slurs, at least in a controlled, clear, and rhythmic fashion. Instead of just ripping away at them, I dedicated a few minutes a day to slurs in Brad Edwards’ Lip Slurs book and Schlossberg that worked with this technique. I played scales with alternate positions going across the grain as much as I could (see Charlie Vernon’s book). Within a couple weeks, I achieved the fluency required to play Basta the way I wanted.  The frustrating part of all of this was how simple it was to just determine my goal and the path to get there, which I had procrastinated for years because I figured these skills would be acquired via long-term returns.


Maybe I’m just rambling, or over-generalizing the trombone population, but I bet most of you get stuck in a rut of going through the motions while remaining overly dependent upon long-term returns. Of course we will all benefit from long-term returns solely by the nature of practice and repetition. But remember, for long-term returns, your capital (in this case, time and work) is tied up. Can you free up some of this capital to achieve better short-term returns?I challenge you to think of one element of your playing on which you can focus and improve in just a few days or weeks. It could be your posture, breathing, legato, range, etc. but pick somethingon which you can invest in a short-term return. All it takes is a little planning and daily discipline, and as long as you are investing the capital [of time and energy], what’s to lose??