The further I go on this journey, the more I am convinced that talent has nothing to do with mastering a musical instrument. That statement by itself makes no consideration of the biggest constraint of all- time. To master the bass trombone takes little strength and little skill. It takes habits- great habits. My website is full of ideas I have on what it takes to master playing, but to be brief here, it takes two things: complete control of the instrument and being well-informed of the repertoire. The more I practice, the more I realize that neither of these things take talent to master. They may take talent to master in only 5 years, but we are not dealing with sports analogies (where the strongest athlete usually wins- thus 'talent' in the form of genetics and physique can play a role) and thus there is a much softer 'prime/decline' that occurs with playing. Musicians in their 60's and even 70's can still sound phenomenal so the time limit that athletes have to navigate doesn't really apply in the same way for musicians. I am 39 years old. I see no reason why I cannot keep improving for the next several years. If I can keep improving, then I do anything- it's just a matter of time.
Having said that, I understand that there are various things one needs to be able to do if they want to play their instrument professionally. The jobs are few and the qualified applicants are many, so you have to be able to do what the 'best' players can do. You have to sound great up to B4 and C5 on a bass trombone, and this factor keeps many good bass trombonists out of contention for a professional job as the repertoire that you will be asked to play will demonstrate if you have this skill (it is not the only skill, but if you do not have it, you have zero chance). I currently do not have it. I can play those notes, but not all the time and they don't sound as easy as an octave below them. I have noticed that it is not a 'strength' issue- for me it seems to be a jaw habit issue. I have a habit of 'collapsing' my jaw (many call this some sort of 'rolling under' where the jaw moves into the position of a pronounced overbite) when I ascend into the upper register. Given that I am older (thus habits are more solidified) it is going to take a focused and consistent approach to replace this habit with a better habit. I'm going to have to address this every day. Good thing I practice every day already! My entire stability block of practice is focused on developing a good habit in this way. You can read about it there.
The Paradox of Mastery- I need to make sure the muscles in my face learn a new habit in terms of how they coordinate to play in the upper register. I used to think that since they work in a manner where the 'results' do happen (1 out of 50 times) then it is just a matter of focused practice and that ratio will eventually increase and the great habits will take over, but now, at day 111, I realize that it will instead take a reconfiguration of how my face works to play anything. Since I spent so many years playing recreationally (as a young student) I now need to completely reorganize how i make sound. THAT is why this journey will be so long for me and perhaps shorter for others. Building from amateur habits is like trying to take a tiny run-down shack and just keep adding to it to build a mansion. Sure, you can add insulation to walls and put up good Sheetrock and fix the roof, but at some point, your addition dreams may lead you to figure out that it is better to just demolish the previous structure and start over with a good foundation that is suited for the task of supporting the bigger house.
I am a victim of my own grit and determination. Years of trying harder (not balanced with smarter) not only delayed this moment of reckoning, but solidified my amateur habits that will now be much harder to replace. I basically need to re-learn to to produce a sound (in my spare time). The paradox is most of us start as young people who play 'for fun'. At some point (usually early) the mindset switches to a more serious focus. This is not just because of neuroplasticity or lack of bills to pay thus more practice time for high school kids. If you let your amateur habits become too solidified, the increase to the challenge of replacement is exponentially harder. Good thing I like challenges. Here's to the beginning of the journey! I look forward to accelerated progress!