May 24th, 2008 § Comments Off § permalink
Every year I try to find 2 weeks or so that I can take off from playing the trumpet. I find it healthy both mentally and physically to put the horn in the case and take a full vacation from playing: no buzzing, no morning routines, no range extensions, lip flexibilities, long tones, etc. Right now I am in just such a period. In fact, today marks two weeks since I last played a note on the trumpet. It is hard to believe isn’t it? An entire two week period and I am still buzz free! Maybe there should be some kind of 12 step program (Hi, my name is Craig and I play the trumpet…)
When I think of the amount of time I have spent over the course of my life doing the aforementioned fundamentals it kind of makes me shudder. I hope that was the best use of all of those thousands of hours. I guess I shouldn’t worry. After all, I have wasted more hours doing many other things that I know for sure weren’t worth it! At least my time doing various inane exercises has allowed me to fashion a career out of smashing my lips together in one way or another. That in itself is pretty extraordinary.
In a few more days I will be back to my tried and true routine of lip contortions. Until then, though, I happily remain buzz free.
November 20th, 2007 § § permalink
Today was not a good day for playing the trumpet. Among other things, I barely had any time to play. By the time I was able to sit down and practice, it was 9:30pm and I felt like I was playing on borrowed lips. At this point, it was very tempting to just put the horn down, pour a glass of wine, sit down with a good book, and wait for a better day tomorrow. I decided against that though. Instead, I made myself play through some of the issues I was fighting, even though the day was all but over and I had no hope of making much progress on the music I have been working on.
I chose instead to dig out a favorite etude book that almost no one uses. The book is 25 Etudes de Virtuosité by H. Chavanne. This book is a favorite of my teacher, Ray Crisara, and it is a favorite of his students as well. Tonight I used it to salve my face back into some kind of shape. Don’t get me wrong, the shape didn’t come tonight. But if I am lucky, it will come tomorrow, and that is exactly what I was practicing for.
October 6th, 2007 § § permalink
Here is how my practice has been structured today:
I. Lip bends and brief scales and arpeggios. After that, I did a strength building routine (as outlined in Dueling with Pinchas) — 30 minutes
**Rest approx. 2 hours**
II. Work on three movements from Claude Boling’s Toot Suite (to be performed with our new Dean, Shelly Berg, this coming Thursday) — 1 hour
**Rest approx. 3 hours**
III. Bai Lin Lip Flexibilities — 40 minutes
**Rest approx. 2 hours
IV. Etudes (including some piccolo playing, probably from the Maurice Andre etude book). Maybe some articulation studies: Gekker, etc. (40 minute to an hour depending on how I feel)
** ** **
After reading that you may be wondering, “Where is the Stamp routine? Where is the balanced skill set touching on every trumpet skill? After all, you have written articles singing the praises of all those things. Why aren’t they in your routine?” Those questions are understandable and certainly justified. Let’s take a closer look at my practice day and the decisions that led to it.
You can see that I am covering skill set material (flexibility and likely articulation), and the primary focus of the morning session was on foundation material, only it was specifically oriented toward strength. Why, you ask? Very simple. I felt like that was what I needed. I have a demanding concert coming up this Thursday and I know that I need to make strength a priority as I prepare for it. Today’s practice schedule is simply a reflection of that. What does that mean for you? It means that you don’t have to be a slave to a routine, especially if there is a more relevant way to spend your time. Always use your mind to determine if you are doing what is best for you. This may sound obvious, but it always amazes me how rare it actually is. It is a key ingredient to achieving your maximum potential, and it is a key factor in separating the good from the great.
October 6th, 2007 § § permalink
If I asked 1,000 trumpet players to give me the reason that they stopped practicing at the end of the day, I bet at least 900 would say it was because they were too tired to continue. In fact, I bet the same statistic would be true for any given practice session, regardless of when it occurred in the day. At first glance, that may seem like a reasonable plan. After all, the goal is to practice as much as you can, right? So surely, in order to maximize the most playing time any given day has to offer, we would need to play until we were too tired to continue. Yes, one would think that would make sense, but one would be wrong. Here’s why…
One of a trumpet player’s biggest inhibitors is endurance. In order to improve endurance we need to have some idea of how the muscles respond to training or, in our case, practicing. If you read any respected source for building strength of any kind, whether it be weightlifting, bicycling, or any one of a thousand endurance/strength based activities, you will see that recovery is not only an important element, but a vital one. The muscles must have time to recover from a training load in order to adapt and grow stronger. If the rest period isn’t there, then the muscles will simply continue to break down and they will not have the opportunity to rebuild in a stronger manner. Since we don’t ever have many extended periods of rest to allow for recovery, we must be very careful about when and to what extent we break the embouchure muscles down. You could certainly draw up a very detail oriented training program about how to do this, but for now, keep it simple.
Throw in some easy days in your playing week: days where you just don’t allow yourself to get fatigued at all. How many of these days you have in a given week is up to you, and it certainly could vary from week to week. You should definitely play and practice on these light days, but just don’t ever let yourself get tired. If you start to feel a little burn, then put the horn down and rest. Wait for longer than you think you should, then continue playing. Many short (15-20 minute) practice sessions spread across the day would be ideal. Even on heavy days you should work to avoid feeling fatigued at the end of every session. Remember, the embouchure is made up of many small muscles and we are asking a lot of them. Treat them with care and they will return the favor many times over.
September 30th, 2007 § § permalink
Due to many mundane, annoying, and uninteresting factors, I haven’t been able to practice nearly as much as I would have liked to over the last four days: Thursday I practiced, but only for an hour or so; Friday I was forced to take off; Saturday was just a bit of strength training and some quick fundamentals; and today… well, today was a disaster.
I finally had some time to practice this afternoon, but after playing so little over the last few days, I felt horrible. This is perhaps the worst thing about playing the trumpet: the utter disappearance of ability that comes as a result of a couple of days off, or even just kind of off. It is certainly hard to deal with so demanding and unrelenting a bedfellow. Anybody know what the terminal velocity of a trumpet is? I’m about to go find out.