The following article is a combination of two short articles I originally wrote for my newsletter, back in the late 1990’s. The first article addresses the importance of rest and how to recognize if you are over practicing. The second article gives you ideas about how to incorporate rest into your trumpet practice.

Practicing Too Much!

I’m overwhelmed by how many trumpet players don’t rest enough when they practice. Many of them don’t realize that constant playing could damage their lips so severely that they may never be able to play again. This is what people mean when they say, “He lost his lip”.

One of the problems with practicing too much is that it feels very different from running too much, lifting too much or doing too much of anything physical in nature. Our lips don’t feel like our legs do when we’ve been exercising them too long. In fact, from my experience, the only way to really know if you’ve been practicing too long is by listening to the sound.

Here are some symptoms to watch out for that may mean that you don’t rest enough when you practice:

  • You practice but don’t make any progress.
  • You use too much pressure. (Pressure is a symptom, not a cause.)
  • Your playing is hot and cold…you have good days and bad days.
  • Your range is getting worst, not better.
  • Your tone is very inconsistent.

It took me about two years to get used to resting enough. I was one of those who didn’t like to remove the horn from my lips between exercises. I used to practice two and three hours straight like that. When I began resting, I felt like I was loosing control. That constant pounding away at exercises and etudes had become a crutch for me and loosing that crutch was like quitting caffeine.

But I got over it and I learned that there are other benefits to resting that don’t manifest themselves physically as much as they do emotionally. Practicing used to feel like drowning to me. I felt as if every practice session was an act of desperation in much the same way as someone drowning gasps for air. It felt like a constant struggle to stay above water.

Now that I rest “enough”, my approach to the instrument is never desperate. I’m calm and clear headed, which means that I’m making better decisions and getting more done with my time.

So please……follow my advice and don’t over do it. You have more to loose than you might think…….and even more to gain.

Later….

As I write to you, my eyes are drooping, my head is pounding and my feet hurt while I try to recover from this long, hard weekend. At first it seems as if I have nothing to write about, since all I can think about is resting. But that’s something isn’t it?

When I was studying with *Dick Schaffer, he had mentioned that he was taking a few days off from the horn. When I asked him to explain it to me a little more, he told me what his schedule was which lead up to that moment. I forget the exact details, but I remember it was a three week run, starting with a Mahler symphony. That was the first of three very big weeks for the symphony which not only included Petrushka and Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra, but also an all Copland concert on a Thursday night. And if that wasn’t enough work, they were also doing some pit work for the Houston Grand Opera at the time, on their nights off. After that three week run, he said he had to have that time off from the instrument.

Why?

Of course, there’s always the physical reasons. The muscles in the lips need rest or they won’t develop. But I really believe there’s more to it than just the physical stuff.

I’ve known people who “go at it”, working long, hard hours every day of the week. After years of doing this and not allowing themselves the rest that they need, they seem to be able to handle it. But looks can be deceiving.

I remember when I was waiting in line at Kentucky Fried Chicken and was impressed with how hard the lady was working behind the counter. But later I realized that the lines weren’t moving at all. So I watched this lady to see why. She was indeed very busy, constantly moving, but at least ninety percent of that was wasted effort. I saw her walk the entire length of the kitchen three times for things that she should have gotten on one trip. And that was only one example of many. All of that movement was actually only superficial.

Then there are the people who would loose their heads if they weren’t attached to their shoulders. These people look as if they can handle going without rest but if you watch them, you’ll realize that they are only half there. Their minds have decided that, if they’re not going to get some rest, then they’ll get the rest that they need, right now, anyway.

How is it that I can recognize this?

Because I used to be the exact same way. When I was at UTEP, there were times when I would climb the stairs and people would say hello to me, and I wouldn’t realize it until several minutes later, after I had already gotten to the top floor. Back then, I thought I was just a flake. But that wasn’t it. I was running myself ragged. And what did I gain from that?

So I leave you with that thought, as I head back to bed. It’s okay to push yourselves, but always save time to recover.

Three Levels of Rest

It is possible to do everything that The Physical Trumpet Pyramid suggests and still not progress. I see it with my students all the time. People even email me about it. They do all the exercises for all the right reasons and they still don’t progress. Usually this means that they are not resting enough.

To help my students to rest enough, I teach the three levels of rest.

The Beat Level

This level effects the circulation of blood through the lips. For every beat that you play, whether it’s an exercise, an entire etude or a phrase that you’ve focused on, you should rest the same number of beats before you begin to play again. This means take the mouthpiece off of your lips.

Playing for long amounts of time can be extremely damaging to the lips. In severe cases, it can involve permanent numbness. I use a tourniquet to explain this to my students. When do you apply a tourniquet to a persons limb? When there is severe bleeding or if the person has a venomous bite. In both cases, the tourniquet is used to stop the blood circulation to that limb. One thing they tell you in first aid is to not use a tourniquet for longer than two hours. Otherwise, that limb will begin to die. The oxygen that the cells in that limb need to survive is being denied them. The same is true when you play too long without taking the trumpet off of the lips.

Also, when you do this, you are forcing the lips to use anaerobic energy as opposed to aerobic energy. Anaerobic energy is limited. Each muscle fiber can use it once, then it must be recharged again with oxygen. On the other hand aerobic energy is limitless. It only makes sense to use aerobic energy. And the only way to do this is to guarantee that the blood is circulating through the lips.

The Minuet / Hour Level

The minuet / hour level of rest is for the same reason as the beat level. If you have a thirty minuet practice session, you should rest a whole thirty minuets before you begin another session. I was told (I don’t know how true it is) that Maurice Andre practices for one hour, then rests for one hour. Then he practices for thirty minuets and rests for thirty minuets. Then he spends the rest of the day alternating fifteen minuets of practice time with fifteen minuets of rest time. Sounds like a good plan to me.

The Day Level

Resting at the day level is important for other reasons than those mentioned above. I learned about this level of rest from my brothers when I started “working out”. They already knew about all of this stuff from being in sports in school. I decided, since lips are muscles and I’m trying to develop those muscles, then I would learn a lot about trumpet playing if I learned more about muscles.

One of the first things I learned from them was that you never work the same part of your body two days in a row. In order for muscles to grow, you must first “work them out” and then let them rest. This rest allows them to recover. When they recover, they come back stronger than they were before the workout. Without the rest, you will be continually “tearing the muscle fibers down” and never letting them recover.

So what does this mean to us trumpet players, that we should only practice every other day? No. You could but it’s not necessary in most cases. Think about it this way. Let’s say a weight lifter works his or her lower body on Monday. Does that mean that he can’t walk on Tuesday? Of course not. To a body builder, casual walking probably doesn’t seem like a physical activity.

Wouldn’t the same be true for trumpet players. To apply this concept to trumpet playing, I do what I call “alternating days of difficulty”. I use a three day rotating system. I start off on Monday with a medium day. On this day, I limit my practice time to one and a half hours. I also limit my range to the E or G above high C. This means I don’t practice anything on Monday that goes above that. Tuesday is my big day.

On Tuesday, I try to get as many hours of practice in as I can and I don’t limit my range. In fact, I try to include my entire current range in all that I do for that day. If I’m practicing scales, I make them span the entire distance between low F Sharp and double C.

On Wednesday, I limit my practice time to forty five minuets. I also limit my range to high C. After a very long day of practicing double C’s on Tuesday, forty five minuets of a limited range feels like I’m not even getting warmed up. It’s essentially a day off even though I’m still practicing.

Trumpet Books

Some of Eddie Lewis’ trumpet books are designed to help you rest the right amount.

Chops Express Cover
Daily Routines Cover
Physical Trumpet Pyramid

Need Help?

Perhaps you’ve read this entire page, you know what needs to be done, but you need a little help putting it into practice?

No problem! We have a variety of ways that we can help. The best help you can get is to sign up for private lessons with Mr. Lewis, but not everyone can afford to do that. Another alternative is to purchase his books. But we have other options as well. Feel free to explore this website to read more about how Eddie Lewis can help you incorporate this resting strategy into personal practice time.

11 replies
  1. Eugene Masterson
    Eugene Masterson says:

    I’m a senior in high school. I play everyday, and sometimes I hurt myself, but I have no choice but to keep going the next day because of all I’m involved with. I play at the Hartt School on Sundays from 1:00 to 7:30 sitting in orchestra, chamber, and wind ensembles playing college-level pieces. These Sundays really hurt myself. I make it a goal everyday to start with long tones and end with pedal tones, but I get so “tight” and start to lose tone quality and it’s been getting worse and worse. I would take a day off, but the reason I don’t is because I’m afraid of losing endurance, especially because I struggle so much with the upper register (On a good day, I could hit an Eb above high C, tops, and on a normal day, sometimes I can’t even make it to C consistently). What do you think I should do?

    • eltigredo
      eltigredo says:

      Hello Eugene,

      First of all, congratulations on being so musically involved at such a young age. You must be a pretty good player to even be asked to do so much in the first place.

      The most important thing for you, right now, is to not be afraid. Don’t make your decisions based on emotions, especially not negative emotions like fear. I can’t give you specific advice without getting to know you more. But I do believe that when we let our emotions make our decisions for us, instead of thinking through things rationally and logically, then it rarely takes us where we want to go.

      With that said, the best way to manage the physical side of your trumpet performance when you are so busy is to be organized about it. Don’t operate in generalities. Be very organized about what you practice and when you practice it. Then you will be able to work rest into your schedule.

      Here’s an idea for you…

      Once you get organized with your practice schedule, pick a day you would like to rest on and begin shaving time off of your practice for that day of the week. If you normally practice two hours per day, then practice 1.5 hours on that day next week. Then one hour the week after. Then 45 minutes a week later. Then keep reducing it by 15 minutes until you are down to no practice for that day of the week.

      That’s what I mean by being organized. When you are organized, you have power over your playing that unorganized people will never experience in their entire careers.

      I hope this helps. Please let me know if you have any other questions.

  2. Ed Trezza
    Ed Trezza says:

    I would feel guilty if I didn’t play each day and heard trumpeters say that they try to play everyday. Sometimes the lip just feels dead. I recently took a day off for the first time in a long time and it really helped.

    • eltigredo
      eltigredo says:

      That guilt you feel is one of the biggest mental hurdles we have to overcome as trumpet players. There should be no guilt in our music when we do it right. Music is supposed to be a form of personal expression. We have to live life first before we have anything to express through our music. To put music first, above all other aspects of our lives, is to get the cart before the horse, so to speak.

      When we get that right, there is no guilt. When you get your priorities right, you can stand in front of any audience with absolute confidence….no guilt.

  3. Michael
    Michael says:

    Thank you! These symptoms are exactly what I went through in high school. I practiced fundamentals all the time, but my range, tone and tuning kept getting worse. After a day or two off I would sound amazing, and then back to normal next day.

    5 years off trumpet, I am back and going at it much more reasonably and my progress is more steady.

  4. Michael Lyons
    Michael Lyons says:

    I’ve got a program that tells us that if we don’t practice for one day we lose three days of endurance. This can’t be true. I’m personally yak ng the Sabbath off to not play at all and get back to it on Monday. What are your thoughts? Do you think it”s true that we should play everyday?

      • eltigredo
        eltigredo says:

        Hello Michael, No, I do not believe in practicing everyday. My experience is that never taking a day off can actually lead to reduced endurance, not improve it.

        Of course, this does depend on what kind of embouchure you have. There are some embouchures that demand daily practice. But those embouchures are not what I call “muscular based” embouchures. Muscle gains endurance when rested. But a non-muscular embouchure often needs daily pampering.

        I hope that helps.

        Eddie

  5. Andy
    Andy says:

    This is great info for me in the first months of CG systematic approach. You can easily get into a pattern of working too hard too often.

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