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