For most of my life, the amount of time I wanted
to practice was always more than what I actually got done. It seems that, no
matter how I organize my life, there are almost always interruptions and
irregularities in my schedule and those always cause me to get less than maximum
practice time. Over the years, I worked hard at adapting my practice habits to
accommodate those interruptions. The result is that, although I'm still not
practicing as much as I would like, I'm practicing more than ever.
first thing you might think is that a person's lip may not hold out for those
kinds of practice hours each day. But this hasn't been much of a problem for me.
The way I practice, the lips really don't get abused the way they used to when I
was younger. I rest a lot and I'm very organized about that rest. Practicing the
way I do, I could practice as much as eight hours in one day without really
getting tired. So that was never an issue.
my right wrist wasn't fairing so well. When I first began practicing as much as
I do now, my wrist began to hurt when I picked things up or tried to open door
knobs. Even putting my mouthpiece in the instrument hurt. I knew something was
wrong but didn't know what to do about it.
a night club gig at a place called Sullivans, a bass player named Chris Knuston
was out in the audience. On the break, he came back stage and hung out with us.
He overheard me saying that I was having these pains in my wrist and he told me
that, from up front, it looked as if my right wrist was bent upward while I
played. That surprised me because I always thought my wrist was straight.
Looking at it from my perspective, it looked completely straight. But he said
that from the other side it looked bent.
is some kind of ergonomic specialist and had several comments about this kind of
stuff and I learned a lot from talking with him. Apparently, when you bend your
wrists in this way and use your fingers repetitively, the tendons rub and cut
into the little sleeves which guide them through the wrist area. I believe these
are called carpal tunnels. The pain is caused by the friction caused by that
I needed Chris's comments.
That was the beginning of about two years of trial and error in finding a better
way to place my right hand while I play. I discovered that the main problem was
the fact that I was putting my thumb beneath the lead pipe, between the first
and second valves. What I eventually changed it to is to lay my thumb on top of
the lead pipe and rest my pinky on top of the pinky ring. Eventually I'll get a
picture of this and include it here.
This picture is perfect for showing you how it looks to
me. Notice the angle of my wrist, my thumb position and the fact that my
pinky is on top of the ring.
took me about a year to "find" this new hand position and then about
another year to feel comfortable with it. During the time when it felt
uncomfortable, I was in no-man's-land. I was paralyzed on the old position and
undeveloped on the new. My playing became sloppier than it had been in a long,
long time. I found myself getting impatient and pulling out some old
"fingering exercises" that I hadn't done in over a decade.
the difference between the two hand positions, the old and the new, were in the
way it felt. The old way felt firm and secure. It was anchored to the the horn
and every time I pushed the valve down, I could feel it through the instrument.
The new position initially felt weak. I was fine until things got cooking at
faster tempos. Then it was as if my fingers were glued to each other. It felt
But it feels great now. I
have better technique now than I've ever had. Although my hand isn't anchored to
the horn the way it was, I now feel "secure" with this new position.
It feels more natural than what I was doing before and the best thing of all is
that I can practice all day if I want and there's no pain in my wrists.
reason I'm sharing this with you is to show that, even though I've been playing
professionally for almost two decades, I still do things which require me to
take a step or two backwards in order to get better in the future. So often I
get students who don't want to change what they are doing because "it's
hard". They don't want to go through that period of uneasiness. Some even
say that it's different for me because I don't have any of those kinds of
problems to fix. As you see, it's not true. I have more than my share of
problems to deal with, on the horn. And when those problems require me to take a
few steps back in order to move forward, I do it. I gladly make that sacrifice
knowing that there are future rewards for doing so.
you have something that you've been needing to fix, but didn't want to
"sound bad" while you fix it, then I encourage you to go ahead and do
it. Fix it now so you can enjoy the results sooner. It makes no sense to wait.