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.
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.
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.