I don’t have any answers for why I occasionally have very bad practice days. I actually don’t have any answers for why I have very good ones either. I’m just very happy with the good ones. It’s probably worth examining both sides in an effort to try to learn what’s going on.
Yesterday morning was one of those very, very bad practice sessions. It started out okay which they usually do. I always start my day with low register warm-ups and I can’t remember the last time I had trouble with those. I’ll get an inkling that maybe I’m going to have a bad day when I start the arpeggios from middle C and my chops feel a bit stiff and the tone is off. I’ve started off like this and ended up with a really good day so it’s not a sure thing that it will be a bad day which is good because I don’t want to end up talking myself into a bad day by over judging the first half hour of practice.
I get more than an inkling about the day when I start on the Kopprash exercises. I know from keeping pretty copious notes what I would consider a baseline for each exercise. I establish my baseline when I first start working on an exercise. The first baseline is just reading through the exercise. It doesn’t matter how bad it is. If I miss almost all of the notes I’ll rate it a 1 or 2 on a scale of 1 to 10 and whatever that number is it’s my beginning baseline. As I work on the exercise that rating goes up as I improve usually to a 6 or 7. A 7 would be decent. Once my baseline gets to a 7 then I feel like I’m having a bad day when I give that exercise a 4 and a good day when that exercise gets a 9. If that same exercise starts getting 8’s and 9’s consistently then that’s the new baseline and dropping to a 6 or 7 would be a bad day. I’ve never given myself a 10 but I have some 9.5’s.
I don’t consider any day a bad day if it’s only one or two exercises that get lower ratings. It’s when they are all down for the day that it becomes a bad day and if they are significantly lower then it’s a very bad day. Yesterday my 7’s were 2’s and 3’s. There was even a 1. I couldn’t even get the notes out. Yesterday this wasn’t just true for the Kopprash exercises, it was true for everything I tried to play. So it’s officially a very bad day.
The question is why. What’s different, if anything, to cause a day like this or, for that matter, a really good day? Last week I talked about a bad day after two evenings of band rehearsals without my usual practice routine before them. I did have a band rehearsal last night but this time I did my usual warm-up routine in the morning. I had no problem with chops at rehearsal.
At first glance, it does point to the day with a band rehearsal as a possible culprit. However, I looked through my notes and I have had stellar days after band rehearsals. The only difference is that I practiced for a whole hour before those rehearsals and I ran out of chops at rehearsal. Could it be that not practicing enough is the problem? My notes do lead to that conclusion both for good days and bad days.
What about other things? I didn’t sleep well Tuesday night. Hmm. Unfortunately I haven’t been documenting my sleep patterns in my horn notes. Maybe I should. What about nutrition? I am continuously on a diet so I don’t think that has any impact. I eat almost the same thing everyday. Exercise? That could have some relevance. Circulation is important for hornists and my exercise habits have been sporadic at best. Another thing that probably should be added to my notes.
There’s always some discussion on the forums about drinking something hot or cold after practicing. Well I tried both yesterday during breaks and I didn’t notice any difference. I usually have a cup of tea during practice breaks but again, that’s not something I’ve been writing down.
Then there’s proper breathing and posture which I try to pay attention to when I practice, especially on a bad day. I also wonder if I’ve unconsciously changed my embouchure just slightly.
These are all questions I have no answer for. The one thing I do know is that the more you have written down, the more likely you are to be able to analyze problems. Hopefully, today will be a better day.