I am still dealing with some chops issues. It seems to be an inconsistent problem – Monday no good, Tuesday so-so, Wednesday fine, Thursday awful, Friday back to so-so. Thursday was so bad – couldn’t play anything below middle C that didn’t sound like my dog farting – that yesterday Lynn, my horn teacher, and I worked on long tones and easy slurs for about half my lesson. I would describe my lip as squirrelly. Sometimes it was okay and other times the lower notes were right on the edge of my upper lip failing.
I’m much better at dealing with this sort of stuff now than I was several months ago. I know that I have good days and bad days and that ultimately I will play even better because that always seems to be the pattern. I go through bad spells and then miraculously I get a lot better. It’s frustrating going through the bad spells now mostly because I don’t accomplish what I want to when I’m practicing. When my chops aren’t behaving everything gets sloppy, including me. Today Lynn noticed that I was slouching in my chair and not breathing properly. I didn’t realize it but I was in the mode of ‘I’m playing sucky, so I’ll just sit sucky and breathe sucky too.’ We did some stretching exercises and some breathing exercises which helped my playing quite a bit and my attitude a whole lot. There’s nothing like sitting up straight to refresh one’s brain.
At today’s lesson I also worked with a BERP (Buzz Extension Resistance Piece). Lynn recommended it way back when I first started lessons but at that time I could hardly buzz so the BERP got put into a drawer and forgotten about. What a difference now. I played arpeggios on the BERP first and then played them on the horn. They were instantly better. It was a wow moment. Much smoother and louder. I have problems playing loud so now I have a tool that can help with that and a whole lot more. When I first bought the BERP I didn’t really understand what the point was. Now I get it. Big time. The BERP has earned its place on my leadpipe and will remain there. It’s a good gizmo!
Speaking of gizmos, when I was at IHS I bought a stem weight, also called a donut, from Tom Greer. According to Tom’s website it “cuts down on the ‘radiation’ of high partials from the leadpipe, enhancing projection and tone quality.” When I tried it at IHS Tom said I sounded more centered. I use it more often than not and I do think it makes a positive difference though it’s subtle. They come in different sizes so if you get one make sure it fits on the mouthpiece.
I also purchased a Body Beat metronome back in May. Those of you who have read some my earlier posts know that I can easily block out the beat of the metronome which is especially bad for me since rhythm is not one of my strong suits. The Body Beat sends a pulse down a wire that is clipped on to clothing next to the body so you can feel the beat. This actually helps me a lot. At my last lesson with Scott Bacon at the end of June he said my rhythm was the best he’d heard it. It is a bit of a pain in the butt to use and it’s gone flying off the music stand if I get up and forget to unclip it. I think it’s a good tool for anyone struggling with a standard metronome.