The past couple of weeks have been tumultuous to say the least. Finding time to practice was difficult but I did manage to put in around 40 minutes daily except for one day when I didn’t play at all. Just one day. Well you’d think I hadn’t picked up the horn in months by the way I played for several days after that one day of rest.
I think I’ve discovered a trend. If I back off my usual two hours of practice per day, or heaven forbid, skip a day, I play poorly for several days after. Then I get a bit better than I was before my lapse in practicing. When I read my practice notes from way back I noticed that every time I missed a day or more of practice I suffered for it. What’s hard to understand is how some of my fellow band members manage to play quite well – decent tone, only a few missed notes, etc. – each week at rehearsal without picking up their horn during the week. They walk in, toot a few notes as a warmup if they aren’t late, and get through an entire rehearsal. And this is band so we play non-stop for the whole rehearsal.
I was talking to my horn teacher last week about this and we thought this might be a ‘the more you play, the more you need to play’ problem. In other words, the muscles in my chops are used to playing a couple of hours a day every day and consequently, need to be used a couple hours a day. This is different than the typical weight training schedule of working one group of muscles one day and resting them the next day. For most things rest is usually helpful. This doesn’t seem to be true for me when it comes to playing the horn. Do any of you experience anything like this? Will I get to a point where I can take a day off and not pay for it with several days of poor horn playing?
My schedule eases off after an orchestra concert tonight so I should be able to practice everyday and stick to a plan. When I have band rehearsals I don’t practice for more than 40 minutes, if that, in order to save my chops for the rehearsal. I don’t have rehearsals again until the first week in January. It will be interesting to see if several weeks of very consistent practicing will make a noticeable improvement.
6 thoughts on “Downs and ups”
This is muscle atrophy (sp?) and happens to all of us with age and the horn. You cannot take time off without the embouchure swelling and getting stale. At least this is my experience. Better to play everyday until a wide open period of time when you can put the horn down for awhile.
I guess I’m not surprised. Darn that age thing. It’s the one day off only that gets my goat. I am extremely diligent about practicing, usually two hours daily, and I don’t think I’ve taken off more than a few days in the past year and a half. It’s been difficult over the past several weeks to find time to practice and the quality of my horn playing is sporadic at best. Lynn (my horn teacher) and I have talked about this and she says that any break in consistency causes trouble. For example if you always practice in the morning and then miss a morning you pay for it even if you still get all the practice time in later in the day.
This muscle deal got so bad before I started incorporating BE that I had days when I could barely play. This would be after days of strenuous playing/performing. When I was in my last season as principal with the civic symphony here, I would have to take off two/three days after a really rough rehearsal or concert. The problem still plagues me but with my use of BE, I do not have any chop meltdowns. At least it is a minimal interrruption to my routine. Last night I had some very difficult Handel high clarino playing for one of the synagogues here in Colorado Springs. This afternoon I will run the Brahms Trio on natural horn with a group in Denver. Before I got involved with the BE protocal, I simply could not do this sort of heavy playing back to back. For sure the horn is not effortless like back in my “salad” days, but a heck of a lot more feasable.
It is unfortunate that some players put the BE down or think it is an embouchure change, voodoo or unworthy of a review. It took me about six months before I delved into it and I am very fortunate that I did. Now I instinctively use it.
Just my two pesos worth of commentary.
I’m not going to put BE down but I’m also not going to delve into it again yet since it clearly wasn’t the right thing for me to be doing as a new student of the horn. My range and endurance are pretty good as long as I put in two hours a day. It’s when I play less that gets me into trouble. For range, I can go down to just about two octaves below middle C and up to the D above high C. I get Bb’s all the time, high C most of the time, and D occasionally. I can also easily (nice and clean with good tone throughout) play an arpeggio without an embouchure reset from the C below middle C to the E above 3rd space C. I have absolutely no idea where that puts me in the spectrum of range and capability for hornists. Hopefully some day I will have the heavy horn playing schedule you have and I may look into BE again.
What is BE?
BE stands for Balanced Embouchure which was originally developed for trumpet and has been carried over for horn by Valerie Wells. You can read about it on her blog – http://beforhorn.blogspot.com/.