“Let me warn you, Icarus, to take the middle way, in case the moisture weighs down your wings, if you fly too low, or if you go too high, the sun scorches them. Travel between the extremes.”
By viewing your practice sessions as physical conditioning you will be able to become less concerned by daily results and better understand your long-term growth.
Muscular training is a seemingly conflicting topic – particularly in relation to fatigue, and by understanding your options you may maximize your return.
The layman strength trainer typically advocates a regimen of “work to failure, rest, and repeat.” This idea is prevalent because it does work – to a point. It is not the only effective training method and you may decide that it is not your ideal approach to strength and endurance conditioning on the trumpet.
Strength is a Skill
By viewing strength gains as a technical achievement it is much easier to identify the role muscular freshness plays in the equation. Begin thinking of the strongest players as being the most coordinated. Just as players with highly coordinated fingers will be able to play fast, the players with the more coordinated balance of tensions in their bodies will achieve superior results in range and endurance.
You do not need fatigue to develop coordination; therefore you don’t need it to get stronger.
Once your muscles become fatigued form suffers. Since efficiency is directly related to form (the physical actions you use to achieve results on the instrument) you might consider not crossing that threshold.
Saving face is especially true in practice. Since you are thinking musically on a gig (and letting the chops do as they will) it becomes imperative to practice easier the busier your playing schedule. Minimize recovery periods to keep your success on the gig and in the practice room high.
Psychological Aspects of Training
Keeping your body fresh helps you avoid psychological burnout. Ever play a hard show and then the next few days things aren’t quite right?
The good news is, you don’t suck. You play the trumpet with muscles and muscles get tired. After the appropriate amount of rest you will bounce back stronger than before (keeping a practice log helps you see what activities lead to physical and mental low points – recognizing these patterns leads to pacing your chops more effectively).
Take a moment and note the following illustration. If you imagine the crest of the wave as a physical or psychological peak and the trough being when things aren’t going so well you can see how the two affect one another.
(In between dotted lines = functional playing)
If you are maintaining a regular playing schedule you probably want to minimize the depth of the down swing to maximize functionality in a professional setting. This also goes for your general attitude about improving over time. you achieve this by refraining from getting carried away and fatiguing yourself too greatly. By staying physically and mentally grounded you increase quality performance while limiting physical and psychological confusion.
Keep in mind that when you dip below the sweet spot into physical failure it tends to feel the same regardless of how far along you are skill-wise. In other words, a dip feels like a dip. Even though your skill level is increasing over time failures tend to have the same psychological effect. Remember that success begets success – so take it easy.
NOTE: If you are only willing to find the time to practice a few days a week or are “weekend warrior” status you may gain the most benefit from actually exhausting the muscles a few times per week and then taking days off. However, most players will probably prefer a more gradual approach.
You may sometimes feel as though you’ve stopped improving – even though you continue to practice regularly. Don’t be too concerned by this, as there is a lot going on behind the scenes. Sometimes your mind needs time to rearrange materials in your subconscious to prepare for the next leap.
Consider taking it back to the basics for a week or two. You may find it’s just what your body needs. Giving your central nervous system a chance to organize itself often leads to your next noticeable increase in strength. Cycling between rest and more serious work can be both planned for and acted upon intuitively while training over the months/years.
If your goal is an increase in efficiency your practice should be dictated by your form. As you begin to feel embouchure fatigue in practice, stop and take a break. Eventually you may find yourself stopping before fatigue is about to set in. Aim to end your practice sessions feeling stronger than when you started.
If you notice any old habits you would like to eliminate creeping in – definitely stop. Take a break and come back later – this will help you find a better way. When in doubt keep this is mind…
Do less than you think you need to, more often.
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