|Weekly Reflections on Life and Music|
What you do everyday matters more
than what you do every once in a while.
than what you do every once in a while.
Habit: (noun) a settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up.
After last summer's trumpet camp I managed to get into an early habit of practice. I had never been that consistent before and it took a while for the habit to sink in. Do it every day, we were told. Make it a habit to play the trumpet every day. One of my notes from our closing session was a quote from someone:
You can take a day off, but you can never get it back.Then, of course, there's the famous quote attributed to just about every musician who has ever been famous:
If I miss one day’s practice, I notice it. If I miss two days’ practice, the critics notice it. If I miss three days’ practice, the public notices it.I was a little concerned, though, since I knew that daily exercise with no breaks is not a good idea in any exercise program from biking to weight-lifting. In fact it is a cardinal rule of exercise- you need to take a day off in order to allow muscles to rebuild. If I work my upper-body today, I shouldn't work those same muscles tomorrow. Shouldn't this apply to trumpet playing? What about the muscles in my lips and cheeks?
I checked with Bill Bergren and he tried to change my mind on that. He said that the day-off rule is
not in all forms of exercise. We are building coordination. Trumpet playing has very little to do with strength.That made a little sense to me, but unlike my work-outs there are just the facial muscles we are working on. I can't work on some and not others. They are muscles, after all.
So I started paying attention to things like how long it takes to get warmed up after a strenuous day of playing. I took note of endurance and range. I began to notice that there were good days and less than good days. Some days I was warmed-up in no time. Other days, I was having trouble getting to "G" above the staff without straining. I made sure that I was taking appropriate breaks while practicing and doing my daily routine- the old "rest as much as you play" rule. Overall, the progress was positive, but not a straight line. Only natural!
This was also after I had been working for nearly 5 months on building my embouchure, endurance, and technique. It wasn't early on so I felt I was in a better place to decipher what was happening.
So when I missed a day of practice, usually due to circumstances, I paid attention to what might have been different. What I discovered was that, in general, one day off like that did not have any major impact. Sometimes I noticed that the day of rest was actually helpful to my endurance, range, and even tone on the next day. (There probably was something to the idea of a "Sabbath day" after all.) Sometimes my technique would be slightly off, but it usually came back in warm-up.
Then we were traveling and I missed four days in a row. That I noticed. I wasn't back to square one, of course, but I had lost some of the edge. I also was not as on target with my scales or even chromatic runs.
With these experiences I did some more digging on the Internet among some of the many trumpet-based web sites. I found that most do feel that a day off on some regular basis can be helpful. It does allow for some recuperation, especially after a particularly heavy performance or strong of performances. But even those with that view were very clear- taking time off can be dangerous. I pulled out a few "guidelines" from my research:
- Take a day off by choice, not laziness- "I don't feel like it today" is not a good reason. As I write this, I have had an easier day. I didn't do my routine- by choice. I had a relatively unstrenuous gig this evening, so for the day I didn't push it since I had a more strenuous day yesterday. It isn't a true day off since I did play this evening, but it was planned this way.
- Don't play fatigued- Be aware of the limits of your body. Your muscle memory will work better if it has "good" memories of playing and not memories of how fatigued you were.
- Rest as much as you play- this goes with the fatigue issue, but also with the building of endurance.
- Do something musical even on the days you don't play- listen to some music, do some study of some music, do some musical research, keep yourself connected to your music.
- Don't make it a habit to not play. Sure you can get by with only 2 or 3 days of practice a week. I have many years experience at that. It doesn't work. You won't improve very quickly and may very likely get frustrated with your lack of progress.
- Have fun while practicing. Don't make it a chore- make it a joy. That routine you do every day? It is essential so make it a habit. When it becomes a habit, you will miss it when you don't do it.
What have been some of your experiences with missing days of practice? Share them in the comments.