This is an article written by trombonist, Chris Frank.
Tips on How to Get Back Into Shape on a Brass Instrument
It doesn’t matter what type of musician you are. You could be someone who performs year-round, solely at Easter-Christmas, or maybe someone who hasn’t picked up their horn in more than a year (or even a decade!!). At some point, you will find yourself out of practice and needing to whip those chops into shape. From someone who has found himself in this position way too many times I have come up with some tips and tricks to help you. Here is a look at what I do to get back into shape.
First Daily Practice Session
Give yourself just as much off the face time as on
Many people end up blowing out their chops trying to push themselves on the first day. You must give your muscles time to rest as you build the strength back. Think about lifting weights when you do reps. What happens in between the reps? Rest time. My general rule for the first few days is not to play for more than a few minutes at a time and to rest a few minutes in between. (I like to find something that keeps my attention during the breaks like a book/TV/video games/or even household chores!)
Buzz on your mouthpiece
I believe buzzing your mouthpiece is a phenomenal tool even when you are in shape. Buzzing allows you to work on your pitch center without the distraction of your instrument. Try buzzing a few easy songs: Somewhere Over the Rainbow, I’ve Been Working on the Railroad, whatever pops into your head. I love to keep a mouthpiece in my car and buzz on the way to and from work. I usually buzz what I hear on the radio. Remember tip #1: when starting to get back into shape, don’t overdo yourself. (Some people feel buzzing does not work well for them, mainly the smaller mouthpiece instruments. If you don’t like it, maybe you will find some of my other tips helpful.)
Long Tones, Lip Slurs, and Scales
Just like when you were beginning on the instrument, long tones and lip slurs should be much of what you spend your time doing during the first week.
Second Daily Practice Session
After a few days of doing a routine (usually about 10-30 minutes) you should feel your strength coming back. At this point I like to start adding a second session later in the day, at least 30 minutes after my routine has finished.
During the second session I believe starting with melodic exercises is best to help build endurance. Find a collection of technically easy, but entertaining melodies. (My personal favorite is the Rochut melodious etudes book.) I usually spend around 20 minutes playing at first and gradually increase the time. (You can adjust this so that by the end of the practice your lips are tired.)
Technical Studies and Etudes
After another few days I like to supplement my second practice session with technical exercises. Mainly I tend to focus on double and triple tonguing. (My personal favorite is the Kopprasch technical etudes book.)
Just like an athlete would stretch and warm down after a work out, you should do the same. A warm down should be done after every practice session, from your first few days of buzzing and long tones, to the days when you are doing 2 or more practice sessions a day. I suggest your warm down session consist of low long tones or descending scales from middle register to lower register. You may decide for yourself what your warm down will be as long as it is something that relaxes the lip muscles.
All musicians are athletes as well; we simply work out much smaller muscles. If you treat getting your chops back like strength and endurance training you get back into shape in no time! Good Luck!
Photo by marcsiegert. Used under Creative Commons License.
Christopher Frank is a native of Dallas, Texas. Growing up in a family of musicians, he learned to love music at an early age. Christopher began studying trombone at the age of 10 and has played for over 17 years. As a youth, Christopher participated in many different musical groups including The Greater Dallas Youth Orchestra, The Dallas Area Youth Jazz Orchestra, and the Texas All-State Symphony Orchestra.
Christopher studied trombone performance at Southern Methodist University under John Kitzman. He then continued his studies at SMU to receive his Master of Music Education. He currently teaches Orchestra and AP Music Theory at Poteet High School in Mesquite, Texas. Christopher contracts many local string, brass, and woodwind groups for churches and event planners. He is a founding member of the Providence Brass quintet and maintains a high level of musicianship. Christopher lives in Richardson with his wife and three dogs.