Great question Philip–I myself struggled with the balance between being too obsessive with the elements of playing and playing exercises and playing music.
What I have found useful for me is to make sure I spend time on both.
In hindsight, I spent way too much time earlier in my “comeback” a couple years ago wasted on endless harmonic slurs and unstructured experimentation in how to play better.
What keeps me focused, honest with myself and motivated, is to make sure I spend some time playing music I enjoy and am motivated to play better.
I have actually had “bad days” in which things didn’t seem to feel right that turned out to be good days after all as when I tried playing music I’ve been working on, I wound up playing it better than ever before or playing it very well. Sometimes our “bad days” are just in our heads.
And a “good day” of things feeling well and hitting a high pitch might not be as good as we think if we can’t use that newfound range in a musical way consistently and with dynamic control. It’s important not to go into “gladiator trumpet” mode where it’s just about playing a high note, unless you’re intentionally practicing range development–which should be limited to a fraction of your practice time.
To put a finer point on it, though, I chose music that utilized new notes above the staff that I found possible from my WindWorks and other experimentation. So, by practicing that music, I am solidifying my newfound range, etc.
I don’t try to play music that I don’t have the range for yet; I use unstructured experimentation to work on range or range exercises (WindWorks, Caruso, etc.) to play around up there.
Most of the music I play is more on the classical side or John Williams stuff which doesn’t go too high, but does hang out for a while above the staff and requires lots of different articulation, dynamic control, intervals, etc. I find that fun and challenging to hack myself through some of that stuff… ;).
The music period of practice, in my opinion, should be focused more on the phrasing side of things and really focusing on getting to a point where you can “sing” the phrase freely where the instrument feels like it’s not an obstacle, it’s something that you’re exhaling through freely and the sound is happening, you’re not blowing/fighting against/through the instrument. So, if you’re still in need of some more range, you might want to focus on music that only gets to the top of your current range, or slightly above–just try to stay objective and not compromise process when you get there, be willing to miss the note(s) for the sake of good process.