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Tagged: Taking a Break
I am somewhat of a comeback player, having played a lot through high school–including lessons from some reputable teachers, but never could play much above G above the staff, maybe A on a good day but not reliably despite lots of practice, marching band, etc. Shortly after high school, I gave up and focused my attention on getting a business degree, etc.
For some reason, I started playing again this year and this course has helped me break through somehow–I never even squeaked out a high C until 2018, but developed a reliable and strong high C and even the high D is loud and strong. I got to the point that high C seemed “easy”. Amazing.
In December, I was looking for some exercises to really help me solidify my range into useful notes I could play musically–in addition to WindWorks. I found that the Clarke Characteristic Studies (Group Three) really helped and I was amazed at how easy I could play and articulate up to A, Bb, B and high C.
I actually stayed away from Clarke 1 for a while because I always felt myself tense up as I went higher and I was afraid I would revert back to bad habits from my youth (30 years ago…).
So I flipped through the Clarke Technical Studies book and found the 5th study, which ends on exercise 98. I don’t recall ever playing it before, as I never had any range so I never got past the early stuff when I played before. The first time playing that exercise, I was able to play all of them–including #98 which goes to high F–just below double G. And it didn’t even feel strained–i just kind of focused on the air, keeping it steady and trying not to get in the air’s way too much (i.e. pinching).
This went on for several days, about a week. The exercise kind of flows up and down and I just focused my attention on the air–thinking about keeping it steady (it’s a long exercise and it’s easy to run out of breath; in fact, I breathe about 1/2 way through as I’m using it more to learn how to control my air / not tense up when ascending than increasing my lung capacity.
We had a family vacation to the mountains planned for 12/26 to 12/30 and I decided I would take 2-3 days off playing. I wasn’t sure whether I should or not, but I am just playing as a hobby and I felt that I had kind of been playing a lot and maybe my lips could use a break, etc.
I played the morning of 12/26 before the long drive to the mountains, and on 12/30 when we returned. When I got back, my lips were chapped (it was snowing and 18 degrees Farenheit) and I only made it up to the D in Clarke’s 5th study, but I didn’t push it and didn’t even try to go higher–I figured I’d ease into things, etc.
12/31, the next day, was my greatest day playing ever–as good a resonant sound I ever had and I was playing musically in control up to B and high C and D. It was an amazing day, despite the fact that I didn’t make it past about high D–I wasn’t concerned, I figured it would take a few days to get back to where I was.
New Year’s Day was even better than 12/31, but still I ended at about the D.
I’ve played each day and have been patient, trying not to push but tonight I played when I got home from work and it felt like a set back. I didn’t feel like I have the flexibility I had before or the potential to go much above high C, whereas I had been squeaking out E pretty solid doing harmonic slurs and F and an occasional double G.
Tonight, it seemed like I was on a downward trend–I started catching myself straining to hit high C and there didn’t seem much potential to go above C, although I did hit D pretty well once or twice.
I actually kind of have been taking a break from Clarke’s 5th, playing other things–including some flexibility studies (i.e. Charlie Davis’ studies).
It was the first time in as long as I can remember that I felt down about playing. It hasn’t all been a linear line upward, I’ve had good days and bad days and know that’s how it goes. But I felt like breaking my horn in 1/2 or throwing it across the room and never picking it up again.
I put it down nicely, had dinner and spent some time with my wife and daughter, then went back to it once they went to sleep–I have a Yamaha practice mute I use to play at night. I decided to play Clarke’s 5th and had a nice D, squeaked out the Eb but stopped there and decided to take it easy and do Clarke 1–I did the whole Clarke 1 yesterday as well. My lips don’t quite feel like they used to–it seems like I had more “meat” vibrating especially my top lip when I would get to the upper part of my range.
I’m going to see how tomorrow goes–Saturday, I’ll be able to play without the practice mute and see how I really feel and sound, etc. I’m hoping for good sensations again.
Sorry for the long post–I have never been accused of being concise… Maybe this stream of consciousness will help someone else realize someone else is struggling through things too.
I guess my question is–is there anything I should be focusing on (i.e. flexibilities, long tones, certain types of exercises, etc.)? It kind of seems like I should be focusing on flexibilities, but I’m wondering if the ones I’m doing are making me stiff or something. I’ve been kind of holding off doing Caruso exercises or anything focused on range thinking I’ll ease back into things. Perhaps I just need to be patient and who knows, tomorrow I’ll hit the E or F and be back on track…
Happy New Year and Thanks for the great course–I’m happy for young players today, I wish I would have had YouTube and WindWorks when I was in high school / college.
Hey John, thanks for the post! It’s ok to have “those” days, don’t push it. What you have done before, you can do again; as you alluded to, you can’t have a PB everyday.
Be cool when things don’t work, just observe what is going on and put your horn away. It is those experiences that allow you to develop your awareness to get to the next level.
Be sure to maintain the work you were doing that got you to the next level; the processes are not automatic yet.
There are no extra exercises to be doing, just mind the process. Stick to the rules 🙂
Thanks Greg, will do. Was hoping for a good day today, had some good sensations in my lips this morning and thought when I got around to playing things would go well but no such luck. Another off day, perhaps worse than yesterday but I didn’t get as frustrated. I guess I kind of expected it in a way. Also, it was kind of a weird day–I warmed up, then had to take care of something then went back to the horn, then got interrupted again and had to kind of warm up a 3rd time. Wound up feeling strange. Went back and did some Singing C exercises, etc. Tried a lot of different things, nothing felt or sounded great.
I think I started tightening up again sometimes when going for higher notes. I think that’s because something else is going on–I’m not doing something right that I was before or my lips are stiff or something, but I suppose that it could be the tightening itself.
Going to try for a good session tomorrow with no interruptions and just take it easy / go with the flow and see if I can get those sensations back. Not going to try for any certain notes, I’m just going to try to get the sound and feeling back that I had before. I did have that sensation before that you described where the sound is resonant and full and everything just seemed to be in sync–I sounded as good as ever and things just seemed relatively easy / effortless even playing above the staff. Definitely miss that feeling now–it’s not as enjoyable playing the past couple days. Maybe I’ll try to play more music and less exercises tomorrow–that may help.
I did do Clarke 5 again today and got a nice high D again, but then had trouble getting the High C when doing the next exercise up to Eb. Tried a couple more times but it just didn’t go, so I moved on to some articulation stuff and took it easy. I skipped doing any range exercises (i.e. Caruso) the past couple / few days and have tried just sticking to Clarke / WindWorks stuff, etc. till I feel better again.
Slow going but seems like I might be making progress. I feel my aperture corners getting tired when doing articulated scales.
I think I realized one thing I had forgotten to focus on which got me to where I was–playing softly, which helps me relax more and focus on steady air /support and changing shape by using the aperture corners. I think I might have been overblowing and have gotten stiff lips or something combined with the break.
Still don’t feel confident I’m back on track completely but I had faith before and focused on the principles and they got me to playing up to the F in Ckarke 5. Today I got the E but felt like I was pushing air to get it so I stopped. The Eb was pretty solid though and I did squeak out a high F playing a chord progression, so I guess I’m getting back to where I was, but I didn’t do very well in the Caruso seconds. My sound and resonance improved back towards what it was a week ago as well.
I played around with different mouthpieces and started to switch to a 3C but realized it was probably foolish to switch in the midst of everything, so I went back the the 5C.
Tried the 3E but that seems ridiculously shallow and I had trouble playing with it–I felt my lips touch the inside of the cup. I started out on a 7C when first coming back but the 5C sounded and felt much better. The 3C sounded better in some ways but just feels big and like I’m working a bit harder.