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Getting Back Into It

Getting back into it is hard, period. I haven't touch my instrument for more than six weeks. Without going into too many details, I had to stop playing for awhile. Now, after 6 weeks or so, I have the daunting task of getting back into top playing shape - and I need to do this as carefully and efficiently as I can because I have a number of solo performances soon and need to be in top shape. So I am offering the following diary showing what I have done to stay engaged and then get back into shape.

During my time off:

I thought I should try and keep as active as possible during my forced time away. I tried to fine things that have worked for me in the past and with students. the exercises I'm using are pure fundamentals. I'm not re-inventing the wheel here.

I. I used the P.E.T.E. to help maintain some resemblance of embouchure strength (I had used this on a student in the past with great results. The student was in a car accident and broke their jaw in two places. The PETE help get the embouchure muscles to form little by little. When they returned to their instrument, I felt that the strength was there - so was the endurance!). I only used it sparingly, perhaps once or twice a day, doing three sets of "burns" (I stopped once I felt my embouchure muscles burn). I never timed these "burns", but I imagine that they happened around the 1 minute mark.

II. I used various breathing exercises/apparatuses. At first, I used an Incentive Spirometer. They gave this to me in the hospital, which was great since my old one broke a few years back! I would simply play around with it, playing games - how long could maintain the inspiration, how high I could get the Spirometer to go, how slow I could breath-in and still get to the same point of a full breath without too much tension, etc. Just experimenting and passing the time.

III. I listened to TONS of music. Not just trumpeters, but singers, symphony orchestras, other instrumental soloists (especially cellists, I don't know why I like the cello so much, but I do), jazz, salsa, etc. I used this for inspiration and musical ideas - phrasing, nuances, colors, articulations, etc.

IV. I looked at the music that I will be playing in the near future - I sung (using solfege), "performed the music in my mind", fingered the positions as I sang. I practiced slowly, but slowed it down even more when something wasn't dead on.

V. Finally, I played lots of rhythms. I would use the metronome (admittedly, not all the time). I played various rhythms over and over, then cross rhythms. Looking at the music I would soon begin to play, I would tap out the rhythms as I sung, often tapping out the subdivisions.


Day 1

Today's the day! I finally get to begin my way back to the trumpet. But, it was a very light day. I used the P.E.T.E. like I have been doing, but I also used the PowerLung (shown at the right. Mine is purple, if it matters...). This is a breathing apparatus that adds tension to both the exhalation and inhalation. Needless to say, I'm starting out on a very low tension level; inhale at 1, exhale a little over 1. I used it for about 5 minutes, 3 times during the day. I also began buzzing the mouthpiece a little. I am buzzing simple diatonic scales, all slurred, at a p to mp dynamic as well as Stamp (warmup), Clarke (1), and Chicowitz exercises (1 & 2). I'm not playing too high, although I easily achieved a concert A above the staff. I was also able to play into the double pedal range without difficulty as well. I buzzed a total of 5 minutes, three times during the day. My sound was weak and unfocused and my mouthpiece felt completely awkward (it improved slightly throughout the day). But it felt good to be able to do something again. I'm looking forward to tomorrow.

Day 2

Today was basically the same as day 1. I didn't try to push anything. My sound is still unfocused and the mouthpiece still feels like a foreign object. I did Clarke 2 instead of Clarke 1 today and played a few simple melodies. I also looked at some music, singing solfege, buzzed a few lines (not too much), and tapped a few rhythms along with a metronome (which was set to do all the subdivisions). I did my 3 sets, although one set was almost 10 minutes.

Day 3

I did not change the amount of time involved, today. Everything was the same, but I did Clarke 3 on the mouthpiece and some Stamp (altered). I also increased the tension in the Powerlung to inhale at 2 and exhale at 2.5. It's hard to say what my breathing is like until I get on the horn, but seems to be just fine. I also looked at some music again, other pieces, also using a metronome set to subdivisions. All 3 sets were done @ around 5 minutes per set, but I did not time it today, so its possible some sets were slightly more than 5 minutes.

Day 4

Today, I only did one set of work today since today was a travel day. I didn't change anything from the prior day, other than adding a little flexibility on the mouthpiece and increasing the range by a minor 3rd. A light day. Almost a day off, really.

Day 5

Today I started with the Powerlung, then to the Spirometer for 5 minutes. Before, I was only able to inhale tp to 3.5 ml, not much. But now I'm easily getting 4.0+ (5.0 on a few occasions), so I'm making a lot of improvement on that end. I then went onto the PETE, followed by the mouthpiece. Mouthpiece buzzing is getting better too, but my pitch is still unstable. I do feel like I'm getting a little stronger. Used the Stamp mpc buzzing exercise today and went up to concert G above the staff. Not very high, but it was easy to do and was easy. It felt like the little break I had yesterday might have been good for me. All 3 sets were done at 5 minute intervals (timed). I'm hoping to increase the time to 10 minutes tomorrow. We'll see how it goes. I also look at some music and sang some solfege along with a metronome with subdivisions.

Day 6

Things are beginning to come together. My sound on the mpc is much better, much more resonant without putting anymore energy into it. The notes are still a little slippery, but its greatly improved. My endurance so far is can be excepted - but I'm not tired by the end of any particular session, which is a great sign. Today I did breathing exercises using both the Powerlung and the Spirometer. Again, easily going above 4.0 on the Spirometer. About 5 minutes in total. I used Clark 4 for buzzing, as well as some Stamp and a few scales. The buzzing lasted for 10 minutes and I was happy that things seemed to be improving. My range seems to be leveling out too, as far as the sound goes. No endurance problems at all. I finished with the PETE (3x's for about 1 minute each). Definitely felt the burn! No singing today, but I did look at some music and finger through it.

Day 7

Today, I rested.

Day 8

First day back on the horn!! Wow, what a feeling to pick it up and play the first note. I was a bit amazed that my general sound stayed intact from the initial note. Keeping it that way past 5-10 minutes was a little rough, but with small breaks throughout, I was able to practice about 20-30 minutes. During this time, I played a few Stamp studies, Chicowitz studies, and Chicowitz flow etude. I also played some flexibility studies and scales. Testing my range, I could get up to a C above the staff, but decided quickly to not go above an A for the remainder of the practice session. I ended up playing some Clarke 2 exercises instead. I did 20-30 minutes for 2 sets today. On the 2nd set, I starting with slurring scales, then moved onto single tonguing out of the Arban's book. During my 3rd set, I sang some music, used both the Spirometer and Powering, as well as the PETE. This session lasted about 20 minutes and I felt pretty tired by the end of it! It felt great to be playing again and I'm already looking forward to tomorrow!

Day 9

Today was a rough day... everything just didn't seem to want to work like I wanted it to, so I had to back off a little, not play as much, focus more on singing and other things. I also added the Breath Builder to my breathing regimen. Just another tool to use to keep my breathing and breath support at a high level (I believe the majority of "playing the trumpet" has to do with how we breathe and how we use that air to play). I played some Clarke 2, Chicowitz, Schlossberg, scales (chromatic in triplet form) and Arban (tonguing). Perhaps 10 minutes in total for each session. After today, I will not be buzzing the mouthpiece as much, or at all. Instead, I replaced it with a different exercise. Mouthpiece buzzing might work for some, but it does not work for me. I used it primarily as an isometric tool and an ear training tool. Now, the exercise I'm using is setting up on the mouthpiece and, while blowing and supporting the airstream, I insert the mouthpiece into the trumpet. If I am set with a good balance, then I hear my sound begin as the mouthpiece is inserted. If not, then I have not found that balance and I start over. I do this on a middle C (in the staff) and I did it during each session today for about 15 minutes. I will also begin to use the PETE less, now that I'm back on the horn itself.

Not a great day today, but little by little... I need patience, perseverance, and I still need to be cautious at this point. I don't think I've played anything over a mp dynamic since starting this journey... The important thing is to keep going at this point.

Day 10

Started really slow today: a quick, soft warm-up (Chic/Stamp), followed by who-poo-too attacks at pp/p, then the exercise I did yesterday on the mouthpiece (I call this my setup drill). I alternated between who-poo-too and the set-up drill, over and over for about 30 minutes, with breaks. The idea - making sure I'm set-up well with balance and that my sound is immediate, steady, and with a good tone. The other two sessions were shorter and entailed tonguing exercises, flexibility, a little note bending and whisper tones. I ended the final session with a Chicowitz flow etude (this didn't go very well, but I stuck with it and finished it out. Trying to be musical does not compute well to my current state and the sound tends to cut off. I think I know what is happening - I loose my balance and open the aperture too far or loose my support). Other work was done on the breathing apparatuses and singing/solfege. No PETE today, no mouthpiece buzzing.

Day 11

After a warmup-up of chromatic scales, some flexibility studies (using flutter tonguing on most of it), and a few long tones with a shruti box (shown on the left; this is a drone box that is fun to play along with and makes tuning easy and obvious). I then went back to the mouthpiece exercise I mentioned before and the who-poo-too exercise. From there I went into some tonguing exercises out of the Schlossberg book and returned to the chromatic scale, this time playing it in triplets (with the higher note in the middle). Playing this way, I was able to play up into the upper register. I also played through Clarke 2 (from middle C to low C): I played it 4 times, 2x's slowly, then 2x's double the tempo, adding an arpeggio at the end - all in one breath at a mp dynamic. I repeated the same types of things in the other 2 sessions, but also sightread some simple etudes for fun. I continued working with the breathing apparatuses and added a little stretching to my activity today. I feel my breathing might be better now than it was before! I can really feel a difference. The playing - well, its a work in progress.

Day 12

Not much different today - warmed-up and played the same things I have been playing. I'm mainly trying to get my response to be as immediate and as interrupted as possible (lots of who-poo-too), centering my tone production (my mouthpiece exercise that I use), maintaining a stable sound throughout the register (especially on long tones), and improving my tonguing ability (mainly single tongue, but also double & triple tonguing). Played through some Clarke, Arban, & Schlossberg again. I also increased my range to Bb above the staff during all my exercises. I feel that my flexibility is getting easier, so that is a good sign. 3 sets for 20 minutes each, timed.

Day 13

My warm-up feels better than it has been feeling. And it seems that things are becoming to be a little easier. My endurance is not there, but for the time I can play, things seem to be working much better. I worked on the same types of exercises today, but added some sight-reading. I extended my practice to 4 sets for 20 minutes. I just felt a little stronger and went ahead with the 4th set. I worked a lot more on flexibility today and I think its paying off. I'm still playing sort of soft, just not forcing anything.

Day 14

Today was Sunday, usually my day off. But I did play a little - I warmed-up and then play through a couple of flow etudes (30 minutes total). That was it. A very light day and anxious to play again tomorrow.

Day 15

Back to shredding today. 4 sets of about 20 minutes each. I started with some breathing exercises, a little stretching and a little "flapping" (horse sounds). Endurance is better, but still a little hesitation in the sound of the attack, so I'm continuing with the who-poo-too attacks and my set-up drill (see day 9) during the warm-up. After this, I went onto Clarke (5), Schlossberg (flexibility and tonguing), Arban (single and triple tonguing), Gekker tonguing exercises (single and double tonguing), Chicowitz flow studies and some Stamp. I also played through various scales (alternating the articulations). My last session for the day was for fun - flow etudes and some sight-reading.

Day 16

Happy 4th of July! Today was a holiday, but needless to say, I got my 3 session in. After some breathing exercises, I began with a warm-up on Chicowitz, Stamp, and flexibility exercises (a little tonguing too). I then moved to who-poo-too attacks and my set-up drill. Afterwards I played Clarke 6, more flexibility exercises and the chromatic scale in triplet format, with the higher note in the middle. I extended my range today to a C above the staff. Each set (4) of 20 minutes in length. After the 4 sets of playing, I had another session of solfege with a metronome (15 minutes). I also enjoyed some grilled food!!

Day 17

Another day, another warm-up. I allowed my imagination and sound guide me today. No set warm-up priorities. I followed this with some Chicowitz with the Shruthi box during my first session (from middle C, down to low F#, then up to C above the staff) and ended with single, double and triple tonguing. The second and third sessions started with my set-up drill and who-poo-too attacks. The 4th session began with whisper tones-long tones (as long as I could get them to sound). I then went on to practice a little bit of the music that I will soon need to learn. I didn't;t push myself too hard. For the most part, I got through everything I needed to without too much of an endurance issue. 4 sets of 20 minutes in length.

Day 18

After my warm-up, I practiced my set-up exercise and who-poo-too, then into the Arban's book (Arpeggios, slurred and tongued). I then went to Clarke 5, both slurred and tongued (alternating each bar). This took about 30 minutes with a little rest thrown in for good measure. The second session started with some Stamp (with the Shruti Box) and then onto scales (alternating articulations). I finished with the chromatic scale, slurred, in triplet format, with the highest note in the middle. I went up to a C# above the staff. The range is getting easier and easier. I ended with the Stamp power exercise and then some soft chromatic scales in the lower register. This took about 20 minutes. The third set started out of long tones with a crescendo/diminuendo. I'm trying to get get some power back into my playing, after only playing around a mp for various weeks. There doesn't seem to be anymore pain associated with the playing, so I'm taking this as a good sign to continue with my regimen. The last set was a mixture - I started out playing and working through a cadenza I am working on for an upcoming concert, but then had a student come in for a lesson. So, we played through some single tonguing, syncopations, and interval slurring, as well as some sight reading (modeling, back and forth, etc.). I considered this my 4th session. The lesson was an hour long. I survived, but definitely felt tired by the end.

Day 19

I followed my warm-up with a little rest, then did some extra flexibility with bending incorporated. Afterwards, I returned to some who-poo-too attacks, very softly. At the end of the session, I returned to some long tones (with the Shruti box). I started the 2nd session with Clarke 2 with a metronome (2 times at the speed and 2 times at double tempo). I then practiced some rips (very fast flexibility), 2 octaves on some, more than 2 octaves on others at mp/mf and with a tongued trill on the highest pitch. I ended the 2nd session with single tonguing out of the Schlossberg book. The 3rd session was about practicing some music - I took the most difficult passages out of the few things I am working on and practiced those licks slowly, slurred if tongued, tongued if slurred, flutter tongued, and in different keys. I then tried to get it a little quicker, using a metronome. The last session began with who-poo-too attacks, holding the last too attack and bending the pitch. I then went to Clarke 1, at the softest dynamic I could play. 4 sets at 20 minutes each. Tomorrow, I think I'll add another set during the day.

Day 20

After a warm-up of Stamp, flexibility, a little tonguing and who-poo-too attacks, today was all about having a little fun. Instead of doing the normal exercises, I practiced music. I took the most difficult licks out of the works I am working on and played them slowly, tearing them apart and putting them back together. I did this over and over for each session - 4 sessions of 20 minutes a piece. Mentally, it was a nice break from the focus of playing the exercises and making sure I was playing them the same way each time. It felt great to just be able to play again. As I get stronger, I look forward to incorporating more music into my regimen.

Day 21

Today is Sunday, so I'll warm-up today and then take the remainder of the day off and do other things.

Day 22

After my warm-up, I focused on soft playing. Everything I played, I played as soft as possible. I began with some whisper tones, then played through scales, Clarke, and some flow studies. I began the next session the same way, but played a few etudes (Charlier 2 and a Chicowitz flow etude chosen at random). On section in the etudes that did not speak as easily, I repeated them, playing slowly and as softly as possible. My third session was used on some of the solos I am working on, also played as softly as possible. I was already feeling the "burn" from this 3 sessions. My final session was sight-reading and Clarke 1 (also as soft as possible). 4 sets of 20 minutes each.

Day 23

Today I did 5 sessions of 20 minutes. After my warm-up, I took my normal break and then started in on who-poo-too attacks, then onto my set-up exercise. Afterwards I looked at the most difficult lines in the solos that I am working on. This took the majority of time. My first session was almost 30 minutes. My second session started with Clarke 1, very softly, then I moved onto so orchestral excerpts, the first time I've played orchestral excerpts in 2 months. Again, I looked at the most difficult passages and worked on them slowly and softly (lasted 20 minutes). The third session was all about fundamentals - Arban, Schlossberg, Clarke, Scales (wholetone, 2 octaves slurred and tongued). The fourth session returned to my solos and the difficult sections for 20 minutes. I ended with a fifth session, lasking 20 minutes, reading through a few Top Tones etudes, singing, and clapping with a metronome. I good solid day! This session also lasted 20 minutes.

Day 24

A good warm-up today. Here's a look into my warm-up these days (the exercises change slightly from day to day, but I generally do the same types of things). Links are given on most, if not all, items.

  • Breathing exercises.

1. Using the Powerlung. Exhale is set to 2+, inhale is set to 4.

2. Spirometer or Breathbuilder. Just a few minutes here, making sure I'm relaxed as I inhale and the exhale is even and steady. I try to increase the length it takes to fully inhale and exhale.

  • Leadpipe buzzing or mouthpiece exercise.

The mouthpiece exercise is simple: place the mouthpiece on your formed embouchure, open the aperture a little. As you blow, no buzz should sound, but as you are blowing, add the mouthpiece to the trumpet. At this point a note should sound (for me its around a C or E in the staff). I do this for balance of the aperture. I may also do a few exercises on the leadpipe, trying to focus on the resonance and the centering of pitches. You can find these types of exercises in Wiff Rudd's book, Collaborative Practice Concepts. A wonderful book - I use other exercises from this book as well.

  • Who-poo-too.

I spend a brief amount of time making sure my attacks are working well.

  • Flexibility studies. These give me a little more "workout" than the Stamp or Chicowitz. I get to further target playing smoothly, with connection, focusing again on sound, making it even throughout all the registers and as in-tune as I can get it. I also focus on staying as relaxed as possible, but also keeping the energy it takes to play constant. These may also include some bending during or at the end, as well as a lip trill on the top note. I try and extend my range on these exercises.

  • Tonguing. Just a few short exercises to get my tonguing going. It could be Schlossberg, Clarke, Arban, Gekker, or just made up on the spot. The same holds true here - sound first, then everything as even and consistent as I can make it.

  • Scales. Usually a chromatic scale, but any scale will do. Again, sound, evenness and ease of play. I'm looking for connection, keeping things as consistent as possible. I play my entire "playable" range for the day (this actually varies, but is consistent up to a G above high G - on C trumpet). At the moment, I'm consistently playing up to D above the staff, sometimes an Eb. I will continue to creep up little by little, week by week.

The first session today started with Clarke 6 and then went onto some tricky spots in my solos. (20 minutes). The second session was spent playing some (3 or 4) very easy "tunes" in the R.W. Getchell, Book 2. All slurred at first, the articulating with legato, normal, and staccato tonguing. Trying to keep the sound the same. (20 minutes). The third session found me back on those tricky spots in my solos (I have a performance coming up soon). Then onto some exercises out of David Zauder's book (some articulations and flexibility - sometimes randomly). A great book! My finale session on the day started with very soft who-poo-too attacks and a very soft chromatic scale (highest note in the middle) that extended through my entire range (at pianissimo). This was a good warm-down, so to speak.

Day 25

I'm just now feeling that the old me is getting back into form and all the work I have done has allowed me to do just that. I feel that my warm-up is more consistent and my sessions have allowed me to play what I need to play and play it at an increasingly higher level. So, today, I'm officially calling my comeback BACK. Although I still need to work on my endurance, most of everything else is were I need it to be to continue forward.

Thanks to everyone that stuck to it and read through my fight to get back. I hope this blog has helped someone out there - whether its inspiration to continue, insight, or what I used to help my recovery. To be honest, writing this diary has helped me tremendously. Knowing I had to stick to it and keep my own feet to the fire. There was something very self-gratifying about the entire situation.

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