I love running. I never used to, I was always a bit lazy, but then realised one day that I needed to do something to burn off my excess winter padding. The idea of understanding my body was something very foreign to me, even though I was transfixed reading Arnold Jacob’s ‘Song and Wind’. The idea of understanding my body was far more interesting than the reality of it.
Nevertheless, I forced myself to get on the treadmill - 1k here, 1k there, and before I knew it I was up to 5k. The interesting thing was that I started to hear my body talk to me, the aches the pains, tiredness and lack of enthusiasm to get out on the road. The more I listened to my body, the better I learnt about how to get the best out of my running. Now running is something I look forward to everyday, even on tour when I have to drag others out with me so I dont get lost!
Where am I going with this you ask? Well, I’m glad you asked.
The interesting thing about brass players, is that we are athletes, but we don’t apply the same amount of focus and research into the muscles we use for playing, the same way runners would with their specific muscles. We don't listen to our body giving us information about our tiredness and fatigue. We soldier on, day after day, smashing the lips and wondering why we continue to play Russian roulette with our performances. How many times have you woken up the morning of a performance and wondered how your chops are going to feel today? What if you knew your muscles so well that you could sleep with confidence that you are going to feel great the day of a major performance.
In brass bands in New Zealand, we start out 2 nights of band a week around 3 months before contest. Then closer to the time we add in weekend rehearsals, building up the bands ensemble skills and strength, as we inch closer to D-Day. Then 10 days out, we start smashing the chops, sectionals, band practices, long weekends - every night of the week. Even the day before the contest there will be a solid 2 hour rehearsal. Now think about this for a second. If a runner was going to run a marathon on Saturday, would they run for 2 hours on Friday? Probably not…
If we listen to our chops, we start to understand what we need to do to get through the day of rehearsals or performances. We tend to do the same routine everyday regardless of how we feel, and we are also reluctant to take a day off.
Today is a day off for me - and I love days off! The last 10 days has been full on playing, probably between 6 and 10 hours of playing a day, with rehearsals, concerts and practice taking up a huge amount of the day. For me, the day off playing is as important as my biggest practice day. The value that I get from letting my chop muscles relax and recover is invaluable to the next weeks playing.
I urge you to go and read ‘Song and Wind’ you can buy it here - https://www.amazon.com/Arnold-Jacobs-Song-Brian-Frederiksen/dp/0965248909 - or get the kindle version and always have it with you on your iPad or kindle. Learn about how your anatomy connects with your instrument and then treat this process seriously. I guarantee you will see benefits in your playing if you learn about the process of making the sound you make.
Here are a couple of rules that I live by when it comes to getting the most out of my practice and performance.
1 - Breathing Exercises - these are invaluable to me to get my air moving and connecting with my sound. Even better, get up early and head off for a jog at 7am - way better than breathing exercises and awesome for your health.
2 - Stretch - do some Yoga - or even find some yoga poses that you can do before you practice. Find a way to open up your breathing muscles. Hold the poses and take 10 good breaths in an out. Make this a part of your warm up.
3 - Warm ups - take your time! - find the time to ease into the day with buzzing and low register work. Try and do this early in the day and think of it as stretching your muscles before a day of playing.
4 - Be Healthy - the best version of you the musician, is only possible if you are also the best version of you the human. Think about what you eat, what you drink, how you sleep, and make your health a priority.
5 - Take a day off from time to time - Days off are not the enemy! They can be hugely beneficial. Try and take a day off every 2 weeks, and dont even look at your instrument.
6 - Practice with someone - find someone you respect and like to listen to, and try and get together and play excerciese back to each other. I use the Joe Alessi Studio - http://alessimusicstudios.ca/ - it costs $100US for adults and $50US for students. The subscription lasts a year, and you can warm up with Joe Alessi and listen to his classes and talks. Its an incredible resource and worth every cent.
The more you understand your body, the more you will forge ahead in your playing. Dont underestimate how much you need to listen to your body, and dont forget - you are an athlete!