I recently had to take eight days off from playing. Not a single note on any of my horns for 8 long days. I honestly can’t remember a time in the over 20 years that I have been playing that I had to do that. I have spent the last year practicing and performing 6 to 7 days a week. Even when I was primarily a teacher I would at least put the horn to my mouth while I was teaching lessons, and I was teaching 6 days a week.
So, why would a professional musician take 8 days off from playing? I can assure you, it was not by choice. I was dealing with severe mouth pain, which after making it to the dentist found out that I had a root in one of my back teeth that decided to die, abscess and infect my whole mouth. The left side of my face looked like a chipmunk, half preparing for winter. One emergency root canal and two days of Vicodin later and I was finally starting to feel like a real person again. Unfortunately, my chops were another story.
So, what should a musician practice after a forced hiatus? I recommend starting with long tones and lots of them. I found that my fingers felt pretty good and were at about 90% their normal facility, but my embouchure was soft, weak and unstable. My sound was wobbly, unfocused, and ridiculously inconsistent. I felt like a 5th grader picking up the instrument for the first time. My fingers didn’t need anything other than a quick jump start, but my lips were going to need a slow, methodical, patient warm up over a period of a couple of days.
It took about 4 days to start to feel normal again. I continued with long tones in 20 minute increments and took breaks when i felt fatigued. I ran through stuff I knew – warm up exercises, scales, arpeggios and improv and didn’t worry about working on anything new. It definitely feels good to be playing again. I hope I don’t have to take another break like that one ever again. In the meantime, it’s all about hanging in there…
I’m curious, what are your experiences? What do you to get back into shape after a long break? Share in the comments below!