Break’s Over – Getting Back Into Shape

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!

2 thoughts on “Break’s Over – Getting Back Into Shape

  1. Monica,
    I don’t really have any suggestions, it looks like you’re all over it. You always sound great and my guess is you probably sound much better right now than you think you do. My experience was that after a while it just felt more and more “normal”. Hang in there and be patient.
    I want to wish you good luck and say that I enjoy your blogs. All the best ~ Keep up the great sounds.

  2. I’m with you, it’s all about the long tones!

    As a brass player, I find it’s very important to rest as much as I play (even before I feel tired), so I use a kitchen timer to keep me on schedule: 15 minutes on, 15 minutes off.

    Carmine Caruso’s exercises are another great way to build strength and endurance after a hiatus.

    Glad to hear you’re back in the saddle, Monica!

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