Finding the Right Balance
Brass players, particularly trumpet players have unique challenges that often set them apart from other instrumentalists. It is not uncommon for an aspiring concert pianist or string player to spend 6-8 hours per day with hands on practice. Due to the differences in musculature involved, it is difficult for a brass player to take a similar approach without it having potentially adverse effects. And if a brass player misses a day of practice it can be considerably more noticeable or costly than a pianist or string player missing a day. However taking a day off every once in a while to allow the embouchure muscles to recover can be beneficial for brass players, particularly if a lot of strenuous playing has been done. On the other hand there are some brass players who rarely if ever take a day off. Bud Herseth mentioned in an interview that during the off season he takes at least a week off away from the instrument while on vacation. Miles Davis mentioned taking days off so that he can remain fresh. On the other hand,, Wynton Marsalis mentioned that in his years of development he missed one day of practice after seven years. And given the relentless practice sessions Clifford Brown was known to engage in, it is quite possible that he rarely, if ever took a day off.
So how does one find the right balance? And in a brass player’s world, what really constitutes a day off? Donald Green, retired principal trumpet for the LA Philharmonic mentioned in a seminar that a missed day for trumpet players can mean ending practice in the late morning and resuming during the evening on the following day.
Even though it varies among players, sports medicine has taught us that muscles need time to recuperate and rid themselves of excess lactic acids which slow down efficiency. However muscles do need to be exposed to a progressively demanding workload in order gain strength and endurance. Therefore if a brass player wishes to develop properly and maintain efficiency at a high level it is important for him to know his balance threshold without burning his embouchure muscles out. It is noteceable how great lead trumpet players and soloists rarely burn themselves out and are consistently prepared to perform at an efficient level due to the fact that they know and maintain their proper balance. It is difficult to imagine Arturo Sandoval or Jon Faddis playing on burned out chops and not being able to kick out double c’s and beyond on demand. William Vacchiano and Phil Smith certainly wouldn’t have been able to lead the NY Philharmonic trumpet section successfully for so many years if they did not understand this principle. But what worked for them might not necessarily work for everyone. And finding what works for you early on as well as having an understanding of all the other variables of good musicality is, in my opinion, the key to having a successful career with the instrument.
In his teachings, Carmine Caruso constantly discusses the importance of balance. And as with just about everything in life, success relies on balance in the right proportions.