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Common practice mistakes
If I had a penny for every time a new student has said the words “I want to play longer but I get tired really fast,” I’d have my own island in the South Pacific by now. It’s a question I also receive through email from social media followers and my students from the THQ Trumpet Lessons Online program. It’s no secret…fast fatigue is a big problem and learning how to build endurance when playing the trumpet is a must-know.
It’s so frustrating to have the will to play and no face left to do it. However, over time and with correct practice you can develop the ability to play for one, two and even three hours a day, or more!
Building endurance for advanced and professional trumpet players is a dedicated topic and deserves its own blog post. Plus, they usually play so much that endurance building is sort of “built” into the equation. However, for beginner and intermediate players the equation is a little more complicated. Without the demand of performance it’s easy to skip 3 days of practice and cause set backs.
So sure, professionals play a lot through demand, but playing a lot doesn’t equate to growth. What they would all certainly agree on is that a consistent warmup and fundamentals routine is key to chop maintenance, and it starts in the beginning stages. So, let’s start there.
You’re not doing a proper trumpet warm-up
An overwhelming majority of new students, I’d say 90% or so, tell me their warm-up consists of a C Major scale and an excerpt from an old band piece.
I hate to break to you, but even before the day begins you’re already digging yourself a hole you will later have to climb out of. Lack of a daily warmup is the number one culprit for all kinds of issues in trumpet playing, from fatigue to tone and tonguing clarity. How you begin your day sets the tone for that day.
For a beginner, the warm-up should include long tones and light flexibility in their available range. It should also have as many major scales as possible and a warm-down to bring blood flow back into the lips and promote healing. A warm-down is usually comprised of very slow and low notes. It should feel very relaxing. I welcome you to join my newsletter to download my free and simple trumpet warm-up for beginners.
When I see new students who do warm-up daily but continue to experience fast-setting fatigue, its usually because they rush through the warm-up. The warm-up MUST BE SLOW! Slow enough for you to truly focus on tone and feel the feedback of the instrument. For some metronome marking suggestions check out “How To Use A Metronome.”
You will always end up tired if you push way past your endurance threshold
This is a big one and I cannot stress this enough. As a beginner and intermediate player, you should NEVER play to exhaustion. Instead, learn to set the horn down and walk away while you still feel fresh. This way, your facial muscles will heal faster and you can come back again later to play more.
I remember a student, a particularly well-toned and muscular man, said “but I thought no pain no gain applied to trumpet too.” No. It does not. You should never feel pain or extreme fatigue after a session. Ever. If you are, there is a myriad of things that could be going wrong, but most likely you are overexerting yourself past your current limits.
Learn to listen to your facial muscles and rest before you feel the need to.
Playing loudly isn’t good for you or the neighbors
This is a more difficult problem to overcome for some. If you can play softer, then do so. Playing loudly all the time will change your tone and lip response, as well as cause quick fatigue and block your development. Sometimes, it’s difficult for beginners to play softly though. So what can you do then?
If you have a difficult time playing softly, I highly recommend you consult an instructor. It’s difficult to diagnose these types of problems on your own, but I understand that sometimes there is no room in the budget for lessons. So here are some reasons why you may not be able to play softly:
- The aperture is a little too big. You can remedy this by trying to make it smaller, but beware that over doing it will make it too small and render a very tight tone. Always make very small changes at a time.
- Your lips are often dry, chapped, swollen or sore. Any alteration to the lip surface will cause changes to the aperture and tone. Take care of your lips with a daily routine of lip balm. If your lips are very swollen and sore I recommend an anti-inflammatory and interchanging warm/cold compresses for 15 minutes, two to three times a day. Never apply heat or cold directly on your lips or skin, and follow the manufacturer’s directions for dosage of anti-inflammatory medications.
- You’re using too much pressure. Excessive pressure will spread the lips and keep the aperture from being flexible. Release some pressure and experiment with the results.
Patience you must have, my young padawan
I know it’s frustrating but remember that patience and consistent practice does pay off. If you apply my suggestions above you should see improvements in as little as two days and within four weeks.
I cannot stress this enough: “It’s all about quantity, not quality” said no trumpet player ever. Focus on the quality of your playing sessions and don’t time them. Time will fly when you do it right.
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