Today, we'll talk about finding your way back to the instrument after a vacation or other break. Happy practicing!
After the New Year 2019 my wife and I went on a seven day cruise to Central America. It was amazing! We saw Mayan ruins, beautiful beaches, and floated down a river through a mountain. I also gained 12 pounds...but I digress. I took a CC tuba mouthpiece and had great intentions of working through the Buzzing Book by James Thompson.
I did this twice throughout the week. It just isn't the same as playing the instrument. Buzzing is much more taxing and (at least to me) much less gratifying, though still a useful tool. I'll talk more on that in a future edition.
Once we were safely back home, I found my way back to the tuba. I'm typically pretty consistent when it comes to practice and usually take a tuba (or two) with me when we travel. However, if you've ever been on a cruise ship you know that space is on a premium. Bringing an instrument was not an option.
After a long break from practicing I make sure to do things differently for a week or so before I move back to full-bore.
1) Have temporarily low expectations
I'm not saying you should accept bad sound or sloppy technique. You still need to strive to get better. Just keep in mind that during the time you took off from practice you did de-train a little bit. You won't be where you were before you left, so go in with the expectation that you won't be able to do as much as you could before.
2) Go SLOW
Everything needs to be slowed down...more than you initially think it does. If my gut says "play this lip-slur at quarter = 80" I slow it down to 70 or 60 or even slower. Make sure you set yourself up correctly to start making progress.
3) Don't worry about lessened abilities
You won't be able to play as high/low/fast/slow/loud/soft, etc. It's not a big deal, you'll get back to where you were before you left. Take your time!
4) Work through your routine every day
This should go without saying, but I'm saying it anyway. It's that important! You need a routine that you work on every day.
5) Stay away from the rep you were working on before the break
Before the break I'd been working on a recording project and was very familiar with the repertoire. I haven't touched any of it since my return and probably won't for a few more days. This is important to me because I tend to be very critical of myself, especially in situations where I'm not in top playing shape.
6) Play only things you enjoy for a while
I like to take an etude book and gradually read through it over the course of a day or two. My favorites are Bordogni Bel Canto Etudes, Snedecor Low Etudes for Tuba, or Fritz Twenty Characteristic Etudes. Other times I'll just work on Arban exercises like arpeggios or intervals.
The point is to stay in your comfort-zone for a while until you get your chops back.
Thank you for reading!
Jeremy is Associate Professor of Tuba and Euphonium at West Texas A&M University.