It always saddens me when I hear that a kid is not allowed to play his/her instrument for one reason or another. The most common reason is that the time spent playing music would be taken off studying time. Parents who deny their children the right to play music are making a mistake in my opinion.
I could go on for ever about the physical, emotional and intellectual benefits of playing music. Here are a few links about it. Check them out!
Music Benefits Last a Lifetime
The Top 10 Benefits of Playing an Instrument | Musicouch
Even without those benefits, I believe that not everything in life should be about performance, money, grades and social status. We should be allowed to do things simply because they bring us joy and make us happy. Playing music won't undermine children's performance in school. On the contrary. So why denying them that pleasure? It won't hurt your kid's grades to play 30 minutes of horn, guitar or violin per day even during exam periods. It would relief some stress and allow him/her to think of something else than maths for a little while.
We are put sometimes at a very young age in a race for money, success and social status by our anxious parents and teachers. Enormous pressure is put on kids' shoulders to perform in school and "become somebody" This is nonsense! There is a lot more to life than maths and science. At the end of the day, as the great Scottish educator and founder of Summerhill school A.S. Neill said:" someone with the potential and motivation to become a doctor will become a doctor and someone with the potential and motivation to become a street sweeper will become a street sweeper. I would rather Summerhill produces a happy street sweeper than a neurotic prime minister." Reading Neill's book changed my life and the way I approach teaching. Here's the link to Summerhill's school for more about Neill's philosophy:
A. S. Neill's Summerhill School
Children should have an indisputable right to fun! Sure there is a time for studying, learning and yes, doing maths! But there is also a time for playing outside with friends, playing music, watching TV or simply doing nothing if that's what you feel like doing.
I believe that happiness should be the real purpose of life. Money doesn't make people happy, music does!
Everyone gets a bit stiff once in a while. We spend a lot of time practicing difficult passages and pieces and that can sometimes create tensions affecting the embouchure and making our playing uncomfortable especially in the high register.
If your embouchure doesn't feel as good as it normally does, you better not insist too much and avoid forcing the notes to come out. It will only make things worst. If you can normally play a piece well, there is no need to fight with it if it doesn't work on that day.
Instead of trying to beat your instrument into submission, just put the hard stuff away and play some very simple, easy and slow pieces. Even beginner pieces. Stop on a few notes and try to make them sound as good as possible without forcing. After about 30 minutes of doing this, you'll feel your embouchure relaxing and feeling right again.
After that, take a break or put the horn away for the day. When you pick it up again, go back to what you normally practice. You should feel much better.
It is important to take a break from your instrument sometimes. I just came back from a couple of weeks of vacation myself! Not playing for a little while will help your body to get rid of tensions accumulated during the past few months and rest your head while you think of something else. When you come back to your instrument,
you're more enthusiastic about playing and ready to rock!
The downside of this is that you'll be out of shape when you pick up your horn again. If I don't do anything during my break, it normally takes me one day of practice for each day of break before I get my optimal shape back. For example, it would take me two weeks to get back in full shape after a two weeks rest. That's why I always plan to come back from vacation several days before we start working again to get my chops running again. If I can't do that, I'll just bring my horn with me and play during my trip.
There are things you can do to speed up the process. I did the pencil exercise every day for a week before coming back and it helped maintaining some strength in my muscles. I also buzzed my mouthpiece a bit for 15 minutes/day during my trip. Once I got back to my horn, I did the Caruso technique every second day to strengthen my embouchure. Doing all this cut my recovery time in half and I'm almost ready for work after 5-6 days.
You need to be patient when you come back from a break. The first practice session will most likely not be very pleasant. Especially if you add jet lag on top of that! Increase the duration of your practice sessions and level of difficulty of what you play gradually. At first, play some very easy pieces and just get through them. The next day, try to play a bit longer and work on your tone a bit. When you feel a bit stronger, start playing etudes. They are very good for endurance since they normally have no or very few bars of rest so your chops can get use to play non stop for a while again. Like I said, the Caruso technique or any other chops building method is always good. With all this, you should be able to get back in shape in time for your next gig with a strong embouchure, a well rested mind and a relaxed body!
I'm taking a little break to go on vacation and will be back in two weeks with more tips and advices for you. I'll also start uploading my own videos on this site and launch book 3 of the horn method in the next couple of months. So stay tuned!
In the mean time, if you have any questions regarding brass playing or anything about music in general, write it in the comments section or send me an e-mail at email@example.com. I'll answer in this blog in 2 weeks. That way, we can share the tips for everyone.
So take care and see you all in two weeks!
I am associate principal horn of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra and the author of the progressive methods. I'm happy to share my experience as a horn player and teacher with you.