Playing Trumpet After A Long Break
I’m quite familiar with the frustration and mental anguish that can accompany the decision to start playing trumpet again after having had a long break. This is because I have had many long breaks in may days myself, with the longest one being a little over a year.
During those periods I have found a few things to be of particular importance for comeback trumpet players…
…so, are you trying to get back into playing trumpet after having had a long break?…
…perhaps you are trying to start playing trumpet again after many years off?
If so, then you might find this post helpful, as I will give a few tips on how you can get back into brass playing, without having to go through so much frustration.
-Returning to the trumpet-
We lose it faster than we think!
As you are sitting there and reading this text, shift you focus to your face, your face muscles, and in particular the muscles that form the trumpet embouchure. It’s kind of difficult to even know that they are there, isn’t it? There are two points I want to make with this…
- Playing the trumpet is a very unnatural thing when you think about it. As you are sitting there, try to form your muscles they way they need to be formed in order to play the trumpet. By doing this we quickly realize that it is a very unnatural position for our face muscles to be in. This brings me to the next point…
- The embouchure muscles are not used in everyday life. The muscles we use to form an embouchure are always there, of course, but when we’re not playing, they are never tightened and formed the way they are when we play. This means that the muscles needed to form the embouchure, NEVER gets a workout unless we are playing the trumpet, buzzing, or doing a trumpet isometric exercises.
In other words, if we don’t keep playing the trumpet, we lose it. And not only that…
…we lose it fast!
And this is just the embouchure strength I’m talking about now. Of course all the tiny, microscopical embouchure movements, controlled by our brain and nervous system, gets rusty as well.
Picking up the trumpet after years
Your first week back,
Go SLOWER than you would like to
It does not matter if you just now are thinking about playing trumpet again after many years off, or if you “only” took 6 months off, the first few days is going to be very difficult. As we already noted, we do not form out face into a trumpet embouchure in normal life, if we do not play the trumpet that is, so this means your embouchure muscles are going to get a bit of a shock after the first day of playing…
…this is something that is good to be aware of when you start playing again in order to avoid even more frustration.
The comeback trumpet players guide
Follow these steps for your first month
Realize that you probably are going to suck… and that’s OK!
Because you used to play the trumpet, your brain remembers what you to sounded like and what you werebe able to play, five years ago (or whenever your last time happen to be)…
…it is important that you get back into playing the trumpet with the attitude, I’m probably going to suck but that is totally fine. This is because when you start playing the trumpet again after you have had a long break, you will NOT sound the way your brain remembers. That simply won’t happen and if you think you will…
…you are setting yourself up for a huge dissapointment!
Without the right attitude the frustration can force you to overdo it in the beginning and this may be harmful for your embouchure. So pursue patience, along with the right attitude, and you are ready to start practicing again.
I recommend you give the following, comeback trumpet players guide, a try
Day 1 Practice for 20-30 minutes
Let’s face it, if you haven’t played the trumpet in over a half year, you do not have any chops right now and whatever amount of playing you will do on your first day, it will be “too much”, as far as your body is concerned. This is unavoidable but we deal with this issue by lessening the practice time the following three days so that the small muscle fibers in your embouchure will have no problem repairing themselves.
-Play a lot of long tones in the middle to lower register. After that, play a few scales. Also work a bit on articulation and clear attacks. Finish with playing one or two easy songs. Don’t do any lip slurs yet-
Day 2 Practice for 5-10 minutes
Ok, congratulations, you are back in the game and it’s the second day that is the first step towards making a routine. Not the first day. We can sprinkle in how many “first days” we want over the time span of our life, but without the following days, there is no real practicing or routine going on.
You will most likely feel some soreness in your lip muscles on the second day and this is of course to be expected. Since you haven’t been playing the trumpet for a long time your lips have taken some abuse from yesterdays playing, and some of the muscle fibers need to be repaired. This is why you should practice less on day two than on day one…
…even if you don’t feel any soreness in your chops, the muscle fibers still need to be repaired and I highly recommend you follow the plan.
-Just play some soft long tones today and a couple of easy songs, like for example a hymn or two and then quit for the day-
Day 3 Practice for 10-20 minutes
You should still take it very easy and add just a few more minutes, so that you’ll practice about 5-10 minutes longer than on day 2.
-Practice long tones, scales and a couple of easy songs. Still no lip slurs!
Day 4 Practice for 20-30 minutes
Your embouchure muscles should now be recovered and thus you are back at the same amount of practice as you did on day one. From now on things should start to get a bit easier. (If you have followed this plan)
–Continue doing your long tones and scales. They are very important and I consider them to be the very foundation of our trumpet playing. Again, you should work some more on your articulation and attacks. Try to make them clean and precise. Finish with playing one or two easy songs. Don’t do any lip slurs yet
Day 5 Practice for 25-35 minutes
Your first cycle is done and now a new one starts. Make this practice session about 5 minutes longer than what you did on day 1.
-Do long tones, scales, and now for the first time since you started again, do a bit of lip slurs. Finish with a couple of songs or etudes.
Day 6 Practice 10-15 minutes
You are probably starting to see the pattern by now. This “super light” day always follows the first day in the cycle.
Now that you decided to start playing the trumpet again after a long break you might be tempted to do a lot more than this…
…DON’T! Less is more at this stage.
-Only practice long tones and one or two easy songs today.
Day 7 Practice 15-25 minutes
We keep building up the amount of practice time and add minutes like this.
-Practice long tones, scales, lip slurs and finish with an etude or some other nice trumpet music
Day 8 Practice 25-35 minutes
This day is like day 3, in the first cycle but, again, with 5 minutes added.
Lip slurs work more on the center of the embouchure, the part that you place your mouthpiece on, and those muscles do not recover as quickly as the corner muscles do. This is the reason you should not practice lip slurs today. You ddd them yesterday and the center of your embouchure need to recover. Remember, you just got back into trumpet playing, your embouchure is still very weak.
(If you do not know what I mean by “corner muscles” then you can go take a look at the article how to play without mouthpiece pressure and then come back here to continue with this post)
The corner muscles are harder to overtrain. Even though they can get extremely tired after a long trumpet session, they are almost always recovered the following day (if you get a good night’s sleep)
Continue doing your long tones and scales. Do not do lip slurs today. Be mindful with the attacks and articulation when you are practicing the scales. Finish with an etude or two or some other trumpet music that you enjoy playing.
Day 9 Practice 35-40 minutes
Good job! You are slowly but surely getting back into playing the trumpet again. More minutes and longer sessions….
…way to go!
Today you should do lip slurs again because the center of your embouchure did not work that hard yesterday.
-Practice long tones, scales, lip slurs and music.
How to get back in shape
Keep going and add more minutes
Ok, I’m sure you can see the pattern by now so there is no need for me to write out the rest of the days. Just keep going with this pattern and add more minutes. You have probably noticed that it’s a 5 day cycle and that you should add 5 minutes every new cycle.
I recommend that you do two or three more cycles so that you keep building up for about a month. This is a good way of getting back in shape and I always use it myself whenever I have been off the horn for a few months (luckily that don’t happen very often nowadays). After that, you can start experimenting with practicing in other ways, like for example practicing the same amount every day, or whatever suits you the best.
Start your days with a good warm up
No matter if you are picking up trumpet after years off, if you are a comback trumpet player or if you never been off the horn, you should make a habit of starting your practice days with a good, solid warm up routine…
…and do that same warm up every day!
This is important for the brain as well as the embouchure. If you are not sure how to structure your warm up routine you can check out my article how to warm up on the trumpet, as you will find a lot of information there. In that article I also share my personal warm up routine.
How to start playing trumpet again after a time-out
Should I do my lip slurs on a daily basis after the comeback guide is done?
Ususally yes but, it depends. There are many factors to consider, for example…
- How much of them you do
- How fast you recover (we are all different)
- In what register you are practicing them
You have to experiment and be your own best teacher. What I personally do is to alternate between doing more of them one day, a “heavy day” where I also do more lip slurs in the upper register and then the following one-two days I still practice lip slurs but only about 50-60% of the amount that I did on the “heavy day”…
…the rest of my practice routine (scales, long tones, music and so on) is the same every day. With a few exceptions, depending on how I feel, or what my time schedule looks like of course.
Fight the urge to go faster
Most people will have a hard time with the slow progression I present in the comeback plan. And sure, It feels unnatural slowing down after the first day, and doing just a few minutes. After all, we want to get somewhere so why lift the gas pedal? …
Most people overdo it
…I get that but please try it out!
Time and time again I have noticed that it is so easy doing too much, and when we do, it will just set us back. This is especially important when playing trumpet after a long break. Trust me on this, even though it feels like you are being lazy, you are actually progressing faster this way than if you were to do more.
The same is true for many trumpet players when they get a call to play a big, important gig. Their first thought is “now I’m going to practice A LOT so that I’ll be able to really nail the performance”…
…aaaand so they practice too much, resulting in them being in worse shape than if they had just kept practiced their normal practice routine. I have been there myself many times in my life, so rest assured, I’m not pointing any fingers here. But I think I have learned my lesson by now…
…and don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with stepping on the gas and start practicing more…
…IF we do it in a smart way!
Add in some “light” practice days every now and then in the weeks leading up to the important gig, just to make sure you avoid getting over trained embouchure muscles.
Experiment with light, medium and heavy days
Personally I’m the strongest on the third day after a really heavy day and this is something I take into consideration when I plan my practice schedule before a tough gig. If the gig is on Saturday, I have a very heavy day on Wednesday, with a “light” day on Thursday followed by a “medium” day on Friday.
Taking up trumpet playing again after having had a long break
Ok, there you have it. This is the way I recommend restarting trumpet playing after a long break. I really hope this article has been helpful and that you got something out of it. The world needs more comeback trumpet players. One simply does not stop playing the trumpet =)
Just remember to go slow and I want to, once again, congratulate you for returning to the trumpet. It is really an awesome musical instrument and if you pursue patience, I have no doubt that you will experience lots of fun and excitement again, with your beloved horn.
Thank you for reading this article about how to get back into trumpet playing after having had a break for a few years, or so. Keep practicing and remember to have fun while doing it!
P.S. What is the longest period of time you have been off your horn? Days, weeks, months, years? Please feel free to comment something in the comment section below….
…what was it like, for you, starting trumpet again after years off? What did the first day picking up the trumpet again feel like? Did you do too much in the beginning, or did it turn out alright?