Some Ideas on Soft Practice
This is a shorter blog, this week. It is also a bit more anecdotal, so it will be short on references. I do have one video I will share. This is Arturo Sandoval talking about practicing and he emphasizes practicing softly.
This will be my only reference, but this to basically back up what I will be writing about here.
I practice between 4 and 5 hours a day, including gig days. I have had some folks ask how the heck I can do this. Many players I talk to are a little afraid to do this. However, if you do this correctly, you will not only NOT be tired when you get to the gig you will feel fresh and ready to go. You will not feel the need for a lot of warming up at the gig. You are set for the day!
Here is what I like to try to do every day. I always start out with an extensive long tone warm up (it is is spelled out in my iBook). I play the pp down to ppp in volume. I work them all the way down to triple pedal C. and then back up to C in the staff.
I'll also play through the first nine Clarks Technical Studies, including the etudes. Again, I keep them just above the threshold of break up. By threshold of break up I mean this: I pull the volume down until the note starts to drop out and then back up just enough to keep the note solid and pure, and NO LOUDER!
Finally, I have a spread sheet of 64 items - scales and patterns - major scales, minor scales, diminished scales, patterns, triad pairs, changes (blues, rhythm, Cherokee, 'Giant Steps, Confirmation, etc). I keep it in Excel and check out what I do each day and I check off the cells to make sure that I cover a complete spectrum each week. I will address this spread sheet in another blog. The point here is that I want to cover a lot of material and in order to do that and NOT get worn down or bang up my chops, I play very softly - max out a pp!
Now, if you have read some of my other writings, you'll know that I use two different embouchures. This is another trick I use to extend my practice time. By switching off between the two, I never tire out one set or the other. This trick allows me to go all day long.
There is another maxim that is oft cited by experienced trumpeters. That is to rest as long as you play. That is very important and you should rest a lot. However, you don't necessarily have to rest as long as you play. That means that to practice 5 hours will take 10 hours to do. I am dedicated, but I don't want to be obsessive, so I try to get my 4 to 5 hours in less overall time. If you are practicing softly, you will NOT be getting tired out. So, the rest time will be more a mental break than anything else.
In addition to playing quietly, I don't practice above high C. Now, there will be some exceptions. In Clarke's 5 the scales go to a high F. In Clarkes 9, the chromatics go up to a high G. However, with those two exceptions, I don't spend much time playing high stuff. The chops form needed to keep a smooth sound playing softly actually supports the upper register.
I DO occasionally work on my upper register. I have a little exercise called signing exercise. It takes about 15 minutes to run through them. I take them up to an F over DHC. Yes, I CAN hit a THC, but, WHY? OK, just for fun, but there isn't any musical call for a THC. In any case I do these a few days a week, if I have a lot of extreme high note stuff that I will be expected to do, or if I just feel the need for some maintenance on that facet. However, I do most of the singing exercises SOFTLY and totally under control.
One concluding point: I play virtually ALL of my practice from memory and by ear. Yes, I have the entire Clarke Technical Exercises memorized. There is a point to this, but that will be the subject of another blog.
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