Phill O'Neill


New year, new chops

If you're anything like me, Christmas time is all about spending time with family, friends and getting some quality "me" time. Usually, the horn spends more time in its case than it does on the face. Don't stress, this can be a good thing if you allow it to be. At the same time, the dreaded return to playing after Christmas is something I think we all struggle with. Here are my top tips for how to return to playing after a break, and return to full strength in no time.

1. Warm up with purpose
Stick to your normal warm-up time frame. If you usually spend 15 minutes warming up then do a 15 minute warm up, if you usually do a 5 minute warm up then stick to that. Make sure your warm-up is simple. I like to start off by buzzing Exercise 1 of the long tones in the Slossberg book. It's simple and gets me thinking about air, sound, pitch and articulation all at the same time without having to think too hard.

2. Get the air flowing!
Playing trumpet is all about using air correctly. Good sound, articulation, pitch and stamina are all benefits of using air correctly to play the trumpet. If we over blow then the sound is harsh and the pitch tends to be flat and we can't play for very long. If we use too little air the sound is weak, we tend to pinch the embouchure and play sharp in pitch and still can't play for very long. When we find the right amount of air at the right speed we have a full sound, with good pitch and can play for extended periods.

3. Get that tongue back into shape
The best players have the most amazing articulation. It's something all trumpet players talk about. Whilst my first notes of the day are usually without any tongue I always make sure I spend some time working on having a clean and precise tongue. Start slowly then work up to as fast as you can while keeping that crisp, clean tongue. 

4. Make the best sound for today
It will take time to get back to sounding the way you did for you last performance. Don't try to force it, take a deep breath and relax. You will sound like you within a couple of days.

5. Small sessions often
Keep practice sessions short. You don't need to conquer the world in one sitting. Shorter sessions keep the chops and mind fresh. Fresh chops and a fresh mind means you can concentrate on making music instead of thinking how horrible the horn feels to play. There is more good that can be done by working in 20 minute sessions rather than sitting there for 2 hours. 

6. Have fun
Always remember that we all play music because it's fun. When you're having fun you feel more relaxed and you are rewarded with a more relaxed sound.

If you think abut these simple steps, returning to the trumpet after time off can be enjoyable. Often I find the little things I'm working to improve in my playing can just go away with a bit of time of every now and then. Just be mindful that too much time off will be detrimental.

Do you like to take time off playing during the holidays? How do you return to playing after a break? I'd love to hear some of your thoughts.

Happy practicing.