Rethinking the Re-Warmup

I posted a while back on tweaking the daily routine, but neglected to mention that experimenting and modifying your re-warmup patterns can also be a very useful exercise.  Here’s a case in point.  I usually begin my practice day with a fairly involved routine, Douglas Hill’s Warm-ups and Maintenance Sessions for the Horn Player, which usually takes about an hour or so.  This is followed by several minutes of rest – 20 to 30 min. – then another hour or so of practice. At this point my mind and face need a substantial break, so I like to rest for a least a couple of hours or more before doing any further practicing that day.  After this extended break I need at least a 5-10 minute re-warmup to get things going again.  In the past I’ve approached this re-warmup session a little haphazardly, and looking back I realize now that I probably wasn’t doing the right kinds of things to wake up my embouchure, namely too much upper register, loud playing right away.  Consequently, while I could make it through the third hour or more of playing, I wasn’t always in the best shape by the end.  I’ve found lately that by taking a little extra care in the re-warmup session – some middle register long tones and gentle air flow/flexibility studies – I’m in much better shape for the entire third hour of practice, right up to the end, and my chops feel much better the next day. Sounds like a no-brainer, doesn’t it?  I suppose I just expected to be warmed up already for that final practice session, and didn’t want to take the time to warm up again properly.  Take it from me, it makes a difference!

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I find the “warm-up” to be deeply mysterious. It’s easily understood in a general sense, but getting a fix on what specifically is happening and what works and what doesn’t seems hard to talk about. You say:

“I’ve found lately that by taking a little extra care in the re-warmup session . . . I’m in much better shape for the entire third hour of practice, right up to the end, and my chops feel much better the next day.”

Would it be possible to be more specific as to how what you were doing was detrimental and/or how what you’re doing now is better (what’s going on with which particular muscle groups)?

Relatedly, can you predict at the end of the day how you’ll start out the following day? And maybe also, how is it a high level player such as yourself could make this error. Are there no proprioceptive indicators that warn of weird muscle use?

For me, playing horn involves a lot of soldiering on and I wish I could better tell in real time what’s helping and what’s not.

Hi Lyle,

Thanks for the great question. First, let me say that I am a very routine-oriented person, especially when it comes to horn playing. Usually this trait is of great benefit, but in the case of my re-warm up, I just got stuck on a certain sequence of things that basically worked, but were no longer the most efficient. Specifically, after the first couple of hours of practice I essentially just came back to the horn after several hours and tried to bang things out right away. I did some flexibility stuff to re-warm up, but it was mostly high(er) register harmonic series exercises that had worked for me in graduate school.

I’ve heard from many professionals and teachers that as we age our embouchures and playing mechanics change – sometimes in a subtle way, and sometimes in a more drastic fashion. In this case what I believe was going on was that I simply was not doing enough middle register work to limber up my embouchure after the first 2 hours of practice. Therefore, while I was able to make it through hour 3 or more, I was punishing my musculature more than necessary, resulting in a stiff face the next day. Basically I’m talking about the small muscles that help control the size of the aperture, not the larger muscles of the cheeks and corners. I happened upon this through experimentation – not being completely satisfied with the results of my then current re-warm up patterns, I started trying new materials and varying the sequence of things a bit. Now I do some middle register long tones, right in the middle of the staff, followed by some of the first page of the Dufrasne Routine (edited by Thomas Bacon and published by Southern Music), THEN I do the higher register flexibility studies (found in the re-warm up section of Doug Hill’s warm up collection).

It seems strange that such a subtle change could result in a drastic difference, but in my case it worked. The moral of the story I suppose is to never be complacent, and to constantly evaluate your practice materials.

James – Thanks for that reply, it’s the best I’ve gotten on the subject. Totally agree about the importance of routine and the danger of slipping into a rut without refreshing things from time to time.

Given your interest in body work, curious as to whether you’d agree with my working hypothesis that when you’re “punishing” your musculature what’s going is that some bits are working more (or in the wrong way) than they should and others not enough (or working to counter what the others are doing incorrectly). Sort of the same thing body workers talk about, just on the much smaller and much more difficult to analyze scale of the embouchure.

The other thing I wonder about is whether your tone with a poor warm-up can equal that which you have after a great warm-up. When you’re (inadvertently) punishing your musculature, can you hear a difference in your tone?

Lyle,

You’re very welcome. Yes, I totally agree with your hypothesis. When I’m playing at my best, everything seems easy, even the most difficult passages. The warm-up/re-warm-up tweaking process was, as always, my attempt to get more of that ease into my playing.

On your second point, I do find that if I’m forcing things – whether in the warm-up, re-warm-up, or otherwise – my tone suffers. That being said, I think a good warm-up can help improve tone and have a therapeutic effect on stiff chops.

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