Funny, yes, but also painfully true for many students at the beginning of the fall semester. The schedule for high school and college marching band camps can be pretty grueling, especially if one is nursing tired or out-of-shape chops. Here’s a few tips to help you survive. *While some of these tips are geared towards the high and middle brass (trumpet, mellophone, horn), others are applicable to all instruments.
Be Realistic: If you aren’t in shape by this point, you really need to take things easy for several days in order to build back up safely. No amount of wanting to play better or be stronger will make it happen instantly. You only get one set of chops, and taking care of them is very important.
Warm-Up/Warm-Down: Make sure you are getting in a good warm-up and warm-down each day before and after rehearsals/sectionals. Depending on how strenuous the show is, you might want to keep the warm-up to 10 minutes or so, focusing on the middle register and mezzo forte dynamics. Extend the warm down at the end of the day to help prevent stiffness the next day. Alternating a warm/cool compress on your embouchure and lightly massaging your face can be beneficial as well.
Never, ever, play through pain. It’s simply not worth it.
Learn How to “Mark”: This term refers not to writing in your music, but rather to a technique singers use to save their voices during strenuous performance/rehearsal schedules. How you do it will vary depending on the music, but it can be tastefully done so that no one is the wiser. Some examples for brass players include: performing a bit (or a lot) less than the printed dynamics, taking passages or individual notes down an octave, or simply taking a quick break every now and then to get the horn off your face. This should be done as unobtrusively as possible, and perhaps in coordination with the rest of the section.
2:1 Rule: In personal practice I’ve found that for every day off, I require two (or three) days to return to my initial playing level. If I take an entire day off and don’t touch the horn at all (this is rare), I need at least two or three days of regular practice to get it back. This recovery time can be mitigated by doing a daily warm-up/maintenance routine, even while on vacation. While it might be a pain to drag your horn with you on vacation, it could actually make life easier upon your return. This is, of course, a personal choice, and rest and relaxation are also important to your development as a brass player and overall well being.
And above all, surround yourself with positive people and keep a positive attitude!