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Daily Maintenance And Core Practice

Adrian D. Griffin | January 2013

    Each day’s practice should be divided into two separate practice sessions. The daily maintenance routine is a 30-40 minute session that starts the day, ideally in the morning, or otherwise as early in the day as possible. A daily maintenance routine is a necessity for any serious brass player. Students should leave two to four hours of rest between the daily maintenance routine and the core practice. The school day typically takes care of this resting period. The core practice session is the meat and potatoes of each day’s practice and is where a student improves upon his skills technically and musically; each core practice session should be approached knowing exactly what the student should work on. Playing and establishing a daily maintenance routine every morning will better attune students to which fundamentals need attention in the later core practice session.

The Daily Maintenance Routine
    When developing this maintenance routine with trumpet students, converse openly with them about the weak areas in their playing of which they might not be aware. Once these techniques have been pointed out and explained, work with them on establishing a regular practice time in the morning.
    Although this session is the initial warm-up each day, its primary role is to take students daily through the fundamentals of trumpet playing technique. Another by-product of the daily routine is that if a student misses a core practice session, the daily maintenance routine has still been a good practice session for that day. By no means should this be a standard occurrence, but if needed from time to time it can stand by itself as a productive practice session.
    Benefits of a daily maintenance routine are increased endurance, lip flexibility, sound development, intonation, clarity of articulation, rhythm practice, and increased self-awareness as a performer. Also, the session should train students to actively listen and make improvements from day to day. By doing this, it creates a daily checkpoint as a way of measuring conditioning and progress. Students should be reminded not to practice bad habits; this session is designed for students to erase all bad habits.
    Keeping in mind that the daily maintenance routine is a warmup and not a practice session, students should only choose to play one-half to two-thirds of the materials suggested, evaluating as they go along their degree of readiness for the practice day. Young high school students unaccustomed to warming up with a thorough routine can cut the daily maintenance session to 10-15 minutes at first, adding a couple of extra exercises each week to build the endurance and flexibility needed for the core practice session.
    While the daily maintenance routine will become easier over time, it still forms an important foundation for a student’s advancement. Most students’ fundamentals are in a state of fluctuation and should be continually refreshed and polished. The best professionals are the ones who maintain a consistent daily maintenance routine, paying detailed attention even though the material is familiar.

Maintenance Techniques
    Lip flapping in the morning is a great technique to get rid of lactic acid buildup. To flap the lips, blow through them, letting all of both lips vibrate without forming an embouchure. As a student sleeps after a long day of practice and rehearsals, the embouchure muscles that have been worked hard all day will build lactic acid in them from that exercise. Before the student gently buzzes the mouthpiece as the first warmup exercise of the day, have him gently lip flap for about 30 seconds. Next, have the student buzz the mouthpiece for 20-30 seconds and then lip flap again for about 20 seconds. This trade off should take place back and forth for 8-10 minutes.
    Stretching is often overlooked as a warmup. For every athlete, stretching is a part of everyday life, and it makes little sense for it not to be routine for musicians. Before ever touching the mouthpiece or instrument for the day, students should start by stretching the upper torso and hands. Stretching the upper torso is important because it houses the lungs. Students should stand up straight with feet shoulder width apart and breathe in until they reach their fullest lung capacity. Once this is established have them hold upward their right hand and bend at the torso to the left. After they have reached their most flexible point, have them hold that position for 10 seconds. As they regress back to the previous position, have them slowly release the air through a formed embouchure. Now, have them do the same technique to the right with the left arm extended upward. Students should feel a stretch in their muscles, targeting their obliques and intercostals. This stretching technique stretches these muscles for better, more relaxed breathing. In addition to this stretch, students will learn to better control air speed and steadiness of the air stream.

    Suggested materials for the daily maintenance routine include Schlossberg’s Daily Drills, J. B. Arban’s Complete Conservatory Method for Trumpet, and Hebert L. Clarke’s Technical Studies for Trumpet. The first several pages of the Arban book are useful for basic articulation, slurring and rhythm. Pages 13-37 cover various key signatures, rhythms, and time signatures. Although many educators believe that the Clarke book is designed for finger dexterity, the book’s actual intent is to build breathing and aperture flexibility and embouchure strength. Recommended Schlossberg exercises include 2, 16, 17, 20, 59-61, 97-99, 118-119, and 120-130. The expectation is that a student will cover all of the etudes listed over a two- to three-day period, covering between one quarter and half of the etudes on any given day. In addition to these studies, mouthpiece buzzing is essential to starting off the day. A wonderful book for this would be Jack Stamp’s Warm-Ups & Studies. His preliminary warm-ups on the mouthpiece alone makes a great daily start to playing for any brass player. Last, but not least, students should play scales. Unless scales are assigned to students, they spend very little time practicing or understanding their construction. For best results, a different scale should be practiced each day along with different variations of the chromatic scale with varying articulations. For added difficulty, daily scales can be practiced in thirds and fourths.
    Students should typically rest 15-20 seconds or more between exercises in the daily maintenance routine, including plenty of lip flapping. However, strength training sessions may be done a few times each week, in which students play each etude without releasing the corners of the mouth. By releasing the corners to breathe, the muscles in the corners of the embouchure are allowed to slightly recover. This is called breaking the embouchure. Typically, this is how brass musicians play, but to gain greater endurance, keep the corners firm and breathe through the nose so as to not break the embouchure through several etudes until the corners of the embouchure begin to burn and tire. The longer a student can go without breaking the embouchure the greater strength they have in their corners. At that point the student should rest, then continue in the same vein for two more spurts. This strength-training practice should occur only a few times a week; daily strength training tends to decrease endurance because the muscles are unable to recover.

The Core Practice Session
    A core practice session is the center practice session of each day, considered to be the meat and potatoes of a student’s daily practice. It is this session that covers lesson materials, audition music, and solos. In addition, core sessions should address the student’s weaknesses, improving on them from day to day and week to week. Students should also set short- and long-term goals in their core practice sessions.
    The core practice session addresses different techniques in the daily maintenance routine. If a student’s multiple tonguing seemed rough in the daily maintenance routine, the core practice session is there for the student to practice multiple tonguing more specifically. Any basic or advanced fundamental, if weak, should be practiced during this session. Also, students should practice what needs the most attention first in their fundamentals practice. If they wait until later in the session when they may be fatigued, the work will be less effective. The students should be fresh so they can physically and mentally improve those techniques.
    The idea of setting short- and long-term goals in practice is a wonderful way for students to measure their progress. Anything from getting better at lip trills to preparing a solo for contest can be a goals. Ask students what they want to accomplish and hold them to it, checking in with them occasionally to see if they are holding themselves to that standard and goal. As a student inches closer to long-term goals by progressing through the stated short-term goals, confidence is built in the belief that whatever goals have been set can be reached.
    Many teachers neglect to give students a solid practice model, leaving it up to them to figure it out. The core practice sessions in the table below are divided into seven days with each day’s practice material being practiced in a different order. This adds variety to the practice session, keeping it from getting stale as well as keeping the embouchure from getting used to doing any set of practicing in a certain order. The table entries in bold should happen each day at the same point in the practice routine. Everything else can be rearranged as desired. The schedule does not specify how long to spend on each area; students should evaluate their playing and devote the most time to the areas that need the most work.

    Remind students that it is okay to fail in the practice room. If they always sound good on everything they practice, chances are they are not working on things they cannot do yet. They need to know that it is acceptable to make mistakes as long as they know and how to hear their mistakes and begin a path to fix them.
The materials in these practice sessions will vary from student to student, but the overall idea of what to practice should stay the same. For example, a student should never have a practice session without playing a lyrical etude or reading a solo work. Even though the etudes will vary, the sessions should always contain these themes along with all the others if possible.
    To re-warmup is to take a few minutes at the beginning of their practice session to buzz a few notes or lip flap to get the embouchure ready to play. A fully extended warmup is unnecessary because students will most likely have done the daily maintenance routine earlier in the day and played in their ensembles during school hours. If none of this has taken place then a fully efficient warmup is needed before the student starts the core practice session. Such a warmup should last anywhere from 20-25 minutes covering the ideas of lip vibrations, air flow, flexibility, sound development, articulation and intonation. After this extended warm-up, a resting session of 30-60 minutes will allow the embouchure to recover from the warm-up and be fresh to practice through all the materials in the core practice session.
    Many people have suggested the pedagogical idea of resting as much as you play. The idea of practicing in two sessions, daily maintenance and core practice, is a logical way to achieve maximum benefit from that dictum.