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Testing the theory that a break makes you better

Postby Michael Bush » Tue Sep 05, 2017 7:39 am

I've been pretty skeptical of this theory though a least one fine player believes in it wholeheartedly and advocates for it here sometimes.

The fact is I just haven't wanted to play for a while. I sold my instrument a few weeks ago to someone who needed one like it for a particular situation, and intended to replace it immediately, but I just let it ride a few weeks instead. I finally bought one yesterday and I'll take it next week to a good community band.

I'm looking forward to seeing if I've gotten better by not practicing!
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Re: Testing the theory that a break makes you better

Postby jpwell » Tue Sep 05, 2017 8:36 am

you have a pm
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Re: Testing the theory that a break makes you better

Postby bloke » Tue Sep 05, 2017 9:12 am

- physical recovery
- fresh start
- bad habits not reinforced for 1, 2, 3, 4 weeks or more
- reset
- reevaluation
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Re: Testing the theory that a break makes you better

Postby ghmerrill » Tue Sep 05, 2017 9:41 am

I think Bloke has it nailed. But there's a "length of break" which, if gone beyond, puts you in a kind of "recovery hole".
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Re: Testing the theory that a break makes you better

Postby Voisi1ev » Tue Sep 05, 2017 11:26 am

I took a 4-year break a, it took about a year, but I think I'm playing better now ( I guess this was the previously mentioned "recovery hole").

But really, it allowed me to fix some bad habits.

I usually don't play on Saturdays and find when I come back to my horn Sunday or Monday I'm forcing things less. That might just be a lack of end of week tiredness/stress.
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Re: Testing the theory that a break makes you better

Postby bloke » Tue Sep 05, 2017 11:56 am

I don't believe those muscles that support the lips really take very long to regain their strength, and I really don't believe that those muscles need to be super-strong to play the tuba well.

At whatever level one has mastered playing the tuba, the main thing (whether practicing four hours each day, or having not practiced in a month) is "giving oneself permission to play well". I played a recital a few years ago (international horn blah-blah in Memphis) where I really barely was practicing at all, because I was extremely busy doing other things. It was not an easy piece, and several movements, but I knew the piece and (again) "gave myself permission to play well".

This guilt thing: "I don't deserve to play well, because I haven't been beating myself to death, lately," is not useful.
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Re: Testing the theory that a break makes you better

Postby MaryAnn » Tue Sep 05, 2017 1:26 pm

I found out from enforced non-voluntary breaks that if one has technique, one can come back from a break very quickly. It's technique that plays the instrument, not strength. Especially tuba, I can come back and remember how to play it after very long periods of time. Higher brass, yeah that does require a bit of chop building, but I basically sound the same as I did before the enforced break.
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Re: Testing the theory that a break makes you better

Postby Tubanomicon » Tue Sep 05, 2017 5:01 pm

I like to think of playing the tuba along the lines of resistance training. (Muscles are involved in both, after all.) Many reputable workout routines involve "splitting" the schedule into chunks consisting of 2-3 days "on" (training) and 1 day "off" (growth/rest). It's important that we give ourselves the time to internalize what we've learned over the past week, even if it's just over the course of a single rest day.
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Re: Testing the theory that a break makes you better

Postby bloke » Tue Sep 05, 2017 6:56 pm

“Very little strength can produce much motion of air. Learn about air as motion.”

--Arnold Jacobs


I sweat when I'm dragging tree limbs or loading cut firewood in July, but not when playing the tuba.
If it's "hard", it's going to sound "hard", and that's probably not good.

Finally, "a lot of air" blown between lips that aren't very far apart still isn't really that much air.
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Re: Testing the theory that a break makes you better

Postby PaulMaybery » Tue Sep 05, 2017 10:15 pm

This is kinda what we are discussing, but then again it ain't exactly.

Each summer for the past36 years,I've conducted a wonderful brass band in Silverton, Colorado.
The players some from both coasts and Maine to Texas. The point being, because of their travel efforts they want to play challenging and significant pieces while they are there.

So in the book, there are charts that I scored for BB such as Die Meistersinger, Tchaik 4, Polvetsian Dances, March Slave, Pictures... etc. These are terribly challenging for most of the 'skill sets' that brass players use. Bear in mind the players do not see the charts until the 1st of 4 days of rehearsals.

That first rehearsal is figuratively what we call a "blood bath" One might think that they could never play these pieces.

This year as a means of encouragement, I mentioned that as they sleep in their hotel beds, their minds are sorting out all those passages in the back of the brain and tomorrow it will sound really well. Taking time for the brain to process information, particularly that which needs to be retransmitted, is pretty well know among certain players.

I find the same is true when I am confronted with a terribly challenging solo piece. After a good run through, it always sound better the next day, and I often wonder why I thought it was so difficult.

Now, there is an exception. Earlier I mentioned "skill sets." If someone does not have the skill sets to play high C (for istance) on Monday, the night off is not gonna make them play it on Tuesday (sort of like the joke: Hey Doctor, when my arm heals will I be able to play the violin?" ... you get my drift.

So part of the issues is more than just muscle recovery, but also includes unconsious brain activity that sorts through the challenges are turns chaos into order.
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Re: Testing the theory that a break makes you better

Postby bloke » Wed Sep 06, 2017 9:36 am

Reinforcing (agreeing with) Paul's post (just as I reinforced another post of his - just a few moments ago),

If one can find online videos of journalists' interviews of Arthur Rubinstein (silent "h" :wink: ) shortly before his death, he could still play all the major concerti (as his mind still knew all of them) about as well as most competition-level students...but his 90+ year-old fingers and shoulders just weren't quite up to the task of achieving his early-mid-life levels of virtuosity.
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Re: Testing the theory that a break makes you better

Postby Dean » Wed Sep 06, 2017 10:32 pm

I'm shooting for a 10 to 20 year break, then we'll see what chops I have left.
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Re: Testing the theory that a break makes you better

Postby BrooklynBass » Wed Sep 06, 2017 10:43 pm

I'm back on the horn after a decade-long break. I feel (behind the mouthpiece) and sound better than ever... and people keep throwing gigs at me.

Part of me wonders what I could have been (musically) if I didn't quit in 2006.

But I think a bigger part of me is thankful for the perspective gained from having to buy a horn with my hard-earned adult money because I came to realize how much I missed playing.

Playing for the sheer joy of performing is also a lot more rewarding than playing scale drills and the Haddad Suite for a grade 8)
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Re: Testing the theory that a break makes you better

Postby bloke » Wed Sep 06, 2017 10:53 pm

I was trying to "slip" back into playing (after yet another July/August of beating on sousaphones and cleaning dried slobber out of them) with a simple little quintet gig (a "Freshman Convocation"...sort like a "Kindergarten Graduation"), and playing the 14 notes of D-9...but - with D-9 - I got "caught": Tomorrow, I have to cover the bass tbn part in reh's 1&2. :shock:
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Re: Testing the theory that a break makes you better

Postby GC » Thu Sep 07, 2017 12:11 am

I'm coming back after a 5-month break because of medical reasons that ran into the summer scheduling hiatus. I picked up my tuba twice in that time, once for a quintet rehearsal and once for a short quintet gig. Everything is going well, my tone is better than it has been in quite a while, and I feel mentally fresher. I should do this more often.
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Re: Testing the theory that a break makes you better

Postby Will Jones » Thu Sep 07, 2017 8:02 am

I think there is a personal mental health aspect to this as well. Whether you want to or not you need to take breaks for yourself and your family. Reality will dictate that. The question you need to decide for yourself is whether you will feel guilty about it. You'll carry that weight with you and drag down yourself and your family. That's not really ok and it's selfish in a self-destructive kind of way.

No, you should not feel guilty. And to the extent vacations and breaks are necessary and beneficial to you as a person, you should plan and embrace those times. You will be a better and healthier person. It might translate to the horn, or maybe not. But it's the right thing either way.

On the other hand, don't expect to get better by not practicing. You have to put the time on the horn when you do get back in the saddle.
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Re: Testing the theory that a break makes you better

Postby bloke » Thu Sep 07, 2017 8:33 am

I think there is a personal mental health aspect to this as well.

bingo.
When "practicing" is tied in with a neurosis, it may not be (probably is not) a productive pursuit.

There's no improvement during a break, but I believe there is potential for starting somewhere close to where one was before the break and making more-significant and more-rapid improvement (after a break) than without one.

:arrow: IMPORTANT: There should also be some self-evaluation regarding when to take a break. If great strides (or even "some progress") are/is being made, it's silly to take a break. However, if one is in a "beating ones head against a wall" period, it's break time...but don't be dumb, and don't turn down paying gigs, and remember (if hired to play) the "giving myself permission to play well" thing.
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Re: Testing the theory that a break makes you better

Postby Tubanomicon » Thu Sep 07, 2017 10:36 am

You make a good point, Bloke. We should never shy away from an opportunity to perform as long as we are healthy. Perhaps the break should apply more to drills and intense practicing that draws our attention inward. Rather, a break can allow us to reconnect with the simple act of playing a musical instrument without such intense internal focus. (Again referencing the resistance training metaphor, we can refrain from exercising for a day, but that doesn't mean we can't go for a walk, play softball, or do anything else physical.)
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Re: Testing the theory that a break makes you better

Postby PaulMaybery » Thu Sep 07, 2017 11:10 am

Okay, here is another epic tale from the legends of the greats.
Probably 40 years ago I was part of a group hosting the famous flute virtuoso Jean Pierre Rampal.(the quintessential Frenchman) Over a group dinner at a rather fine restaurant, (one where we could find wine that actually came with a cork in the bottle) we were chatting and always trying to figure out how those great people became great. We always used to think there was a secret exercise or routine or even some sort of 'silver bullet.' So in picking Rampal's brain, and after getting him relaxed, one of the questions was about how he prepared for one of his concert tours.
The answer blew me away. I thought he would have spent half a year preparing literature and getting himself in shape. Rather, he explained that he took a month off and went south to the coast and relaxed and had a good time. Then a couple of days prior to the tour he would meet with is accompanist, run down the charts, and then be off and running. He felt the relaxation was more important than obsessive and non-stop practing. Being refreshed after that 1 month break he was able to jump back in the ring with renewed vitality. But then again these concert tours were well within his skill sets, and the literature, well he probably had a lot of experience with it already. Hence the tour became something that was actually enjoyable.
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Re: Testing the theory that a break makes you better

Postby Beervangelist » Thu Sep 07, 2017 11:50 am

I concur with some of the posters that a break can be refreshing, mentally and physically.

I also believe strongly that road back from a break can have a huge impact on how you look at music, your instrument and your confidence. I have had several breaks - ranging from a month or two during significant collegiate playing, to a few years, and then to my latest - a little more than a decade.

I feel like I learned the seeds of this in the early days, having to come back from wisdom teeth extraction during auditions at DePaul. I was told by my dentist that if I blew too hard, too early - I'd blow a hole into my nasal cavity. I was told by our musical director that if I missed the audition, he couldn't do anything to help me. I was going to play the audition.

Coming back, however - I didn't rehearse the material. I blew long tones and low tones in shorter practice sessions, just getting my chops to feel comfortable and to focus on my breathing. All of this gave me physical warm up/restoration and confidence that I could play. I needed to believe that I knew the material, and had the musicianship to carry me through any disadvantage.

I've carried this lesson through many other experiences. Playing rock and roll on both instruments (electric bass and tuba) has helped deepen the lesson. The perfect situation, or preparation or complete readiness is fictional. We're always playing through some sort of obstacle, disadvantage, weakness or distraction. To be a pro, you need to believe you can play the gig and deliver musicianship, no matter what. Granted, there's more freedom in some styles of music to adapt a line if you need to, but I think the premise is always solid. Musicianship counts. If you can serve the piece of music, the ensemble, the listener - by playing musically - you will sound better than a physically superior player who fails to do so.

Each break I've had - I've looked at the road back as an opportunity to develop my own path and demonstrate that I can ready myself with fundamentals and sound strategy and most of all, I rebuild my approach with musicianship prioritized over ego.

I think breaks can be good, but it's what you do with them. It's really an opportunity to build my overall awareness of how I can strengthen myself as a musician, and a player. How to use what I have within me, to contribute productively. In that regard, breaks and their returns, can turn into breakthroughs, as you have access to a perspective to see the bigger picture in a whole new light.

I'm sure I can't play all of the technical pieces I used to, and my range is about 60% of what it once was. However, I think I'm a better musician and more valuable to a group than ever before.
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