On Recurring Themes

Lauren’s discussion on boredom got me thinking.

I have a small handful of recurring problems trombone-wise. I mean, there are a lot of things I could do better, and a lot of things that I’m sure the better players and teachers in the section would fix if I gave them the opportunity. But when it comes down to it, there are maybe three or four big problem things that keep happening over and over again. The stupid, frustrating part of it is that the symptoms are always the same, and it always takes me a long time to pick up on them.

The easiest to pick up on is lack of practice time. That’s been a constant since I got out of high school and stopped playing five or six hours a day. But I usually know when I’ve had a run of bad practice time days, so it’s easy for me to figure that one out.

Another is a constant problem with my bottom lip. It will either roll out (I think this is simply a conditioning issue- see above) or I will start using an overbite, downstream set to try to compensate for a lack of conditioning (see above again) out of a misguided belief that it will help me in the high register. I think that goes back to the days when I would do a lot of uncontrolled, semi-conscious embouchure shifting to try to get an obnoxious high range. This one is harder to diagnose: I have to be pretty vigilant in the practice room to notice it, but I’m always looking out for it. It was actually my friend Andy in the trumpet section who pinned me down on it last time it got to be a real problem! It often comes down to an observant section mate pointing out that I sound kind of like a wet balloon; it tends to make my tone thin, squeaky, and vaguely nasal, even if it does temporarily add a third to the top end. It makes lip slurs next to impossible anywhere outside of maybe the third and fourth partial. And it hurts after a little while.

The last one (that I can remember right now) is one of those things that’s so fundamental to playing that it’s embarrassing to even admit. Every now and then, I’ll get nervous and just cut off the air, start pushing from my throat. This is one of those things that almost every brass player knows about, but probably sounds ludicrous to the non brass-player, but I’ll let it go on that and hope everybody understands. I’ve had this pop up lately. I’ve been a bit nervous coming back to the AWCB after a long layoff, bouncing my replacement out of his chair, and generally wanting to prove I belonged there for more than my quick wit. And well, there are some high parts for a change, and that’s what I do, or at least what I claim to do: play high. So I get to the high parts, want to prove I can play them, get nervous, cut off the air, can’t play the part, get mad, get more nervous, cut off the air more. I try to compensate for the lack of air with brute chop force, so I run out of lip a third of the way through rehearsal, where I should be good for two hours with no problems. Two members of the section actually said something to me about air Monday, for which I am grateful, if mortified.

So what does this have to do with boredom? Well, these are the things I think about when I’m doing the same exercise for the umpteenth time. And when I get bored and let my guard down is when they tend to recur. So having taken my lumps and been reminded, I’m back to being a little more conscientious with the horn. For a while at least.

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