Routine, Warm-ups, and Why I Live in The Practice Room; or The Doc Severinsen Life Plan.

There seems to be a certain amount of conflict in brass circles in regards to how and what to practice. What material is essential to the development of good brass playing? I'm going to be talking a lot over the next few weeks about what I practice and why I do it, so today I'm going to start this topic by discussing warm ups and daily routines.  
Many musicians today use the terms warm-up and routine interchangeably. Often times I will ask my students if they have blown routine that day and they reply, "yeah, I'm warmed up." Despite this common attitude, I think there is actually a big difference in the function and content of a warm up from that of a daily routine. 
 
Before we get too far into this I think I should backup and say that anytime we are playing--in the practice room or the concert hall--we should be playing with the most beautiful sound we can imagine. Put another way, we are musicians so everything we do should be as musical as possible. Any kind of rote mechanical practice is at best an inefficient use of time and at worst can set us up for problems farther down the road. As we begin to discuss routines and warm-ups it is really important to remember that we are musicians and we should ALWAYS be playing musically.
 
Why do we warm up? A warm-up energizes the emrouchure and the air and quickly gets a musician ready for the task at hand. After a hard nights work on a gig we often times need something that gets us ready to play the next day in a hurry. My warm ups consist of a series of expanding scales that gets me playing through the entire range of the horn with a beautiful sound in a minute or two. Notice that the warm up is not designed to help you achieve new heights, just reach the same old heights you have already achieved.
 
Now, the question is, if this is all I do before I begin to play music, will I be adequately prepared for anything else that life as a professional will throw at me? The answer is mostly yes, with two fairly large caveats. 
 
The first caveat is that I can get away with this now because of the years I spent in college slugging it out in the practice rooms. If I were 18 and straight out of high school and practiced in the above manner now a decade later I would still sound more or less like a pretty good high school trumpet player. In short, I simply would not be ready for the physical and emotional hell-scape that being a freelance trumpet player is all about. This leads us to the second caveat. 
 
If I warm up and immediately begin to play music, logging only two or three hours of practice a day, my trumpet playing will remain more or less the same without any major deviations. This is a practice model advocated by many professionals in the classical field who are engaged in demanding performance schedules and simply do not have time for practice outside of what they need to prepare for work. Their job is about sounding the same every day, not plumbing the depths of their soul in search of  a more beautiful trumpet sound.
 
For the most part, this model works for a vast segment of working professionals, particularly members of major orchestras. But before you shout yippie and start tearing your Arbans book to tiny bits, think about what I said earlier, without a systematic daily set of brass fundamentals, we will never reach the level of these same professionals who are no longer engaged in some sort of draconian Doc Severinson life-plan.
 
So what are brass fundamentals? You could come up with a list a mile long, but I boil it down to three simple characteristics. (1) A beautiful, resonant sound, (2) Conscious Rhythm, and (3) a lyrical quality. Things like air, embouchure, pressure, and tongue placement, are all symptoms of the above 3 characteristics. A better way of thinking about it might be to put on a Doc Severinson record and just sound like that. 
 
These three characteristics are the things that should be present in all brass playing. A good routine specifically focuses on developing these traits and moves from the simple to the untenable with the idea that through slow, diligent, meticulous (read by some as boring) work, what was previously challenging is made easy. 
 
The tools with which we sharpen this proverbial saw probably come as no surprise; long tones, technical studies, flexibility studies, and lyrical studies. All together, a routine made up of these represent between one and three hours in the practice room (With equal parts of listening to music/rest and playing.)
 
Those of you looking for some kind of secret North Texas/IU sunken treasure are probably disappointed now. A better title for this blog post might have been "Everything Your Eighth Grade Trumpet Teacher Told You Was Right." Despite the populism of this kind of study though, I am always baffled why so few brass players do not take up this particular line of thought and how many more are directly opposed to it. I can say with a near certainty that a student who practices in this fashion will see freakish results in a very short amount of time if they follow this method of practice. Blowing routine is a lot of work and it's not gratifying. In a way, that's how you know it's working.
 
 

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