Originally published to WestonSprott.com
Once the temperature drops below 50 degrees F, and the weather starts getting more dry, I keep two humidifiers running 24 hours a day in my home (one in my bedroom and one in my practice space). Being completely parched and puffy is a killer for brass players. Drinking a lot of water is simply not enough. Make sure that when you can control your environment, you make it one that improves the health of your playing!
I don’t always shave, but when I do, I do it late at night. I always find it preferable to shave at night, after all my playing for the day is complete. While you sleep, the hair grows back ever so slightly, allowing you to have a seal that is nice but not sticky. Shaving in the morning, or within a few hours of when I plan to play the instrument, makes the seal of the rim sticky and uncomfortable. It is preferable to have a bit of flexibility. Furthermore, excessive playing or rim pressure soon after shaving increases the possibility of ingrown hairs or pressure bumps right at the spots where the rim is in contact with your face. When these pop up, and you have to play, it can be very painful!
Having trouble sleeping in the nights leading up to a big audition? Jet-lagged and have to play a concert tomorrow? Stayed out too late after a concert and now your body’s clock is out of whack? Become friends with melatonin. Take 5mg about an hour before you hope to go sleep for a couple of days in a row, and it should help you get back on track. It's also helpful to note that getting good sleep two nights before a big day is often times more important than the night before. Try to stay ahead of the game with your resting.
Every once in awhile, I have to deal with the issue of my chops being swollen from excessive playing. Ideally, you want to balance your playing in such a way that this doesn’t happen often. However, on the occasions when it does happen, it can be quite helpful to reduce the swelling by taking ibuprofen. My preferred choice is Advil Liqui-gels. They seem to take effect very quickly. Also, it can be helpful to launch a pre-emptive strike on swelling when you know you are about to put your embouchure under extreme duress. For example, I often times take one or two ibuprofen before Act 2 of Gotterdammerung or Act 3 of Die Walkure.
5. Electric Toothbrush
If you have a tendency to brush your teeth aggressively, and every once in awhile you nick the inside of your mouth with your toothbrush…. buy an electric toothbrush. The cost is well worth the stress saved by not being worried about the latest cut in your mouth, and the fact of the matter is that a good electric toothbrush cleans your teeth far better than any manual brush can. It’s a win-win!
6. Don't eat airplane food
Airplane food usually doesn’t taste that good to begin with. On top of that, it usually leaves you feeling bloated and unsatisfied. Whenever it’s possible to not eat on a flight, take advantage of the opportunity. It’s better to eat a large, healthy meal with fresh ingredients pretty soon before boarding the flight, and then stick to water, light snacks, and sleep on the plane. I prefer to show up in the new city a little hungry, in search of a real meal, rather than arriving with that full, yet unsatisfied feeling which often accompanies the in-flight meal.
7. Don't stay up all night for a flight
You have a flight in the morning, and it’s you’re going to land several times zones away from your place of departure. Let’s stay up all night and hang out so that we’ll be sleepy for the flight…. BAD IDEA! At least that’s my opinion. I’ve tried this method a few times, and it has never worked well. On the other hand, trying to maintain a relatively normal sleep schedule right up to the flight has worked better. I’d rather show up to the flight rested than exhausted. Sleep on a plane is rarely as restful as sleep in a real bed. You end up getting zero sleep the night before, plus subpar sleep on the plane. I can’t for the life of me understand how increasing your sleep deficit is a good thing for your health.
8. Value sleep over practice
At some point, we all run into the question of whether to rest or practice. You have so much work to do and things to improve, but you are so tired!! Well, 9 times out of 10, the correct answer is to rest. If you fall behind, at least you’ll have plenty of energy to make up for lost time. There’s almost nothing worse than being burnt out.
9. Oil of oregano/baking soda paste
Something terrible has happened. You have a cut in your mouth, your lip split in your sleep, you caught an elbow to the chops playing basketball, you bit your lip while eating…. I’ve done all of these and more. It always happens at the absolute worst time, and then you’re panicking, hoping you will heal well enough to play at a high level for your next engagement. When this happens, I suggest rinsing your mouth with a water and hydrogen peroxide solution. Add a few drops of oil of oregano directly on the cut/split. This will be painful, but helpful. Do this a few times throughout the day. Before going to sleep, create a thick paste that is made up of baking soda and water. Apply the paste liberally over the cut and allow it to dry/harden as much as possible. Put some lip balm on the outside of your lips, and sleep as much as you can.