Getting back in shape to play your instrument is usually not realized in a relaxed context. It is usually realized with anxiety concerning a deadline that is approaching. Though muscle memory is quick, and getting back in shape will not take too long, it is very easy to injure yourself along the way and prolong the time it takes to get in shape, or in the worst scenario, be the beginning of some really bad habits that will take you down later on in the year. If testing your endurance is your only gauge of your progress, beware of future issues. You will run into one if not both pitfalls. In the beginning, your tone will not sound quite right because your lip response will be inconsistent, and your ear will tell you to adjust something so your sound improves. And, because your response will be inconsistent the first few days, you will be tempted to play too much (either because you feel great and want to play more, or you feel terrible and try too hard to fix it).
Using the Denis Wick practice mute with the below schedule will accomplish 2 things. The mute will allow you to focus on making consistent your lip response as your muscles strengthen. And then, once your lip response is healthy, you can start building endurance in a much more efficient and healthy way.
The Denis Wick practice mute was designed to be a practice tool to help open and relax the throat. The light resistance it provides is a perfect cushion to help support weak or tired chops. These aspects make it a perfect tool for getting back in shape, or refocusing or balancing overused chops after a heavy load of performance.
Do light mouthpiece buzzing to start, and then, using the mute, follow a warm-up that includes long tones, lip slurs, and articulation. This warm up should not last any longer than 20 minutes. Do this routine and you are done for the day. Don’t push the range on this day. Keep everything light and easy. End before you feel fatigued.
Start with a little mouthpiece buzzing again, add the mute for your warm up routine, and start to add your full range back in. Don’t push to hit your full warm-up range. You have a couple days to do this. If you feel comfortable going through your full range, then reach for it, but do not overdo it.
Start with mouthpiece buzzing, do your muted warm-up, continuing to add range if you still need to. Now, remove the mute and add one or 2 short flow study etudes (i.e. Clarke Studies) or lyrical etudes (the Arban book is great for this). You may feel great and want to do more than 2, but do not push it. You are not ready for working on endurance yet. You are still solidifying response.
Start with a little mouthpiece buzzing. Do a mini version of your warm up with the mute. Remove the mute, and repeat that mini warm up without the mute. When your warm-up routine is finished, move to your flow/lyrical etudes, and add 1-2 technical/articulation studies to them. Remember to choose shorter exercises. We will start addressing endurance tomorrow.
Follow the mouthpiece buzz and warm-up schedule from Day 4. As you move into your etude work, find a full-page etude to start working through. I highly suggest using an Arban’s Characteristic study #1. If these studies are not familiar to you, then choose another longer etude that will explore both your lyrical and technical playing. Do not try to push the whole way through. Break it up into 4-8 sections (or whatever makes sense). Accomplish the whole etude, but take breaks after each section.
You know the drill…. Once you get to your etude portion, lessen the sections. You may be able to play the whole etude by now, so go for it. That is the goal. If you have music to prepare for an upcoming lesson or gig, you can add this in after the etude. Using the mute to start learning the new music will help prolong your chop energy, and will set you up to be in a really healthy spot with the new music as well.
You made it! At this point, you may choose to keep your warm up routine with the mute, but if you are ready, pack it away for the next time you need to get back in shape or re-center your playing. From here on out, challenge your endurance with trying to play your etude multiple times in a row, or adding a 2nd etude.