Taking a Summer Practice Break

Lessons during the summer are always an interesting balance.

While I do have a few students that spend significant time practicing, most students tend to pull back at least a little bit. Sometimes it’s a lack of motivation or performances to prepare for, other times it can be long stretches of vacation and the inability to take the horn with them.

Either way, having a little bit of time away from the horn is (usually) a nice way to decompress and evaluate how to move forward in the coming school year.

In that spirit, here’s the advice I’ve been giving to students that have taken “vacations” from the horn (or any brass instrument) over a break:

  • Figure out when you need to be back “in shape”. If you’ve got an upcoming performance or a particularly challenging rehearsal sequence (like marching band camp) coming up, make sure you put that on your calendar.
  • Work backward from that date for 5-14 days. This is when you probably need to be back in a regular practice groove. While only experience can tell you exactly how many days you need, in general, it’s better to have too many than too few.
  • Until your scheduled “resuming” date, take a break!
  • Keep in mind that you’ll probably lose a little bit of your technique while you’re getting back in shape. While the specifics are very player-dependent, most find that they will lose some of their high and low range, their very loud and quiet dynamics, and a decent amount of endurance. If you have a performance or rehearsal cycle that needs any of these things, you’ll want to start preparing earlier.
  • When you are getting back into shape, make sure to start back slowly. Don’t try to just jump right back into your same routine!
  • Coming back from a break may be slightly frustrating, but it’s also very valuable. While you will have lost some of your technique and muscle memory, you can use this as a time to relearn bad (or counterproductive) playing habits. (Here are a couple of resources for replacing bad habits.)

This last point is speaking from experience!

This summer we took a two-week vacation where it wasn’t practical for me to take my horn. I did take a mouthpiece (and a buzz pipe) and did about 10-15 minutes of buzzing exercises each day, however. Our vacation lasted a few days longer than it was supposed to (long story!), and I had a very strenuous rehearsal/show cycle that started only 4 days after we got back. Although everything went okay, it definitely did not feel good, and I wasn’t feeling 100% until about 1.5 weeks after getting back to my regular routine.