Dr. Jason Sulliman, Asst Prof of trombone at Troy University in Alabama has been doing a “1,000 Days of Practice” challenge since the end of 2017, where he practices every day for 1,000 days.
I don’t think that I have to mention that this is a pretty intense undertaking. Most professional musicians practice a lot, but it’s not surprising to hear about them taking days off here and there (sick, traveling, vacation, etc.).
It looks like the thousand days are progressing smoothly – he passed day 887 earlier this year and wrote a blog post about the difference between lips (the body part) and chops (the playing apparatus).
The interesting part of this blog post to me is how he discusses two different aspects of every player’s technique that I had not given a lot of thought about.
Most players have aspects of their playing that require work every single day.
This definitely happens during (and often months to years after) a big adjustment period (like an embouchure change), but it is also true for some players. They simply need to do a bit of “brush up” work on certainly playing techniques to keep them at a high level.
For me, one of the big things that I must work on every day is lip trills. It doesn’t take many days of ignoring the lip trill for mine to go downhill. Conversely, it also doesn’t take a lot of regular practice to keep it in a comfortable spot, but those 5-10 minutes need to happen daily, not grouped in a single panicked, marathon practice session once per week or month.
Most players also have other techniques that will improve with practice, but they don’t collapse as quickly or dramatically if ignored for a day or week.
Many times these are the more fundamental techniques, for me, these are things like breathing and air support, articulation, and general tone production.
Once a player gets a bit of comfort and confidence (high school or college), many times they have moved past worrying about these basics and want to work on more flashy aspects of playing (high, low, loud, fast, etc.).
The danger here is that if the habitual techniques work incorrectly or inefficiently, they can take down all your playing very quickly.
Even this doesn’t outright ruin your playing, it can make your “ability ceiling” much lower than it otherwise would be, and cause lots of frustration.
Since you don’t have to work on them every day, the tendency of many players is to only do them once in a while. And if you only do them when you notice them slipping, you’re never really extending your “ability ceiling” past a certain point.
Always hitting this ceiling makes practice frustrating and unenjoyable, since you seem to be working hard, but only spinning your wheels instead of moving forward.
The solution – do the “habitual” stuff every day. Even if it seems simple, do it every day.
So when you’re planning out your practice for the week, month, or semester, or looking into adjusting or adding to your warm-up routine(s), don’t forget to spend a little time on your basics to keep them at a high level.