We had a nice long break between the Fall and Spring semesters, and I’ll be the first to admit it – I barely played at all during the four weeks we had off. But I’m not embarassed about this. In fact, a lot of great things come from taking time off. There are the obvious benefits of rest and recovery for our bodies, and mentally refocusing on other things – we all need this from time to time. But I also get direct results in my playing from taking time off.

For instance, I didn’t touch my bassoon until the day before this semester’s audition. I spent about 45 minutes the afternoon prior, just making sure everything on my bassoon was working okay, and that I had a good reed. Everything felt *really good* and comfortable. After the audition, my teacher told me she really liked my “new” vibrato, and that I looked and sounded really relaxed and comfortable. In fact, I was really relaxed. And I did have a “new” vibrato. Where did that vibrato come from? It was always in my head – I’ve always wanted it to sound that way – but I was usually too tense to make it happen during playing. But after a month off and having barely looked at my audition music, instead of worrying about each note and whether it would speak (or even if I would play the “right” notes), I was able to relax and let my body do what I’ve always wanted it to do. 

This is one of the main benefits I get from taking time off. When school’s in session, there’s a lot of pressure to get music ready – an etude for the next flute lesson, another for the next sax lesson, a feature piece to be played in front of the wind ensemble, a pit gig with a bunch of sharps for the clarinet – there is *always* something stressful around the bend! And if you’re not careful, this will creep into your body and into your playing. You aren’t generally aware of it because everything is so busy, and every time the horns come out of the case, you’ve got 45 minutes to prepare 2 hours worth of music – it gets stressful! 

But when you take some time off, this pressure bleeds away, and with it the tension that daily life brings to the horn. Ideally, none of that tension would make its way into my body when playing, but unfortunately it does. So when I take time off and then get back to the horns and everything feels really relaxed, I try hard to focus on that feeling and keep it with me as long as I can during the semester. I think this will pay off in the long run by training me to stay more and more relaxed, even during stressful playing and practicing situations. 

Try it some time. Take some time off. Go hunting. Read some books. Take a vacation. Whatever. Don’t take a horn. Don’t take any music. Don’t even listen to recordings of the pieces you’re working on. (I find that sometimes makes me feel the pressure of getting that piece ready.) Paint your house. Do something you’ve always wanted to do. If it takes a few weeks, so what? Enjoy it. Relax. And when you get back to your instrument(s) and play those first few notes, don’t worry if your tone has taken a step backward a little bit, or you can’t reach those altissimo notes that were working great only a few weeks ago. Concentrate on how relaxed you are, and remember, you can be that relaxed every time you play. 

As always, I hope this blog post has given you something helpful. Please let me know your thoughts on this or any other blog post. Happy playing!

 

I once asked my flute teacher how I should go about improving my tone, and he said I shouldn’t worry about it. Well, I thought that sounded kind of crazy, because quite simply, I’m a woodwind player, and I’m used to obsessing about tone (and equipment to help me achieve that tone). But he explained why, and here it is in a nutshell (I paraphrase). 

“Learn to play in tune in all registers. If you’re doing this, then you’ll also be getting a good sound. Why? Because if you are doing the above, then you are forming a correct embouchure and blowing the air across the cutting edge of the headjoint at the right angle, at the right speed, at the right times, breathing and supporting the air properly, and in general, doing everything else right.” 

Sounds easy enough, right? 😉