Time Well Spent
Posted by Chase Sanborn

Q: Should a brass player strive to practice the same number of hours as a saxophonist?

A: Brass players will never be able to match a saxophonist hour-for-hour. When a reed gets worn out, there are more in the box. Like the Energizer bunny, saxophone players can (and often do) keep going and going. When your lips get worn out, there is nothing to be done but let them rest. In fact, playing too much can be more detrimental than not playing enough.

The lips are like the quarterback on a football team. They have a vital role to play and they cannot do the job effectively if they are tired. Don’t practice to the point of exhaustion. Approach your sessions intelligently and strategically, with the goal of setting yourself up to feel good the next time you pick up the horn. Play until the chops feel well worked, then let them rest and rebuild.

You can increase the length of time you practice by injecting more rest into the routine; most players don’t rest enough. Balance the time that you play with an equal amount of rest and increase the length of the rest periods as you go. Make use of the rest time by fingering scales or patterns; work your fingers and your brain while your lips take a break. When working on a piece of music, finger each passage at least once for every time you play. Don’t ask your lips to perform something your fingers have not mastered.

When your lips start to feel tired or the sound deteriorates, it’s time to put the horn down. This doesn’t necessarily mean the practice session has to end. You could write some music, transcribe a solo or sit down at the piano. Playing a brass instrument is a means to an end: making music. There are many aspects of being a musician beyond buzzing the lips. In the end, it’s not the total number of hours you put in; it’s what you do with the time.

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