Benjamin Coy

Trombonist

Tapering

May 26, 2013 at 10:34 am

The audition I’m preparing for is about a week away, which means it’s time for me to taper my practice schedule. A good practice schedule includes periods of hard physical effort that leave you mentally and physically drained. But, because you want to go into the audition fresh and strong, you need to include some amount of a recovery period just before the audition.

For the past couple weeks, I’ve done less intense, focused practice on specific repertoire. In my original practice schedule, I was spending fifteen or thirty minutes at a time on individual excerpts but that’s no longer helpful. When I notice problems that need to be solved, I allocate the time to do so, but by and large, I’m confident in the way I play the excerpts. What I need to practice is consistency. I need to be able to play the excepts the way I like them the first time through, and regardless of what I played just prior.

So, I’ve been playing more mock auditions. I’ve had friends listen to me as often as I could convince them to – three or four times a week. Sometimes, I shuffle the excerpts and play them in a random order. Other times, I let my friends call the order. For a special treat, I arrange them in a way that I think I’m likely to find at the audition. Even when I can’t convince anyone else to listen to me, I’ve been playing the list for my cat. I think she’s getting sick of the Mozart Requiem.

Playing the same thing over and over again, however, can train a person to be inflexible. Your chops get used to playing only that music, your brain starts to focus only on the specific technical challenges of that list. It’s important to stay flexible, if only so that you can adjust if the committee asks for an excerpt to be played a different way. So, after my friends get done hearing me play the list, we play duets. In addition to the flexibility demanded by the variety in repertoire, playing duets ends up giving me a pretty good physical workout. It’s stimulating enough that we end up playing for a couple hours just because it’s fun. It’s pretty difficult to keep concentrating on the same little list of excerpts for that long, so just for the endurance practice, I think the duets are a vital part of my process.

Now that I’m one week out, though, I’m done with the mock auditions and endurance practice. Now it’s time to get my body and mind in top condition. The first part of that process is hydration. In any physical competition, hydration is key to a successful performance. Gatorade and its competitors have made a huge market out of this, but that solution might be overkill for me. I just start hydrating early, so that by the time the audition comes around, my body is saturated with fluids. How early do I start? Today. One week before the audition, I cut out alcohol, reduce coffee, and start drinking water all the time. Three days before the audition, I’ll really amp up the water, and drink more than I need, just to make sure.

In terms of my time with the horn, I’m gradually reducing my strenuous exercise. I will not do the mouthpiece routine at all this week. I’ll do the Adam routine for a few more days, and my last one will be four days before the audition. I’ll keep playing the list, mostly for accuracy and rhythm. The bulk of my practice, however, will just be on efficiency and sound quality. I will play a lot of soft scales and lip slurs, going for full resonance every time I put the horn on my face. I want that habit to be ingrained physically so no matter the conditions of the audition room, I will make a good sound. Whether it’s cold or hot, whether the room is dry or ringy, whether the ceiling is high or low, it’s my responsibility to produce something pleasant to hear, and that’s what I will practice this week.

To make sure my chops are fresh, I’ll cut back my practice time to almost nothing just before the audition. Three days prior, I’ll play for only one hour, and avoid anything high or otherwise difficult. Two days before the audition, I’ll play the list once or twice and that’s it. The day before the audition, I might do ten or fifteen minutes of warm-up, and that’s it. On the audition day, of course, I’ll have to deal with any number of unexpected factors. Things may or may not go my way – in fact, statistically speaking, they probably will not. But, I will be well prepared and ready to handle whatever I find.

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