Dealing with Tension

Discussion in 'Trumpet Discussion' started by Sethoflagos, Oct 6, 2014.

  1. Sethoflagos

    Sethoflagos Utimate User

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    I sometimes think of playing a melodic line as skipping across stepping stones. If you're playing within your capabilities, any slight inaccuracy in the hop from one stone to another can be adjusted on the fly and little harm done.

    But when you push it a bit, the inaccuracies can build up, and tension rises in your embouchure, the root of your tongue, your shoulders and eventually, with apologies for the most appalling of mixed metaphors, it all collapses into a hideous train wreck.

    I guess all of us can feel this starting to happen, and start looking for a sustained note where we can readjust and regain our balance. But if that's not available, do you have any reliable techniques to disperse the tension and regain control?
     
  2. Haste2

    Haste2 Piano User

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    I'm wondering the same thing actually....
     
  3. rowuk

    rowuk Moderator Staff Member

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    This is a search and destroy mission - after we have destroyed a performance, we search for the reasons and build technique to deal with it.

    There are typical sources of tension, the most prevalent being due to improper preparation. When we have for instance, not entered breathing marks on our part, changing our breathing strategy causes many things to go wrong. We start breathing in the wrong places, have too much or too little air, have to compensate by muscling through, and generally crash. Entering breathing marks BEFORE we play the first notes helps us train phrases properly and avoids the very situation!

    Rhythm is the second biggest performance killer. If we don't have that steady pulse in us, we start playing against the music. We lose a beat, a note, a phrase - simply because we were not prepared!

    Anxiety is the third most prevalent cause of a train wreck and it stems from an inferiority complex - we are not sure if we can, therefore we can't. This needs a LOT more than enough preparation. With some players I need 6 months to help them get a life to fight this crippling situation. Various techniques are required, from a rewards system to taking a break.

    A prepared body is also a BIG DEAL. If we are not prepared for that big breath, if our stance is not solid, if our posture sucks, vital processes are sub optimal. Various things can fall apart. Dealing with this on the fly, can be as easy as standing up more straightly, breathing when and where we should or as difficult as mashing the horn into our face until the end of the phrase and hoping that we have enough strength to get through.

    Through time, we build better playing habits and the train wreck sources become fewer. My general advice is to SLOW DOWN DURING PREPARATION. Build good breathing and body use habits, leave enough time to adequately prepare and we will be well on our way to minimising the effects of tension, and more in a position to return to a playing state in equilibrium.

    Of course there are chemicals to take the edge off of performance. I only can accept using them when all other methods have failed and we have a limited time period to get our act back together.
     
  4. Cornyandy

    Cornyandy Fortissimo User

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  5. stumac

    stumac Fortissimo User

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    As usual Rowuk is right on the money, I have been there. The worst for me was anxiety, I read quite well and have no problems with rhythm.

    For some years the friend I share a room with at an annual music camp, an excellent tuba player, has been telling me that I am a much better player than I think I am, now after learning to relax more and improving my breathing (thanks Rowuk for your circle of breath) I am beginning to believe him.

    Regards, Stuart.
     
  6. Comeback

    Comeback Forte User

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    Good thread, Seth. Thank you for starting it.

    Helpful reply, rowuk. Thank you.

    Jim
     
  7. rowuk

    rowuk Moderator Staff Member

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    I am learning guys, it is tough, but I am learning.............. Answer the question first and tell the truth later that no one wants to hear the first time around......

    You see, tension is not the problem, anxiety isn't either. They are merely symptoms of something much, much deeper and usually affecting much more than our trumpet playing.

    Let's start at the beginning: Why do we have to learn to breath differently? Why do we need to work on our posture? Why is our preparation not consistent or even adequate?

    I could pose a lot more examples, but I think that you know now where I am going.

    The REAL problem is that we really don't give a crap about our bodies and minds until we have to. This gets passed on to children from somewhere, so don't be too hard on yourself unless you have children!

    Let's take a big step back: observe babies before they become mobile. Look at their posture and breathing - pretty impressive. Check kids out when they learn to move, what a logical sequence of activity with one skill leading to the next - without even thinking about it. Have you ever seen a frustrated 1.5 to 2.5 year old when communication doesn't work - hell no - plan B (crying) is not frustration. As children are domesticized (a term generally only used with cats and dogs), all of the great and real important stuff falls apart. Why? Because we now have been turned over to reacting based on what we can intellectualize. If I am not "aware" that sitting straight is good for me, rather that I can get a reaction from mom and dad when I don't, the wrong signals are being sent. Yes, we LEARN and get bad habits REINFORCED by our interaction with those that are supposed to be paying attention - because they too simply react (or don't) based on the little that they know.

    Let's move forward to school. How much quality time is spent on low tension physical activity? None? In learning to run fast, jump high or far, throw a ball, whatever, we develop patterns of TENSION. When we sit down on chairs that are too high or use tables that are too low, we reinforce bad posture. Swimming is not used for physical balance, our bicycles are not set up to promote good posture.

    What about driver ed? Did anyone ever study the subject of how to set the seat for minimum attack on the skeleton?

    I could go on and on, but you probably have already had enough........

    Now what about the mental part. As a baby we are very open and reach a point where we start to emulate. Mothers think that they are being smiled at, dads have to lock up tools because our brains are also "manipulated" by our surroundings. We develop our values (including our approach to learning things). Some have natural talent and can ride in specific subjects for a while with that - until their laziness catches up with them. How many trumpet students in school "like" scales, lipslurs and Clarke technical studies? How much real methodology for acquiring skill do we get from our surroundings?

    So now fast forward to a somewhat more than casual player who discovers tension in their trumpet playing. Where do we start considering what I have just written? Now you know why I post the way that I do.

    Basically, we are ALL screwed up. Some of us are lucky and had key experiences that helped at least some aspect of our lives become better. For the rest, there is a very big process involved to get behind tension, stress and anxiety. Without a process that turns us into "experienced babies", we bang away at Arban, Clarke, Bai Lin, Schlossberg, Bolvin and many other methods - we may even progress somewhat. This remarkable when we consider the enemy.

    I maintain that a holistic view is the beginning of anything that we want in life. We have to look at our social interaction, office setup, the height of our chairs at the dinner table, how much and what type of physical activity we can squeeze in. When our lives become "worth more" to ourselves, THEN we have a chance of putting things in proper perspective and really moving forward.

    Do what you should, when you should and you will not have to when you have to!

    Generally I can recommend slowing down as the first step.

    Otherwise, sorry, I am not depressed, just generally angry because patches reinforce the enemy.
     
  8. gmonady

    gmonady Utimate User

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    Tension is in the mind.
     
  9. gmonady

    gmonady Utimate User

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    This story may have some application: A student was playing a recital piece for me and kept messing up... in the same place. Kept repeated the passage several times... always messed up in the same place. So on going back over the passage yet another time, prior to starting the passage, the student was told to point out a place in the measures close to, but on the ohter side of where the mess ups were ocuring and was instructed to mess up THAT passage. The student proceded by mess up the passage down stream, but played through perfectly the previous message that was messed up. Just goes to show you what the mind is able to do.
     
  10. Sethoflagos

    Sethoflagos Utimate User

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    There's a fourth source of tension that applies particularly to beginners and comebackers who haven't a stable foundation on which to build. 'Holistic' is a good word here since all aspects of technique interact with each other, and every new skill you add interferes to a greater or lesser extent with what has already been laid down. So all the subconcious stuff is in a constant state of flux and it's very easy to get into a position where there's simply too much going on to maintain control.

    For example, I've noticed while working on tonguing that it impacts embouchure, pitch, airflow and body resistance quite considerably, and in different ways for different registers and volumes. So when tone and sound drift a bit, you know that you should be doing something about it, but haven't the faintest idea what that 'something' is.

    I remember my first ever lesson was learning the notes C-D-E. I find myself going back to that quite often.
     

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