I’ve been writing here for just a few weeks, and already this is my second post about not playing the trumpet. My high school self would be mortified. But what we do is both physically and mentally taxing, and taking time to heal and recharge is critical for quality, progress, and injury prevention.
You don’t get better by carrying chronic fatigue all the time. Athletes know this, and the physical side of playing any instrument is analogous. Any elite athlete will tell you that it’s not possible to be at a physical peak year round, that’s why it’s called a peak. For someone playing an orchestra season, it’s more of a long plateau than a peak, though you can be as detailed as you want within the span of the year. Regardless, that peak or plateau will be higher if your body has a chance to regroup and consolidate gains made over the last stretch of work.
It’s important to remember that we’re dealing with some very small, fragile muscles. Unrelieved chronic stress can do a great deal of damage over time. Repetitive strain injuries plague many musicians, and once they start they often never really go away. Aside from refining the ergonomics of your playing, resting proactively is just about all you can do to stave them off.
You don’t get better by being stuck in a rut. We spend so much time playing our instruments that the physical and mental habits we’ve developed become absolutely engrained. When the habits are good, that’s great. But nobody’s habits are perfect, and it can be quite challenging to change something that you’ve been doing a certain way for a long time. But after a week, or two weeks, or a month away from your instrument, all that programming isn’t quite so entrenched for a little while. When you come back to practicing, all your habits can shift a bit. This can be a good or bad thing. Not only are those specific areas you’re targeting easier to tweak, but the things that you had dialled in before can possibly slip out of place. It’s important to be very mindful, especially in the first days back, that you’re choosing which habits to engrain.
You get better when you’re physically energized, mentally engaged, and creatively stimulated. I think that sometimes the best way to get all three of those is to leave the horn in the case and remember what it’s like to live like a regular person again, if only for a little while.