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I played bass trombone at a pretty advanced level for many years. However, due to personal reasons I gave it up (I quit cold turkey). That was 15 years ago. I would like to get back into playing again, but I'm not sure of the best way to get my chops back without damaging them. I still have a ton of muscle memory, but obviously no endurance. Does anyone have any suggestions?

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7 Answers 7

I've done this (albeit at more of a beginner level :)) on trumpet once. Start slow and don't expect to be instantly able to play with the range you were before. I found that my range and endurance were very limited at first, but it did build up quickly - within three months I was playing at my previous level. It may take longer for you, since you were away longer than I was and are probably much better than I.

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Your chops have a pain response for a reason! You can trust them--if you feel yourself nearing a threshold of pain, then stop immediately and wait until tomorrow, but chances are you'll be fatigued long before that happens. Just take it slow, use quiet, easy warmups to start, and trust your judgement as a brass player.

Track out the time you put into practice sessions--if you find you can only go 10 minutes on Day 1, you may be pleasantly surprised to find yourself lasting 15 or 20 on Day 2. Just take it easy and give yourself time to adjust. The instrument may not have changed, but your body has--it's not you relearning to play trombone, it's your brain relearning to play your body relearning to play trombone.

Any specific problems you've been encountering?

Good luck to you! Hope you can get back into it!

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I picked up playing Tuba after 18 years away. It came back to me surprisingly fast, and now I feel I'm even better than I was back then. My advice is to not be afraid of diving in. For a more technical answer, NReilingh got my vote.

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To give a similar yet alternative answer to NReilingh's, I'll refer to Denis Wick (of the London Symphony Orchestra), who suggests that all players of all abilities should take a three-week long holiday/vacation away from the horn every year or so. When "playing in" again he gives a relatively detailed procedure of how long your should practice each day:

The first day back at the instrument should consist simply of a 15-minute warm up. On the second day there should be probably be two separate 20-minute spells, at least 8 hours apart. By the third day more extensive practice may be undertaken, possibly in two 30-minute sessions. After these 3 days one's playing should have returned to normal, and a good hour's practice at each end of the day will reveal that the time spent away from the instrument has been of enormous benefit.*

He also advises against using the high register or hours of heaving playing for a little while.

The specific thing I feel is worth adopting is the idea of practicing for short spans multiple times in a single day. This example is being given to professionals who took a 3 week rest, you've had 15 years rest! Do "take it slow" and stop if you're feeling pain. However, I think you would benefit more from doing several 5-10 minute sessions adding up to 30 minutes than attempting your first 30 minute long session too soon.

Your embouchure is made up of the very small and fine muscles of your face. Just as a weight lifter (especially after a period of rest) will start slow and do several sets of reps at low weight, you want to do several sets of shorter practice sessions. It's very hard to recover if you damage these small muscles.

In addition to the "quiet, easy warmups" NReillingh is suggesting you do, for your whole practice session I'd suggest you avoid the extreme ranges. You may relish the glory days of popping out pedal notes with relative ease, but just because you can do something, doesn't mean you should. Limit yourself to the basic octave of your concert Bb scale for the first week or so. Then start to add notes above and below that ever week, stretching to middle C and low A the second week and continuing in like fashion. The reason for doing this is to make sure you're relearning good technique for your high and low notes. You'll thank yourself for taking it slow!

*Denis Wick Trombone Technique, 2nd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1984), 27.

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I recently started playing trombone again after 9 years or so. I think one of the most important things is to be playing with others. You can only do so much when practicing by yourself, and you don't want to wait until you're good enough to play in groups at your former skill level.

I had stopped playing during college to focus on my other studies. After graduating, I started practicing for a short time and auditioned for a jazz group that would have been closer to my abilities in college, but was unsuccessful (my sight reading was abysmal). After that, I stopped playing again, since I had nowhere to play.

This summer, I found a community band that did not require auditions, and met once a week. This was really beneficial, both for hearing others playing to jumpstart your memory about how this stuff works, and for having goals and commitments to stay focused. If you can find a similar outlet for playing, I highly recommend it.

Since then, I have joined a year-round concert band (audition required) and continue to practice regularly. My chops haven't completely returned to their former glory, but my range and endurance have improved significantly.

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I took a summer (3.5 months) off from playing for medical reasons during college. NOT the best idea, but it had to be done. The quickest way that I found to get back into it was similar to two of the other answers here combined:

I started slow, extremely slow. I began with simple long tone exercises, the first day just in the span from F3 to Bb3. (With bass trombone, Bb2 to Eb3 might be better, or something in that range.) I did 5-10 minutes of that, twice away for the first few days. After a few days, I added in very slow lip slurs in the middle register. All in the range from F3 to D4. Again, you might edit these ranges, depending on the size of your equipment and comfort level. Around the week mark, I was still only practicing for two or three daily sessions of 10-15 minutes each, but I added in some slightly faster lip slurs. Don't push any of this, keep it only where you can do everything perfectly cleanly, with no discomfort or abnormal adjustments. Since you're coming back from a much longer period without, I might do exclusively long tones and simple octave-ranged melodies for a longer period, say two weeks. For each of my "few-day" periods, I would make those a week or so if I were coming back from a longer period of time.

The most important thing is not to push it, even if you feel you can. My tone sounded great after that first day, and it made me want to play for longer, but I forced myself not to.

As others have said you WILL thank yourself for going slowly, and for that reason I'd err on the side of progressing too slowly rather than too quickly. Listen to your body for physical warning signs, and trust your musical knowledge and instinct so you don't learn any bad habits picking it up again.

Best of luck, and enjoy the ride!

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I played trombone for 6 years and was pretty good compared to my peers. I stopped playing when I graduated HS in 1986 and started picking it up in 2013. Yes, that is 27 years later. Since last year I average about 3 hours a week.

My suggestion is to practice for about 3 hours a week for 2 weeks. Then record your self, but have a bucket standing by to vomit in to from listening to your self. After recovering practice some more.

When I practice I record my self after witch I listen and make notes:

  • Long tones
  • Lip slurs
  • Scales
  • Practice playing high(new). There are several exercises out there on YouTube and the net. The one I use uses lip slurs for example starting at E2, A-flat2, B3, E3 where the positions are 2 - 3 - 4 - 5. Listen for the transition and don't use the tongue.
  • Practice double tongue(this is something new I never did) after a year I am getting better.
  • Find some excerpts from classical pieces (http://www.tromboneexcerpts.org/)
  • Listen to a lot of music
  • Set some goals both short and long. For my self the long goal is Double toughing, High notes, and I would like to Play Bach's Air.

There are a couple of Master Classes on Trombone that are very interesting. Some other recordings are

and

Finally, I would say first I am not in HS so stop trying to play like I am in HS. The second thing is when you play(lip slurs, scales, excerpts, solo's) try to stop yourself, and this is harder than you think, ask yourself "would someone want to hear this".

Most importantly don't get frustrated and quit. Quit when it is not interesting any more.

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