Player Fatigue; the elephant always on the stage

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Macbone1
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Player Fatigue; the elephant always on the stage

Post by Macbone1 » Mon Jun 21, 2021 8:42 am

I was a military musician for 26 years and a trombone performance major for 4 years before that. One thing I could always count on - concert programming seems to be like Supersizing fast food menus - the more the better. As commonplace as this is in the US, it was even worse in Europe, where 3 hr concerts were not uncommon.
Endurance, not musicality etc became my chief concern about the performances, esp if playing first parts.
People have come up with some measures to mitigate fatigue, such as mouthpieces designed to cushion and/or "cool" the embouchure, mouth stretches and exercises, some with special devices etc.
But concert programmers remain insatiable, often programming your most demanding pieces near the end of a long program. Besides going on tours and building titanium chops, what new tricks do we have to help with the fear of embouchure collapse onstage?
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robcat2075
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Re: Player Fatigue; the elephant always on the stage

Post by robcat2075 » Mon Jun 21, 2021 10:15 am

A three hour concert? Ouch.

I think there are union rules to prevent that in professional circumstances, outside of operas.
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Re: Player Fatigue; the elephant always on the stage

Post by BGuttman » Mon Jun 21, 2021 10:58 am

Still, in an opera the trombones only play a small part of the performance. Even in Wagner.

Thankfully I haven't had to do a 3 hour concert, although my record was playing 3 July 4 parades followed by a sit-down (finishing up with a wimped out version of Stars and Stripes Forever where we didn't have a piccolo and I covered that solo part). Good thing I was 20 years younger than I am now -- I'd never have made it.

I've found that endurance comes from lots of practice. And the converse is true as well -- no practice, no endurance. Long tones and basic exercises have use to build endurance. But you have to use intelligence -- playing past the fatigue point will make things worse.

Another thing that seems to help endurance is playing lots of gigs. Gigs with a lot of playing constitute another form of practice. Three one-hour gigs are actually better than one 3 hour gig, though. And a dance band gig with breaks works good as well (50 minutes on, 10 minutes off).

For a lot of lead playing, small/shallow mouthpieces work best. There's a reason the famous lead players gravitated to the Bach 11C/12C mouthpiece.
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Re: Player Fatigue; the elephant always on the stage

Post by timothy42b » Mon Jun 21, 2021 11:52 am

We had a member here who was part of a circus band. jhereg I think, haven't seen her post in a while.

They play pretty continuously, about 6 three hour gigs a week maybe? That is mind boggling.
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Re: Player Fatigue; the elephant always on the stage

Post by ArbanRubank » Mon Jun 21, 2021 12:09 pm

Do you have to play every note? Are there places you can lay out, virtually unnoticed?
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Doug Elliott
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Re: Player Fatigue; the elephant always on the stage

Post by Doug Elliott » Mon Jun 21, 2021 12:30 pm

The single biggest thing that affects endurance is playing with correct form for your particular embouchure and embouchure type. If you have no awareness of what that means, the chances are that as you get tired you start "losing form" and doing things that tear you down even faster. More practice doesn't help that, it only makes you better at covering up your deficiencies.

There are also some things that can help a lot, like pacing yourself - don't play too loud too early in the day, rest whenever you can, don't play louder than you need to, back off if your part is doubled somewhere else. Use ENOUGH mouthpiece pressure but not too much (too little is sometimes more of a problem). For many players, BIGGER mouthpieces (inside rim diameter) provide more endurance, not smaller mouthpieces. For others it is the opposite - depending on embouchure type and correctness of form.
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Re: Player Fatigue; the elephant always on the stage

Post by PaulTdot » Mon Jun 21, 2021 12:38 pm

Great post here by Doug.

Keeping an eye on volume is really, really key: if you can get away with reducing your volume by even 5% (which, in many cases, no one will notice), you'll feel VERY different at the end of the gig.

If you can maintain good form while getting tired, you'll also have less trouble (and this requires some study!). I sometimes use the analogy of bending your knees when lifting heavy boxes: the one who gets lazy and forgets to do it will hurt his back, whereas the one who remembers to can do it, and do it again the next day, without trouble.
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Re: Player Fatigue; the elephant always on the stage

Post by Burgerbob » Mon Jun 21, 2021 12:45 pm

Choose your battles, volume wise. I know it was said above, but it should be said again.

And if this your entire life, dial your equipment in for endurance (perhaps at the expense of other things). I know that would be pretty large changes in some of my setups.
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Re: Player Fatigue; the elephant always on the stage

Post by harrisonreed » Mon Jun 21, 2021 4:48 pm

I deal with concerts that are endurance busters every year. Equipment is the only solution I know of that is reliable, but let me qualify that a bit before I get accused of trying to solve problems with equipment instead of practice. This has been a frequent occurrence for me over the last ten years:

Exhibit A - the multi-concert: an outdoor hour-long FFF brass band set on lead bone with only area mics followed by an hour-long outdoor FFFFF big band set with no sound support. No ballads, no vocal tunes, no rest.

Exhibit B - the 45 minute half / intermission / 45 minute half concert band concert where every piece is a brass heavy work that is mostly FF without rest, with a lot of opera or orchestra lit (except that not only do you cover all the brass excerpts, but where there should be rest the trombones cover the other instruments that don't exist in a concert band). The conductor wants large bore instruments and also wants Chicago level output of sound.

Maybe some here will think, oh weak sauce, that isn't so bad. I usually am telling myself that same thing, every year -- "I just need to work on endurance. I really SHOULD be able to play louder with a better sound". Well, I don't know anymore. In an orchestra, no trombone section is playing for that sustained period of time at FF the whole concert. At most big band concerts, you can see mics all over the place. I finally realized it's impossible to compete with an amplified rhythm section. I also realized that it's not the program, or the conductor, but my own unrealistic expectations that I've placed on myself that is the problem. The conductor has their vision and I'm only a small part of that, and if I'm tanking out (sound support issues aside) it's really my own fault. So, here are my strategies for what life throws at you in these situations:

1. Don't over play. The conductor can ask for more sound all they want. Don't give it to them until the really critical part in any given piece.

2. Use equipment that gives you endurance. In my case this is the mouthpiece. Thinner rim, wider and shallower cup, bigger throat. All things that you would think give you less endurance. Well, yes and no. A thinner rim puts less metal on my face, especially if I'm consciously thinking about using less pressure. A wider cup lets me have my chops a bit more spread and relaxed, which allows my tongue, a much stronger muscle, to control things more. The shallow cup improves endurance, especially in the upper register. The wider throat means easier FFFFFFF without as much strain -- in fact the less pressure I use, the more air I can throw, and the more FFFs come out.

3. Play in tune with your section. A good section that is in tune with itself sounds louder with less effort. Try as you may to resist it, if the group is out of tune, even a little, your chops will start searching for the median pitch with or without you moving the slide. Endurance goes fast.

4. Use equipment that helps you play louder with more endurance pt. 2 - if you haven't tried adding a counterweight, putting the copper pillars into your harmonic brace, using a heavier mouthpiece, a heavier bell, taping the bell throat, adding weight to the bell throat, etc etc, then you haven't exhausted all your possibilities yet. Anything you can do to get more out with less in, faster. You won't know what works till you try.
Last edited by harrisonreed on Thu Jun 24, 2021 3:54 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Player Fatigue; the elephant always on the stage

Post by CaptEquinox » Mon Jun 21, 2021 9:10 pm

Well, European audiences may have an appreciative orientation to music, but 3 hour concerts? It’s just my opinion, but most concerts should not go over 55 minutes. If they do, there’s going to need to be some sort of break, or shifting of gears, or something.

I think there’s no question proper form is going to help in the endurance department. Remember, though, that physical conditioning is part of what allows you to keep the best form that’s possible at any given time.
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Re: Player Fatigue; the elephant always on the stage

Post by MrHCinDE » Tue Jun 22, 2021 1:45 am

A few of years ago I had a small series of Oktoberfest-style gigs, usually 3 or 4 days on the run, sometimes with one day break in the middle.

Those gigs were brutal for the brass. Each night was from 6pm to 11pm, with a 30 min food break and some shorter 5-10 min toilet/drinks/cigarette breaks. The first couple of hours were traditional Volksmusik, i.e. lots of marches and polkas. I’m talking about stuff like Alte Kameraden and the Ernst Mosch polkas where the tenor horn part spends half of each number playing up around F-Bb with melody lines than cannot be left out. The 3rd and 4th hour were more German Schlager, mostly with a vocalist but also quite a bit of shadowing the vocalist on the lower brass parts. The last hour or so was rock, thankfully with the guitarist, keys and bassist doing most of the heavy lifting but also still something for brass to do. It wasn’t helped by the gigs usually being in 30 DegC + temperature (at least in the early evening).

I wouldn’t say these are tricks, mainly common sense, but these helped me to enjoy these gigs:

1) I learned not to take advantage of the free beer until after the gig. Not only from the hydration and concentration/coordination perspectives but also it’s a lot easier to keep a lid on dynamics if you haven’t had a couple of litres of festival strength beer. More generally, I also learned not to get too carried away with the atmosphere of the …ahem… ‘enthusiastic’ audience dancing on benches etc. and whilst still enjoying it, not let it drive the volume up. Proper hydration is really important.

2) As others have said, I backed off a few percent in volume, nobody noticed and it made a huge difference.

3) Since I was switching between Euphonium (mostly playing the tenor horn parts, some baritone) and Trombone all night, I used a similar mouthpiece on both. It might not have been my first preference to get the ideal sound on each but I found it more comfortable this way.

4) I try to minimise wandering out into the audience and jumping on benches/tables. As soon as I would do this, I lost my amplification so would just nail it out at FFFFF, not exactly good for endurance. It works way better to do this once or twice in a night and gets dull very quickly, also for the audience, if you do it too often.

5) Learn what can be left out if necessary.
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Re: Player Fatigue; the elephant always on the stage

Post by TromboneMonkey » Tue Jun 22, 2021 5:38 am

A lot of good stuff in here. MrHCinDE I really like your comment about hydration.

The real elephant, to me, in observing hundreds of musicians is a lack of attention to health and wellness. One's ability to sustain any activity for any period of time is primarily a reflection of his or her nutrition and movement habits. By movement habits I mean: performance form, lifestyle, and intentional exercise/training. These will have much more profound impacts on one's endurance than any equipment changes. Long term (career endurance) and short term; chops and other machinery (forearm, TMJ, knees, etc.). I have unfortunately met several players who cannot stand for an entire wedding gig, and dozens who get winded during performance.

Anecdotally, I noticed my endurance improved significantly with my health and diaphragmatic control related to my training. I do four hour wedding gigs often now and enjoy them immensely.

Ultimately it is the body that is making the music, not the horn, and the embouchure is not independent from the rest of the organism.
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Re: Player Fatigue; the elephant always on the stage

Post by Finetales » Wed Jun 23, 2021 2:39 pm

For me, the secret sauce (which includes many things already mentioned) is:

1) Not just playing all the time, but playing demanding music all the time. If you're playing loud and high regularly (within your limits of course), when you have to do it on a long gig it's not such a tall order.
2) Constant hydration. Not just on the gig or right before, but throughout the day and every day. Water is your best friend.
3) Playing on equipment that makes the job easier rather than harder.
4) Healthily warming up several hours before the gig, then again briefly at the gig.
5) Volume management.

Before the lockdown when I was able to do all these things every day, a 3-hour salsa gig (pedal to the metal all night!) was no sweat. (After the lockdown? Not so much...)
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Re: Player Fatigue; the elephant always on the stage

Post by Wilktone » Thu Jun 24, 2021 2:25 pm

Something else to consider that hasn't been mentioned yet:

When taking in breaths keep the mouthpiece pressure firm against the lips. This may seem counterintuitive. Often we want to relax too much during the inhalation so we let up on the mouthpiece pressure. When we go back to blowing, however, the mouthpiece will come "crashing" back against the lips. In the short term it might feel easier to relax the lips and pull the pressure back when breathing, but all that tapping of the mouthpiece against the lips on all those breaths can add up and make you feel tired.

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Re: Player Fatigue; the elephant always on the stage

Post by Doug Elliott » Thu Jun 24, 2021 3:39 pm

In his later years, I saw JJ Johnson at Blues Alley in DC. On the break he saw me at the bar and said "How are your chops?" I said "Pretty good I guess." He said "Well mine aren't."

I watched him taking the mouthpiece completely off his face for each breath, and slamming it back on just in time for the next note. It wasn't the time or place to discuss that sort of thing so I didn't say anything, I just told him he sounded great... which he did. But that's no way to play.
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Re: Player Fatigue; the elephant always on the stage

Post by baileyman » Thu Jun 24, 2021 6:00 pm

Doug Elliott wrote:
Thu Jun 24, 2021 3:39 pm
In his later years, I saw JJ Johnson at Blues Alley in DC. On the break he saw me at the bar and said "How are your chops?" I said "Pretty good I guess." He said "Well mine aren't."

I watched him taking the mouthpiece completely off his face for each breath, and slamming it back on just in time for the next note. It wasn't the time or place to discuss that sort of thing so I didn't say anything, I just told him he sounded great... which he did. But that's no way to play.
I remember that gig! Spent a few minutes with him on break. He would not confirm then doodle tonguing, but he did later on tape somewhere.
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Re: Player Fatigue; the elephant always on the stage

Post by mbarbier » Thu Jun 24, 2021 9:50 pm

playing mostly contemporary music (in small chamber groups or solo) and a lot in the sound art world I pretty frequently end up in a situation of playing overly long concerts and being asked to do things that maybe aren't so reasonable for a brass instrument (like a 70 minute trombone duo as the second half of a duo concert) and have found some really useful ways to deal with this kind of stuff, both in prep and during.

the biggest thing I've found with endurance in performance is the first few minutes. I've found paying close attention to catching bad habits or inefficient things (mostly due to nerves) really early before the adrenaline wears off/while the chops are still fresh enough to compensate makes a huge difference. If I can kinda right the ship before my body notices it needs righting, my night goes a lot more smoothly. Maybe it's fixing problems or maybe it's just being really tuned into my body sets me up for success, but I've really found that those first few minutes make a huge difference.


in terms of getting ready for overly long kinds of things, I find playing lots of arbans really helps. flip to the interval or chord study section and start with playing one excercise all the way through. slowly work your way up to the whole section in one go. But really aim to play everything really light and guage success based on ending the excercise in not needing to gasp for air or having a ton of dead air. I find if I can play a huge chunk of them and end right in balance, my endurance starts to go way up.
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Re: Player Fatigue; the elephant always on the stage

Post by Burgerbob » Thu Jun 24, 2021 9:53 pm

mbarbier wrote:
Thu Jun 24, 2021 9:50 pm


the biggest thing I've found with endurance in performance is the first few minutes. I've found paying close attention to catching bad habits or inefficient things (mostly due to nerves) really early before the adrenaline wears off/while the chops are still fresh enough to compensate makes a huge difference.
Hmm, this is very interesting. I can usually tell when it's going to be a bad time pretty early on. Need to check into that!
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Re: Player Fatigue; the elephant always on the stage

Post by mbarbier » Thu Jun 24, 2021 10:07 pm

Burgerbob wrote:
Thu Jun 24, 2021 9:53 pm

Hmm, this is very interesting. I can usually tell when it's going to be a bad time pretty early on. Need to check into that!
haha yea there are those times where it just means go straight into triage mode and hope for the best. I heard an athlete describing hamstring stuff where if you feel it getting tight it's often. cause you stopped drinking enough water a few days ago. kinda feel like when I have those "this is gonna be a rough night" times it's related to not doing enough daily maintenance. or at least that's what I guilt myself with
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Re: Player Fatigue; the elephant always on the stage

Post by MrHCinDE » Fri Jun 25, 2021 6:38 am

Wilktone wrote:
Thu Jun 24, 2021 2:25 pm
Something else to consider that hasn't been mentioned yet:

When taking in breaths keep the mouthpiece pressure firm against the lips. This may seem counterintuitive. Often we want to relax too much during the inhalation so we let up on the mouthpiece pressure. When we go back to blowing, however, the mouthpiece will come "crashing" back against the lips. In the short term it might feel easier to relax the lips and pull the pressure back when breathing, but all that tapping of the mouthpiece against the lips on all those breaths can add up and make you feel tired.

Dave
This is such a great tip, I'll definitely be trying it. Actually I recently started doing this in some passages in the upper register for increased security (thanks to Doug for that one!) but not in my general playing as I hadn't thought about the link to lip fatigue. Thanks!
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Re: Player Fatigue; the elephant always on the stage

Post by lupusargentus » Fri Jun 25, 2021 10:12 am

Unless I missed it, no one mentioned handing off parts. If all players have similar ability why not spread out to workload?What's wrong with switching off playing lead/first.?
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Re: Player Fatigue; the elephant always on the stage

Post by BGuttman » Fri Jun 25, 2021 10:55 am

lupusargentus wrote:
Fri Jun 25, 2021 10:12 am
Unless I missed it, no one mentioned handing off parts. If all players have similar ability why not spread out to workload?What's wrong with switching off playing lead/first.?
Nothing wrong with that if you have the personnel. Sometimes it's 1 on a part, and there's nobody who can play in. On Pops concerts in my Orchestra we used to split parts among the 3 of us so nobody played 1st for the whole concert. I know trumpet players like to switch off -- often on the repeated strain in marches. I played with one such guy in a Dixie band and we played a Sousa march and I had to take the lead on each repeated strain (on trombone).
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Re: Player Fatigue; the elephant always on the stage

Post by Macbone1 » Sat Jun 26, 2021 2:13 am

Much great advice here, thanks all
Keep moving forward.
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Re: Player Fatigue; the elephant always on the stage

Post by timothy42b » Sat Jun 26, 2021 6:37 am

lupusargentus wrote:
Fri Jun 25, 2021 10:12 am
Unless I missed it, no one mentioned handing off parts. If all players have similar ability why not spread out to workload?What's wrong with switching off playing lead/first.?
I did a 3 hour dinner party with a concert band once. All three trombones had similar equipment and with this band the parts were very similar, so we passed the folders every couple pieces.

I loved it, it made the job much more enjoyable. One player hated it and asked never to do that again, he said he didn't feel comfortable playing a part he hadn't practiced. Mostly German band music, lots of afterbeats with trombones in triads, melody lines all soli, what difference does it make? I guess he was more of a perfectionist than I.
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Re: Player Fatigue; the elephant always on the stage

Post by BGuttman » Sat Jun 26, 2021 10:19 am

timothy42b wrote:
Sat Jun 26, 2021 6:37 am
lupusargentus wrote:
Fri Jun 25, 2021 10:12 am
Unless I missed it, no one mentioned handing off parts. If all players have similar ability why not spread out to workload?What's wrong with switching off playing lead/first.?
I did a 3 hour dinner party with a concert band once. All three trombones had similar equipment and with this band the parts were very similar, so we passed the folders every couple pieces.

I loved it, it made the job much more enjoyable. One player hated it and asked never to do that again, he said he didn't feel comfortable playing a part he hadn't practiced. Mostly German band music, lots of afterbeats with trombones in triads, melody lines all soli, what difference does it make? I guess he was more of a perfectionist than I.
We actually had a guy fired from one band I played in for not sharing parts. Our conductor wanted to spare the trumpets a bit and wanted them to play different parts for different pieces. This guy had a big ego problem and couldn't bring himself to play anything but 1st. (He was a good player, but an egotist.) The conductor told him to pack up his horn and go home.
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Re: Player Fatigue; the elephant always on the stage

Post by PaulTdot » Sun Jun 27, 2021 11:12 am

Some good comments here. In particular, two things:

First, hydration and physical health/fitness. The impact is significant; particular hydration, only because it's much easier and faster to fix than the other things (hours instead of months or years!). Drink a lot of water, make the chops happy, warm up easier and faster, injure yourself less. It all contributes.

Second, Dave Wilken's comments about mouthpiece placement and breathing technique are right on. You want to be very consistent with what you're doing with your mouthpiece placement, pressure, and breathing technique. The less you disturb things, the better. The more consistency there is at the metal/flesh interface, the less room for error - and, as Doug says above, those little errors and bumps and adjustments really add up over the course of a long gig.

This ties in to this (excellent) comment:
mbarbier wrote:
Thu Jun 24, 2021 9:50 pm
the biggest thing I've found with endurance in performance is the first few minutes. I've found paying close attention to catching bad habits or inefficient things (mostly due to nerves) really early before the adrenaline wears off/while the chops are still fresh enough to compensate makes a huge difference. If I can kinda right the ship before my body notices it needs righting, my night goes a lot more smoothly. Maybe it's fixing problems or maybe it's just being really tuned into my body sets me up for success, but I've really found that those first few minutes make a huge difference.
My experience is the same. Watch your technique and play with proper form; the quicker you can get there, the less you need to worry. If your technique is *really* consistent and your form is clean, you don't even really need to warm up (for many players, the warm up is really a form of troubleshooting, trying to "remember" how it worked the last time things felt good through a familiar set of exercises).
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