Making Good Use of the Summer Months: Some Suggestions for Brass Players

Today is the last day of regular classes for the semester at Ole Miss. I am looking forward to moving to my usual summer schedule, with less time spent teaching and more time spent on my own reading, writing, practicing, and performing. My new home here in Mississippi has a large home office, so even my productive hours will be spent primarily away from campus and near my family. As I’m sure is the case with many faculty members, I anticipate ample measures of both productivity and rest…and when school resumes in August I will likely bemoan getting too little of both! Meanwhile, my students are busy practicing for juries (some of them practicing seriously for the first time all semester…), and looking forward to summer classes, summer jobs, or other activities.

While I plan to write in a few weeks about my own summer plans, today I want to give a few pieces of advice to my students (and others) about how to use the summer months in a way that is most beneficial to one’s brass playing. I should note before beginning that the students I have in mind here are primarily “non-performance” music majors and non-majors, since the majority of my students are pursuing careers as band directors or in other non-playing fields. Performance majors will see these suggestions as rather minimalist, and should expect to do at least this much…and more! Still, I hope everyone will find some useful suggestions here.

1. Plan some “time off.”

Perhaps this seems odd as a first suggestion, though I doubt anyone is surprised that it “made the list.” Brass playing can be both physically and psychologically exhausting, and periodic breaks to “recharge” body and mind are helpful and necessary. Since many of us have fewer performing obligations in the summer than in the regular school year, this is an ideal time to plan to spend a couple of weeks away from the instrument, and maybe even three in some circumstances.

The reason I suggest this first is that such breaks are most effective when they are planned in advance, and potential deleterious effects are avoided when they are scheduled so as to avoid having them occur too close to public performance obligations. After all, when returning to the instrument after time off one must “get back up to speed” over a period of several days in order to avoid straining or damaging the embouchure muscles. If the break occurs immediately before some performance obligation, the opportunity to “work back up” gradually is missed. Look at your calendar, see when your performing obligations occur, and plan for time off during a convenient period or periods.

2. At least play your complete daily routine every day.

I have often complained—including in an earlier blog post—that my students generally do not follow my advice regarding the daily completion of a comprehensive fundamentals routine. Yet, in my experience, this has been the most efficient way to both develop and maintain basic playing skills. The maintenance part is key here; my daily routines are designed so that, when completed each day, the player will at least be able to “tread water.” In other words, if you will at least commit to playing a complete daily routine every day (except during planned time off), you will return in August having lost little or none of the skills gained during the last school year. Any practicing that happens on top of that is “gravy.”

3. Set some practice goals for the summer.

Of course, even though diligently playing the daily routine is helpful, I hope you will do more than that. Still, one reason that summer practice is difficult is that you aren’t practicing for concerts and recitals that are immediately pressing. Motivation is thus hard to come by, and since “extrinsic motivation” is lacking, you’ll need to set some goals to motivate yourself. Perhaps this could include mastering a fundamental skill that has given you difficulty in the past, or you might want to plan an early fall recital that will require intense summer practice. Another idea that I have employed during many summers is to use the time to work through method books that, while very good, are for reasons of time constraints not often used in my studio lessons. Here is a short list of books that are rarely formally used in my studio, but can make great summer practice material. This list includes materials for alto trombone, tenor trombone, bass trombone, euphonium, and tuba.

This is by no means a comprehensive list—if you encounter something you find interesting, work through it! Add solos, duets, and excerpts to this list as desired. Additionally, while we cover the “Arban book” in my studio, we don’t even come close to covering it in its entirety. Yet, the whole book is great, so use the summer months to explore some of the sections that we are unable to cover during lessons.

4. Attend summer festivals and conferences.

There are a number of summer festivals to which aspiring musicians might audition and apply. While it is a little late for that this year, you might consider that in the future. Likewise, working as a staff member at summer music camps is a good way to make connections, hear great music, and gain valuable experience. 

Many professional organizations hold regional, national, and international conferences during the summer. These are great opportunities to attend concerts featuring new music played by the greatest players in the world, in addition to trying out instruments and equipment, purchasing music, and making friends and professional connections. A note to my trombone students in particular: the International Trombone Festival is in Columbus, Georgia, this year. That is amazingly close by (as a point of reference, last year’s ITF was in France), and you should make every effort to attend this year since the travel costs will be so minimal. (I might also mention that your humble professor will be leading one of the morning warm-up sessions.)

5. Remind yourself why you chose music in the first place.

Music students, particularly older undergraduate and graduate students, sometimes start to wear down under the weight of numerous responsibilities and obligations, and begin to wonder whether or not this is “worth it.” The summer can be a great time to remind yourself. Listen to some of the recordings that first got you “turned on” to music and to your instrument, and purchase new recordings by those artists and others. Find opportunities to play “just for fun.” Play in a summer community band, or perhaps form an informal chamber group—I’m sure your professors will be glad to provide you with some chamber music that you might work through with a few friends. Music school can be a depressing place sometimes; use the time away to rediscover what first drew you to this profession.

6. Explore other interests.

At the same time, if music is both your job and your only hobby, you’ll find yourself suffering burnout very soon. Everyone needs one or more hobbies outside of music, so be sure to make time, especially in the summer, to explore these. Regular readers of this blog have figured out that my hobby is studying theology, and the few that have seen my library of theology books at home know that it is almost as large as my collection of sheet music and books and journals about music. I also enjoy fishing, and hope to spend a good bit of time doing that this summer. Whatever hobby you pursue, make sure it is something challenging and enriching; sitting on the couch watching television and eating potato chips doesn’t count!

I could continue this list, but I hope these six suggestions will give you at least a “good start” to making your summer productive, restful, and edifying.

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About Micah Everett

Micah Everett is Associate Professor of Music (Trombone/Low Brass) at the University of Mississippi, Principal Trombonist of the North Mississippi Symphony Orchestra, Bass Trombonist of the Great River Trombone Quartet, and Assistant Editor (Audio/Video Reviews) for the International Trombone Association Journal. He is the author of THE LOW BRASS PLAYER'S GUIDE TO DOUBLING, published by Mountain Peak Music, and released his first solo recording, STEPPING STONES FOR BASS TROMBONE, VOL. 1, on the Potenza Music label in 2015. In addition to his professional work, he maintains an avid interest in the study of the Bible and of Reformed theology. He holds doctoral and master's degrees in music from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, a bachelor's degree in music education from Delta State University, and a certificate in systematic theology from Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary. The opinions expressed here are solely those of Micah Everett, and are not necessarily shared by the employers and organizations with which he is associated.
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