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Preparing for a fatiguing performance

If you are practicing and concerned about fatigue during an upcoming performance, here are some (woodwind-centric) things to consider.

  • Embouchure. The embouchure is a frequent site for fatigue, but it shouldn’t be. Embouchure pain or tiredness in a conventional performance situation is usually a sign of incorrect tone production technique. (Not a matter of needing to “strengthen the muscles” or “build endurance,” neither of which makes sense for a well-formed, properly relaxed embouchure.) Rather than relying on the small, weak muscles of the embouchure, use good…
  • Breath support. The breath support muscles in your torso can (and do) work all day. If you are feeling fatigue in your embouchure or other small muscles, lean on your breath support more.
  • Breathing plan. Another frequent cause of fatigue is oxygen deprivation. Reconsider your breathing plan (you have one, right?) and make sure you are getting enough oxygen to your body and brain (and venting carbon dioxide, too).
  • Practice. Ask yourself how you can practice in a way that will leave you less tired and prepare you for a performance situation. Consider starting your practice with breaks frequent and long enough to let your body and mind rest, and gradually making them shorter and less frequent. When I’m preparing for a recital, I usually do a few rounds of recording the whole program: the first recording might take me half a day with longer breaks, but later recordings happen within a shortening time frame, approaching my intended recital length.
  • Equipment. I had some pain and fatigue in my back a number of years ago when I was practicing a lot of tenor saxophone. I bought a new neckstrap and the problem went away immediately. There are lots of products and alterations available for various instruments that can reduce strain on your body.
  • General health. Playing a musical instrument is serious physical activity. Make sure you are getting good rest, nutrition, exercise, life balance, physical and/or mental health care, and whatever else will keep you energized.


One response to “Preparing for a fatiguing performance”

  1. Hank Lehrer Avatar
    Hank Lehrer

    These are outstanding ideas. I have been doing most of them already since I am still playing in my 80s. A few things that I discovered over the last few years though might be worth sharing with others.

    One of the most important was that on jazz gigs, I started taking a drummer stool with me. I still spend a lot of time on my feet but having a way to sit and rest while on the stand has really helped me. I’ll even play backup for a vocalist while seated but always stand when I have the lead or “taking a chorus.”

    For wind ensemble practice and concerts, it is always a good idea to have my stand-mate play while I occasionally rest. However, I’m in a very active clarinet quartet and sometimes, there are few if any breaks so I just have rely on all those tips you mentioned above.

    Hank Lehrer

    PS One of the most exhausting concerts I ever played was one entirely of marches (the standards plus some concert settings). After an hour, I was really beat!

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