9 Random Non-Brass Playing Tips for Healthy Brass Playing

  1. Humidifier – Once the temperature drops below 50 degrees F, and the weather starts getting more dry, I keep two humidifiers running 24 hours a day in my home (one in my bedroom and one in my practice space). Being completely parched and puffy is a killer for brass players. Drinking a lot of water is simply not enough. Make sure that when you can control your environment, you make it one that improves the health of your playing!
  2. Shave – I don’t always shave, but when I do, I do it late at night. I always find it preferable to shave at night, after all my playing for the day is complete. While you sleep, the hair grows back ever so slightly, allowing you to have a seal that is nice but not sticky. Shaving in the morning, or within a few hours of when I plan to play the instrument, makes the seal of the rim sticky and uncomfortable. It is preferable to have a bit of flexibility. Furthermore, excessive playing or rim pressure soon after shaving increases the possibility of ingrown hairs or pressure bumps right at the spots where the rim is in contact with your face. When these pop up, and you have to play, it can be very painful!
  3. Melatonin – Having trouble sleeping in the nights leading up to a big audition? Jet-lagged and have to play a concert tomorrow? Stayed out too late after a concert and now your body’s clock is out of whack? Become friends with melatonin. Take 5mg about an hour before you hope to go sleep for a couple of days in a row, and it should help you get back on track. It's also helpful to note that getting good sleep two nights before a big day is often times more important than the night before. Try to stay ahead of the game with your resting. 
  4. Ibuprofen – Every once in awhile, I have to deal with the issue of my chops being swollen from excessive playing. Ideally, you want to balance your playing in such a way that this doesn’t happen often. However, on the occasions when it does happen, it can be quite helpful to reduce the swelling by taking ibuprofen. My preferred choice is Advil Liqui-gels. They seem to take effect very quickly. Also, it can be helpful to launch a pre-emptive strike on swelling when you know you are about to put your embouchure under extreme duress. For example, I often times take one or two ibuprofen before Act 2 of Gotterdammerung or Act 3 of Die Walkure.
  5. Electric Toothbrush – If you have a tendency to brush your teeth aggressively, and every once in awhile you nick the inside of your mouth with your toothbrush…. buy an electric toothbrush. The cost is well worth the stress saved by not being worried about the latest cut in your mouth, and the fact of the matter is that a good electric toothbrush cleans your teeth far better than any manual brush can. It’s a win-win!
  6. Don’t eat airplane food – Airplane food usually doesn’t taste that good to begin with. On top of that, it usually leaves you feeling bloated and unsatisfied. Whenever it’s possible to not eat on a flight, take advantage of the opportunity. It’s better to eat a large, healthy meal with fresh ingredients pretty soon before boarding the flight, and then stick to water, light snacks, and sleep on the plane. I prefer to show up in the new city a little hungry, in search of a real meal, rather than arriving with that full, yet unsatisfied feeling which often accompanies the in-flight meal.
  7. Don’t stay up all night for a flight – You have a flight in the morning, and it’s you’re going to land several times zones away from your place of departure. Let’s stay up all night and hang out so that we’ll be sleepy for the flight…. BAD IDEA! At least that’s my opinion. I’ve tried this method a few times, and it has never worked well. On the other hand, trying to maintain a relatively normal sleep schedule right up to the flight has worked better. I’d rather show up to the flight rested than exhausted. Sleep on a plane is rarely as restful as sleep in a real bed. You end up getting zero sleep the night before, plus subpar sleep on the plane. I can’t for the life of me understand how increasing your sleep deficit is a good thing for your health.
  8. Value sleep over practice – At some point, we all run into the question of whether to rest or practice. You have so much work to do and things to improve, but you are so tired!! Well, 9 times out of 10, the correct answer is to rest. If you fall behind, at least you’ll have plenty of energy to make up for lost time. There’s almost nothing worse than being burnt out.
  9. Oil of Oregano/Baking Soda Paste – Something terrible has happened. You have a cut in your mouth, your lip split in your sleep, you caught an elbow to the chops playing basketball, you bit your lip while eating…. I’ve done all of these and more. It always happens at the absolute worst time, and then you’re panicking, hoping you will heal well enough to play at a high level for your next engagement. When this happens, I suggest rinsing your mouth with a water and hydrogen peroxide solution. Add a few drops of oil of oregano directly on the cut/split. This will be painful, but helpful. Do this a few times throughout the day. Before going to sleep, create a thick paste that is made up of baking soda and water. Apply the paste liberally over the cut and allow it to dry/harden as much as possible. Put some lip balm on the outside of your lips, and sleep as much as you can.

15 comments

  • Mario

    Mario New Jersey

    Great list! Have a question. Do you any sort of physical or athletic training to also assist in healthy performance? Balancing for the fact that you sit for sooo many hours at your job. -Thanks

    Great list!

    Have a question. Do you any sort of physical or athletic training to also assist in healthy performance? Balancing for the fact that you sit for sooo many hours at your job.

    -Thanks

  • Hélio Góes

    Hélio Góes São Paulo - Brazil

    Great tips!

    Great tips!

  • James Kent

    James Kent Linz, Austria

    Great list..... Already doing the no airplane food one, the other I'm definitely encoroorating into my life!

    Great list..... Already doing the no airplane food one, the other I'm definitely encoroorating into my life!

  • Austin

    Austin Indiana

    Get tips! Cutting your lip open in your sleep is the worst! I found that applying a small amount of Vaseline to the lips before I go to bed keeps my lips moisturized throughout the night, preventing any lip splices due to dryness.

    Get tips! Cutting your lip open in your sleep is the worst! I found that applying a small amount of Vaseline to the lips before I go to bed keeps my lips moisturized throughout the night, preventing any lip splices due to dryness.

  • linda

    linda Columbus, Ohio

    Points 1, 6, and 8 are very good ideas. For me, taking any kind of pain or anti-inflammatories within 2-3 hours of a gig, like the 2nd half, puts my head in a fog. I can't think clearly. Pain killers had to be timed out carefully when I nearly broke my left arm in a fall during a very busy week of shows and rehearsals. A half hour before a gig, though, I eat a banana, and it combats my performance anxiety. It's a natural beta blocker and has a nice calming effect.

    Points 1, 6, and 8 are very good ideas. For me, taking any kind of pain or anti-inflammatories within 2-3 hours of a gig, like the 2nd half, puts my head in a fog. I can't think clearly. Pain killers had to be timed out carefully when I nearly broke my left arm in a fall during a very busy week of shows and rehearsals.

    A half hour before a gig, though, I eat a banana, and it combats my performance anxiety. It's a natural beta blocker and has a nice calming effect.

  • Weston Sprott

    Weston Sprott New York, NY

    I do believe that exercising regularly is good for your playing. In particular, I think it helps with your ability to sustain your focus. At the moment, I'm about three weeks into starting CrossFit training. Pretty fun stuff!

    I do believe that exercising regularly is good for your playing. In particular, I think it helps with your ability to sustain your focus. At the moment, I'm about three weeks into starting CrossFit training. Pretty fun stuff!

  • bl

    bl atlanta, ga

    Great comments. One thing to add. I like using vitamin e oil on my lips to help the chapped lips, especially before bed. Thanks for all of the great posts!

    Great comments. One thing to add. I like using vitamin e oil on my lips to help the chapped lips, especially before bed. Thanks for all of the great posts!

  • Dan

    Dan Tempe, AZ

    I second the Vitamin E oil comment (I usually have to look at Walgreens or CVS). I can't tell you how many times it has saved me before a big concert when I had done something to my face. It works well as a general chop saver, too. If anyone is looking around, try to find one with the at least 50,000 IU, like Sundown Naturals. They usually have some kind of lemon or citrus flavor to them as well, so it doesn't taste nasty if you accidentally lick your lips or something.

    I second the Vitamin E oil comment (I usually have to look at Walgreens or CVS). I can't tell you how many times it has saved me before a big concert when I had done something to my face. It works well as a general chop saver, too. If anyone is looking around, try to find one with the at least 50,000 IU, like Sundown Naturals. They usually have some kind of lemon or citrus flavor to them as well, so it doesn't taste nasty if you accidentally lick your lips or something.

  • Seth

    Seth Walla Walla, WA

    Basically a good list, but I have to differ with number 6. I actually like the full feeling I have after eating a large meal; I don't think quality of the ingredients makes that much of a difference. And besides, airplane food has been getting better lately…on a recent flight, I had a really good three cheese panini.

    Basically a good list, but I have to differ with number 6. I actually like the full feeling I have after eating a large meal; I don't think quality of the ingredients makes that much of a difference. And besides, airplane food has been getting better lately…on a recent flight, I had a really good three cheese panini.

  • Wesley

    Wesley UK

    As young man I once complained to an older and very experiencrd player that I was unable to play in the morning. He asked if I wet shaved, I answered Yes. He said get an electric shaver. I did so and almost immediately I found I could play any time I liked! Been doing it for many years now and I'm probably even older than that guy was when I asked him, so I pass it on for what it's worth. Might work for you too :-)

    As young man I once complained to an older and very experiencrd player that I was unable to play in the morning. He asked if I wet shaved, I answered Yes. He said get an electric shaver. I did so and almost immediately I found I could play any time I liked!
    Been doing it for many years now and I'm probably even older than that guy was when I asked him, so I pass it on for what it's worth. Might work for you too :-)

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