Advice from a “Double Reed Weekend Warrior.” Presentation at the International Double Reed Society 1st Virtual Symposium. Terry B. Ewell provides definitions of endurance and general conditioning, an overview of the five components for sound production, identification of muscle groups that decline with neglect, and strategies for a vacation away from the instrument.  Translated by [insert names] BDP #282,
[music: Hummel bassoon concerto]

1. Welcome to this presentation of “Advice from a “Double Reed Weekend Warrior.” I am Terry Ewell.

2. Some of us are fortunate to have several hours a day in which to practice and make reeds. Others, however, must answer to demands—whether family or work— and this allows for only sporadic practicing and reed making. For these, the performance opportunities are not weekly events, but rather the concerts might occur monthly or even less frequently. Thus, these “weekend warriors,” those who perform infrequently, are faced difficult issues:  How best can one maximize time with family and work and then make appropriate preparations for the intensive periods of performing?

3. There are many reasons for why a person is not able to practice every day. In my career as a department administrator and a college professor, frequently I have had to lay aside my instrument to best maximize my time. And I am not the only one!

4. In the late 1970s, I had the honor of studying one summer with Arthur Weisberg. Weisberg was not only as a famous bassoonist but also well-known as a conductor of contemporary music and a professor at Yale University. His busy schedule, however, meant that often he could not play the bassoon every day. I remember during one lesson he told me that he had a method for getting back in performance shape after a period away from the instrument.

5. Unfortunately, I didn’t learn about that method, but I do have some advice here for those in similar situations. Whether you have set the instrument aside due to the COVID-19 pandemic, family obligations, or work requirements, I hope that this presentation will provide you with insights and strategies for how to get back into performance shape as quickly as possible.

6. Highlights of this presentation will include definitions of endurance and general conditioning, an overview of the five components for sound production, identification of muscle groups that decline with neglect, and strategies for a vacation away from the instrument.

7. Music puts varied challenges on the endurance and fitness of a wind performer. Philip Farkas, former principal horn of the Chicago Symphony, makes astute observations about the different performance demands:

8. It can be observed that horn playing requires two kinds of endurance. There is general endurance, the kind which enables a player to continue playing intermittently for many hours a day… The “page long” solo requires a quite different type of endurance. As we compare the cross-country runner’s endurance with our general endurance, we might classify this ability to play for several minutes without resting as the “hundred-yard dash.” It requires a special kind of practice, but does not necessarily demand daily work, as it is very fatiguing. For the horn player, there are only a few major works which require this concentrated practice… Nearly all horn solos and concertos need this practice.

9. Notice that Farkas distinguishes between two kinds of fitness. First there is general endurance, which is the ability to perform for extended periods of time with standard literature. Second is specialized endurance that is needed for extreme musical challenges.

10. The definition for endurance that I prefer is “Endurance is the ability to continue an action for longer periods of time with greater efficiency.” Notice that there are two components to this definition: duration and efficiency. We will keep the Farkas observations and my definition in mind as we further explore endurance for the double reed player in this presentation.

11. Let’s consider some of the pinnacle events that could happen in a double reed player’s professional career. Playing Wagner’s opera Die Meistersinger, the uncut version is five hours and fifteen minutes. Wow! The longest symphony is by Mahler, Symphony #3, that is 95 minutes.

12. The Hummel Bassoon Concerto is twenty-seven minutes. The Strauss Oboe Concerto is twenty-five minutes. Some of the longest phrases occur in the Tchaikovsky Fourth Symphony. The oboe solo is for forty seconds or more, depending upon the tempo chosen. The bassoon solo in that second movement of Tchaikovsky’s Fourth is thirty seconds or more.

13. There are stresses put on the performers in terms of articulation speed. The Overture to The Bartered Bride by Smetana at 160, with 16th notes. Rossini’s The Silken Ladder, the oboe solo; Beethoven’s 4th Symphony, the fourth movement solo for bassoon; and Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s Dream with the very fast 16th notes in there. So, this certainly puts a stress on articulation. These pinnacle events I just mentioned put stress on different parts of the body.

14. Now, these are not routine events during which general conditioning or general endurance will suffice. These call for specialized endurance. These pinnacle events I just mentioned put stress on different parts of the body. For instance, some of the endurance activities would certainly put stress upon the lungs. These long solos in the Tchaikovsky symphony would do that. The fast-tongued passages discussed would certainly put stress on the tongue. In addition, some of these works would provide extreme demands on the oral muscles and embouchures.

15. The important thing to know about these five different components for sound production is that each of these components make use of muscle fibers that respond in similar ways to stress and to work. Whether you have the respiratory mechanism here. The diaphragm brings in air. You have abdominal muscles and other muscles that push out air.

16. The second number here is in the throat area. This is the place where many people, such as me, have the vibrato mechanism. There are many different musculature structures in this area. It is extremely complex. These structures can be used to produce vibrato. Various studies on vibrato have shown that different structures are used for that. I provide a lot of details on the various components in my published work on Lulu, which is given here as a reference.

17. The number 3 is the back of the tongue, which can be used for tuning. That can also be used for the “K” or “G” consonant in a double tongue.

18. Number 4 is the front of the tongue, which is the most common place for articulation. Then number 5 is the embouchure.

19. Each of these components engage muscle fibers. Similar to each kind of muscle fiber in the rest of the body you can increase endurance in those fibers, you can increase efficiency in those fibers. Those are the fibers that you feel stress in, that you feel fatigue in when you engage those muscles over and over again.

20. I just want to give another point here. An important part of the way that I view playing is to consider that each of these five components operate independently. Because they can operate independently, you can create greater variety in your sound and greater abilities for musical expression, if indeed you master each of these components independently.

21. Here is just a quick overview of the muscle types that we find in the body. Type I muscles are the slow twitch fibers. These are dense with capillaries. They primarily work with oxygen. They are fibers that are built for endurance, for activities that go on over and over for a long time. For instance, long distance runners have more of these Type I muscle fibers than the faster fibers.

22. The Type IIa and IIx are the fast twitch muscle fibers. They tend to give very quick response, but then they don’t give that quick response over longer periods of time. These can all be developed in different ways and there is targeting [exercises] for those. I mention those in the book that I have written on endurance.

23. The different components of your body are actually a mix of these fibers. It is not that you find all Type I fibers or all Type II fibers in a certain location, although there are different concentrations, there is often a mix.

24. One thing you may have noticed, for instance, if you are talking about the front of your tongue and the back of your tongue (actually the top part of you tongue) that I mentioned here in component 3, is that these have different muscle fibers in them. The front of the tongue is blessed with a lot more of the fast twitch fibers than the back of the tongue.

25. That is the reason that you would find if you say “K K K K K K..” over and over again you get much more fatigued than if you say “ T T T T T...” The front of the tongue with the “T” sound has more fast twitch fibers than at the back of the tongue. That makes a difference for the responsiveness of articulation and the way in which you use articulation on our instruments.

26. All of these muscle types can be increased in power and efficiency through use and exercise. One can strengthen all five components at the same time through regular practice. Philip Farkas termed this “general endurance” in the quotation above. However, each component can be targeted more efficiently with a unique set of endurance building exercises.

27. By doing so, a person can more swiftly increase muscle development and control in that component. This has precedence in sports and weightlifting where certain skills or certain muscle groups are targeted with carefully crafted exercises and regimens. Targeting certain areas is particularly helpful if one has identified an area of weakness.

28. Now, everyday life stresses the five muscle groups of the five components of sound production differently than playing on the instrument. Some of the five components receive adequate exercise to maintain general conditioning for performance. For instance, if I maintain a vigorous exercise regimen with aerobic and muscle building exercises, I find no diminishing of the muscles needed for blowing air into the instrument.

29. This is not the case, however, for the embouchure and oral muscles. After a period away from the instrument, I notice these muscles very quickly fatigue. It is for that reason that I have developed a special exercise to target those muscles.

30. In addition to a loss of muscle strength during a vacation period I also notice loss of finesse. This is not just a matter of muscle fitness but also one of muscle efficiency. Dynamics and control over tonal nuances quickly degrade often in just a few days. Careful control of the tiniest movements is easily lost. The dance between the embouchure and the reed requires both to be in top shape. If either are even slightly lacking, the tango doesn’t go well!

31. The worst mistake that a performer can make is to end the last note of the concert, lock the instrument in the case, and give no further thought about preparing for the break and the process of getting back into performance shape. Time spent preparing for the break immediately after the last performance will be rewarded with quicker transitions back to performance fitness.

32. A day to a day and a half after the final concert are golden hours for reed adjustments. During this time the embouchure is in shape and well sensitized to how high-performance reeds should be working. Those precious hours must be put to good use by preparing new reeds for the period of time after the vacation from the instrument. In these hours with the best reeds at hand, it is easier to compare and contrast the ideal reeds with developing reeds and trim the new reeds in proper ways.

33. Make certain that the instrument is packed away only after a good assortment of well-adjusted reeds of all ages are available.  By all ages I mean those reeds that are concert proven (older), concert ready (mature but not old), and developing (younger).

34. Be sure to engage in healthy habits during the vacation away from the instrument. Continue your exercise routines with aerobic and muscle strengthening exercises for your whole body. Aerobic exercises such as running, cycling, or working out on elliptical machines are particularly helpful for maintaining the performance conditioning of the lungs.

35. In addition, exercises that target the arms, shoulders, and back will help to keep in shape muscles needed to support the instrument—particularly the bassoon. Sleeping well and eating well will further help the transition back to the stresses of concert performances.

36. Special consideration should be given to how one will get back into performance condition. I think that adopting a strategic approach will help minimize the time getting back into shape. Here I present a sample practice session that can be used as a practice regimen for getting back into shape. Just keep in mind that this is a sample, it doesn’t mean that you have to adopt it line by line rigorously and not depart from it.

37. Of course, you should adopt this according to the condition of your body, according to what you can do, and perhaps even your time schedule. It may very well be that the first day or two you are doing only part of this sample session and you are easing into getting back into shape. Of course, you want to avoid any sort of injury.

38. So, let’s discuss a bit this chart and take a look at several important features that reflect current research on optimal athletic performance. It is important to know that I developed this by looking into the research into athletes and the way in which to best use interval training and other activities to increase their endurance. So, starting here, giving yourself a time of warmup is very important. Just like an athlete you need to warm up the muscle tissues. This helps to avoid injury but also gets you into a position in which you can stress the muscles, stress the body more in order to build endurance and get yourself back into shape.

39. So, I have allowed here about 10 minutes for warmups such as scales or arpeggios. This should be easy, fluid work. You are not pushing yourself with any endurance activity, but instead you are simply trying to warm up the muscles. Get a feel for the embouchure on the reed, the lungs working, the fingers working, and all of that.

40. Now the next thing, and this is the important part of the practice regimen, is this issue of interval training. Interval training puts stresses on muscles in a very concentrated period of time in which you are working towards fatigue. It is important to use that. This would be your interval training session 1. Here is a video example of that session.

41. Let me point out a few features of this chromatic endurance exercise that I have developed. Notice first that you play until fatigued. You don’t have to complete the exercise. When you reach the point of fatigue then stop. You need to be the best judge of how far to push your body. If at the end of the exercise you are not fatigued enough, then simply repeat it or repeat a portion of it.

42. On bassoon, the most fatiguing portion I find is the last half of the exercise. Less so in the first half of the exercise here. Notice that I have written “p-mf for lip endurance.” This is if you just want to target the embouchure muscle group. If you want to primarily target the intra-oral endurance—this is the inside of your mouth and the muscle structures there—then you need to play forte or fortissimo.

43. Now this also taxes the embouchure, so you are doing both, double duty, with the forte to fortissimo. But you can really target the inside of your mouth and those structures in there with greater endurance. The exercise obviously also taxes the lungs as well because you are expelling more air with all of that. This is the chromatic endurance exercise for bassoon.

44. I have also created a chromatic endurance exercise for the oboe. Both of the exercises will be published in The Double Reed in a forthcoming article.

45. Now let’s go back to our sample practice session. We have completed the warmup, ten minutes or so; the interval training, it could be three minutes, two minutes, or four minutes—however long your session will work out; and then, this is very important after the interval training, is to have a period of active rest.

46. They have found that working with sprinters and other athletes, that once you do your interval training instead of having the athlete sit down, they should be engaging in an activity where the muscles are moving and where there is a continued motion. For instance, the sprinter might do their sprinting and then they may go to do some stretches, or walking, or something like that.

47. So, for us active rest would be practicing a difficult finger pattern, a rhythmic passage, or some articulation. The idea is to work with another muscle group. We don’t want to stress the embouchure, we don’t want to stress the inside of the mouth, or perhaps even endurance with the lungs. So, we will continue to use those but engage in something else. This is very efficient because there are usually things you need to work on for a concert—fingering, articulation —which would be helpful there. So, having finished the warmup, interval training 1, and the active rest, then it is time for your second interval training session.

48. Once again you do the same routine you did in the first interval training session. You might find that you may be more quickly fatigued. That is quite common. Then I have allocated a place here for break away from the instrument. This is roughly half an hour into the session.

49. I think that it is really important that you really get away from the instrument. Put the instrument down, don’t make reeds, get up, walk around, have a cup of tea, give yourself a break, and maybe not even think about music. You will find that your practice session is much more fruitful when you allow your subconscious some time to work on what you were just doing and allow your conscious mind to be engaged in something else.

50. So, having taken a little break from the instrument, come back for some more active rest. Maybe you work on some arpeggios, scales, other patterns that need some touching up. Then if you are able to do it, now follow up with your third interval training session. Three times will really help you to get in shape. Follow that again with some active rest and then a break away from the instrument.

51. Here is a weekly regimen that you might want to be involved with. For instance, on Day 1. The first session you have some interval training. If you do a second session, then definitely practice without the interval training.

52. On Day 2 you may decide that you are not going to do the interval training on Day 2 and practice some other things. Then on Day 3 you bring in the interval training. Again, you will have to see how best your body responds. But consider ways in which you can alternate stressing muscle groups and then giving them a day off, stressing muscle groups and then giving a day off. This is much as a weightlifter would do or somebody in sports or athletics.

53. The best way to keep yourself practicing is to keep your practice sessions interesting. So, vary the kinds of things that you are doing. Keep yourself physically challenged. Keep yourself mentally stimulated. All of that is so important to keep up your practice regimen. 

54. Let me give one last comment on playing the reeds after the break. Even a well-adjusted reed will take several days to adapt to performance conditions. At first the reeds and embouchure will feel foreign and uncomfortable. Resist the urge to scrape the reeds! The reeds also need several days to get back into performance conditions. Trust the procedure and allow the embouchure and reeds to come back into performance shape.

55. Well, I hope that this presentation has been helpful for you. The keys to a quick rebound to performance after a break are to pay careful attention to preparations before the break. Keep up a healthy lifestyle while away from the instrument.  Last of all, apply a systematic approach to regaining endurance. All of these steps will result in success.

56. We are fortunate that the human body is so resilient and able to re-establish past endurance levels. Applying a few of the strategies provided in this presentation should help you to return quickly to performance shape. Thank you for your time, bye!