Increasing your endurance by using the small spaces

Mary Galime

When preparing to perform a solo or a whole recital, there are a lot of factors that motivate our practice. To have a polished end product we meticulously learn notes, rhythms, and technique, with metronomes, recording devices, and more.  And, if you are like me, I practice getting through the complete solo or program to make sure I have enough endurance.

What happens when your endurance hits a wall? No matter what you do, are you always exhausted 2 lines from the end of your solo? Or are you getting to the end, but there is a specific section that consistently winds you? Logically it does not make sense that you practiced in a way that should be increasing your endurance, but are getting nowhere, right?

If any of these scenarios sound familiar to you, I bet there is one area in your playing that you have not practiced: the rests. You may have planned where you are going to breath, but have you planned how you are going to rest? The small spaces, as I call them, are your best ally to a successful and enjoyable performance.

The small spaces are a chance to recalibrate and continue with no tension, and fresh air. How are you going to do this? Try following these steps in your practice:

1. As you pull the horn away from your face and begin your 2-measure rest, analyze where you are feeling tension. Are you a gripper and you need to loosen your hand? Are your shoulders tight and nearing your earlobes? Is it your chest that has tightened after a long section of “quick breaths”? Have you stopped following your ear, and your brain is frantically focused on technique, range, etc.?

2. Release the tension. Consciously loosen that grip, release and lower your shoulders, and relax your chest for your next full breath. Wherever you find tension, experiment and strategize how to release it in the time you have.

3. Once you have defined what you need to do to release, practice your steps to release tension in a time frame that leaves you 2-3 beats before your next entrance.

4. Take 2-3 beats before your next entrance to completely fill your lungs, and make your entrance with confidence an ease!

What about those really tiring sections where your longest break is only 3-4 beats to catch a quick breath? You still need to work to find out how and when your tension is building. If it is shoulder tension, practice breathing in a way that lowers your shoulders while breathing. Combine breathing with loosening your grip on your instrument. As you breath, practice wiping your brain of what has happened, and focus on the phrasing in the section ahead.

If you neglect attention to the small spaces, you are leaving your recovery process up to chance. Spend equal time practicing your small spaces and the endurance wall that you can’t seem to climb past will disappear.