The Comeback Trombonist
As a trombone teacher at BYU, I work regularly—3 or 4 times a year—with players who have just taken 2 years away from their horn (for their LDS missions) and are returning to playing. After helping numerous students, consulting with other brass teachers around the state, and working through it as a player myself, I have come up with a few basic suggestions for the “comeback trombonist.” Presumably there are at least some applications for other, non-mission situations where players have taken considerable time off and are hoping to return.
1) Get Supervision—Returning from time off can actually be a great opportunity to “wipe the slate clean,” shedding old bad habits you may have had before. However, you don’t want to start a whole new set of bad habits. For this reason, it’s pretty important to get lessons with someone as soon as possible to make sure you don’t injure yourself or start any bad habits.
2) Return Gradually—Be patient! It’s going to take a little time. As with athletes returning after time off, the biggest danger for brass players is pushing too hard too soon. Rushing things is when performance injuries occur. It depends on the individual player, but four to six months is a reasonable amount of time to expect a low brass player to get their total playing ability back. A full, thick, free-blowing tone should always be the priority. High range and endurance are, of course, the last things to return. If you’re itching to do more, add some peripheral things that will help your playing but won’t stress your chops—listen to recordings, go to performances, look at scores, do jazz transcriptions, etc.
3) Flood Your Mind with Great Sound—Your mind has been elsewhere for a long time, and there’s a good chance your ideal sound is no longer as clearly in your head as it once was. Listen to lots of great trombone tone—both recorded and live—and get that sound firmly back into your mind. It will go a long way towards helping you re-establish your playing.
4) Enjoy—Some players become frustrated because their playing ability isn’t immediately where it was before and they begin to question whether they want to go into music after all. The first year after returning is definitely the time of highest turnover. Remember what it was that originally made you want to go into music. Have fun and enjoy all that’s great about making music.