All Thumbs

The holidays were a success in many ways. I cooked some good food, family visited and we all got along, gifts were appreciated by those who received them, and best of all, I didn't let up on practicing. This can be a tall order for the holidays, when there seems to always be something that is more important, whether it's family time or just plain relaxing. In any case, I was able to keep my chops in working order and continue some gentle progress on the Ligeti. 

My main adversary seems to be my left thumb. A combination of driving too much and playing a lot strained a ligament that attaches at the base of my thumb. Tweaking the ligament during the course of the day is hard to avoid (tweaks include: grabbing and lifting an item like a jar, using my thumbs as a point of leverage for just about anything - a window sash or... pulling up my pants, tucking my thumb in towards my palm) and horn-playing is just a combination of all those movements, depending on how I empty my spit valve.

Luckily, I've got time on my hands and can follow best practices for treating this kind of stress/inflammation injury (except for taking a break from playing, unfortunately!) Treatment includes:

  • Wearing a thumb-stabilizing brace whenever I don't need my thumbs for something important (this helps reduce those pants-pulling-up kind of tweaks.)
  • Practicing in fifteen minute increments separated by half hour breaks. This usually stops me playing to the point of pain and starting bad compensating habits.
  • Taking an ibuprofen at the height of the work day.
  • Performing a light cross friction massage of the tendon in question.

I'm also looking in to having my thumb key reshaped and repositioned so that it's closer and more ergonomic. 

The fifteen minute practice chunks are helpful in a number of ways, besides keeping my aching thumb healthy. Much like I had to in graduate school, when I had precious moments to practice, I must plan each session carefully. Today, I spent 45 minutes warming up (key of Bb melodic minor) and then eight sessions of fifteen minutes spread through the day working on Ligeti as well as F. Strauss' Nocturno. Those sessions lasted from 12:30 until 6 pm. At the end of the day, I felt as though I had played plenty of the Ligeti and had lots of other productive time during the breaks, as well. 

High Eb's, hard licks

Stardate 201612.15 - Key of Eb Harmonic Minor

As you know, faithful readers, I'm all about going boldly. But today's practice was about being a little less bold, a little more slow and measured. 

In my warm up, I stretched myself to reach tonic (Eb above high C) in arpeggios and scales. Instead of rushing the air and going by guts alone, I slowed down. Going slowly allowed me to check for mouthpiece pressure (spoiler alert: there was a lot) and ease up. Then, like magic, those high Eb's started popping out.

It is not my habit to practice playing above high C - and I'm certainly not here to brag about playing up there! There are others who play those notes more, better, louder, softer, etc.. But it so happens that I need to be able to hit a high Eb reliably for a concert coming up of the Ligeti Horn Trio. So I must practice them now.

Speaking of the Ligeti, there are about eight bars that took up a great deal of my practice time, today. The eight bars have four "licks," mostly for natural horn. They have to be fast, short, and are musically structured around syncopated accents. So, naturally, I'm practicing the licks slow, slurred, and with INSANE accents. I made myself a little practice-part to read: 

The little "grace notes" are there to help measure the distances with intervals that are tricky for me to hear. The fingerings are all chosen by Mr. Ligeti himself.