Periodicity: why stress and recovery are like a sailboat

Diagram of a sailboat tacking

“Serious” trumpeters. I’m speaking mainly to you, because you are the ones who are stressing your embouchures to their limit, too often. I want to encourage you to get on the periodicity train (and get off the stress train). Think of your “periodicity” that I have been writing about over the past few days NOT like this: stress = progress and recovery = regression.

Instead, think of periodicity as being more like a sailboat that must sail into the wind. How does a sailboat do this? By tacking. Think of the headwind as the general resistance to growth as a trumpeter–the tendency to stay at the same level of ability (I wrote about this in a blog about homeostasis). If you want to get better, you have to move your boat upwind. But with a sailboat, you cannot simply sail upwind. You have to change your angle back and forth, left and right, until you have accomplished your goal. Think of stress as a tack to the left and recovery as a tack to the right (or “port” and “starboard,” if you prefer the nautical terms!). With this in mind, now you can see that stress is not progress. It is simply one of the two directions that you must tack. Recovery is equally important. It is the tack in the other direction. In this way, you can (and should) feel as proud of your recoveries as you do of your practice sessions.

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Periodicity and happiness

Yesterday, I wrote a blog about periodicity–about the necessary fluctuation between stress and recovery that enables a trumpeter to get more embouchure strength.

What happens if you don’t practice enough? What happens if you’re periodicity emphasizes too much rest? Then you never adapt to a higher level of playing skills or physical stamina on the trumpet. High notes will be a problem. Learning new scales and repertoire will take a long time.

Josh Waitzkin, who reached the top not only of the chess world but also of the Tai Chi world, speaks to the necessity to push yourself. He writes, “Growth comes at the point of resistance,” in his book The Art of Learning. You must plunge into the mess that is music and the trumpet with a bit of anxiety over what is, to you, the unknown. It must not be only a rehearsal of things you already know. You must periodically challenge yourself to the core.

Do you know all of your major scales? Do you need to learn a new solo? Would you like to memorize a piece, but think you can’t do it? Do you want to transcribe a solo, but you are not crazy about the work you need to do?

In all of these cases, you should probably choose the path that expands your abilities. You should choose to stress yourself to help you grow as a trumpeter.

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