How Do You Practice When You Can't Practice?

I know a college tuba player whose semester was basically shot due to chronic TMJ and then pneumonia. Won't be able to lift a horn until June. Our conversations led me to wondering. What's possible mentally or physically to keep a person's skill level up or beyond when a debilitating illness or injury sets you back? Are there books on this subject out there? If not, I truly see a successful doctoral paper in this. Any takers?

Kenneth D. Friedrich


Active Member
Im no expert so dont quote me on this.
If you cant use an instrument just do lip buzzing excersises or mouthpiece buzzing. This keeps the muscles going. The instrument note producing stuff should then probablly come back easy enough.
Other then that if it physically isnt possible to practice an instrument or not recomended you do so then its probablly better not too.
Playing is like riding a bike, even if you dont do it for a while it should come back easy enough.


Supporting Member
While I can't relate to physical problems like TMJ, I have had to go on business trips in which it was totally impractical to bring a horn. I (luke nuke mentioned) would buzz into a mouth piece. However, to help simulate the feel of a horn a bit more you can sometimes buy about a foot (30 cm) of aquarium tubing to attach to your mouthpiece to give a bit more resistance.

Also, and I don't know if they have these in the UK, there are piston like finger exercisers (the resistance is simple springs) that can help keep finger strength up.

I wish the best for you friend and will keep him/her in my prayers,

Naomi McFadyen

New Member
Normally, when I can't practise, I don't practise...
But I need to have a lot of mental positivity to get me through a day, a concert, contest, whatever.
This always helps in fighting an illness (I just need to keep reminding myself that :roll: )

All the best to your friend



A great trick Billy Miller taught me was to get a pencil, put it between your lips and use the muscles in your face to keep the pencil as straight as possible for as long as possible. This is fantastic for people needing to improve on stamina and is good for people who cant always get to there instruments, you can do it while you watch TV, cooking and for those without a dish washer, while you are doing the washing up. Its something i have been using to great effect and know many other players in top bands have used.


Active Member
I once used a mouthpiece taped into the end of a cornet practice mute, when I had to be abroad a week 2 weeks before a contest, buzzing on that kept my lip in. Don't know what you could do about the fingering part, though.

Dave Euph

For fingering I'm forever drumming scales on the nearest surface I rest my hand on. For buzzing though, well, that goes rather quickly if I don't practise for a few weeks! :)


Off horn exercises......

mpc buzzing / lip buzzing...




[Do some of these as an alternative to a practice session or day off - everything in moderation.]

Lip buzzing.
THE best mpc pressure cure is [per day] 5 mins LIP buzzing simple etudes to start then progress, the reason is it works the embouchure harder than when using the horn AND of course you train your lips to work efficiently without mpc pressure. If you then decide to mpc buzz as well make sure you have the same buzz on LIPS/MPC and when on the horn itself oitherwise you will NOT have a co-ordination between all 3 types and this will upset your normal modus operandi.


The Pencil Exercise
Place a pencil between compressed lips, no curl (not teeth) and slowly raise it to a horizontal position. There are a number of concepts we are dealing with here. It gets the player used to holding an open teeth aperture, and also to bring the bottom jaw out to support the mouthpiece more efficiently in a more even top / bottom jaw alignment.

Lightly steady the pencil.

Next up, without pulling back the corners, bring the center of the lips toward you until they touch the pencil.

Keep the corners firm.

What we're trying to achieve is that due to the pencil causing a teeth opening, the muscles in the lips and cheeks will have to slightly tighten to just stay still. That is our ultimate aim!
Try and hold the pencil horizontal for 4 mins. Beware of overdoing this! Once or twice a day is enough I believe! Start with less time perhaps and incrementally build up to 4 mins. Don't hurt yourself.
"The best lip exerciser I have found is holding a short pencil or an inch and a half of long plastic tube (quarter inch to half inch diameter) in the center of the lips, without using teeth, and pointing the object upward and alternately flexing the lip muscles and relaxing them.
Pointing the object upward brings the lower jaw in a good position and the lower lip concentrates inwards and upwards, which is definitely an endurance aid." -- Armando Ghitalla


Pencil / Mpc exercise alternative...

Here's a suggestion, in a head downward position, elbows on spread knees and face
parallel to the floor. Use a lightweight / regular mouthpiece never a megatone, and use the shank end of the mpc rather than a pencil.
Now, all your focus is in the centre of the chops area rather than as in the pencil exercise where tension can spread to the jaw muscles in an effort to keep the pencil up.

While doing the normal pencil exercise lots of people find that they go into a "smile"
as they get tired, which is exactly what we're trying to get away from. With the head down it seems to focus all the effort exactly where it's supposed to go. It also allows for proper alignment of the teeth. Be careful of the length of time you take to do this one. It can be detrimental if overdone.


Lion pose [MF's fave!]
Widen your eyes as big as possible, go on, you know, as if you just had a tax bill the size of
Herb Alpert. Open your mouth as wide as possible and stick your tongue right out as if you were going to lick your chin. Hold for as long as it takes for the muscles to burn..or ..just before for safety, then release. Then try again 3 times. You should feel a relaxation of the obicularis oris..the main artery area around the mouth. Be careful not to get lockjaw, otherwise we'll have to call you Eddie!

Lips 1
Sit upright facing forward and purse your lips together. Lift your pursed lips towards your nose and keep there for 5 counts, relax and repeat 5 times.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Lips 2
Pucker your lips slightly and when in this puckered position try with your mouth muscles to bring the corners of your mouth together as close as possible. Keep lips in this position for 5 counts, relax and repeat 5 times.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Lips 3
Sit upright facing forward and keep your lips closed and teeth together. Smile as broadly as possible, without opening your lips, keep there for 5 counts and when relaxing start puckering your lips in a pointed kiss. Keep there for 5 counts and relax - repeat 10 times.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Lips 4
Move your lips into a puckered kiss and while relaxing the kiss keep your lips closed and curl your lips into your mouth across your teeth. Hold this position for a count of 10 and repeat 5 times. Point in the direction of the wife to gain extra points.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Lips 5
Sit relaxed with your lips hardly open and pucker your lips outwards. While your lips are in the outward position, move your puckered top lip towards your nose. Hold in this position for 10 counts and repeat 5 times.

Cheeks 1
Sit upright facing forward with lips closed but relaxed. Pucker and pout your lips using the muscles in your cheeks. (Feel with your fingers that you are using your cheek muscles.) Keep puckered for a count of 10, relax and repeat 10 times.
Cheeks 2
Have a relaxed smile with your lips closed and then suck in your cheeks towards and on to your teeth. Hold this for 10 counts, relax and repeat 10 times.
Cheeks 3
Look in a mirror while doing this exercise. Pout your top lip, turning the corners of your lips upwards and move your cheek muscles towards your eyes. You should at this stage try to get your top lip touching your nose. Keep in this position for 10 counts, relax and repeat 5 times.
Cheeks 4
Look in a mirror while doing this exercise. Smile as widely as possible - while keeping your lips closed and your mouth corners turned up. Try to make your mouth corners touch your ears. Next wrinkle your nose and see your cheek muscles move upwards and feel these muscles work. Keep for 5 counts, relax and repeat 10 times.
Cheeks 5
Keep your teeth and lips closed and blow air under your top lip and keep it there for 10 counts, then move it to your left cheek, hold for 10, to your lower lip, hold for 10 and then to your right cheek while holding it for a count of 10. Repeat 5 times.

Neck 1
A great exercise is to sit upright, tilt your head back looking at the ceiling while keeping your lips closed and then start a chewing movement. You will feel the muscles working in your neck and throat. Repeat 20 times.
Neck 2
Sit upright, tilt your head back looking at the ceiling, while keeping your lips closed and relaxed. Start puckering your lips together in a kiss and stretch the kiss, as if you were trying to kiss the ceiling. Keep your lips puckered for 10 counts, then relax, bring your head back to its normal position and repeat 5 times. Good for gaining points with YOUR God.
Neck 3
Sit upright, tilt your head back looking at the ceiling, while keeping your lips closed and relaxed. Open your lips and stick your tongue out as if you were trying to touch your chin with the tip of your tongue. Keep your tongue out in this position for 10 counts, and then return your tongue and head to its normal position.
Neck 4
Sit upright, tilt your head back looking at the ceiling, while keeping your lips closed and relaxed. Next move your lower lip over your top lip as far as possible and keep it there for a count of 5. Relax and repeat 5 times.
Neck 5
Lie on your bed, with your head hanging down over the edge. Slowly bring your head up towards your torso and keep it there for 10 counts. Relax and lower your head towards the floor again - repeat 5 times.
Neck 6
Sit upright and face forward and while keeping your lips together, separate your teeth by dropping your jaw and then push your jaw forward, keep for a count of 10, bring back to starting position and repeat 5 times.


Stand in front of a mirror, without a shirt on, but be careful cos' if the wife catches you like this you WILL be expected to perform-heheh! Put your hands high on your sides, take a breath and feel your hands expanding out with the breath. Then count slowly releasing your air (1, 2, 3, ...) as soon as you're completely out of air, take another huge breath. Keep watching yourself in the mirror. The first day you may be able to get up to 15 or 16, by the end of the week, your up to 25, 30, 35, 40, some up to 50 and 60. This is only a breathing exercise and not a trumpet playing technique, in playing only take enough air in to play a phrase. Repeat this breathing exercise for ten minutes a day.

We discussed the buzzing and finger exercises already. With the TMJ, buzzing is limited or next impossible. I'll suggest the pencil idea. What I worry about most is getting off track with developing skills. Two days or two weeks not a problem. What about half a year? This person had a good work ethic. Was in the practice room for three hours every night(school and work the rest of the day). I was surprised when she told me she was a Music Therapy major. This experience has knocked her back a bit. She'll be taking up with a private instructor during the summer, so I am sure all will be ok and we'll be talking about her next challenging solo before long.
I keep thinking about is the time lost. Can that time be caught up? 540 practice room hours gone in six months.

Kenneth D. Friedrich


I whistle--try it and you'll feel the old face muscles tighten--I'm being serious here by the way :evil:

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