How to Prepare for Tour

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A working brass player fulfills many roles in the modern music scene. Many players will be studio musicians and touring artists for one group on top of being a private teacher, solo performer, or composer as a separate job.

Each of these aspects of playing requires a different approach, and must be prepared for in its own way. Preparing for a gig requires different practice methods from preparing for a studio session. Preparing for a tour or series of gigs adds another layer of complexity to this practice, and there are many points to consider before hitting the road.

Changing Climates

The biggest difference between gigs on tour and gigs at home is an obvious one – location. I played on a tour this summer that started on the US East Coast, where I play every day. The desert heat of Texas, New Mexico, and Nevada brought on chapped lips worse than I have experienced. As I entered Northern California, the problems went away. The dry climate had more of an effect on me than I expected, and having to play every day added to the discomfort.

The easiest way to combat the effects of dry heat on your body is to stay hydrated. Oddly enough, this affects the lips a great deal. Be prepared with a good chapstick. I prefer Carmex, which isn’t actually chapstick at all (it’s cold sore medicine, weird, I know). It coats the lips and stays thick on them rather than getting absorbed. Always remember to wipe off your lips before you play. Like eating or drinking while you play, not doing so will gum up your slide and valves and leave a residue in your horn over time.

Practice for the Gig

Many serious musicians practice daily. The way you practice is usually different than the way you play live, and the difference is important. In the days leading up to my recent tour, I would play for hours every day, shedding the tunes in the set over and over. But when I went out to play the show, my chops were tired before the half hour set was over.

Change your practice habits in the days leading up to the gig. This usually means you need to play louder (pretend a drummer is right behind you), which is a fast stamina killer for many brass players. Also consider your break time versus play time. If your gig is a half hour with no breaks, practicing for two hours with breaks every 20 minutes may not help you get through the gig with full command over your instrument.

Warm Up / Warm Down

When gigging on a regular basis, you must consider saving your chops not only during each performance, but in the long term. This means easing in and out of any serious playing. Be sure to spend time playing long tones and quiet notes before you get on stage. It will not only prepare you for the show, but keep your lips from being damaged by pushing them hard too quickly. Warming down on low notes will put your embouchure at ease for your time off before the next show.

Days Off

Although days off may seem like a welcome change after a string of strenuous gigs, it can kill the stamina you have built up over time. Mouthpiece buzzing or light playing can keep your embouchure active without putting any real stress on you to give you the rest you need.

Have any other tips for brass players on tour? Add to the comments below!

by Kyle M. Bagley |

2 Responses to “How to Prepare for Tour”

  1. Rich says:

    hi Kyle

    great article mate and some really good points, especially about playing loud to compensate for the drummer behind you. My band plays for 90-100 minutes with a 20 minute break and it’s a killer. We have a few tunes where we step back and “percuss” but mostly it’s full on and most tunes have a horn solo of some kind. Those Skatalites instrumentals like Confusious, Phoenix City, Ball Of Fire are popular with the crowd but man, your face hurts!

    It’s a balancing act too to get the monitor level right so you can hear yourself over the drums but not too loud.

    There’s nothing worse for a horn player than feeling their lip go, struggling to hit the notes but knowing there’s still a way to go.

  2. Kyle says:

    Rich, thanks for your comments. I know what you mean by “struggling to hit the notes but knowing there’s still a way to go” on long gigs. That’s where a big horn section comes in handy!

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