I know it probably sounds a bit odd to talk about summer practice just as the holidays end, but it is actually a good time to reflect on what we do over the holidays.
Most people take a break and go on holiday and forget about playing for at least a couple of weeks, whilst others who perhaps have playing commitments will keep up a bit of work to keep their embouchures in shape. It is very easy in normal times to slip into a less rigorous routine when bands are often depleted at rehearsals mainly due to holidays or there are no weekly lessons to keep everything on track.
The first thing that we should all be doing is keeping things ticking over during the summer holidays. We all know how difficult it can be to keep our chops in shape after a layoff, but recently the downtime has been significant and when the sun is shining and the beach beckons then the motivation level to practice is sometimes at a low level.
In addition, there is an interesting phenomenon, in that when students return from their summer holiday things that have seemed a struggle previously have fixed themselves, sometimes without the student touching the instrument for six weeks. And while it should not be taken as a green light to stop practicing it is obviously the case that the mind keeps working on the problem whilst we are not consciously concentrating on it. It is also the case that after a break the first one or two rehearsals or practice sessions feel really good, but after that fatigue sets in and the lack of practice starts to impact on playing, sometimes quite severely. It then becomes a hard slog to get back to the levels we are used to. In the case of someone taking an exam it is actually an excellent time to get scales up to scratch. Students often keep pieces ticking over during the summer but without the pressure of weekly lessons it is an ideal time to brush up the scales and arpeggios.
15 minutes of playing a day is useful for anyone and in terms of stamina it is better to play for 15 minutes every day than save it up and have one 2 hour session at the weekend. This is particularly helpful if it is used to focus the attention on a scale or a tricky bar. If only a short time is available, it is a good idea to find something you can achieve in that time. For example 15 minutes is enough time to learn a scale, or work out the fingering on a tricky bar, and is far more productive that spending an hour just blowing through pieces without a particular goal in mind. So planning practice sessions is vital and it is a good practice to make sure they are in the diary so nothing else can be put there.
So when sun, sea and Sangria are strong attractions in the summer when there is no school and work is possibly at a lower ebb, why not try to sort out that awkward bar in a test piece or other music, or a scale – G# minor is a tricky one for valved instruments. It will only take a little time every day and if performed regularly the benefits when everything winds back up in the Autumn will be felt by all.