About Me

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Harrisonburg, Virginia, United States
Professor of Saxophone, James Madison University

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Noah, Practice Monster, and the Altissimo G

My children get their music lessons at home, as my wife teaches them piano.  I'm on woodwind duty.  Yesterday was a normal day, but something special happened during my son's saxophone lesson that I was lucky enough to catch on video.

My son is a talented young man, but I wouldn't call him a prodigy.  He's a regular, eleven year-old boy. I often have to threaten him with no video games to get him to do anything, including practicing.  Yesterday was just like every other day, with me yelling something about laziness and "You'll get no Skylanders this weekened!"  Even the lesson wasn't terribly special, as he reluctantly played through his scales, complaining that low D-flat to E-flat is "too hard. I can't do it!" (Of course, he eventually played it without a problem.)

Then, there was a spark.  After playing his chromatic scale to high F#, he said, "Dad, will you show me how to play a high G?"  This is the most notoriously difficult note on the alto.  Untold numbers of university students have squeaked it in Paul Creston's sonata.  I once squeaked it on a recital performance of Warren Benson's Aeolian Song.  It's such a pain to master, I even posted my own YouTube masterclass on the subject (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2OOUUXczUh4).

I showed Noah this particular exercise, and he stumbled through it.  After a couple of failed attempts, the note popped out.  I couldn't hide my surprise.  Noah suggested how funny it would be to make a YouTube video of him playing the high G, so I turned on the camera.  I did this to encourage him, and I didn't actually think that we would capture anything worth posting.   As luck would have it, I was about to catch a complete practice event.

As you watch the video, notice that he fails over and over again.  He had only played one high G in his life before I turned the camera on, and it was mostly by luck, but now the note was in his ear.  That single success fueled his perseverance, but his eyes and face show his frustration.  Notice the determined breath he takes at 0:25, and the head-in-hand moment that follows.  I made the teaching decision, in the moment, to just quietly encourage him, letting him figure it out on his own.  Somehow, even as he squawks out some accidental multiphonics, he maintains his momentum.  He slows down the exercise, explores the sounds, and he keeps going.  Failed attempts, one after another.  Then, expecting more failure, he realizes that he has done it . . . check out the delayed reaction with his eyes at 1:36.

Sensing that it was time for a break, I turned the camera off and we worked on some jazz for a few minutes.  We went into another room and I played piano for him to practice improvising on the blues.  Then, we turned the camera back on, and he proceeded to execute the exercise three times in a row.  It seems that taking a break gave his brain a chance to let it set in.  He worked through the frustration just enough to make the breakthrough, without succumbing to the frustration of the Practice Monster.

There is nothing unusual about this sequence of events.  Noah practices every day, but not for an inordinate amount of time.  He requires constant encouragement, and is often kicking and screaming all the way to success.  This video just happens to encapsulate a particularly successful practice session:
  • Inspiration/ignition
  • Failure
  • Determination
  • Failure
  • Failure
  • Calming down
  • More failure
  • Palms in eye sockets
  • More Determination
  • Even more failure
  • Success
  • Rest
  • Success!!!

Monday, November 26, 2012

We Are Stardust

Readers of this blog know that my approach to practice is based on patience, tenacity, and science.  I read a lot of science books, admittedly many that are beyond my ability to fully comprehend.  The process is frustrating, as I need to keep looking things up, rereading entire chapters, reviewing the math that I never really learned in the first place, and eventually putting the book down because my brain has completely shut down.  There is also an occasional moment of revelation, especially when something rings true to my own experiences.  I recently had such a moment of glory while reading Richard Dawkins' The Magic of Reality.  (If you are so inclined, the iPad version is excellent, filled with clever animations, games, and beautiful illustrations.)

I was reading a beautifully explained passage on the slow and gradual nature of evolution.  Dawkins guides the reader through a thought experiment where one takes a picture of their parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, etc., and lays them out in huge stack.  If we go back in history a very long way, we arrive at some ancestors that look very different from the way we look today.  This imaginary march backwards through time leads us to ancestors that we share with other species, and inexorably into the sea, where all life began.

So what?  What does this have to do with practicing to achieve musical mastery?  Wait for it . . .

Dawkins points out that if we take any two adjacent portraits from the stack, the child will always very closely resemble the parent.  In fact, a fistful of generations will be essentially identical in general appearance.  Evolution happens so slowly that it is impossible to observe without taking large leaps through the pile.  (Adaptations happen faster with living things that reproduce more quickly, which is why you don't want the flu shot from last year!)

When it comes to talent farming, the changes occur much, much faster than the glacial creep of evolution.  But relative to the cosmic brevity of our lives, acquisition of mastery is a very gradual process.  Dawkins reminds the reader that there is never a single day when a baby is suddenly a toddler, or a child clearly an adult.  There will never be a single moment when I look into the mirror and see an old man in the reflection, but no matter how slowly the changes occur, I will eventually be a graying geezer.

The pursuit of mastery plays out exactly in this manner.  There is never a single day that we triumphantly leap onto the stage as a heroic virtuoso that didn't exist in the moments before that concert.  Skill doesn't click on like a light switch.  The days look much the same, indistinguishable from each other.  There will be perceived moments of sudden victory, but these are more like the teenager suddenly recognizing a grown-up in the mirror.  Change doesn't happen suddenly, but it creeps up on us.

The next time you are feeling frustrated about your progress, consider that you didn't change from a toddler to a teenager overnight, but that change surely happened!  Investing in regular practice will yield slow, steady progress - too slow to measure in short intervals.  Keep working hard, and remember that every great artist started as a helpless baby, and that once upon a time, every atom in your body was forged in a star.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Plateau busting with short-term goals

It happens to everyone, sooner or later – the dreaded practice plateau.  You feel like you haven't made any progress in a long time.  It's gotten so bad that you are having a hard time facing practicing at all.  The thought of banging your head against the wall is too much to bear.  You are depressed.  You avoid practicing altogether.

You are not alone.  This happens to everyone.  As you attain a higher level of skill, the learning curve gets steeper.  This is the primary reason that the great virtuosi are vastly outnumbered by mediocre amateurs. Along the ascent, it is increasingly difficult to resist the urge to give up.  It's a bit like the analogy of the person taking steps towards a wall, each step half the distance of the previous one.  That person ever more slowly advances towards the goal, without ever actually reaching it.  It's maddening.

Practicing would be a far less frustrating affair if we could easily measure our progress from one session to the next.  Imagine if you had one of those "downloading" progress bars floating underneath you as you practiced, telling you how close you were to completing that new sonata or jazz tune!  Although we are building neural connections with every repetition, it feels more like endless plateaus that suddenly break through to new levels, almost without warning.  Enduring each plateau is a test of our commitment.  The plateau is the perceived barrier between where we are, and where we are trying to go.

This barrier is perceived.  It is not real.  Improvement creeps in, almost too slowly to measure.  This is especially dangerous when we are measuring the wrong things.  When you find yourself at one of these practice plateaus, it is tempting to look at that those far-away goals and to feel overwhelmed.  These are the precise moments where we decide what kind of artist we will be.  Will we keep pushing up the hill, or simply surrender?

I have survived many of these moments with a simple strategy that works every time.  Set a small, easily achievable goal.  Make the goal tiny, something like "learn one measure."  The smaller the goal, the better.  Make it something that you could conceivably accomplish in 20 minutes or less.  Rather than trying to learn an entire recital program, or a whole piece of music, focus on a very small chunk.  This next part is very important, so read it twice.  Read it twice.

Focus completely on the small amount of material and sustain your concentration on only that amount, without adding anything until the material becomes effortless.

Practice isn't magical.  Every minute, every day, it always works in the same way.  Your brain slowly enhances the circuits that you use the most.  These circuits are built more efficiently when we repeat simple actions, over and over again.  Although the big picture comes together too slowly to recognize, the tiny aspects are much easier to deal with.  An attainable, short-term goal will bring a sense of accomplishment, and that reward will go a long way towards curing your practice plateau blues. 

Sunday, September 2, 2012

God Mode: How Modern Video Games are Killing Little Practice Monsters

The title of this post might lead you to believe that I am against video gaming.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  I love video games, and I always have.  This will date me, for sure, but I lusted over my neighbors' Atari systems.  In junior high school, my parents gave me an original Nintendo system.  I spent a summer slogging it out with Super Mario Brothers.  As an undergraduate, I practiced and studied all day, and played Sonic the Hedgehog all night (sometimes, literally).  My kids think the Wii was for them, but I love that thing.  However, something is wrong with these new games, and I think it speaks volumes about what is happening to our society.

The Legend of Zelda (and I'm talking about the original) was an amazing game.  It required strategy, problem solving, tenacity, and there was the small matter of trying not to die.  Virtually all of the games of my youth had one thing in common:  if you died, you had to start over.  Okay, maybe you had to go back to the beginning of a level, or back to a checkpoint, but sooner or later, you were going to have to start the whole thing over again.  It was brutal.  I remember falling off the couch, shaking my fist (and controller) to the heavens, shouting "Nooooooooooo!!!"

My son loves the Lego games on Wii . . . Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Harry Potter.  These are seriously great games.  There are so many levels, each game is like a universe.  The action is non-stop, and the sensory stimulation never lets up.  With a controller in each hand, you just keep grabbing those golden lego coins, slashing away at enemies.  If you die, you get right back up again.  You can play forever, and you never have to go back to the beginning.  True, you do have to solve some puzzles along the way, but you could literally just run around and find interesting things to do forever.  Literally, forever.

I can remember when this change started.  In grad school, I had a copy of Doom on my pizza box-sized Power Mac 6100.  My buddies drooled over the 8 megs of ram.  For real.  Doom was fun, but there was a way to really maximize the fun . . . internet cheat codes.  Type in the right word and you could have infinite health, weapons, ammo.  I think there was a "god mode" where you could even see the hidden enemies (that might have been another game, but that does seem to ring a bell).  Why bother really learning how to play the game when you could use a cheat code, and then simply enjoy the sensory extravaganza?  It was awesome.  Or was it?

Games are great for burning off stress, and these days, I don't have time to learn a complicated video game.  Doom with invincibility meant that I could enjoy the game without really being any good at it.  It didn't matter.  In fact, if you played with the cheat codes on for long enough, you might actually believe that you were good at the game.  All the rewards with none of the work.  None of the dying right before slaying the boss that takes a half hour to get back to.  With the cheat codes, you really were the god of the game.

Video games today are way more realistic than those old NES things.  These new games are so good, you really feel like you can strike out A-Rod.  You can bowl strike after strike.  You can dunk.  You can play the guitar.  (I don't know about you, but I can't do ANY of those things!)  This feeling of reality is powerful, and the games are designed to keep you playing.  I concede that there are certainly exceptions, but my experience with the games that my children and their friends play is profoundly clear:  the games are designed to hook you by keeping the action coming, and it is practically impossible for your character to "die."  At least not in the way that poor old Pac-Man would go down in flames with his little death tune.  These games are engaging, empowering, and in most cases, overwhelming.

This might be a leap, and purely speculative on my part, but it seems to me that the video game experiences of my youth taught me to come back swinging, and to keep practicing, but these new games are more about just keep playing. When it comes to real skill building, there are no cheat codes.  You can't download mastery like code from the matrix.  You have to be willing to start from the beginning, and failure will knock you back, sometimes hard.  You can't just blink and hop back up like nothing happened.  It is seriously difficult to pull yourself up, to learn from your mistakes - to go on, in spite of the seemingly insurmountable challenges ahead.  In life, there is no "god mode."

One could easily argue that the games are more of a reflection of society than the other way around.  No doubt, there is plenty of truth to that chicken v. egg scenario.  But the point of this blog is that we become what, and how we practice.  I enjoy these new games.  I even sometimes play lightsaber duel when my kids are at school (I'm in trouble when they start reading my blog).  As immersive and as fun as it is to play these games, I always stop playing because I've had enough - never because I "died," and if you never have to go back to the beginning, if you never have to repeat and refine, how are you getting better?  You aren't.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Scientific Method (and also smashing)

The art of good teaching begins with a deep understanding of the discipline to be taught.  I'm currently writing a saxophone method book, and the project has required some pretty detailed analysis of the techniques used in sound production.  I've always been interested in comprehending the specifics of technique, and that interest has spanned the course of my career, as a student, an artist, and a professor.

Effective practice is all about being a good student.  Intellectual curiosity is a basic requirement.  I can remember feeling very frustrated with certain aspects of playing the saxophone whenever I couldn't get a clear answer of how something works.  This frustration caused me to employ the scientific method in the practice room.  25 years later, I still find myself conducting musical experiments to solve the mysteries of great musicianship.

1.  State the problem.  The statement must be clear and concise.  If you can't clearly identify the problem, how can you solve it?  Below are a couple of examples.

     Poor statement: "I can't play that measure without squawking."

     Good statement: "Descending from high A to middle D, the D sounds like a high A."

2.  Form a hypothesis.  Make an educated guess on the cause of the problem.  For the problem above, let's guess that the embouchure is too tight, causing the D to jump up an overtone.

3.  Devise an experiment.  Gather data, and use all the tools at your disposal.  Continuing with our sample problem, we try playing with an exaggeratedly loose embouchure.  In this case, we fail to correct the problem.  In the testing phase, imagine that we recorded video, performing in the normal manner, and again with the exaggerated embouchure.  Although the problem wasn't solved, a careful look at the video reveals that the octave key on the neck is still opened, closing a fraction after the middle D fails to come out.  Time for a new hypothesis.

     "The D sounds as an A, because the switch from neck to body octave vents is late."

Form a new test.  In this case, descending from G to middle D would be revealing, since both notes use the same octave vent.  For our purposes, let's say that we have no problem performing that interval properly.  Eureka!

4.  Create an exercise that works toward solving the problem.  The classic exercise for this situation is to play an A, and to insert a G as a grace note before the middle D.  Practice executing the progression with shorter and shorter grace notes, until they finally disappear.  The result is an inaudible, but very important early depression of the left ring finger, ensuring a timely closing of the neck vent.  Take that exercise to the practice room, and smash!

Problems are usually accompanied by complexities, and there can be many different approaches to solving them.  The hardest part of this process is beginning with a really clear statement of the problem, so take the time to isolate the issue with clarity and specificity.  I'm currently looking at common problems with circular breathing techniques, and it has taken me a week to go from my original problem to a set of smaller, more specific problems, each requiring a slightly different solution.

Musicians must be part-scientists, so keep conducting good experiments.  Just remember to use the scientific method to stay on task, and to guide you to the answers.  Practice well!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

John Cage's Ten Rules for Teachers and Students

This is attributed to John Cage.  Right on!

RULE 1: Find a place you trust, and then try trusting it for a while.
              Pull everything out of your teacher.
              Pull everything out of your fellow students.
              Pull everything out of your students.
RULE 4:  Consider everything an experiment.
RULE 5: Be self disciplined.
             This means finding someone smart or wise and choosing to follow
             To be disciplined is to follow in a good way.
             To be self-disciplined is to follow in a better way.
RULE 6:  Follow the leader.
              Nothing is a mistake.
              There is no win and no fail.
              There is only make.
RULE 7:  The only rule is work.
              If you work it will lead to something.
              It is the people who do all of the work all the time who eventually
              catch onto things.
              You can fool the fans - but not the players.
RULE 8:  Do not try to create and analyze at the same time.
              They are different processes.
RULE 9:  Be happy whenever you can manage it. 
              Enjoy yourself. 
              It is lighter than you think.
RULE 10: We are breaking all the rules, even our own rules
               and how do we do that?
               By leaving plenty of room for 'x' qualities.
                Always be around.  Come or go to everything.  Always go to classes.
                Read everything you can get your hands on. 
                Look at movies carefully and often.
                Save everything.  It may come in handy later.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Lessons from the pool hall (how to be mediocre forever)

It's a dream come true.  I own a pool table.  In fact, I've owned it for years.  I've made it!  But man, I am no pool player.  I own a pool table, but I stink up the room.  Why?

I don't get to use the pool table nearly as often as I would like, but when my son wants to play, or when I have friends over, we rack 'em up!  Awesome.  The problem is that we just play.  It is absolutely fun, but I really haven't improved my game much.  All play and no work makes for a nice hobby, but not a profession.  Maybe this isn't even a hobby, but just a social activity, or a time-killer.

A few summers ago, I got exceptionally motivated to learn how to take a target ball that is against the rail, to hit the cue ball beside it with some inside spin, and to push the target ball sideways into the corner pocket.  I watched some clips on the internet, made some notes, and lined up balls around all the corners.  I took the shot over and over again, learning to cut the angle closer to the target ball, compensating for deflection. I practiced this shot, again and again, for weeks.  No surprise, I have become quite good at this particular shot.  I practiced it.

I love to play, whether it's Bach or a good game of nine ball.  Play is important, but we can't expect any amount of play to ever equal real practice.  We make decisions about how hard we are willing to work, and how much skill we need to enjoy an activity.  If you intend to make a living as a musician (or a pool player), you will need those 10,000 hours of skill building before you can return to the joy of playing.  This is the secret of the virtuoso, and the way the seemingly impossible is made to appear easy, and even fun.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Shake the Hive

I've been working on an unaccompanied tenor saxophone composition for an upcoming performance.  There are literally no constraints, except that it must be for solo tenor and it must clock in around 7 minutes.  Given the considerable freedom that comes with a project like this,  I had several ideas, none of which panned out.

I had been thinking about writing two different pieces for a long time, both of which I have toyed around with, but I never got beyond the basic concept.  Over time, these ideas hardened in my mind, to the point that I couldn't do anything with them.  Each of them turned out to be dead ends.

To clear my head (and ears), I tried improvising on completely different material during my writing/practicing sessions.  At one point, I reversed my hands on the saxophone and tried to play with my hands in the wrong places.  When I found an interesting sound, I wrote down the fingering, and learned to play it with my hands in the correct place.  With a few new-to-me fingering combinations, and a new set of sounds, an idea quickly started to form into its own piece.

Fearful of locking myself into yet another dead end, I put the horn down and went to work on something else (non-musical).  I read a book, took a warm shower, met with a former student, cooked dinner . . . anything to keep the idea out of my head.  Later in the evening, I went back to work, reviewing what I had played that morning and making some notes - no more than 20 minutes.  It struck me that the piece sounds like a swarm of bees, which gave me a story to go with the music.  My brain surged with insight!

This morning, I made a leisurely breakfast, listened to the radio, and fueled up with a strong cup of coffee.  In a few hours of work, the piece poured out of my head in a swarm of creativity.  Armed with a still-malleable idea, an interesting story, and a little caffeine, the entire piece came to be in just a few days.  All that is left is to write it all down (the least fun part of the process for me, given all the non-traditional notation required for the multiphonics and strange fingerings).

The piece depicts someone shaking a bee hive, and you might guess what happens next.  From a personal standpoint, it is interesting that the creativity poured out much like the bees, disturbed from their hive.  The lesson here is that there is a danger in ruminating too long on a single idea.  We can become too attached, and ultimately unable to complete the project.  We need to work while the clay is still wet!

I'll premiere Shake the Hive at the World Saxophone Congress in Scotland this July.  Now, to write the darned thing down.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

What really moves the listener?

To continue discussion, I have taken the liberty of transferring the following commentary regarding the last blog entry from my FB page:

Do you think Ma, in his anecdote, was fearful of making mistakes?" ? Seems like it was boredom with his high achievement ("perfection") that caused him to feel like he was letting his audience (and himself) down. But I wonder if his audience felt what he was feeling, or if, in fact, one of the reasons that we love to listen to folks like him is precisely his precision. He says you should make people feel something. OK, how do you do that? Miss a note or rhythm every now and again? Flap your elbows? Does accuracy not move people? (I know it moves me!) You can say, 'sure, you have to know your notes and rhythms, but there's a certain "I-don't-know-what" that's what REALLY moves the listener.' What is it? Can you teach it? Seems to me like the best thing you can do for yourself as a performer is let those feelings of whether or not you are moving the listener go. (Blow not intensely, but from the heart, someone once told me.) Like tonglen, if you feel like you've done well for the world, breathe it out; if not, breathe it in. And keep on smashing, for god's sake. (In potentially-related news, you ever checked out Carolyn Abbate's paper, "Music—Drastic or Gnostic?"? http://goo.gl/dCEzq <-- It's here.)

From the Abbate paper: "There are differences between listening and performing that should not be ignored; the former hardly involves the same responsibilities and anxieties as the latter. One can more readily depart mentally from hearing music than from performing it, though mulling over the bank balance while your hands continue the sonata by themselves is not unheard of. But that, perhaps, is the point: to reflect, must one in some sense depart? Split a drastic self from a gnostic self?"]

There are broad questions here, worthy of a long discussion.  For starters, let's look at some research.

Jonah Lehrer references a study by Limb and Braun that used functional MRI to peek inside the brain of improvisors, and significantly, to compare these results with scans of the same performers playing prepared pieces.  You can view the original study here:


Limb and Braun discovered that improvisation involves the deactivation of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex.  This is a part of the brain that regulates self-consciousness.  There is even some indication that this part of the brain regulates truth-telling (or lying).  Check out this abstract on a study using magnetic stimulation of the DLPFC:


I am willing to speculate (I know, shame on me) that there is a connection between pure improvisation and spontaneous interpretation.  (This would be difficult to prove for two reasons:  the difficulty in creating such a situation while the musician is in the MRI machine, and the further challenge in quantifying genuinely spontaneous interpretations.)  If the musician could perform the neural trick of the improvisor and willfully shut down the DLPFC, effectively dampening social inhibition, the resulting performance might be significantly less cautious, and more personal.  If there is a transcendent self, the DLPFC seems to be protecting it, or at least keeping it on a leash.

I believe that Yo-Yo Ma wasn't talking about playing perfectly, but rather he was talking about worrying about playing perfectly.  This is the critical self being too active, and at the wrong time.  There needs to be a balance of reflective, feedback-controlled performance and being in the moment.  The internal world of the performer is quite different from that of the listener, and while precision can certainly be impressive, and even expressive, what else is going on?  What really moves the listener?

I have serious doubts that anyone could move an audience by purposefully making mistakes.  Accuracy is certainly important, especially in European-style, classical music.  I also think that most audiences can tell the difference between feigned affectation ("flapping elbows") and an uninhibited performance.  What I'm getting at here is that it would be difficult to act as though the DLPFC is turned off, and that bad acting is fairly easy to spot.  Just as in a play or movie, bad acting draws the audience out of the experience; suspension of disbelief collapses.  Clearly, the affectations of the performer must be believable, or better yet, completely genuine.

A listener could be moved by sympathy for the performer.  We feel a connection to the tortured artist, or the brave hero.  The virtuoso has a certain superhero quality that we love.  Of course, listeners also have their own internal experience (i.e., baggage), and a great performance can allow a listener, through introspection, to access emotions that are purely their own.  A combination of external sympathy and internal emotions would be a satisfying concert indeed!

Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately), we do not have the technology for biofeedback-based practice in the technique of turning off the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex.  Perhaps the best advice really is to "let go," especially as it relates to concerns about what the audience is experiencing.  This is easier said than done, and best achieved through disciplined development of technique and interpretation.  When skill and experience converge, the performer might gain access to higher levels of expression.  While the discipline itself can certainly be taught, the performer must experience these higher levels on their own.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Hidden Art of the Master

I'm currently reading the newest book by Jonah Lehrer, Imagine.  Although I haven't finished it yet, I can already heartily recommended it.  It is beautifully researched and deeply insightful.  Buy it here:

Imagine: How Creativity Works, by Jonah Lehrer

Among the book's many topics that are connected to the subject of this blog, the following excerpt from a Yo-Yo Ma interview (from The New Yorker, with David Blum in 1989) appears on pp. 86-87:

    "I knew the music inside and out.  While sitting there at the concert, playing all the notes correctly, I started to wonder, 'Why am I here?  What's at stake?  Nothing.  Not only is the audience bored but I myself am bored.'  Perfection is not very communicative . . .  If you are only worried about not making a mistake, then you will communicate nothing . . .  You will have missed the point of making music, which is to make people feel something."

It is this realization that allows us to get on with uncovering the hidden art of the master musician.  We must free ourselves from fear and allow mistakes to happen without disturbing the creative flow.  Of course, this is only possible with a prerequisite level of high achievement, but there comes a point for letting go.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Practice Monster Injuries

Musicians often suffer injuries at the hand of Practice Monster.  Over the years, I've struggled with tendon issues, particularly in my wrists.  Here are some thoughts about how I've dealt with injury.

* Please, I am not a doctor!  This is not medical advice, and I strongly advise anyone in pain to be evaluated by a professional.  This is simply what has worked for me.  If you are in pain, seek professional help!!!*

1.  The cycle of injury, swelling, and pain cannot be stopped without rest.  Rest is key.  Without rest, things only get worse.

2.  Ice is the bomb of all healers for me.  I fill a pitcher with ice water and dip my hand, including the wrist, for 10 seconds.  I do this every 5-10 minutes until the ice has melted.  Once a day, for a week, while making every effort to rest.  This website helped me:  tendonitisexpert.com

3.  Tight muscles slow down the healing.  I take a hot bath, soaking my arm until the muscles are released.  Better yet, I go straight from there to the ice dip treatment.  If a hot water soak isn't practical, a percussion massager will help loosen things up.

4.  Never practice with cold hands!  Take the time to warm up (literally) and get the circulation going.

5.  Recent studies indicate that stretching might not be the best idea.  Some experts recommend slowly easing yourself into the activity instead, as stretching cold muscles could actually encourage injury.  Read this:  msnbc.com

6.  Evaluate what you are doing to cause injury, and modify that behavior.  I rarely hurt myself playing the saxophone anymore, but I do a job on my wrists working around the house.  Painting, scraping, and using the drill or the power driver are all killers, and I don't even think about using a manual screwdriver for anything but small jobs.

To sum up:

When you have pain, rest.  Use heat to release tense muscles, and ice to encourage healing.  Most importantly, eliminate the behavior that caused the injury in the first place.  Reliance on braces and Advil will only send you down the spiral of perpetual injury, and re-injury.