I'm down in LA for a week, visiting my parents, so I figured I'd take the opportunity to have some work done on my horn by the only guy I trust with it. I brought it with me on my last visit, and we put it on his leak tester. It did show some leakage, which is not surprising considering that it's been 25 years since the pads were installed by the factory. Big enough to make a difference? Perhaps. I know I struggle a bit in particular with attacks in the low register, which I've ascribed to reeds and technique, but the leaks will factor too. He told me he'd need at least three days, to give time for tonehole work to seal, pads to seat, etc. Somehow a bit of repadding has turned into a full overhaul, with every key removed and cleaned, every cork, pad, and felt replaced, everything oiled, adjusted and regulated - a lot of work. I'm really looking forward to seeing and playing the result, which I'll get to do tonight.
So I've now been without a horn in my hands for a week. Since practice is all mental, it seems like it ought to work just fine without the horn. I've therefore been trying to practice a bit, visualizing myself playing scales mostly. I imagine the sound of each note, the finger motions, what I'm doing with my air column. I have no idea whether it'll help having missed a week of practice, but it's something I can do, and the process has been really interesting. It's much harder than I thought, first of all. Total focus is required just to keep going. With a real horn, the horn itself is making sound, responding to my touch and air, but without it, I have to imagine every detail. It's a lot of work. And in particular, it's hard to do things fast, and nearly impossible with a metronome, so I've ended up in the bizarre position of practicing long tones in my imagination. The other thing that's surprising is that the quality of playing is so lousy. You'd think that if I was just imagining myself playing, I'd imagine playing perfectly. But instead I tend to make the same mistakes in my imagination as I do in reality. They are almost more obvious without the horn. So it's a good exercise, even if I'm really looking forward to having an actual bassoon again.