Thursday, November 30, 2006

Nyah, nyah, nyah

Recently a student was playing a legato shift from B-flat to G. Lots of tension.

I tried lots of tricks; nothing seemed to work.

Hmm, minor third. What about that little mocking melody kids use.
"Nyah nyah nyah...(etc.)

Just like that, tension gone.

Take the new...relate it to the simple, the old.
Something you've done for years.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Simple and Smooth: Beat the Bureaucrat

Here's a simple exercise for building tone and legato technique. I've used it in a number of lessons. It's also nice for warming up.

It seems so simple but it can really help. Here's the point: I find many students can blow with a nice resonant tone until they begin to tongue. The air flows happily from lungs to lips until that tongue gets in the way and fouls things up. The tongue is like some bureaucrat setting up a checkpoint saying, "Hold on just a second here. Before you [air] can get to the lips, you'll need to sign these forms in triplicate."

Meanwhile the poor lips are starved for air and just can't vibrate.

Here's the trick to this exercise: start that half note with beautiful flowing air. Now (here's the key) when you start legato tonguing, use the lightest stroke of the tongue possible. Use a light, minimal "d" and make sure the "ah" is unbroken (well, minimally broken).

Listen carefully to your sound. Does it lose fullness when the tonguing starts?

Keep it open. Keep it resonant. Remind that tongue "bureaucrat" that he just isn't that important in the scheme of things.
We really shouldn't use the term "tonguing" at all. Just gives the tongue an inflated ego.

"Look at me. Look at me. I'm the tongue. I'm so important. I deserve the spotlight."

Friday, November 24, 2006

Unsung Heroes

A few random thoughts weave themselves into a thought...

My previous anticipation of teaching a complete beginner twice a week.
My upcoming spring semester edition of secondary trombone class (where I teach budding band directors how to play the trombone).
Briefly bumping into one of my student's students in the lobby of the music school.

The thought: Who are the top teachers for beginners?

Do we assume that the top-flight teachers in the country would be the best choice? How recently has Joe Alessi worked with a total beginner?

We all rightfully admire top teachers of advanced students but I believe teaching (and motivating) beginners is an important art. Excellent teachers of beginners are like the unsung heroes of our trombone world.

After all,if you can get them off on the right foot and instill those good habits before the bad ones take hold, you have saved these young trombonists a world of suffering.

These "heroes" labor away in back rooms of music stores, middle and high school band rooms and in student's homes. My hat goes off to them.

My first teacher was a man who drove from house to house in a VW packed with instruments. I only knew him as Mr, Paul (Paul, I believe, was his last name). He taught my friend his trumpet lesson and then came to our house to set me straight on the trombone. He wasn't young then and I doubt he's still around. As far as I can tell, he set me on a pretty good path.

Thank you, Mr Paul.

Friday, November 17, 2006

A Scam? Oh, I'm thinking yes

So about two weeks ago I got an odd email from "Albert" in Belgium. He would like his 14-year son, "Paul", to take lessons with me.

Albert wants to know my fee for 6 months of lessons (two lessons per week).

Man this is odd:

  • a 14-year old son who is just going to pick up and fly to South Carolina to take lessons?

  • the father wants to pre-pay for 6 months of lessons?

But still maybe the son is already here doing exchange study and dad just wants to line up some lessons. Apparently Albert's cousin, "Steve" is in the area.

Then this gets stranger:

  • Albert doesn't seem worried about details of scheduling, he just refers to 6 months, not specific dates

  • Albert informs me that his son doesn't even own a trombone yet. Would I suggest one?

  • When I dial Albert's phone number, there's no voice mail and he never picks up.

Now this gets really strange:

  • Albert sends me a check for thousands more than the fee I quoted him

  • I email him to inform him and, in a subsequent phone call, he tells me that his wife accidentally included the travel agent's fee in my check. To solve this problem he wants me to (drum roll please, this is where the red warning light starts flashing)...wire the money to the travel agent.

  • Apparently all this is very urgent as the son needs to board the plane that very day (now that"s an eager trombone student!)

OK, folks, I may think I'm a pretty decent teacher and all but this is just too much. Time to get off this merry-go-round. That check isn't touching my checking account and no money is getting wired anywhere!

  • Oh yeah, the last two emails from Albert give me the contact info for the "travel agent" and a handy-dandy list of places from which I can send a money order (include all the usual E-Z check cashing joints).

  • Oh wait, it gets even better. At the end of my last phone call from Albert he informs me that it is necessary that I purchase my money order with cash.

I emailed Albert to say that, since Paul has waited 14 years to begin trombone, he can wait a few weeks longer and that I was going to return his cashier's check and wait for an accurate check that really clears the bank.

Funny, no reply to that email......

By the way, here's a link to a web site dealing with scams and frauds. Read through it and you'll see that recently there has been a big rise in phony cashiers checks.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

William Tell: Off the hook?

A quick question to think about: the William Tell excerpt is marked at hn=108. I don't believe I've ever heard a recording at that tempo.
Check out the William Tell recordings on and you'll find they're all doing the run in the high 90's.

Here's the rub. Normally we should listen to recordings to guide us in our excerpt preparation. But what if the recordings let us off the hook??? Do you really walk into an audition and play it at 96 or 100?

Is that being accurate or is it copping out?

(Actually, I'd really like some famous guy to say,
"Oh you should really play that at 96"
thus saving me hours of toil.)

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

A little overtone knowledge is a dangerous thing?

Suppose you're a composer and you want to write a solo piece for trombone.
(stop laughing, it happens)

Perhaps you don't know the instrument terribly well and you want to write in an idiomatic style.
(gotta love those big words)

Perhaps you consult your hand-dandy overtone series chart. Now you can write pieces that "lay well" on the slide.
(although, when it comes to glisses, composers seem...

Sometimes the results are, well...interesting:

Consider this lick from the Larsson Concertino...

If you don't know the piece, let's just say there's ample evidence that Larsson *may* have been thinking our overtone series when he wrote the piece.

However, think about these slide positions...

(Now that's just weird)

But think about it. I'm guessing that's what he had in mind.

So here's the question. If that *is* what he had in mind, should we do it? Is that part of our job in interpreting the composer's wishes?

Before you make a final decision, try playing it a few times. It's odd but it seems to work (in a warped kind of way).

Anyway, some food for thought.

Another other "overtone-y" piece: Hidas Meditation for bass trombone. And how about those runs in the Martin Ballade?
Milt Stevens once told me he plays these runs starting in long positions and just floating in from 6th to 1st and back out. He also pointed out that this made a nice visual image for the audience.
(Hmm, choosing slide positions for visual effect.
Now that's a whole other can of worms)

Saturday, November 11, 2006


One of my students emailed this news story to me.

...reflect on this when you think you've got it tough.

ABC News: Blind, Wheelchair-Bound Student Doesn't Fail to Inspire


Ahh, I remember it first solo performance!

It was an elementary school band concert...a stirring rendition of "Young MacDonald Had a Farm" as I recall.

At one point, right after the familiar refrain, "Young MacDonald had a farm..." the usual E-I-E-I-O was replaced by a lovely trombone gliss (faithfully notated below)

In his wisdom, our band director had me stand to deliver this stirring cadenza.
(In all fairness, the solo happened twice..Howard Danner played it the first time)

I believe I am scarred for life.

It's just like those early conversations...
"Oh, what instrument do you play?"
"The Trombone."
"Oh [pause] [twinkle forms in the eye..arm raises up] beee-reeer-rup"
[you know, that sound made by the average witty joe on the street imitating a trombone gliss].
"...sigh..{ah, such incisive wit, such comedic brilliance}"

I guess all these years I've had something of an anti-glissando bias.

But hey, I'm growing. This semester in teaching, I've rediscovered the pedagogical power of this trombone cliche. A number of my students have really benefited from doing loud glissandos (at last something possibly more annoying than that alto sax in the next room).

In honor of this therapeutic re-discovery, I've added another flow exercise to the basic daily routine on the BoneZone website. Click here for it (a .pdf file will download).

Of course in a recent lesson, as a student and I roared unabashedly through some high glisses, I looked over at the window in my door.

Looking in were a mother and her toddler, apparently enjoying the zoo animals inside.


Thursday, November 09, 2006

A "Killer App" for Aspiring Orchestral Players

In the software world, there is the term, "killer app." A killer app is that piece of software that blows away everything else.

Like lots of teachers, I've talked about the importance of studying excerpts in their context. How many trombonists have labored away on those notes without any idea of how the excerpt sounds in context?

Better yet, trombonists should be able to hear different renditions of the same selection.
Before, this meant repeated trips to the music library (assuming of course they had more than one or two recordings) or spending a small fortune in CD's.

I've even heard of one trombonist who joined one of those record clubs (and had his friends and family join as well) so he could get multiple recordings. I know of another who worked in a music library and quietly borrowed and burned hundreds of recordings to expand his library.

But for most of us this is all a logistical and financial nightmare.

Wouldn't it be nice if someone out there could compile a bunch of recordings of the excerpted passages and place them side by side along with the printed music.

Well someone *has* done it!

I don't who Seth T. Vatt is but I'm here to declare this website as possibly the best resource I have ever seen (at least if you are in the business of seriously studying orchestral excerpts).

Seth's website is such a jaw-dropping stroke of genius that I think somebody should give him an award! I imagine a time not too long from now when a young, serious student will come here to study already having carefully listened to multiple recordings of all the major excerpts. It will never occur to them how difficult this used to be!

It's almost too easy.

Some purists may object, saying that record companies and orchestras are being cheated out of rightful profits. Well, last time I checked, most young trombone hopefuls aren't brimming over with extra cash to spend on recordings!

And frankly, this is such an obvious idea that I say shame on the recording industry for not producing excerpt compilation CD's for all the major instruments (if not for the profit, then as a public service to future musicians....or is everything driven by the accountants these days)

Hooray for Seth Vatt.

(I just hope nobody forces down this wonderful website.
Hmm. maybe I should quickly snag these sound files before everything vanishes)

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Happy Fun Time

Here's an addition to the BoneZone website that's just for fun. I've actually been thinking about doing this for years.

Auditions tend to be stressful times for the candidates. Here's some cynical fun to pass the time,
the Happy Fun puzzle page.

It includes a maze, a word search and (my favorite) a crossword puzzle.

(You definitely need to be versed in trombone excerpts to solve the crossword puzzle.)

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Warts and All

I've added 6 new live performance mp3's to my website.

Not perfect...actually kind of tough to just throw them up there for anyone to listen to, warts and all.

Especially when I know how picky some of my students are.
Especially when I know how picky I get in lessons.
Especially these days when a professional CD can be edited to such clean perfection.

Yikes, maybe I should just take it all down. Naah. I'll just be happy about the good stuff and let the chips fall where they may.

Also this gives me a chance to let people hear a new piece I've written..
4 Impromptus for Low Bone Alone.