Friday, April 27, 2007

Stealth Piano

So it happened (again). I was coaching a student with a pianist.

Pianist plays interlude....trombonist misses entrance.

Counting problem? No, preparation problem.

Here's a game I sometimes pull: I tell the pianist to start at some random point in the interlude. The trombonist has to figure out when to come in by listening to the piano part.

Listening, what a concept.

Reminds me of an interesting story from one of our school's wonderful accompanists. Years ago, the sax teacher arrived at her house for a rehearsal. Before ringing the doorbell, he got out his horn. When she let him in, he just started playing from a random passage in the Creston Sonata. He wanted to see if she could figure out where he was in the piece and jump right in.

Yeah, she got it.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

John Hancock's Knuckles

In the spring semester, I teach a class in secondary trombone for music ed. majors. As I go over the basics, I find myself double-checking my trombone majors for those little basic details.

Here's one that comes up at times: slide grip. Some of my students end up holding the slide in some odd way other than at the pads of the finger tips. Of course I point this out and some of them ask, "What does it matter? This way is comfortable."

Here's a new explanation to consider: when you write with a pen, don't you use the tips of your fingers for fine control?

Try signing your name by holding the pen closer to your knuckles instead. How does it look?

How would John Hancock's signature have looked had he been holding the pen close to his knuckles.
Perhaps this....

Instead of this....

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

And yet, no "00" designation...

Just had this forwarded to me by email. I'll probably get 20 more copies in the next few days.
By the way, yes, there was a jazz trombonist named Abe Lincoln.


WASHINGTON, D.C. - Each year thousands are people are killed, maimed
or annoyed by trombones. The statistics of head, neck and even shoulder
injuries sustained by reed players, french horn and string sections
seated within reach of the deadly seventh position are truly
shocking ... not to mention forced early retirement due to ever-increasing
hearing problems reported by classical musicians of all types who are
forced to play the music of Wagner, Mahler and Brahms, as well as the
hundreds of alumni of the Herman, Ferguson and Kenton bands and OKOM
devotees of Kid Ory, Jack Teagarden, Abe Lincoln Jim Robinson and Lee

There is current legislation pending in Congress to restrict the sale
of trombones and equip them with child-safety devices. The influential
trombone lobby is, of course, opposed to this. There have even been
several proposals for requiring a so-called "trigger lock" on all bass
trombones! Every year there are reports of hundreds of innocent
children, attracted by the shiny brass and smooth, seductive curves of
an unattended instrument on a stand in the corner of a room or in an
unlocked case who are traumatized for life by the attempts of a playmate
to get a sound out of it, or who may suffer a collapsed lung or the
effects of hyperventilation by trying the same effort themselves! The
owner's feeble "I didn't know the slide was unlocked" is no excuse!
Trombones should be stored out of reach of children.

Efforts to enact a mandatory 10-day waiting period to purchase a
trombone - which would simply allow a reasonable period of time for law
enforcement officials to cross-check the purchaser's name against an
International list of registered trombone offenders and Slide-O-Mix
addicts, have been repeatedly thwarted by the powerful
Conn-Selmer-Yamaha (CSY) lobby. Law enforcement officials are
particularly alarmed over the increase in crimes involving use of the
"sawed-off" trombone or "sackbut." Legislation is also pending in
several progressive states, including New York and California, to make
carrying a concealed alto trombone a Class A felony!

Some Governors feel that there are sufficient laws already on the
books that simply need stricter enforcement - such as the 1932
nation-wide ban of screw-on bells, the indiscriminate use of Pond's Cold
Cream or KY Jelly and unsupervised emptying of spit valves on public
property. Filthy unsanitary habits which will help spread the flu this
year. One popular response to the spread of delinquent behavior is the
imposition of mandatory longer sentences for those using a trombone
while committing a crime ("Use a trombone - Go to jail"). Surveillance
video tapes have proven especially effective in identifying violators of
this statute because career criminals have often tried to avoid
convictions by having their lawyers insist that what eye-witnesses
reported as a trombone was really only an AK-47 or other legal assaul
weapon. Strict enforcement has been especially effective when used in
conjunction with the new "Three sharps, you're out" statutes that have
already been approved by many state legislatures.

Of course the automatic and semi-automatic valved models - both piston
and the middle-European rotary, are much more dangerous than the
traditional single valve trombone. Interpol has also reported the
sudden appearance of of rear-blasting Cavalry models that were thought
to have been completely eliminated during the Great Confiscation
mandated by the 1918 Treaty of Versailles signed by representatives of
every civilized country of the period. You may recall that those
instruments were melted down and became an integral part of the
Trans-Atlantic Telephone Cable that helped to unite America and Europe.
It is believed that the new source of these WMD's are isolated
factories in rural areas of China. The awesome destructive power of the
double trigger bass trombone could never have been imagined by the
founding fathers when they granted us the right to keep and bear horns.

Remember: When trombones are outlawed, only outlaws will play "I'm
Gettin' Sentimental Over You."

(author Albert Manglesdorf)

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Downbeat Ride

It's a unique experience working on excerpts over the years. You first encounter them as young as high school and, if you're serious, you'll end up playing them hundreds (thousands?) of times over the years.

As time goes by, you build habits...hopefully good ones. When bad habits creep in, sometimes it helps to play the excerpt in a different way.

One example is the famous/infamous Ride of the Valkyries. In a previous blog, I pointed out how your rhythm might be better if you related it to a familiar tune such as, say...The Mexican Hat Dance (see "Horns and Sombreros" in the archives.)
Here's a variation on the ride. Leave out the dotted rhythm and just play the downbeat notes.

Why? This variation should improve intonation and may help with developing a steady tempo. Put it another way, if you struggle with this version, the actual version probably isn't going to be a big success. Conversely, if you learn to nail this, it should help with final product.

Hope this helps.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Acting Cats Nag

Here are three ideas that have been rattling around in my brain waiting for me to blog them...

Be An Actor
Imaging you are acting in a play and your character is Mr. Cool. Back stage you might feel nervous but, on stage, you've got to play the part.

(OK, maybe this particular reference is a little dated and pathetic)

In other words, if you don't feel poised and confident, be an actor and imitate someone who is. Who knows, maybe it'll rub off.

Air Cats
We have two cats. Every night, we put them "in lockdown" in the back of the house so they don't bug us all night.
Don't call PETA, I'm referring to two levels of the house with food and a cat box, etc.
Still, every morning, while I'm making breakfast, they are, shall we say EAGER to get out.
Sometimes, I open the door and they try to come out at the same time, one trying to jump over the other. In recent lesson I used this as an analogy...
opening door = tongue
cats = air

In tonguing, think that the air just wants to burst out to the lips and the tongue simply releases all that air so it can come flowing through.

Nag Tape
As we practice, often we are trying to implement a new habit. Of course, the old habit doesn't just go away. Perhaps reminders would be helpful.
Take a deep breath......relax........good posture.

Try making a "nag tape": sit in a quite room with a recorder and, for about 10 - 20 minutes, give yourself these kinds of reminders (maybe once every 30 seconds or so).

Then, go about practicing while the tape plays in the background. Every now and then, as you play, you'll hear one of your reminders.

Take a deep breath


Good posture

Tuesday, April 17, 2007


Funny how different things come together.

I took my kids to see that new Disney 3D movie, "Meet the Robinsons"

So it turns out that the big saying that kept repeating in the movie was,
"Keep Moving Forward."
You know, despite disappointments and all that. It was connected to a Walt Disney quote that appears at the end of the film..

"We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we're curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths."

Then I hear an interview with Walter Isaacson about his new Einstein biography and he mentions this quote from Einstein..
"Life is like riding a bicycle.
In order to maintain balance you have to keep moving forward."

Sometimes we are dealt disappointments. Sometimes we face tragedy.
This seems like pretty good advice to me..

Keep Moving Forward

Friday, April 13, 2007

What if...

This one from one of my students...

What if a world-famous violinist showed up in the subway one day and started playing masterworks? Would commuters stop and notice and simply pass through?

Here's an article about just such an experiment in the Washington Post.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Kleinhammer in my Palm

At one of the International Trombone Festivals, I went to a master class by Ed Kleinhammer, retired bass trombonist of the Chicago Symphony. As he talked and had people demonstrate, I scribbled notes in my palm pilot (cue the geek music).

Anyway, those notes have been sitting in the palm pilot ever since. I might as well share 'em.
(they're a bit abbreviated)

Kleinhammer Notes
  • The mouthpiece is the musical part, the rest of horn is an amplifier
  • The embouchure only provides ounces of resistance
  • Record yourself on the mp (play back at half speed),
  • He demonstrated breathing tube -w- string
  • Breath attack arpeggios 4 attacks to one breath. Prevent activating the cough muscle
  • Lower lip will move more than upper lip during register changes. He would use a little vibrato on Brahms 1. Vibrato serves to center the tone. "automatic center finder"
  • He has a sign in his studio "The greatest truths are the simplest."
  • We've got to form the embouchure using the least amount of muscles in our face.
  • Using these breath attacks, you get "solfege of the embouchure"
  • We're looking for shortcuts and we're cheating ourselves. There are no shortcuts.
  • As you cresc, the lower lip flies into the mp
  • After Eric Carlson, a former student, demonstrated long tones on high A, Kleinhammer commented, "This exercise was why my dog left home." (a comment on himself, not Carlson)
  • You play sharp because it sounds better to you .(student jokes) "Better to play sharp than to play out of tune!"
  • He recommended playing La Gazza Ladra using the "no" syllable. This syllable interrupts the air less and sounds better than a more explosive attack
  • He used to start out -w- mp glisses
  • If you want to be a good trombone player, you can't work on a tight time schedule.

Perhaps there's a gem in there you might like.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

One to stabilize

Here's a quick little exercise that might help stabilize things a bit...

Keep the embouchure corners as stable tonguing as slurring. Don't let everything get all wobbly.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Simple but True (and it rhymes)

Something to say.
Nothing in the way.

OK, what do I mean?
First, Nothing in the way:
What gets in the way, distracting the listener from the music?
  • Poor tone
  • Faulty intonation
  • Bad rhythm
  • Weak ensemble blend
Next, Have something to say.
You can have good tone, be in tune, play good rhythms in time but still have nothing to say musically!

In other words, "Nice stage but where's the play?"

Something to say. Nothing in the way.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Listen to the Details

Here's something I've been doing at the beginning of lessons lately. I play a little 5-note pattern and have the student buzz it back to me.

Then, after 5-10 of these patterns, I do the same thing but have the student play them on their instrument (I have them look away so they can't watch my slide).

I've noticed that, when buzzing, a lot of students leap too far and then have to "snap back" to the correct note. I sometimes see this when they are playing lip slurs, too.

Here's a link to some of the patterns I've been using (pdf file)

Try doing these with a buddy. If you're practicing alone, see if you can sing or buzz them accurately.


Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Spring Trombone Night

Here at USC, we always do a Fall Trombone Night and a Spring Trombone Night. Last night was our Spring Trombone Night. Here's a link if you're interested in the program.

I've also updated the USC Info section of my website somewhat.

Monday, April 02, 2007

A new bullseye

Happy Trombone Week everyone.

Here's a new concept I've thought up. I (and other teachers) have often noticed that students tend to hit notes on the high side, causing the tone to be more pinched and less resonant than it could be. Ever notice that students almost always clam on the high side of a note.

Think of each note as a bullseye..

If you are consistently aiming a little high, your tone would be a lot less resonant.

But that's not that new part.

Since we are thinking about the notion of aiming lower to fatten the sound, perhaps a better shape might be an egg shape...

I like this image because it gets across that idea of relaxing down into the fat part of the note.
I tried a google image search for "egg bullseye." This is the best I could find but I think you can get the idea...

Anyway, don't bend the notes down but DO think of finding that fat, resonant, lower part of the tone.