Sunday, December 28, 2008

You're not likely to see tubas doing this

OK, first of all, simply assembling this thing must have taken a very long time.

(too much time)

(Silent) Monks Hallelujah

Sorry, I've been out of town for a while.
Here's a good one from YouTube.

Remember these monks have taken a vow of silence.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Big Ol' Smackdown in New York

Dave Finlayson has posted recently on his new blog about Gilbert Kaplan, who recently conducted Mahler's 2nd with NYPO.

I'm not familiar with Kaplan's conducting but I've had to endure too many podium frauds over the years.

Here's the link.

Here's my own cynical rule about conductors

Of every 1000 conductors, 900 are completely useless.
The ensemble would sound better if they walked away.

Of the remaining 100, 90 are mediocre at best.
At least they don't do serious damage and will be bailed out by most ensembles.

Of the remaining 10, 9 are good at their jobs.
They actually make the group sound better.

That last one is excellent.
A pleasure and an inspiration.

So, in your next rehearsal, ask yourself, "What about this one? In the 900, the 90, the 9, or the one."

Realize, you may go your whole life and never have the chance to work with "the one."

My Christmas wish: that you get to work with "the one" in a good orchestra.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Rubber Band Rubato

Back to the subject of rubato (about which I put up a post in July called "Wheel Rubato.")

I've thought of another way to look at it.

Take this example of the cadenza from Morceau Symphonique..

Being a cadenza, it should have some freedom. But still, 16th's should sound like 16th's, 8th's should like 8th's and so on.

In other words, the beat can change but the subdivisions of the beat should still make sense.

An analogy occurred to me. Suppose you took a large rubber band and made evenly spaced vertical marks on it. Or maybe your marks could graphically represent the spacing of quarter notes, half notes and so on.

Then, stretch the rubber band and look at your marks.

The rhythmic pattern is consistent over a time frame that is stretched.

...sort of like the perception of time as you fall into a black hole.

Monday, December 01, 2008

The Etude Finder

I heard a good quote from Ted Turner, "Early to Bed, Early to Rise, Work Hard and Advertise."

For the most part, I'm pretty good at the first three (especially now that my kid has to be at school at 7:30!). I'm not so great at the advertising part.

Here's something I put up on my website and didn't really announce. Why? I wanted to proof it and make sure there were no mistakes.

Well, I didn't proof it so IF you find mistakes, email me with something like, "HA! You messed up!"

What is it? Well, try it out and you'll see. There are lots of ways it could be improved. The original database (part of my doctoral dissertation) had other categories..things like "Building the Low Range" "Wide leaps in the High Range" "Double Tonguing" etc.

OK, here's another topic to consider...matching etudes with solo lit and orchestral excerpts. Something like this "If you're working on La Gazza Ladra (or the David Concertino), you might practice the following 4 etudes to help..."

So, here it is...

Special thanks to my computer whiz son, William, for writing the javascript code that makes this work. I sorta kinda understand it, but it's almost over my head.

Monday, November 24, 2008

South Carolina All State Exercises..Bordogni #37

This one's mostly for any high school trombone players here in South Carolina. I've written a few pages of exercises to help you prepare the required etude for the All-State Band audition.

Here's a link to the pdf file.

For others curious about this, the audition piece is most of the second page of #37 in Melodious Etudes, Bk 1 written by Marco Bordogni and transcribed by Johannes Rochut.

By the way, I have always thought it was a travesty that Rochut gets top billing on the cover. Don't call them Rochut etudes. Except possibly for #1, he didn't write them.

Giulio Marco Bordogni

Thursday, November 20, 2008

In these times....

Worrisome news about the Charleston Symphony. When I came here almost 10 years ago, I had the good fortune to sub with Charleston on occasion and was really impressed with their brass section. Now I hear that they're not sure they can make payroll after Dec. 19th.

Here's the article.

Some young trombonists who apply to the USC School of Music tell me they want to major in performance.

What do I tell them?

"Yes, I know it is your true passion and despite any odds you feel you have to go for it. But....there are so few jobs!" (and the number is shrinking).

Not to be all gloom and doom but, anyone pursuing a music performance career needs to have a realistic perspective on what is going on out there.

Ask yourself these questions:
  • How many talented young performance majors graduate each year? Don't just count the "big name" schools. Sometimes great players come from smaller programs.
  • How many openings are there for jobs that pay over, say $20k, each year?
If you have no idea, then you haven't thought things through enough.

How do most professional musicians earn their income?
Freelancing, small per-service gigs, lots of private students in the public schools, and maybe a part-time job. Don't get me wrong, this can be a good life. When I lived near Washington D.C., I saw people doing this and leading happy, productive lives. One small fringe benefit: if you have 27 different employers, you can't get laid off.

Yes, I know music gets in your blood and becomes a part of you. But if you are an aspiring high school trombonist who wants to be a performance major, know what you are getting into. Do your homework on the job market.

Maybe you can find creative solutions....write grants, create a small innovative ensemble, do something in the schools.

Hey, if you can capture people's imaginations, they will flock to you. Who could have predicted the success of something like Blast?

You may want to gag at the mention of the Trans Siberian Orchestra, but whenever they come to town, big crowds form. (actually I know almost nothing about them but they were here recently)

The intersection of art and commerce is never comfortable.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Yes, Ta-Ta-Ka

There seems to be a plague of people who triple tongue this way..

I ask them why. The usual response: I don't know. I've just always done it that way. Nobody ever told me how.

You should use..
(or DA-DA-GA)


Why do we multiple tongue at all?
Because you can't reset the tip of the tongue fast enough over and over.

Here's my contention (argue if you want): the second of the two "TA's" is the weaker one because the tongue has to do that rapid reset.

Test this: say TA-ta. Now say ta-TA . (capital letters represent emphasis).
For me, TA-ta is easier.

So...the whole point of using that inferior "KA" syllable is to give the tip of the tongue time to reset.

In a string of triplets, you usually want to place your accent on the first note of each triplet..
TA-ta-ka, TA-ta-ka, TA-ta-ka

Putting ka at the end makes it easier to emphasize the beginning of the triplet.

If you use..
TA-ka-ta, TA-ka-ta, TA-ka-ta,
your downbeats will be at a disadvantage.

(By the way, in the new Arban's book, both Bowman and Alessi prefer ta-ta-ka)

If you are used to the other way, use this exercise to help you...

Droning On....Droning Out

Tom Gibson just posted that video podcast of us messing around with the drone CD. Plus he loaded up the whole CD onto his website for download (warning: BIG files)

Here's a link.

(kinda wish he didn't ask me to sing...yow)

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The 47 Pound Pencil

Look at that pencil lying there. Easy to pick up right?

Now: as you attempt to pick it up with one hand, use your other hand to hold down the lifting hand. Harder to pick up now.

Seems stupid but ...
how often do we unwittingly do exactly the same thing when playing?

PS Tom Gibson filmed another podcast with me and Eric Bubacz, a fantastic tubist from Atlanta. Basically we were just hacking around improvising stuff over tuning drones. Don't know when it will be posted. Oh yeah, I had the good fortune to hang out for the 45 minutes or so of that Wycliffe recording session he filmed. Very cool (as in...him, not me)

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Tone vs. Sound

OK, I'm going out on a limb here.

We often use the terms "tone" and "sound" interchangeably.

For me, someone's sound seems to have more components than than just the timbre of the sound waves emanating from their bell.

What do you think of this diagram?

Why the question mark by vibrato? I think vibrato plays a role in phrasing as well. Some players incorporate it as a fundamental component of the sound, others employ it more to move a phrase along. Vibrato seems to live in both worlds.

I invite all comments/criticisms.

"Note Shape" refers to the degree of attack at the front of a note as well as the kind taper at the end of a note.

Monday, November 03, 2008

C.S.I. Slide-O-Mix

OK, I think I'm onto something here....

It started when one of my students, (let's call him Alex [or Joey]) commented that, "Everybody's Slide-O-Mix seems to work better than mine."

Then I thought about my Slide-O-Mix Rapid Comfort and how it used to to be have thick texture but was now watery.

Then another student (let's call him Colt) pointed out his theory that maybe HEAT had an effect on the stuff. In other words, once it had been exposed to heat (like being left in a hot car) it became watery and didn't work as well.

No sooner do I mention "Colt's" theory to one of my private students than he says that exact thing happened to him: Slide-O-Mix left in a hot car for a few days had become watery.


Research grant needed.....$1,500,000 ought to cover it.

Monday, October 27, 2008

A Little Valve Thing...

Has anybody out there ever played Ewazen's Colchester Fantasy?
In the slow movement, you find this forte septuplet that calls for some serious faking.

I tried using my old "valve wiggle" trick....just keep blowing while you press/release the valve as quickly as possible. You can create some cool effects.

Then I thought it through a little more carefully and realized that by "articulating" with the valve, you could accurately play this lick.

Here it is (I'm working from memory here but you get the idea):

Play it fast without tonguing.

This reminds me of a Baltimore Opera gig I did years ago where we ran across this fast E major scale that was effectively unplayable on slide trombone.

It went something like this...

Through kidding around, we discovered that, if you just stayed in 2nd position and employed a healthy valve wiggle, you could simulate the run really well. In fact, when we tried it together, we both burst out laughing because it sounded like we had actually played it correctly.

Friday, October 17, 2008

My Little public service

Johannes Brahms: Sixteen Lieder
Transcribed and edited for solo trombone and piano by
Eric Carlson

If you don't own this collection: get it!

Eric Carlson, 2nd trombonist of the Philadelphia Orchestra, has done us all a great service by creating this compilation.

Not only do you get the solo and piano parts, you also get a wonderful CD of the piano accompaniments. However these accompaniments aren't of the of "Frankenstein Piano" quality of a certain other collection of piano accompaniments that is commercially available. They actually have a very nice musical quality to them.

I was loading this accompaniment CD onto my iTunes and was surprised to see that Gracenote didn't seem to have it on their database. So, I patiently typed in all the info...

you're welcome

.. now go get this.

Here's a Hickey's link

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Monday, October 06, 2008

Monkey See, Monkey Do

I have started standing facing my students instead of standing beside them. Often, I tell them to watch me while I play.


It turns out that there are mirror neurons in your brain (both sides) which fire not only when you engage in a task but also when you watch someone else engage in the same task. In other words, if you watch Joe Alessi play a B-flat major scale, in your mind, those mirror neurons are playing along.

Here's an interesting 14-minute segment of Nova Science Now that talks about this...

Here's a good article from Science Daily, if you're interested...

Friday, October 03, 2008

The Freedom Cone

This idea isn't really original. I think I first saw it presented by Ron Barron.

The basic question? How much freedom do you have as a player?

Depends on what you're doing. If you're making an audition tape, especially one for an orchestra, I think you have the least freedom. You just don't know how you're going to be evaluated so you have to stick to the ink.

Similar with a first-round audition. So many people, so many cuts that need to be made. I have to think that most committees are looking for a reason to say no.

In later rounds you are more focused on giving the committee a reason to say 'yes' so perhaps you can begin to show your individuality.

Of course, depending on the conductor, you might have more freedom in a live performance.

Here's a little graphic...

By the way, respected friend of mine disagrees with me and, frankly, she has heard a lot more professional auditions that I have.

Her contention: In that first round the committee is desperately looking for a reason to say 'yes' but candidate after candidate fails to give it to them.

Anybody out there have a lot of experience with professional auditions?
What do you think?

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Alessi Seminar 2009

They have just announced the 2009 Alessi Seminar.

Some changes this year:

Three categories, not two..

Old system: 16 participants and a bunch of auditors
New system: 8 participants, 16 apprentices and a bunch of auditors

Top three participants are finalists in a solo competition at the seminar.

As I've said in my blog entries from the 2007 Alessi seminar, you owe it to yourself to attend.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Pilot Lights, Devils and Piano parts

Here are a few old ideas that have been waiting patiently for me to get around to them:

The Pilot Light

Practice soft playing. I mean, really soft playing. Challenge yourself to play at that uncomfortable dynamic where some notes might not speak.

For some reason, this reminds of me of a pilot light on a gas burner. Either the image works for you or it doesn't.

An Idle Brain is the Devil's Playground

Ah, those long notes. Ya best be subdividin' matey. (actually National Talk Like a Pirate Day was last week).
In case this analogy isn't obvious: people tend to turn off their brains during long notes. Fill your head with something useful.

Like subdivisions, perhaps.

Piano reductions of.....Piano Parts?

For all of you poor souls who wanted to perform the Hindemith Sonata but only had one pianist in the school even willing to consider playing it (and he/she is booked). Or the Casterede Sonatine, or the Sulek Sonata "Vox Gabrieli," or....

What if publishers came out with simplified piano parts for some of these pieces?

Crazy idea? Stupid? Impure?


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

"YouTubin" for Tone

OK, I had a "first" today: YouTube as a teaching tool.

I quickly linked to YouTube to help make a point about a relaxed, beautiful low range.

What songs did I search?
Ol' Man River and
I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas.

Enjoy (and think about resonance!)

Paul Robeson

Bing Crosby

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Matt Niess on Guitar Hero

Thanks again to Andrew Reich for this one. Someone programmed a Matt Niess solo into Guitar Hero.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

No "waiting rooms", please

Here's a problem I see a lot.

Players sit on the longer notes of of phrase and don't do anything with them musically. It's almost as it they are treating the note as a musical "waiting room" in which they must sit until they can get moving again.

Hey, those notes are a chance for you to show off that beautiful sound! Do something with them!!

My favorite waiting room movie scene? Beetlejuice...

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Trombone Nightmare

This mp3 file is from a former student, Andrew Reich. He was mixing things in an audio program and, somehow the files got messed up.

Can somebody say, "Audition Warm-Up Room"

Sweet dreams (mu-ha-ha-ha-ha)

Thursday, August 21, 2008

NPR story on trombone choirs

Thanks to Joseph Awad at for catching this.

It's a July 5th NPR story about the history of the trombone choir. A blast from a past for me because I grew up just outside Bethlehem.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The "Post-It" Trick

I may have blogged this before but, if so, it's worth repeating...

Do you have a short, tricky passage in a piece you're preparing?
Perhaps something with weird intervals or awkward notation?

Try this:
1. Memorize it
2. Cut a little piece of a post-it note and cover that part of your music
3. Play the piece and, when you get to that tough passage, play the memorized lick.

Seems to work.

Monday, July 14, 2008

"Wheel" Rubato

OK, I'm back from a trip and can dig through some of the old blog ideas I saved up over the year.
Here's my old "two images" game.

OK, so what do these two images have in common?


(Or really any kind of rhythmic freedom, for that matter. Yes, I know I'm not really using the technically correct definition of rubato)

Sometimes, my students have trouble incorporating rhythmic freedom in a way that works. Often they speed up or slow down in an unpredictable way.

I like to think of rhythmic freedom as a change in the main pulse *but* a change that is predictable.....sort of like that spinning wheel in Wheel of Fortune. The speed of that clicking sound is always changing but n a predictable way. In fact, I believe even that the rate change itself is also changing in a predicable way.
(doesn't this have something to do with calculus?)

As someone listens to you, you want them to be able to follow you, rhythmically. You don't want to throw them off.

Thus we can conclude that rodeo horses aren't very good at rubato.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Fixed Do vs. Movable Do

OK, this is a tough one.

One of my big breakthroughs, of late, has been singing more in my practicing. Thus I plunge into that old debate...

Sing in "fixed do" (C is always DO no matter the key)
Sing in "movable do" (The tonic note is always do no matter the key)

Some considerations:
I don't really have perfect pitch
A lot of music I'm working on is chromatic with shifting tonal centers or ambiguous tonality

So this means fixed do. Right?

Here's the thing: the syllables only help if they help you hear the note in your mind.

Since I have less experience singing solfege, I still have many moments when I can hear the correct pitch but hesitate trying to think of the correct syllable to use.

Obviously, at this point solfege ain't helping.

For the time being, I'm trying singing in fixed do but using a slightly altered system:


I replace mi and ti with "may" and "tay" because, if I ingrain this system in my brain, I don't like instinctively thinking of the "eee" syllable when I'm hearing these notes in my head.

Or perhaps, I should just sing everything on "la" or "ba"

OK, enough rambling. Here are some other websites that provide intelligent discussion..

A blog entry by Scott Spiegelberg of DePauw University (some good comments below the blog entry, too)

An interesting article by Jody Nagel

I found a very long thread of comments on the topic at

Your thoughts??

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Inner Cats

The Inner Game of Tennis by Timothy Gallway

Have you read this book? You should.

(For my money I would avoid Barry Green's Inner Game of Music. The original is better, in my opinion.)

Here's a nice paragraph...

"The image comes to my mind of the balanced movement of a cat stalking a bird. Effortlessly alert, he crouches, gathering his relaxed muscles for the spring. No thinking about when to jump or how he will push off with his hind legs to attain the proper distance, his mind is still and perfectly concentrated on his prey. No thought flashes into his consciousness of the possibility or consequences of missing his mark. He sees only the bird. Suddenly the bird takes off; at the same instant, the cat leaps. with perfect anticipation he intercepts his dinner two feet off the ground. Perfectly, thoughtlessly executed action, and afterward, no self-congratulations, just the reward inherent in his action: the bird in the mouth."

Gallway, Timothy. The Inner Game of Tennis, p. 32.

Should you wish to buy this book, here's an Amazon link.

Coast Guard Audition Comments

Over on, Ben Griffin posted some excellent comments concerning their recent audition.

I cut and pasted his comments here. If you want to link to the original, here's a link to that forum..

First off all, thank you to the applicants for taking the time to come out an audition for the band. We had 60 applicants show (out of 77 possibles); we appreciated everyone's interest in the Coast Guard band.

Having been on the panel for both the Principal and Bass trombone auditions recently, I have noticed some disturbing trends through both auditions. I would like to note them, not to chastise those that auditioned, but rather to encourage people to work on aspects of their playing that will benefit them on any future audition, be it for a military band or an orchestra, as well as serve them well in their musical lives.

The most disturbing trend was that there was a distinct lack of fundamentals on display.

Out of tune playing, poor/inconsistent articulation (of legato, staccato, and everything in between), lack of consistency in sound qualities, and poor rhythmic integrity were endemic of the whole of applicants.

I am not sure how to expand upon this more as these are what we consider basic aspects of trombone playing; of music making on any instrument, really. Some serious woodshedding on these fundamental principles needs to be done. CORRECT practicing.


Beyond that, there was a severe lack of understanding of the chosen excerpts as well. Basic markings were ignored, inappropriate dynamics, tempos, and articulations, and again, out of tune playing. There seemed to be a lack of understanding as to what the panel expected to hear (i.e. what skills needed to be displayed) during these excerpts and a lack of understanding of how the excerpt fit into the composition it was taken from.

Some very basic faults that were displayed by all:

Tuba Mirum:

Nobody played the Bb major triad in the beginning acceptably in tune, or with even notes throughout (the second line D was often unsupported and the low Bb was usually of a completely different timbrel quality). In the phrase immediately following, the tonicization of Eb, no one lowered the dominant 7th (Fifth line Ab), or the 3rd of the Eb triad (fourth space G). The list of pitch errors were not limited to these phrases, nor were these the most minute of pitch errors.

Beyond that, there was poor rhythmic integrity, i.e. poor counting of rests and inconsistent tempo within sections. This counts.

Then there was a lack of understanding of how the trombone fits with the overall ensemble. It is not a total solo part, it is often a duet, and there have to be changes in the character to match the ensemble as well. Most applicants played this excerpt as if it were a Rochut; it is not.

Die Walkerie:

Very few applicant had any clarity to the fronts of the notes. It seemed that volume, i.e. a loud dynamic was more highly prized than clarity of articulation. That is not the case, and most peoples' sound quality at that dynamic was compromised by the uncentered, unfocused, imprecise attack at the beginning of the note. The result was a loud, splatty sound that has no place in any ensemble.

The accents and rhythm were inconsistent and all over the road. The accents of the dotted eighth, sixteenth, eighth triplet are on the downbeat, not the sixteenth (as most played it). Also, the rest of the unaccented notes should not be more prominent than the accents. The rhythmic integrity of the dotted eighth, sixteenth, eighth triplets were inconsistent and often innaccurate. Charlie Vernon discusses this aspect of this excerpt very well in his book.

The dynamic of fortissimo was often taken at an uncontrolled volume. The later forte was often ignored. Overall dynamic means nothing if it is not in control.

The pitch was often horrible. No excuse.

The tempo taken by some applicants was breakneck. While there are different interpretations of this piece, there were many taken at speeds that we had not ever heard and would not be appropriate for the piece.

Symphonie Fantastique:

First and foremost, everyone was worried about the Eb, and that came through in the playing. Yes, we wanted to hear the applicant nail it, but not at the expense of everything around it. Too often the tempo and dynamic was rushed leading up to the Eb and both would severely slacken off afterward.

Also, the excerpt begins at mf and crescendos through the three quarter notes. Nobody did this.

Then there were the ubiquitous pitch issues.

Storm and Sunshine:

This excerpt was very telling from a style point of view, being the only non-orchestral excerpt on the prelims. As such, many people betrayed their lack of understanding of march style concepts (perhaps a thread on this subject would be good, I will attempt to start one soon).

To start, rhythmic integrity was lacking (this is a 6/8 march by J.C. Heed). The eighth notes were rushed and the quarter eighth combinations were often dragged. Most did not play the excerpt at the marked dotted quarter note equalling 160bpm. Second, the quality of attack wasn't there for most auditionees: Clarity and point are paramount; many applicant's articulation was too broad and barely heard. In addition, the note lengths were too broad for a march. Accents were often over emphasised in the wrong place as well as crescendos (often times, the cresc. and accents are paired with the snare and bass drum as subtle movements of the musical phrase, and yet other time accented notes and crescendos are meant to be brought to the fore. Familiarity with the piece will help you to discover which is which).

In short, it was mostly approached from an orchestral standpoint.

Now I realize that most folks are not practicing marches in their studies of excerpts, we understand this. But, we are a band, and marches are an integral part of what we do. There is at least one march on every concert we play (and there will be several in the upcoming July concert), and we play many at several different ceremonies throughout the year. We expected that the applicants would do a little more exploration of this style prior to auditioning.

As an aside, there were still pitch issues within this mostly triadic and scalular excerpt as well.


So that's a pretty hefty list of things to work on, most referring back to fundamentals of playing, and something that we, or any, audition panel will be expecting to hear. Most audition panels will take it for granted that the applicants will be able to display the basics and that they can listen to/concentrate on more musical and subtle aspects of one's playing.

I realize also that we, as an ensemble, are not usually considered first tier; we are no New York Philharmonic, Boston Symphony Orchestra, etc., etc. We are often not included in the second tier.

However, we are a professional musical outfit, and we are a premier service band. The quality of the Coast Guard band is quite high, continues to improve year after year, and is a highly versatile ensemble. There is a certain level of musician that we are looking for, and we take for granted that they will be able to display a certain level of playing.

This is not meant as a rant, nor to beat up on all of the applicants that we had. It is meant as an honest look at what was presented to us and what those applicants need to display to any audition panel before they can expect to win a position in any ensemble at our level. This also isn't to say that there were not any positive aspects diosplayed. There were some fine sounds and some fine moments throughout the course of the audition.

The two finalists displayed some fine qualities but we had soem concerns. I spoke to both of them regarding those concerns and they are automatically advanced to the semifinals of the next audition. We wish them the best of luck and hope to see them in the fall.

I sincerely wish all the best of luck to everyone, and hope to hear some great playing in the fall when the next audition occurs.

I am open to any questions anyone might have, please PM or we can discuss openly in the forum. I hope that only good can come of this post.

All the Best,

Man, it's the same thing again and again and again.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Auditions and Learning

Yesterday I had the good fortune to win a local audition. Each time I take an audition (which isn't so often these days), I learn things. I thought I'd share some new ideas I tried this time around...

  • Taping: I taped myself a lot. I set up my practice room at home so the Zoom recorder was always sitting right there and was connected to some halfway decent speakers. Thus, while practicing, I could just reach over and tape a run. I've never taped myself so often while practicing. You really do hear a lot.

  • Sitting: For years I've practiced and auditioned while standing. In that Atlanta audition they required that the excerpts be performed seated. Then I heard that Colin Williams was playing his Boston excerpts seated. I think the reasoning went something like, "It takes the feet out of the equation" (or something like that). Also, when I'm sitting, I find it much easier to tap my foot while I play. Yes, I know professionals aren't supposed to tap their feet. Well, my rhythm is more accurate when I do it. End of story. (in other words, do what you have to do to get the result).
    One other thing, I do use one of those posture pillows behind my back. It seems to help.

  • Inderal: For years, I've scorned that idea of taking the stuff. I always looked down on the idea. Still, after that Atlanta audition I had to admit that many of my playing problems were directly linked to that "fight or flight" response. I finally got a prescription and, after trying it out in a recent concert to make sure my body didn't react too strangely, I used it in this audition.

    It was actually quite interesting. I arrived at the site about 45 minutes to an hour before the audition. I took it when I arrived and then began to warm-up. At the beginning of the warm-up I was experiencing those stress-related playing problems I've come to know so well: missing notes on the high side, mind racing and unable to focus, some trouble with a steady tone on louder long notes (especially William Tell), unclean attacks. As I warmed up, I actually felt my physical responses gradually changing until, at "go time," I felt more or less normal; like a regular day of playing.

    For what it's worth, the solo portion of my round was OK (a couple flubs near the end on the David first movement) and the excerpt portion was as solid as I've ever played.

    If you're young, I wouldn't recommend "jumping to the pill" just yet. I've had a lot of good high-stress performances where I just tried to relax. Still, I have to admit that, in my case, it did seem to help me stay looser and more focused. Some people have terrible trouble with dry mouth; I was drinking a fair amount of water and had no trouble.

  • Arban's: For years, I avoided the Arban's Method. Finally I broke down and bought the expensive Alessi/Bowman audition and have incorporated it into my practicing. Well, maybe I was too quick to judge. Using the major scales, little tonguing tunes, and the chromatic scales, I have definitely improved my focus and accuracy. I also really like Mr. Alessi's comments (no surprise there, I guess).
    Why did I decide to pick up Arban's? Given that this was a smaller audition and that the majority of the committee wouldn't know the excerpts as well as I did, a certain amount of "note counting" was inevitable. In other words, missed notes would probably be a bigger deal.. Therefore, one of my goals was to play a really clean round. For years, I would look down at "note counters" who obsessed over how many notes they missed. Once again, maybe I've been too quick to judge.

  • Perspective: As I practiced, I tried to hear myself through the ears of someone listening to me. In other words, instead of putting my mental focus on the act of creating the sounds, I attempted to focus on the final product that someone, especially a non-trombonist, would hear. Once again, given that most of the people on the committee wouldn't be trombone players, I wanted to hear myself through the ears of a string or a woodwind or (heaven forbid) a conductor. I wouldn't say I changed to play things in a "false" way. But I did keep in mind Alessi's "Popeye syndrome" comments from last summer and decided that maybe I didn't need to play so darn loud. I can't tell you how many auditions I've royally screwed up simple because I tried to play too loud.

    If I could travel back in time to my college self, I would grab him by the shoulders, shake him and say, "Stop trying to play so loud, you idiot."
    Didn't Friedman once say, "I've tried to make a career on just sounding pretty."? Worked pretty well for him.

    For this audition, I was thinking something like, "Keep it clean. Play with a pretty, musical sound."

Re-reading this post, I'm struck by how many times I used the phrase "for years." Even at my age, I'm still re-learning things I should have known all along...
  • tape yourself a lot
  • maybe sitting isn't so bad
  • tapping your foot isn't a curse
  • Inderal isn't automatically a bad thing
  • Arban's can have a lot of value
  • Hear yourself as your audience will hear you
  • Don't play so loud!
I heard a good quote recently about teaching and learning:

"One who learns from one who is learning drinks from a moving stream."

Better this than stagnant water.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

5 Kinds of Hard

As summer vacation starts, I'm beginning to tackle some "back burner" kinds of things. One of these has been to revamp the sight-reading I use with juries and ensemble auditions.

The first step: I've been composing half-page sight-reading pieces. My goal is to have 10 such pieces (I've written 6 thus far) and then rotate them.

As I compose these things, I want something that works musically and presents a variety of challenges. This brings me back to my of my doctoral dissertation days.

The title?

(Warning: do not read this title if you are operating heavy machinery)

Pedagogical Materials for the College-Level Trombone Student: The Application of Objective Grading Criteria to a Selected List of Materials as Determined by a National Survey of College-Level Trombone Teachers.

OK, I hope you had a nice nap.

Here's one of the questions I was dealing with in this dissertation:
What makes something challenging?

Pieces receive a difficulty grades but, what makes them tough? We understand intuitively that there are different kinds of challenge. For my dissertation, I identified 5 types of challenge:

1. Melodic/Harmonic
Challenge coming from: awkward intervals, tough key signatures, chromaticism/atonality

2. Rhythmic/Metric
Challenge coming from: strange meters, tricky rhythms

3. Notational
Challenge coming from: clefs, dense accidentals

4. Agility
Challenge coming from: arpeggios, leaps

5. Fluency
Challenge coming from fast runs

So basically, one of the things I did in my dissertation was to go through a standard list of etudes and give each one 5 difficulty grades.

OK, back to the subject of sight-reading....

Sight reading is a tricky thing to practice because you need lots of stuff to sight read.
How to go about it methodically?
Yes, I've looked at the Lafosse series but, as time passes, the need to read manuscript slowly diminishes. Also the speed of clef changes is a little ridiculous as you advance.

If someone wanted to set up a systematic approach to sight-reading, they could organize it around the 5 areas of challenge. Treat them singly and also in combination. For example: one section that has lots of leaps but isn't too tough in other ways.
Later, you might have another section that is rhythmically tough and harmonically weird.

Or, how about rhythmically tough, harmonically weird, with lots of clef changes and strange meters...oh wait, that's the Blazhevich Clef Studies.

Who knows, maybe this summer I'll get motivated and churn out lots of sight reading....

(don't hold your breath)

Oh yes, one other thing: I plan to sign up for the online service Sight Read This. Hey, it's only $4.95/year. Maybe I'll blog about my opinions once I use it a bit.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Peter Moore...the bar just keeps going up

And now, from the "thank heavens I have a job" department a youtube clip (thanks to Kevin Jones for the heads-up).

Peter Moore, aged 12, recently won the BBC Young Musician competition. His winning piece: Mvt. 3 of the Tomasi Concerto.

Here's the official blurb:

Peter Moore was last night named BBC Young Musician of the Year 2008 at a nail-biting and visually stunning final at Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff - the youngest ever winner of the competition.

Organised by BBC Wales, this was the first all-male final and trombonist Peter, aged just 12, took the coveted title against stiff competition from talented young musicians from around the UK.

Belfast-born Peter now lives in Stalybridge and is a pupil at Chetham's School of Music, Manchester. All his family members are brass players and his parents were both French horn players in the Ulster Orchestra. His brother David is studying at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester and also entered the competition.

I repeat: age 12 !!!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Air to Lips

This post has a special secret message at the end.

(Hint: it's "Air to Lips")

In a recent lesson, we began to talk about tongue position in articulation. This student had been told, like many of us, not to put the tongue between the teeth when tonguing.

(Don't worry about that,
just get the air to the lips)

I related a Jay Friedman masterclass I once saw in which he said he tongued between the teeth. This elicited an audible gasp from some in the audience. He said he preferred it because it provided a good path for the air.

(Yeah, like I was saying: Air to Lips)

I don't really like to think about my tonguing. Hey, if isn't broke....still, it doesn't seem to me that my actual "point of contact" is the tip of tongue at all. It seems like it is closer to a spot just above the tip. This spot makes a brief seal just behind the upper teeth.

(Dude, you are so over-thinking this!
Air to Lips!!!)

I'll also admit that, for tonguing pedals, my tongue actually touches the lip, effectively "kick-starting" the note.

(And...did that technique get the
"blank" to the "blanks"???
Probably yes or you wouldn't use it)

The only exception, something I never wanted to admit until Alessi talked about it: for super-smooth legato (esp on double tonguing) I actually pull the tongue back in the mouth so that it lightly grazes the roof of the mouth. Alessi referred to this region of the mouth as the "gulley" a termed coined by Phil Smith if I remember correctly.

(OK, call me crazy but did this happen to
allow that whole smooth "Air to Lips" thing??)

OK, this has been a bit too much analysis and I hope it helps and doesn't mess up people.

(Are we ready for that "secret message")

Whatever you do with the tonguing, remember that the main goal is to deliver...

( it comes; drumroll please:)


(ooh, big surprise)

Monday, April 21, 2008

Hail to Ives

I post this with a mixture of humor and sympathy.

Hail to the Chief at a recent White House arrival ceremony.

Wow, I'm thinking someone got in trouble over this.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Why I don't teach flying...

I point out they're dragging...and then they rush.

I point out that a note is sharp...and then they play it flat.

I point out that it is too soft....and then they blast.

overcompensation: they mean well but...

Suppose I have a flying student and I point out that they're letting the nose dip a bit much and they should pull up...

you get the idea

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Cool Notes (young Alexandre's composition lesson)

Here's a story that might help with phrasing...

Imagine a young Alexandre Guilmant arriving at his composition lesson having written the following piece ...

His composition teacher (Jacques-Nicolas Lemmens, if we can trust Wikipedia), thoughtfully scratches his beard and says, "Well, young Alexandre, this theme is rather nice but it lacks a certain Je-ne-sais-quoi "

He pulls out his pen and, with great flourish, adds a few notes to spice things up a bit...

"Oui, oui!" shouts Alexandre. Now I see! This piece has interesting notes in it. I shall become a famous composer!"

Soooo, when you play this piece (or any piece), be sure to aim at those cool notes.

Monday, April 14, 2008

The Inverse Ping principle

Here's a general rule I try to follow when tonguing...

Softer notes = more ping at the beginning of the note
Loud notes = less ping

For example, in Hungarian March, I want to let the air do the work on that run. I feel as if I'm using very little tongue since there's so much air.

On softer notes like, maybe, the scherzo from Tchaik. 4, I use more "ping" or "pop" at the front of the note.

Maybe I'm wrong here but it seems to work...

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Keepin' it Smooth

I know I've talked about this before at some point.
As we move our slides quickly (but not too quickly!), we need to keep that air stream very smooth.
It is so easy for the blowing to reflect the slide movement.
Trying playing a passage with silent blowing. Listen to your air stream as you move the slide.
I talk about this in the BoneTips portion of my website.

Here's a simple exercise that should help...

Monday, April 07, 2008

Spring Trombone Night

Happy International Trombone Week.
Here's the program from our Spring Trombone Night Concert..

Spring Trombone Night
In celebration of International Trombone Week

Mon. April 7th, 2008 ~ 7:30 pm ~ Recital Hall

Fanfare for 8 Loud Trombones .....Joel Baroody

Grand Canyon Octet .....Eric Ewazen
Conductor: Ryan Tinker

Loch Lomond .....Traditional
Soloists: Zek Wardlaw, Ryan Tinker, Russ Zokaites

BoneWeek Fanfare 5, "Arbington" .....Brad Edwards

The Carolina Trombone Collective:
Zek Wardlaw, Matt Henderson, Alex Manley, David Dodgen, Ryan Tinker, Russell Ramirez,
Greg Abraham, Hunter White, Nathan Lodge, Russ Zokaites, Brad Edwards, Director

Canonic Sonata in A minor ....Georg Philipp Telemann
II. Piacevole non largo
III. Presto
Greg Abraham, Colt Campbell

Suite #1 in G major .....J.S. Bach
Nathan Lodge, bass trombone

Dances from a Hillside Manor .....Eric Culver
David Dodgen, Zek Wardlaw, Alex Manley, Russ Zokaites

Trois Pieces .....Eugene Bozza
I. Allegro
II. Moderato
III. Allegro Vivo
Matt Henderson, Russell Ramirez, Zek Wardlaw, Nathan Lodge

Kyrie from the Pangue Lingua Mass..... Josquin des Pres
Arr. Matt Herring

O Mille Volte .....Luca Marenzio
Arr. Jay Lichtmann

The USC Trombone Choir
Brad Edwards, Conductor

Thursday, April 03, 2008

The lungs don't count

....wait, it's not what you think.

Of course the lungs count for breathing, tone, survival.

What I mean is, Don't count with your lungs.
Here are some typical bad habits I see students get into:

Take this example:

It is amazing how many people will start breathing in the 16th rest! The result is a breath that is way too small and probably an entrance that is late.
In effect they are using their breathing/lungs to help with counting.

Here's a more compelling example:

In this string of upbeats, I often see people swell the tone on the downbeat, trying to keep a sense of the beat. It might sound like this.

Lungs are great for breathing and I agree that one should breathe in time. I'm just saying that there are some bad habits with the way we breathe in and blow out that seem to be connected with the idea of trying to keep time with the lungs.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

It seems so simple...

I'll start with a story from a former student. He was studying with Jim Markey and struggling with Bolero. Then Markey said something that seemed to really help (I'm paraphrasing here, of course)...

"Can you make that sound better?"

Hmm, so simple it seems silly. worked.

I tried it today in a few lessons. When the student seemed to be wrapped up in some detail or other, I'd simply suggest, "Can you make that sound good?" or "Make those notes sound good."

..... it worked every time.

Shouldn't this be obvious??

Still, I even tried it on myself worked.

Sometimes the simple stuff is the most profound.

Try it:
In your next practice session, remind yourself, "Make each note sound good."

As Jacobs would say, "Make every note worth $50."

(of course, with inflation, each note has probably risen to $72.50 or, if you're using gas prices as a model, $465.99)

Singing, Barbershop and Brass

This from one of my students. Philadelphia Orchestra barbershop quartet (1984) with Roger Blackburn, Joseph Alessi, Glenn Dodson, Charles Vernon.

Here's the part I love...that seamless transition from playing to singing.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

That highway we need...

In the brain, the musical concept!

Now, we need to have a clear pathway straight to the lips.

Here are two images:

Instead of the information traveling this way:

You want it to travel this way...

How to do this?
  • sing
  • buzz
  • play
  • get out of the way
(in other words, no running self-commentary, just sound)

And remember: the lips follow the brain, not the other way around.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

ETW on the web

Here's a link to some of the ETW 2007 events in case you're interested...

ETW 2007

Monday, March 24, 2008

Thoughts from the "Analysis-Paralysis" Department

Warning: I'm mostly an "Inner Game" guy.
I consider analysis of mechanics to be something of a Pandora's Box.


Item #1: Bounce Backs
Here's one I see often: As a student plays a downward leap I watch their embouchure. Often I see an adjustment, especially for leaps to low notes. Not, in itself, a bad thing (depending on what kind of adjustment we're talking about).
However: I often see the embouchure make too big an adjustment and then "bounce back." Basically, I think the "less is more" or "quiet down the embouchure" approaches are good here. Try the following leaps...

Look in a mirror as you do this. You may notice that your embouchure over-adjusts for the leap and then has to bounce back to a more centered position. In your sound, you may hear this as a scoop up from below the pitch.

Item #2 Pull Aways
I observed something odd in a lesson today. I have often buzzed a note on my mouthpiece and then, while continuing to buzz, gently placed the mouthpiece into the horn.
Try this buzzing an F-sharp and put in the mouthpiece while the horn is in first position. You'll end up with a very pinched F.

But ...
I've never done the opposite. Play the note on my trombone and then, while sustaining the buzz, pull the mouthpiece out of the horn.

When I did this on a low B-flat, big surprise, the buzz magically floated up to roughly a D-flat.
What caused this? Am I aiming too high?
It was easy to make a small adjustment to retain the B-flat pitch, by the way.

You might logically conclude that I could buzz a D-flat and return the mouthpiece to get the same sounding B-flat. Nope, just a really foul, uncentered something.

Incidentally, this effect doesn't seem to happen on higher notes.

Maybe it could just be the act of pulling out the mouthpiece and disengaging from the nodes of the standing wave in the horn.

I'm not too worried about it and don't plan to change anything. Still, I find it interesting. Oh and by the way, if I pull the horn off my face while attempting to continue the sound, the buzz simply stops. I know there are different opinions on this but I'm siding with the camp that says the buzz should stop.

If you try this experiment, I'd be curious to hear about your results in the comments section.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Accepting Dissonance to Find Consonance

Here's an idea that came up in a lesson a while back...

A student was playing along with the drone, working on locking in pitch. He was close but not right on the money. He seemed reluctant to make larger adjustments (I see this a lot).

I got him to purposely bend farther out of tune and just listen to the beats. Once he had "permission" to play the note out of tune, he seemed to relax and hear the pitch in a more non-judgmental way. In other words, he was simply hearing his intonation without any extra moral connotations.

Sure enough, he quickly "locked in" the tuning.

That's when I noted,

"Maybe you have to accept dissonance in order to find consonance."

Maybe that could a be life lesson as well.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

BoneWeek Fanfare 5

Better late than never!

I've finished and posted BoneWeek Fanfare 5 for trombone octet.

I've made it a bit easier than previous fanfares.

It's all available free from my website...

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Atlanta Audition thoughts

When you don't see any posts, it means either it is summer and my brain has gone soft or it has been a crazy busy time and I need my sleep.

So, after 10 years, I finally went and took a real professional audition...Atlanta Symphony.
This was a good experience for me although the quality of my preparation left a lot to be desired. Still, all this got me to thinking about the whole audition thing.

Some random thoughts for those of you who fancy winning one of these things:

  • Build that collection of recordings. Know the whole piece, not just the excerpt.
  • As you play the excerpt, can you "hear" the orchestra around you?
  • Can you sing the excerpt in tune?
  • Are you taping yourself regularly? Before you buy a plane ticket, can you play a "recorder audition" well enough to advance?
  • An audition tests two skills: your playing skills, and your pressure-handling skills. If you work on one and not the other, you'd better get pretty lucky on audition day.
  • Can you write out the excerpt from memory? Did you get all the details right?
  • On section excerpts, can you play the other parts? From memory?
  • Have you looked at the score for the piece? Can you translate all the terms? Do you know what instruments outside the trombone section come into play?
  • When you practice the excerpt, are you forcing yourself to play it with only shot? The third try may sound great but you won't get three takes on stage (although they gave me two on Mozart Requiem).
  • What are your dynamic extremes? Try the loudest and softest excerpts at their extremes and then be able to gauge where you want to place things, dynamically.
  • Are you absolutely, completely and totally sure you are playing things in tune? How do you know?
  • Are you totally, completely and absolutely sure you are playing things exactly in time? How do you know?
  • Tone, time and tuning are the stage. You need a solid stage but you also need to put something musically interesting on that stage.
I suppose there's lots more but that's enough for now.

Oh yes, about the BoneWeek Fanfare. Well, I started one and ran into a wall. It doesn't help that I've been so busy. I'll try to either finish this week or let them know that I'll have to skip this year.

Ahh, spring break.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Bowling for Tone

Great masterclass by Matt Guilford today! I took notes and, time permitting, will post them here.

In the meantime, here's an image that has popped up in teaching lately:

I like to think of "letting go" of the tone. Start it full, and let it roll.
For some reason, this makes me think of a smooth delivery in bowling...

Well, use it if it helps.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Clapping between movements?

Here's an article in the New York Times that reminds us that the notion of no applause between movements does not extend back through the annals of history.

Not only was it common for audiences to clap between movements (gasp) but even during the music.

Here's the article.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Lip Slur Errata

I have a "comment copy" of my lip slur book. Whenever I find something that is a mistake, I scribble the page number on the front cover.

It occurred to me that, if I lose that book, I'll lose all those notes.

Here are mistakes/corrections in the book as I've noticed them thus far:
p.18 #26, the 7th position mark should be placed at the beginning of the bar and, one line 2 the sharp 5th valve indication should be over the A, not the D
p.58 #38b. the 3/2 measures...not sure what I was thinking here. Best to leave them out, they don't serve a purpose, really
p.60 #39 a. 4th line. 6th position is a better choice than 4th for the last rip to a high F
p.65 #2a. 2nd line should be mezzo forte
p.76 #12 5th line should have a decrescendo following the forte, not a crescendo

Friday, January 18, 2008

Bass Trombone Heaven!

I'm thrilled to announce that we'll have two fantastic bass trombonists coming this Spring.

Matt Guilford
, bass trombonist of the National Symphony Orchestra will be giving a master class on Wed. Feb. 13th from 1:15-2:30 in the School of Music Recital Hall.

George Curran, bass trombonist of the Atlanta Symphony will be giving a master class and recital on Mon. Mar 17th. Master class will be in room 006 from 1:25-2:15. The recital will be in the recital hall at 6pm.

Blogworthy Music Links

This from a former student, Will Timmons:

Werning Icking Music Archive

(a bunch of material you can download free)

This (I think) from current student Alex Manley:

New York Philharmonic broadcasts on the web.

This is one I often go to get those pesky composer dates:

Composers Classical Music


Wednesday, January 16, 2008

doo-doo Bolero

OK, this one's obvious, maybe, but still useful.

In a recent lesson, a student's Bolero didn't have good time. I took a deep breath and stood next to him saying, "doo-doo-doo-doo-doo..." in 16th notes.

Like this:

Hey, it worked. Even on the next run-through when all he had was the memory of my "doo-doo's"

Reminds me of Tony Chipurn, who always told me to play Bolero with "lazy 16th notes."

He was right on the money as always.

After all this time, you're posting about WHAT??

Everybody needs a hobby.

I don't collect baseball cards or build ships in a bottle. I do, however seem to have an unnatural obsession with warm-up routines.

I guess it is like trying to play the perfect game of golf. I enjoy tweaking and tweaking, trying to find the perfect compact little routine.

And so (ta-da!) here is my latest effort, the Daily Building Block Routine.

Inevitably, I use it for a while and then find ways to improve it and move on.

Oh well, at least this new routine doesn't really violate that whole daily routine menu that I posted last Fall.

If you're interested, you can download the whole thing and give it a spin.

Now that I've gotten this out of my system, maybe I'll start blogging again!

Oh yeah, I've got to figure another BoneWeek fanfare.