Saturday, December 12, 2009

What? We're Stylish Now?

I just don't know what to make of this.

The real question is, which did you check out first, the woman (or the guy depending on your point of view) or the slide grip?

Monday, December 07, 2009

Hellboy 2 - goin' PRIMAL

Jeff Budin, David Ridge on bass trombone and Peter Wahrhaftig on tuba

No explanation needed.

Thanks to Justin for sending me this link.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Happy Holiday Hardware Hunting

Everybody loves scavenger hunts. (well at least you do if you're on the winning team).

So, readers of this blog, I'd like to propose a scavenger hunt that will most likely involve a trip to your neighborhood hardware store (and might invite a few stares, as well).

The theme: "Expensive Gadgets that May or May Not Help But We're Reluctant to Buy Them Because They Cost So Darn Much"

The first item is one I've discussed a posting some time ago. Please note, I'm not endorsing this thing (in fact, I don't endorse it!). I'm just saying that, if you really really want to get one, you can find a much cheaper version at the hardware store.
The device in question is the Power Lung. My blog posting, ETW (part 2), pretty much slammed it but pointed out that you could run to the hardware store and buy a ball valve that seems to do pretty much the same thing.

Ball Valve...89 cents
Power Lung Series P617B..$100 (on their website today)

Hmmm, which price do you prefer?

OK, so here are the next items I think we should hunt for. I haven't tried either one for aforementioned reason that they are somewhat pricey and I don't know if they're valid.

Hey, they may be great.....or maybe not. I dunno.

But.. if we can come up with a cheap hardware store version that does pretty much the same thing...COOL!

New Item #1: Chop Sticks
These are a working out of an idea that has been around for a long time...holding something like a pencil between your lips to strengthen the embouchure.

The starter kit of chop sticks rolls in at $24.95. Maybe it's great, maybe not.

Let's see if any of you are motivated to run to the hardware store to find something comparable and a whole lot cheaper.

New Item #2: P.E.T.E. The Personal Embouchure Training Exerciser
This is newer, I think. Once again, maybe great, maybe not. It costs $34.95 for the plastic version, $39.95 for the brass version and $69.95 for the gold-plated version.

Look closely at the shape of it and then try to find a good substitute.

If you find something that could work as a good substitute, email me the jpeg and I'll blog it.

Happy Holiday Hunting, Scavengers!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Boomerangs for Pitch

Here's a trick I like to use in teaching.

When a student is struggling to lock in the right pitch, I sometimes have them purposely start out of tune with a given note (such as a tuning drone) and then slowly gliss towards the right pitch.

Sometimes, as they approach the right spot, they aren't sure if they've quite gone quite far enough. I tell them, "Keep going until you know you've gone too far, then turn around and go back to the pitch. Like a boomerang."

Somehow, going beyond and coming back seems to help a great deal.

This drawing represents a boomerang from below the pitch...
Of course, you can also do boomerangs from above.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

An Explosion at the Rochut Factory!

(AP: 11.24.2009) A recent explosion and fire at the Rochut factory has temporarily halted etude production. Although company management officials issued a quick press release

"We regret the unfortunate accident at our factory this morning. We want to assure the public that no employees were injured in the blast. The source of the blast seems to have to have been the slur press when a cognitive dissonance valve malfunctioned. We are confident that we will be back in production with minimal delay."

In the meantime, Dolce Bel Canto Inc., distributors for the etudes is announcing a fire sale on the beloved etudes. The works are complete except, of course, for missing slur marks.

Said one industry analyst:
"Perhaps this is a good thing. We all know the phrasing controversies concerning some of these etudes. Perhaps the appearance of these etudes without marked slurs will force students to decide logical note groupings. Perhaps that will be the silver lining to this dark cloud. Only time will tell."

Rochut's stock (NYSE code RCHT) dropped 27% in heavy trading early in the day but experienced a partial recovery as profit takers moved in, ending the day down 12 points.

Friday, November 20, 2009

A Nice Online Music Dictionay

Here's a nice free service from Virginia Tech...

An online music dictionary which includes pronunciations of the terms and, for some examples, sound samples (although I never could get the sound sample page to download...maybe I'm too impatient).

Here's the Link.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Record - Work it Out - *then* listen back

Here's a new sequence I've tried in a few lessons.

  1. The student plays while I record.
  2. Before we listen to the recording, I point out the detail I wish to focus on and I get them to notice and improve.
  3. Then, we listen to the recording.

The change is that steps 2 and 3 are a swap from the old way which was: Record-Listen-Work it Out.

Why do I like this new approach? As we work out the detail in question, the student's ear becomes more focused.

One example might be the tendency to "twah" during a moving legato line. They're doing it, but at first they don't hear it.

I focus in on a small section and "take out the magnifying glass" to help them hear that elusive "twah" habit. Once their ear is sensitized to it (and they're playing it better), I play back the recording and they can really hear the problem clearly.

Anyway, for you teachers out there, it's a sequence that may seem counter-intuitive but I've seen some nice results.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Out with the old and in with the new...The Basic 4 Warm-Up

I've pulled down my old warm-up materials from the website and replaced them with this.

What went down?

Daily Routine Menu

Daily Building Block Routine


Well, the routine menu is going to overlap too much with the book I will be writing this Spring. The idea still works but I need to revise material and put it into a more cohesive form.

The Building Block Routine was reasonably thorough but it was just too long. In lessons, we never got past a few of the exercises. Also, as with the routine menu, it will overlap awkwardly with that new book.


I wanted something short and sweet. (yes, I was tempted to write "short and suite")

Something to get you (and me) off the ground a little more quickly (like, 12 minutes)

What are the "Basic 4"?

  • Wind/Sound
  • Flow
  • Lip Slurs
  • Scales

Here's a link.

Friday, November 13, 2009

The gurgle of truth...

In many lessons, I often find myself urging my students to use more air. Here's an interesting detail I've noticed...

They start to notice that water gurgling in their spit valves. When they empty the valve, I'm sometimes stunned to see how much water comes out. I wonder to myself, "How did that much water build up without bugging that student."

Could it be that, during practicing, they were using ...


Sunday, November 08, 2009

Weston Sprott on an iPhone app

I just learned of a new iPhone app from a company called Music in Reach. They have playing info focused on a variety of instruments.

Weston Sprott, second trombonist of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra has collaborated on the trombone version of the app.

Here's an example video of Weston talking about hand position. You can find other videos like this as well as an ad for the app here on YouTube.

My first impression: it's nice to see that the first people to come out with such a product have done a good job. (of course, maybe they weren't the first..who knows)

Still, a very nice service for only $1.99.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Beware the Creeping Triplets

It's not too hard to play this rhythm correctly...

But watch out when you try to play this...

( cue spooky music)
You start out with the best of intentions. You merrily stroll through all those dotted rhythms. Suddenly you feel yourself weakening.

It seems as if some force is taking over your mind, causing those upright triplets to melt into..
(creepy music gets louder here)


You must escape those slimy creeping triplets..

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Frisbee Tone

Here's an analogy I sometimes use...

A note starts with a little wobble and then settles down and steadies. This sometimes makes me think of a frisbee. Notice that, when thrown, a frisbee sometimes wobbles a bit before settling down.

If only we could get right to the steady tone and bypass the wobble.

Why does the wobble happen? Well, I'm not sure there's one reason. I notice this more often with bass trombonists.

On lower notes, I often see students blowing with an air stream that is too fast/forced. Other times it seems as if the lips are trying to buzz the wrong pitch and need to be "fixed" into place by the instrument.

How to fix that wobble? Buzz some notes and make sure they're centered. On the instrument, try some breath attacks. Make sure you don't use an explosion of air to start a note.

Memorization and pitch

Here's an interesting experience from lessons this week...

I had a student memorize the beginning of a standard solo. He devoted a fair amount of time to it and returned with it (mostly) memorized. Here's the interesting part..

His intonation was better.

So let's think this through:
  • Learning from memory means listening to determine if you're playing the right notes.
  • Your focus of attention turns away from the print on the page to the sound in your head.
  • Boom, instead of focusing on the mechanics, perhaps you are now focusing on sound.

What if I sent each incoming freshman a simple recording (mp3) with accompaniment and asked them to learn it by ear to play in that first lesson?

In other words: Give lessons on a piece where no printed music is involved.

Might be an interesting start to the semester.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Aharoni's New Book (and I continue banging the relaxation/embouchure drum)

I recently got a nice email from Eliezer Aharoni, former bass trombonist of the Jerusalem Symphony. He had a few nice things to say about my new book, Simply Singing for Winds.

Mr Aharoni, if you don't know the name, authored one of the real classic books for bass trombone,
the New Method for the Modern Bass Trombone. A more exhaustive book I have not seen.

He has come out with a new book, The Non-Classic Bass Trombone, which has some nice tunes in a pop style along with a play-along recording.

He has posted some YouTube videos that mostly feature Micha Davis,Bass Trombonist of the Israel Philharmonic.

One nice thing about these video: they show the player(s) from some different camera angles.
I've never heard Micha Davis before but I really like his sound and his relaxed physical approach.

Anytime you watch a great player, be sure to take details of both sound and sight and store them in your memory vault. Four details that jump out at me when I watch Micha Davis play...

  • Really nice centering of sound on low notes
  • Very relaxed demeanor, especially notice that the slide arm isn't too tense.
  • The second uses a variety of camera angles including a brief close-up of Aharoni's embouchure. Notice those firm corners.
  • Lastly, notice that Davis is able to play most of these low notes without having to puff out the cheeks. Yes, it can be done.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Lips Don't Care...

So here's a saying that has been forming in my mind. Let me know what you think...

The lips don't care about the tongue.
They only care about air.

The horn doesn't care about the lips.
It only cares about vibration.

The audience doesn't care about the horn.
They only care about sound.

Perhaps it then follows that you should...

Focus more on: Air, Vibration, Sound

Focus less on: tongue, lips, horn

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

NYPO Mahler 3 ..quick before it goes down

If haven't had a chance to hear it yet, move quickly. They pull it down on Oct. 16th!

Thursday, October 01, 2009

"Ironing Out" those intervals

Here's a way to think of tuning.
Take one of those simple tunes (somebody should come out with a whole book of those things!) and really work it over, listening carefully to the intervals. Don't just play it in sequence from beginning to end. Go back and forth. Pause on a lot of notes.

Listen, listen, listen.

Have the tuner on but don't stare at it. Use it to check what your ear is telling you.

Think of an out-of tune melody like a wrinkled shirt. Just as you would work over the wrinkles carefully with an iron, you need to work out those wrinkles in your tuning. Back and forth, be patient. Get everything to line up.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The surfer dude and the salesman

Here's a simple analogy that came up in a lesson.

On the inside, be a cool surfer dude.
On the outside, be a salesman.

OK, so what does this mean?

Basically, it means: keep your cool on the inside while presenting exciting, charismatic music on the outside.

I know I've done some blog posts about this before. We want our playing to be exciting but we can't let ourselves fall into that trap of getting too carried away with the music that we tense up and start forcing the sound.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Some upcoming events...

Three things coming up...

Wed. Oct 7th
United States Air Force Band Concert...Koger Center for the Arts
(they will also be in Charlotte and Sumter)
Here's a link to their calendar.

Fri. and Sat. Oct 9th and 10th
The Carmine Caruso International Jazz Trumpet Competition
Koger Center for the Arts.
Here's a link.

Mon. Oct 12th
My Faculty Recital
(program forthcoming)

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Bad Middle

Here's a new idea has cropped up in lessons. When you're working on some technical etude, there's a range of tempos (tempi) that I refer to as the "bad middle."

What's the bad middle? Not slow enough for things to sink in and not fast enough to really stretch your technique.

I've started suggesting to students when they are working up something like a Kopprasch or a Tyrell that they should think of practicing either at a really slow, deliberate speed or lock those seat belts and go for it.

Why do we practice technical etudes? Well, to build our technique. If that's the case, think of using the etude as a tool to make you a better player.

You can learn a lot from playing a Kopprasch very slowly and sweating the details. You can also learn a lot from really challenging your personal speed limit.

When thinking of your practice tempo choices, think about that "bad middle."

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

A Great Online Trombone History

Congrats to Will Kimball who has posted a very nice timeline of trombone history complete with many pictures and a bibliography.

This is the nicest such history I have seen. It appears that a lot of hard work went into this project.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

One post bites the dust

You may have noticed a recent post that showed the David Letterman show from this past summer. The musical guest was Dianne Birch and part of her backup band was a trombone quartet including Joe Alessi and Dave Taylor. I embedded a nice YouTube link.

Well, YouTube pulled the video so the post seemed pointless.

So, pfft, it's gone.

Friday, August 28, 2009

When wrong feels so right...Huzzah!!

OK, a bit more on the whole dotted-eighth sixteenth thing.

Before I did a posting on the "creeping triplets" you can get when faced with a long string of dotted-eighth sixteenth rhythms.

But what about slow tempos ("tempi" for the elite)?

Often people actually end up playing the sixteenth note too fast. But here's the catch...
sometimes, it feel so right to do it.

I'd put money down that in the land of college-level juries, most committees out there are far more likely to complain about that sixteenth being too slow in fast music and complain about it being too fast in slow music.

dotted eighth-sixteenth
when wrong feels so so right

Slide Clarity, a Haiku

This is a new term for me: slide clarity.

I hear someone play a legato run and everything blurs together at times. We don't think enough about the clarity in the slide.

Here's my haiku...

quick to the right spot
at the exact right moment
arm is not too tense

Can anyone out there think of their own haiku to add?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Great comments, by the way..

Usually these posts receive few or no comments. However, a while back, I did a post on
"What's the Opposite of Legato?" which generated (as of this date) some great, really thoughtful comments.

I wanted to thank John Bailey, Hoyt, Matthew Parunak, Greg and Justin for their contributions!

Everyone else, you may want to back and check it out.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Auditions: the notes before the notes

Yesterday, I was behind the screen for the Augusta Symphony bass trombone auditions. 7 people showed up and we ended up with one winner and 6 disappointed people.

One quick observation from this experience...think about those notes you play before the first official notes of your audition.

  1. Ask before you go on stage, "Are we allowed to play warm-up notes?"
  2. If you do play any notes, keep it to 10 seconds or less.
  3. Make sure anything you do has a clear purpose (mostly to test the acoustics of the hall)
  4. Decide in advance what you will play; don't just doodle. Perhaps you can have a 5-10 second routine that you always do to check the space and make sure everything is working.
  5. Avoid glisses; other committee members might not look kindly upon this (however, I don't think this was the case yesterday).
  6. Include a few articulated notes to listen for the amount of echo you'll be working with.
  7. Most importantly: SOUND GOOD. You may think these notes are for you but they are listening and, whether or not you like it, you are making your first impression.
Imagine the committee sitting behind the screen as someone comes out to play.

First of all, they don't know when you are going to start. They may be sliding papers around or whispering to someone. If you start to play some warm-up notes and sound uncertain or if you seem to go on forever for no apparent reason, you will have strikes against you before the first excerpt has even begun.

Conversely, if you play just a few notes with a great sound, the inevitable effect on most committee members will be, "OK, here is someone who has potential."

Sunday, August 23, 2009

I'm back (and simply singing)

Summer's over and it's time for me to start posting some entries on the blog again.

The biggest event for me, was a giant family trip West in the mini-van (6,816 miles) to see family and national parks. More than that I'm guessing nobody really cares about.

The biggest event which may actually interest you is that I've finished the second book of my three-book trilogy. This one I've titled "Simply Singing for Winds" (after discovering with consternation that the title "Simply Singing" was already taken).

People who have studied with me know that I like to incorporate simple tunes into my teaching. I can use them to do a lot of effective teaching. I've finally done what I wanted to do for a long time: expand my little packet of 40 Simple Tunes into something just a little bit bigger.

Have you ever noticed how so many teachers/players keep returning to the same few sections of the Arban Method. The one I see used most often is that little section of tonguing tunes. Same thing with Bordogni/Rochut...there are those few etudes that everybody keeps going back to. I remember my first lesson with Arnold Jacobs when I showed up with the nice solo I wanted to work on and, in a short time, he left that and want to #2 in the "Rochut Book." I also remember a fair amount of time devoted to buzzing "Pop Goes the Weasel" on our mouthpieces. It was on that simple material that the real teaching took place.

That's why I wrote this book: to have a lot of simple material available to play.

Suppose you want to get together with a friend and play in octaves...
Suppose you're bored with your warm-up and want to warm up playing tunes...
Suppose you want to work on your high range or low range by transposing tunes...
Suppose you need work on clean tonguing...
Suppose you want music to buzz on your mouthpiece...
Suppose you want to warm down playing simple stuff in the pedal register...
Suppose you need to sing more during your practice sessions (because I'm guessing you aren't singing enough!)...

You get the idea. That's what this book is all about.

Anyway, enough advertising. Ensemble Publication plans to publish it but, in the meantime, I'm just selling them myself.

If you want to see more description, some samples, or even order the book:
here's a link.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Orbits (76 +4 [or more])

A rare piece was performed at NYC's Guggenheim Art Museum on June 21st.
Orbits by Canadian composer Henry Brant (1913 - 2007).

The work is scored for 80 trombones, soprano and organ.

Here's a link to the New York Times article about it.

There are several YouTube videos, of course. I've embedded two that you give you an idea of the event...

Monday, June 22, 2009

New(er) Building Blocks

Summer months...not much to blog about at the moment.

I have been working quite a bit on my third book and am almost done with a demo version. This one weighs in around 120 pages. I'm quite excited about it.

This morning, I took some time to write out some of the tweaks I've made to the "Building Block" warm-up routine this past year. They include some extensions (faster, higher, louder, softer)that I've been in the habit of adding on as I practice.

You can find the newest version here.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

What's the Opposite of Legato

Alright, so we all know about legato (Rochut, Bordogni, etc.)

There doesn't seem to be a catch-all term for articulated playing.

Staccato (well, that seems to be just short)
Marcato (well, that implies weight)
Detache (maybe, but isn't that basically staccato?)

We could be technical and say mezzo-staccato.

What about generic adjectives:
Bouncy? Pointed?

Maybe this alludes to a bigger issue.

Buddy Baker had his articulation numbers to indicate gradations of attack.

I've seen hints of a trend against playing the B-flat 7 chord of the Mozart Requiem in a totally legato style.

Still, wouldn't it be nice if there was one handy word....

Any ideas out there?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Palmetto Posaunen at Spoleto

Last Friday I had a chance to play two performances with the Palmetto Posaunen on the first day of the Piccolo Spoleto festival in Charleston, SC.

We had some guy named Wycliffe Gordon solo with us on two tunes. Here's one of them.
Oh, by the way, the first soloist, Steve Wilson, got his master's at USC. (I can't claim to have imparted any jazz wisdom, however)

Thursday, May 21, 2009

IMSLP - a little trombone

OK, this is mildly interesting. I was doing research and ran across the Internet Music Score Library Project (IMSLP).
I noticed, in the categories, a section breaking down all the music by the instrument featured. Clicking on the "trombone" category I found two for download..

Rimsky Korsakov, Concerto
Biduo d'ouro, a trombone/tuba duet by Zoltan Paulinyi

(Can't say that I know that second piece.)

The RK was uploaded by Lyle Neff. I haven't met him but I'm guessing he's either a librarian at the University of Delaware. or a hotheaded Canadian nationalist.

Thanks Lyle!

(and, just in case, Long Live Canada!)

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Ripple Effect

Here's something I like to mention to my secondary trombone classes...

Let's say such a class has 10 students. If each student has a career as a band director, let's guess that each year they will encounter roughly 40 new students. Over a career of, say 30 years, each student will directly impact the lives of 1,200 people.

Multiply that by the 10 students in the class and I would guess that what I teach a single secondary trombone class might impact the lives of 12,000 people.

(Not to mention the small percentage of those 12,000 people who, in turn, might do some teaching of their own.)

So, if I teach something dumb like: "Mouthpiece pressure isn't important. Don't worry about it."
Think of how that one bad idea ripples outward over time.

(no, I don't teach that)

Of course, I hope I can pass along something good.

Here's one example which I picked up at en ETW masterclass given by Randy Campora, bass trombonist of the Baltimore Symphony.

Think of the corners of your embouchure as the flagpole, anchored in cement.
Think of your lips as the flag, blowing in the breeze.

I don't know if this was original with Randy but that's where I got it. In other words, the ripple passed from him to me. I include this in my handouts to my secondary trombone classes and sometimes even include it as a quiz question. Rarely do any students miss it.

So, if I teach this class for 20 years, this one idea could conceivably impact 240,000 people.

And now the ripple has passed through me to you....

Monday, May 04, 2009

The Crutch Paradox

Classes have ended and it's the time of year when I turn my thoughts to what I want to get done over the summer and what changes I want to implement next year.

Of course, my list of things I want to accomplish over the summer is wildly unrealistic (as in.....if I could work without break for a year or two, I might get them done).
Oh least I have lots of ideas!

But this posting is about that other list: what I want to do differently next year. To me, teaching is an art form. I am always looking to improve my craft. Sometimes I want to apologize to past students because I feel I have become such a better teacher now then I was for them.

Some questions, though, I struggle with and have yet to find a really good answer. Here's one:
The Crutch Paradox

Basically, this can be summarized like so:

The more I do for them,
the less they do for themselves.

I've seen teachers on both ends of the spectrum.
On one end we have the teacher who doesn't really make assignments but starts the lesson with something like, "What do you have for me today?"

This works well for advanced, highly motivated students who think well for themselves. I often use it with my best students.

On the other end, we have the teacher who precisely lays out everything a student is supposed to do. At my school, I have one such colleague. His students know, walking in the door, pretty much every solo they will work on throughout their college career and in what semester they will work on that solo. The logic has been explained to me in this way: other university classes have clear syllabi and uniform expectations, why not an applied instrument? This approach also offers the advantage of fairness...everyone is held to the same standard.

Still, it isn't the approach I use or plan to use.

I often tell my students that I am trying to get them to become their own teachers-to learn how to think for themselves. With some, this works well. Other flounder-they are so used to being told what to do, it just hasn't occurred to them how to plot their own course.

The basic pillars of my syllabus are: Show Up, Prepare, and Show Incentive.

If I tell you everything you are supposed to do, what happens when you're out on your own with nobody telling you what to do?

But there is always the question of the "other" students. The ones who, for whatever reason, don't get it done.

I tell them to contact their accompanist....they don't.
I tell them to make an appointment to visit the local middle school and teach some demonstration lessons in front of a video camera....they don't.
I tell them to order music, sign up for seminar, mark in breath marks, look up musical terms, record their best take of an excerpt, .........they don't.

Perhaps the solution is obvious: bring down that righteous hammer of "F" upon their heads...that'll teach 'em.
But before I do that, I have to ask myself: am I applying rules fairly to everyone? Have I notified them of this assignment in a timely manner. The last thing I want to do is start throwing out "F's" in a capricious manner.

Yes, I could create an elaborate structure filled with rules and deadlines and appropriate consequences.
But this begs the larger question:
Am I teaching them to do it merely to avoid punishment? Is this right way to get them to show incentive? If I'm not careful it all slips into those questions of "Well, why should I do it if it isn't precisely stated in the syllabus?"

That's like the old joke of the professor who passionately orates on something she cares about only to have a student ask, "Will that be on the quiz?"

Because, if you ask that question, you're missing the whole point!
Future music educators, are you going to be that kind of band director that merely does the minimum to get by? If so, I hope my poor kid doesn't end up in your program!

Future performers....
well, if self-motivation in this insane job market isn't screamingly obvious, then GET OUT NOW!!!

So, I continue to work towards a good compromise of structure and freedom. I'll probably never perfect it but I love the challenge!

For anybody reading this (especially other teachers), I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

...and this from the iBone developer

After my last post, I got this email from the iBone developer:
The idea was to make something playable by the pro, useful to the student, and still palatable and fun for the complete novice. Thanks to the mobility and accessibility of the phone/ipod, I see it as a useful tool to do things like learn scales and songs, work out alternative positions, practice ear training by playing along with iTunes, etc... all in places and at times when you simply can't use the real thing.
For the complete novice, there's an integrated Songbook which shows you how to play in real-time in a game-like fashion. If we do our job, this could be an opportunity to bring more people to the instrument, and at least raise awareness and appreciation among the video-game playing masses.

Here's a link to the official site:
And the press relase:


So, one question remains: is that third position E-flat in tune?

Thursday, April 30, 2009

An iBone app? Really??

Further proof that some people have way too much time on their hands.

(But I'll confess I'm a little jealous)

(notice the overtone series in the background)
(also, notice that tilting the phone seems to affect volume).

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

I Can't Play That Lick (that I just played)

Oh, how many times has this happened!

A student comes in, announcing that he/she simply can't play a lick.
I ask, "What lick"
Then (and here's the cool part) they sometimes pick up their horn and play it. *And* they often nail it.

What's going on here?

Well, here's one thought: at the moment they are demonstrating for me, a couple of factors may be true:

1. They have nothing to lose since they just announced they can't play it. Thus, they plunge in with a "no worries, nothing to lose" approach.

2.Their mindset is more focused on the lick itself and how it sounds (since their goal is to simply demonstrate it for me to make their point). In other words, they aren't focused on themselves or the act of trying to play it. Instead their total focus is on the music itself.

So, in demonstrating that lick they can't play, they are often doing the two exact things they should do:
Let go and play
Focus completely on the music, not yourself.

The brain is a funny thing.

Steve Witser: Sad News

I just heard that Steve Witser passed away.

Here's the article.

Monday, April 27, 2009

The Fearsome Five

The Beatles were the Fab Four

In basketball we have the Final Four (and Sweet Sixteen)

In school we learned the Three R's

On the evil side of the equation, we could think about the Seven Deadly Sins

or maybe the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

Here's a new one to consider:

Why these notes?
(if it isn't obvious, which it should be)

They represent that perfect storm of of "out of tune" and "shows up a lot in your music"

I wonder, what percentage of our tuning troubles would go away if those five notes were always in tune.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Berlin in the Arm

Good ol' 5th position.
Sooo many pitch problems to be found.

Here's what I find interesting: even when someone KNOWS that they aren't reaching out far enough, their arm just seems strangely reluctant to reach

Consider this analogy: when Germany reunified, I seem to recall some trouble bringing those East German factories (and factory workers) up to speed with with Western standards.

Brain = new standards (Western manufacturing)
Muscles = old attitudes (Soviet style manufacturing)

The brain keeps saying, "Get out to 5th position, you're sharp" The factory workers keep replying , "Nope, 5th position isn't out there. It's only out to here!"

Somehow, the memos from management don't always get through.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

History: Let's Hear it for Hennequin van Pictre

Have you ever had a "should" book. You know, you buy a book you "should" read but then you don't get around to it.
Well, one of my "should" books is "The Trombone" by Trevor Herbert. I'm finally starting to work my way slowly through it.
I thought I might occasionally post a blog entry about some detail from the book. I don't wish to plagiarize, though.
You should buy this book. Here's a link from Amazon. Here's a link from Hickey's.
Here's a "proper" citation:
Herbert, Trevor. The Trombone. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006.

Today's tidbit is from page 58.

Who, you ask is Hennequin van Pictre?
Well, according to Herbert, Burgundian court records from the 1410's list him as being employed to play the trompette des menestrals (a slide trumpet or very early trombone).

(no, this picture is not from the book)

In other words: he's one of the first trombone players to

Go Hennequin!!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Talking Mouthpieces..Buy One Get One Free!!

Another story from a recent lesson:

A student is struggling to play with good technique and also doesn't really perform a convincing phrase. At first we try various tricks to help with tone and clean slide technique (with varying results).

Then I switch gears and address that whole phrasing thing. We try singing it but the tricky intervals get in the way. So I try a trick which I've thought of before but haven't really used:

Talking Mouthpieces

Basically, I ask him to buzz it but not worry about even coming close to the right pitches. What's important is to get a speech-like inflection (like the voice) using the rhythm alone. From that, we went on to play the passage on one note with a nice musical inflection.

By the way, while browsing I once ran across some very nice teaching pages from Carl Lenthe in which, among other things, he uses the phrase "Johnny One Note" and demonstrates inflection for the Barat Allegro using this technique. Give a listen to the sound files. On one of them, he sings rhythms with a nice inflection. What I was doing with this student was essentially the same thing but using this "talking mouthpiece" idea.

Then we moved on to one of my favorite tricks: he played the "one-note" version while I played the phrase. Then we swapped with him playing the phrase and me playing the "one-note" version.

The end result? His phrasing definitely had more feel to it and he reported to me that his mind wasn't so focused on a laundry list of technical things he was supposed to be doing.

And here's the cool part: during all this time he was so focused on the phrasing, his technique was greatly improved!!! By focusing on a convincing musical phrase, it was almost as if the technique was thrown in for free.

(I love it when this happens)

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Writing Comments - is there a transparent solution?

I just got back from a Virginia/D.C. trip that included judging the two final rounds of the ETW solo competition.

For me, one of the biggest challenges in judging these things is the not-so-simple process of listening attentively while trying to write intelligently. It goes something like this: you listen, you hear something (good or bad) that deserves a written comment. You try to write with decent handwriting, knowing that your comments might impact the person whom you are evaluating. I always want to write something of value to the eventual reader. But, as you write this, the music keeps rolling along and deserves your attention. The challenge is exacerbated when you are dealing with a score you don't know well as was the case with the Schnyder Sonata and the Amis Preludes.

Here's an idea I've thought of but haven't acted on. What if you laid one of those transparency sheets over a copy of the music and wrote comments directly onto the transparency? Then you could quickly refer to specific sections by simply circling them. When the candidate/student receives your comments, in theory they could lay the transparency right over their music and see your comments.

This reminds me of an interesting technique I first saw used by Eugene Corporan when working with conducting students. He had rigged up something that allowed him to hold a microphone and softly make comments that, I believe, were being overlaid directly onto the audio portion of the student's video tape. Clever but a bit cumbersome for a trombone competition.

One last comment on the ETW judging. This is my third time doing it. It seems that every time we end up with a choice between the more "clean, polished" rendition and the more "expressive" rendition. I will say that, usually (with one significant exception this year), the more expressive version wins the day even though it is often clear that the "clean, polished" player is technically stronger.

I have heard stories of parallels in big-time orchestra auditions.