Sunday, November 14, 2010

Wagner at the Ballpark

OK, bass trombones. Here's a little something I cooked up on the fly the other day. It's nothing fancy but may be useful.

It is the famous Rheingold excerpt played using an organ setting in general midi. The tempo is quarter note - 60.

Yeah, I know it uses equal temperament but you may find that french horn section isn't planning on just intonation. If you can lock in with this, it's a good start at any rate..

Here's the mp3 file.

If you want to tweak it, here's the midi file.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Hippos and Cheetahs

I originally posted this in 2010 but it seems to be coming up again a lot in lessons.  See at the bottom for additional thoughts..

When I'm working up challenging licks (such as those found in the Gottschalk Sonata which I'm premiering tomorrow) I can use a variety of strategies.Add Image

There's the old "notch by notch approach." You know, slow it down and then work it up bit by bit.

There's the variation "up three, down two." Start slow, move up three (old-fashioned) notches on the metronome and then down two."

The one I keep going back to might be called "hippos and cheetahs." Basically, I like to oscillate between hippo speed and cheetah speed.

In other words, play it nice and slow. Then, play it at the fast goal tempo.

Usually the best ratio is two cheetahs to one hippo.

Try it. Let me know if it works for you.

Additional thoughts..
As you try this practice technique, keep an eye on your tension levels.  I'm going to go with the theory that our friend the hippo is a pretty mellow dude.  So, as you play that very slow, mellow approach, maintain a "hippo" frame of mind.  Then, when you kick into "cheetah mode" be very mindful that the tension levels don't spike.
One other thought: it is best to apply this practice technique to small batches of notes instead of whole pieces or phrases.  Just a couple of measures in most cases.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Best Bio Ever?

Thanks for Harold van Schaik for forwarding this to me. It is the online bio for William Barnewitz, Principal Horn of the Milwaukee Symphony.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Another brick in the wall

OK, I'm not referring to the Pink Floyd song. I believe that phrase was around before they came along.

As we practice our instruments and hone our craft, it is sometimes useful to think of all that work as building something good. So each scale, each lip slur, each etude, each excerpt run is another brick in the wall of good playing.

But another image occurred to me. Perhaps there is another wall we are building...

"I didn't feel like doing fundamentals this morning."
"I forgot to bring in an extra copy of the score for you to look at"
"I don't have my recorder today."
"I went away with friends for the weekend and didn't practice."
"I didn't check my lesson notes and forgot that was assigned."
"I haven't fixed that dent in my slide."

Taken individually, each one of these things isn't a game-changer. But, oh, how they add up!
Each little "I didn't" or "I forgot" is like another brick in the wall of bad playing.

This is the wall that stands between you and what you thought you wanted to achieve.

Each of your actions is a brick.
Which wall are you building?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Bob McChesney - Unreal

OK, so here's something that almost seems un-humanly fast and clean.

I think it's interesting that the video tacks on some audio of him improvising at the end almost as if to say, "Yeah, he can play that fast."

I noticed this in the comment section below the video:

This recording seemed a bit too fast and too perfect even for the doodle master, so I emailed him, and he graciously responded: "Obviously it's been tweaked, but not for speed. I tracked all the parts in real time (no slowing down or speeding up), punching in and out like crazy, of course, to get it really accurate with no errors. ..The result sounded really good without any tweaking, but I couldn't resist so I proceeded to line up notes timewise (when needed) to see how far I could take it."

Sunday, October 24, 2010

What's the Big Idea? - Fall 2010

Here's something new I've been trying in lessons this semester. All the students have a "big idea" journal (actually, they have two: one on paper and one online). While most of the entries come out of lessons, sometimes they do add in some of their revelations from practicing.
Now that we are at the halfway point of our semester, I thought it might be interesting to put together a random listing of "Big Ideas"
  • Think about dynamic interest; Play long notes with musical interest.
  • For technical licks: 1. Find the trouble spot (don’t always start from the beginning 2. For practice tempo, think hippos and cheetahs
  • Stop saying “I can’t” Yes, some things are hard - do you want to live without challenges?;
  • When you do long tones - start every note centered with confidence;
  • Stand tall, bring instrument to you. Don’t tuck under the stand.
  • To improve, you must remember;
  • Fundamentals are the key to everything
  • If it doesn’t sound good, break it down to something more simple. Get to the point where it sounds good (get creative with it) and then take baby steps back again;
  • Using drones helps with intonation, who would have thought?
  • Insert the wrong note on purpose to improve slide accuracy ;
  • Don’t give on your long notes - that’s your chance to sing;
  • In loud, dotted rhythms look out for the little guy; mentally connect it to the following note so they are one thing.

    Enough for now. I hope some of this has been good food for thought.

    Feel free to contribute any recent "big ideas" in your comments.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

UHS for trombone history

OK, it's confession time.

I'm a trombone professor so I'm supposed to be interested in the history of the trombone. Fascinated by it. Obsessed with it.
Except I'm not.
Don't get me wrong, I know of a lot of basics and keep learning as I go.
I'm really impressed by the online history posted by Will Kimball.
But, as I read it, or read Trevor Herbert's book, I can only process so much detail before numbness sets in.
A few years ago (and way past its shelf date) my kids and I get a copy of the original Myst game and played it together one summer.
We had a blast and, yes, sometimes we got stuck.
That's when we discovered the UHS website (Universal Hint System). What we liked about this site was the manner in which it gave progressively more obvious hints to help us through the game. So, if you're stuck, you start with the first one or two hints.

Something like this:
If you're you're still stuck, you can click on more hints until you are basically reading a walk-through.
Something like this:

All this makes me think about the sense of detail overload I get from reading trombone histories.
Maybe the information could be presented in a "UHS manner". It would start with something fairly basic and then give you the option to increase the level of detail.
It could look something like this:

The Trombone first appears around 1400

Later on, if you sought more detail, it might proceed like this:

The Trombone first appears around 1400

Some scholars think they appear in
northern Italy and southern France (Eliason)

According to other scholars, it is more likely,
based on performer nationalities and manufacturing locations,
that the trombone originates in Germany
(Herbert, Susato 117; Polk, Archival Documents)


(Much of what you see in the example above
I pasted from Will Kimball's excellent history.)

I guess this basically boils down to an outline history. Still, I think there might be something appealing in the concept of presenting a tidbit of info and tempting the reader to move into deeper detail if they want.
Hmmmm, maybe an online application for this? I would say "an app for that" but I hear Apple is claiming that they own that phrase.
Still, I could see some enterprising DMA student running with this idea.....

any takers?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Yin and Yang for Slide Technique

Slide technique should be so simple.....right?

Just move the slide to the right place at the right moment...right?

Well knowing it and actually doing it can be two different things. Here are two exercises that may be helpful. Neither one is original.

In legato, we want to stay on each note as long as possible. So, that means move the slide at the last instant (while staying relaxed...I like the verb "flick" as in "flick the slide at the last second")
Another trick I've seen pertains more to speeding up the slide in tongued passages. It involves moving the slide right after the note sounds:
It never occurred to me that these two exercises are so yin and yang. In the first, you move the slide at the last possible second. In the second, you want the slide in the next position at the earliest possible second.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Don't lose the sound as you add the sizzle

A quick thought...

We all want to deliver a compelling performance.

We all want a good sound.

Sometimes that pursuit of musical excitement can get in the way of the good sound.

Sometimes that pursuit of good sound can get in the way of musical excitement.

Don't lose the sound as you add the sizzle.
(and don't lose the sizzle as you improve the sound)

This seems to be something I constantly struggle with. I have had too many performances where, in going for musical excitement I lose control of my sound. It's all about maintaining that beautiful balance.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Beware the 'Careful Valve'

Here's something I see all the time in lessons. I work with a student away from the music. We get the air flowing well - tone production is nice and resonant. For this, I'm usually using glisses or flow patterns...something easy to play without music.

Then we turn to some printed music.

Once the student sees that notation on the page, it seems as if much of that wonderful free-blowing quality in their sound just stops.

They tighten up, almost as if they have a 'careful valve' built into their blowing habits. It goes something like this...

Uh oh, there are notes on the page. I sure don't want to play them wrong. Time to be really careful.

And so they close that valve, the sound tightens up and notes sometimes don't speak.

How ironic that the desire to make it 'right' ends up messing it up.

Keep that valve open...

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Yes, Trombone Player's Lung

Well, you probably didn't hear it here first but apparently that lovely green goo that comes out of your horn when you play might actually be bad for you!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Saturday, August 28, 2010

ITF Reflections #5: It isn't always snake oil

Whenever I go to a trombone convention showroom, I carry with me a good dose of skepticism. I've seen some pretty ridiculous things.

However, I had a pretty mind-blowing experience at the Edwards booth when I spent some with Christian Griego and their new model, the "Alessi" model T396-A.

Now you might think that, given my last name, I play an Edwards. Wrong, I play a Shires and absolutely love it.

Here's the thing, though....
This new Edwards trombone is what they call an acoustically-tunable fixed instrument. Basically, if I understand correctly, this trombone doesn't have a removable lead pipe (I could be wrong about this, though). What it definitely does have, though, are these three threaded holes near the tuning slide (I think they call it an "harmonic bridge"). The horn comes with a variety of small bolt-like pieces made of different metals which can be screwed into these holes.

At the outset, I felt pretty confident that I was about to have another 'snake oil' experience. However, as Christian began to add or change these metal pieces I was amazed by the difference in the instrument.

He would make the smallest adjustment and it was as if he had handed me a different instrument. One time, the change was the same piece/same hole but he screwed it in from the opposite side. Even this caused a big difference in the way the instrument responded.

Am I ready to leave Shires?
No, but I'll admit that, if my horn were destroyed or stolen, I'd have to look closely at these new Edwards trombones before I automatically go back to Shires.

This time, it isn't snake oil. I think he's really onto something here.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

ITF reflections #4: Advantage Eastman

OK, so I had this blog post waiting around for me to finish. At the ITF in Austin I wanted to try playing some mid-priced trombones.

Back to back I played an Eastman and a Getzen. I've seen some good Getzen's before so I'm not trying to knock them but in this one comparison, I've got to say..

Clear advantage: Eastman.

What about quality? Well, I've heard people blast both brands at times. Others say they've had no trouble. YMMV

By the way, as far as I know, Andreas Eastman doesn't exist. Fictitious name.
If this is true, seems a little tacky.

Still I suppose it would sell more products than a name like, say, Ignaz Gooberfeltzer.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Kindling Wood vs Crutches

Wood is useful stuff.
Consider two possible uses for wood: kindling wood or crutches.

Kindling starts a fire. Crutches help support you.

Teachers are useful people.
Consider two possible uses for teachers: kindling wood or crutches.

As teachers, should we lay back and let students figure it out for themselves or nuture them along?

Suppose I have a student who sometimes oversleeps for lessons. His/Her lesson is at 9:30 am and I suspect they won't make it. It is 9:00 am. What should I do? Should I call them to make sure they are awake??

If I think of myself as kindling wood, then I'm trying to get a fire to burn in this student. Thus I want to help them along. A "kindling wood" teacher makes the call (possibly waking them up).

If I realize that the more I do for a student, the more I become a crutch and they never develop the self-discipline to make it on the own. To not become a "crutch," a teacher doesn't make the call (possibly letting them oversleep).

So these two uses for wood are a symbol for the fundamental question faced by all teachers: is it "sink or swim" or is it "helping hands."

Of course, there is no one answer but it something worth considering.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

ITF Reflections #3 Bonerama and the Stapedius reflex

One of the groups I was looking forward to hearing at ITF was Bonerama. Well, I guess I'm an old fuddy-duddy because after one or two tunes I had to leave. Why?

Maybe loudness is simply the "terroir" of this musical style. It raises some interesting questions, though. I'm guessing that, on some level, these guys want to be edgy. Watching them, I got the impression that they were really committed to what they were doing. I wanted to enjoy what they were doing, musically but I had to bail because I was physically uncomfortable.

I'm not against loud music. Without the benefit of amplification, I've had moments where I've enjoyed generating quite a few decibels. BUT, these loud moments were just that: moments The loudness was in contrast to other moments.

It seems that, by making everything loud, you've removed dynamics from the musical equation.

The loudness becomes part of the ambiance, just like the clothing you choose to wear for the performance.

Here's another thought: I honestly believe that the music didn't sound as loud to them as it did to me. I'm not talking about the relative levels of the feedback monitors to the house speakers. I'm talking about our old friend, the stapedius reflex.

So here is a lovely, fascinating paragraph from Wikipedia:

When presented with a high-intensity sound stimulus, the stapedius and tensor tympani muscles of the ossicles contract. The stapedius pulls the stapes (stirrup) of the middle ear away from the oval window of the cochlea and the tensor tympani muscle pulls the malleus (hammer) away from ear drum. The reflex decreases the transmission of vibrational energy to the cochlea, where it is converted into electrical impulses to be processed by the brain. The acoustic reflex normally occurs only at relatively high intensities; activation for quieter sounds can indicate ear dysfunction and absence of acoustic reflex can indicate neural hearing loss.

Now here's something that has been hanging around in my memory: I seem to remember that when that stapedius muscle is tensed (to protect the ear), less blood gets to certain vital ear regions. Also, I seem to remember that is takes about 24 hours for the muscle to completely relax again. So, if I'm remembering correctly...

Frequent loud noise = stapedius is flexed most of the time = less blood flow = long term hearing loss.

Or, for the guys in Bonerama...

Lots of loud performances = stops sounding as loud = turn up the volume.

So we return to a twist on that basic irony: as we perform we can never truly hear ourselves as the audience hears us. The twist: I'm guessing they don't/can't know how loud the music was for me/many of us.

They seemed like a really cool group. I'm just sad I didn't feel I could stick around to hear them. Or to put it another way: I heard so much of them that I couldn't stick around to hear them.

Should have brought ear plugs....

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

ITF Reflections #2: Bousfield, volume and timbre

Here's another interesting tidbit from Ian Bousfield's master class at the International Trombone Festival...

He described a 'typical' comment from an American player:
"I like this trombone. I can go from soft to loud without the timbre changing too much"

He contrasted this with a typical European player:
"I like this trombone. I can go from soft to loud and get a nice change in timbre"

So, in his view (if I understand correctly), Europeans want a greater variety of timbre in their playing.

Here's a corollary idea - as a trombone gets louder, the sound gets brighter. It would seem that, from Bousfield's perspective, Americans view this as a problem and Europeans view this as an advantage.

I could imagine an American complaining, "This trombone gets too bright when I play loud."
I could imagine a European complaining, "I have to play too loud to get the brightness I want."

A while back, I got called on short notice to fill on playing principal with the Charlotte Symphony. The main piece on the program was Symphonie Fantastique. The guest conductor (who was Swiss I think), kept egging me on to play louder and shorter. He also asked me to attack the notes with more and more accent. We were sitting right behind the trumpets and the first trumpet was none too pleased with my assault on the back of his head. Whenever I backed off, however, the conductor got on me to play out more. He even said, "First trombone, I want you to play those notes as loud and accented as possible." (not something you often hear in an orchestra rehearsal).

Finally, I opened up more and played in a style I would normally reserve for the loudest shout sections in a jazz band. This evoked a big smile and a 'thumbs-up' from the conductor while my trumpet colleague's ears turned red with anger. Tough spot to be in.

Looking back on it, I wonder if the conductor was wanting a more brilliant sound and I was just having to play that loud to give him the timbre he wanted.


Tuesday, July 13, 2010

ITF Reflections #1: Ian Bousfield and "Terroir"

I recently returned from the International Trombone Festival in Austin, Texas.

During the masterclass sessions, I didn't take notes but still have some reflections worth sharing.

#1 Ian Bousfield and "Terroir"

Ian Bousfield, an Englishmen who is currently the principle trombonist of the Vienna Philharmonic gave two great masterclasses on consecutive days. During this time, he introduced the idea of terroir - a French term related to wine-making. Specifically, it means that one region (with its specific soil conditions, weather, sunlight, etc) will lend a sense of uniqueness to the wines produced there. More loosely, it can mean "a sense of place."

Ian's point, if I understood it correctly, is this: if you grow up in a region and are immersed in its culture, you have a more innate understanding of music from that region. Case in point: people who grow up in Vienna, immersed in the local musical culture, will have a deeper appreciation for Mahler. Unlike most Americans, they are in a better position to hear Mahler's music in the context of its roots and thus are better able to interpret it. In answering a question, he even went so far as to say that he preferred to avoid those concerts in which Vienna played music not from their own terroir - say, French music for example.

What impressed me was his description of the prevalence of 'art music' in common culture. Whereas, in the United States, orchestras are fighting to hold on to dwindling audiences, in Vienna [as he observed] it is not uncommon for children to receive tickets to an upcoming opera production. He pointed out that the Vienna State Opera performs almost daily to sold-out houses. Don't believe me? Check out their schedule.

He told a great story about a farmer passing by his house on a tractor. [remember I'm paraphrasing here] The farmer stopped and asked, "You're with the Philharmonic aren't you? The 'Giovanni' was sh*t!"
Point taken: how often in our country would a person on the street even know what opera was being performed much less have seen it and have an opinion?

I have a relative in Paris whom we visit on occasion. I do remember how many little central town intersections had electronic kiosks with a schedule of local cultural events.

All this makes me think about Jeremy Wilson. If I remember correctly, at an ETW a few years back Jeremy won both the jazz and classical solo competitions (I was one of the judges on the classical competition). What does that mean? Well, a lot of talent, obviously. But also .... GOOD EARS.

In preparation for the Vienna audition, I believe Jeremy really focused on internalizing the style of that ensemble. I'm guessing those great ears that he developed, partly through jazz playing, helped him to be flexible in adapting to a different musical style. You might even say "adopting" that style.

So let me go with a crazy idea here: musically, if the audience can't hear it, it doesn't exist. Whatever advantage 'terroir' provides, it is only relevant in audible musical choices.

No, Jeremy Wilson (or Bousfield for that matter) didn't have the Viennese "terroir" working for him but he had great ears and musical flexibility. In the end, what came out of the bell, even though it was more 'studied' than 'native' apparently was good enough to win the audition.

So, as you practice those excerpts, ask yourself...
What style am I using?
Do I articulate notes differently for Berlioz and Bruckner?
Am I just being a dumb trombone jock pounding everything out with basically the same sound and style.

I am hopeful that, the higher the level of audition, the more this matters.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Basic 6

Out with the old. In with the new.

In preparation for my warm-up session at the International Trombone Festival, I have revised and expanded my warm-up routine.

The old: Basic 4 Warm-Up
The new: Basic 6 Warm-Up

As you might guess, the first four are basically the same (except this revised version gives more choices). The additional two are: long tones and simple tunes.

The routine takes 20-40 minutes.

I also have a version for younger players that takes about 12 minutes.

Don't have time? The routine is in "triage" order.
In other words, I might not get through all six if I'm warming up right before a rehearsal but I'll still start at the beginning and go as far as I can.

Happy practicing!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Of photons and phrases...the pithy pendulum

I am slowly working my way through Walter Isaacson's biography of Albert Einstein.
( and I mean sloooowly )

Anyway, I've reached that point of Einstein's "miracle year" when, from March through June of 1905, he produced four papers that helped to upend the world of physics.
The first paper presented the idea of 'light quanta' - that light should not only be described as a wave but as individual packets of quanta later to be known as photons.

In my mind this connects to one of the truisms I've hit upon in my playing. Over the past year or so I've had one of those revelations that, in retrospect, sounds obvious and dumb.

Music is made up of notes.
Make the notes sound good

OK, everyone all together now..."DUH"

Still, as I practice, this simple thought seems to have had a profound effect on my playing. Often I remind myself to simply make the notes sound good and it really helps.

"Ah, but what about phrases?" you ask.

We've all heard 'technical' players who seem to play passages as a succession of notes with no sense of musical direction. We've also hear 'musical' players who play phrases that move us even to the point of ignoring problems with some of the notes themselves.

The analogy, in case it isn't obvious:
waves - phrases
quanta - notes

Like light, music is best described as a combination of waves and quanta (phrases and notes).

Thus the pithy pendulum swings on...

Focus on the phrase
and the notes will take care of themselves.

Focus on the notes
and the phrase will take care of itself.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Part #2 Slippery Slopes

OK, here's that other blog posting based on a recent coaching of the lyrical trombone solo in Appalachian Spring.

It's the old question of alternate positions. You have the choice of using B-flat in sharp 5th, D-flat in flat 5th, or even F in 6th. So why the 'slippery slope' title? It's the mental train of thought that starts after you've used one alternate position and the little voice in your head says,
"You know if you're going to use alternates,
you could also play that D-flat in 5th.
I'm just sayin'..."

By the way, you face a similar set of choices with the more common excerpt: St Saens 3. And while I'm sliding down that slope, what about starting Bolero in 3rd and using the A and G in 4th? Or how those arpeggios in Tuba Mirum? Or, also in Tuba Mirum, starting that pretty tune on the F in 4th??
(and down the slope I go..)

My undergrad and master's teachers were both great teachers but, when it came to the subject of alternate positions, I could not have chosen two more opposite viewpoints.

Ron's (paraphrased) idea:
You have seven positions; use them.

Tony's (paraphrased) idea, expressed when I used an alternate:
You should stick to the real positions.

Learning from these two opposite viewpoints was good for me. I can honestly say that I tried it both ways.

So where do I end up?
Do what sounds best.

Of course, that answer isn't quite so simple. Perhaps a fictional debate would help here.

Let's call these two schools of thought the "Use All 7" camp (UA7) and the "Closer is Better" camp (CIB).

Please note: This is in no way an attempt to 'quote' my former teachers. This is a fictional discussion representing the viewpoints of lots of people.

Here comes a fictional debate:
CIB: Don't use alternates. They don't sound as good.

UA7: That's because you avoid them. If you practiced them more, they would sound fine.

CIB: I don't think so. Notes farther out on the slide are inherently less stable because, the farther out you go, the the more out-of-proportion your instrument is.

UA7: The difference is too small to be noticeable.

CIB: Well, what about intonation, then? Playing those alternates is always more risky when it comes to pitch.

UA7: Only because you haven't practiced them enough.

CIB: Practice all you want but when you're sitting on the hot seat and pitch is a little funky, I bet you'll go running home to those original positions with your tail tucked between your legs.

(and we'll stop there before it gets nasty).

Alright so where does this leave us?
  1. Practice both ways and strive to make them equally strong. Then, after you've devoted enough time to both: choose the option that sounds best.
  2. Record yourself or play for others to make sure you aren't imagining things. Maybe record a large number of takes where you randomly switch between versions and, after playing the lick, call out to the recorder which version you just did.
I would like to think that, with a superior player, the sound concept is so powerful that it essentially overrides the limitations of either choice of positions.

In other words, be so good that...

...those alternates are in tune with a centered sound
...your slide is so fast that you can make the longer shifts sound good.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Part #1 Picket Fences

Today I was coaching someone on excerpts for the upcoming Mississippi Symphony audition and two "blogworthy" ideas popped up in a single excerpt: Appalachian Spring. This excerpt has that melodic trombone solo in G-flat major, if you know it (basically, "Simple Gifts").

Idea #1: Picket Fences.
This key isn't the friendliest for trombone. Imagine how much easier the solo would be if it were in A-flat, for example. Ironic, really. How often in orchestral music does the trombone get an exposed legato tune sitting in the mid-range? And, of course, in one of those rare moments where we actually get a tune to play, it has to be in G-flat major.

OK, so here's the thing: nobody cares if it is an awkward key. They just know the tune and want to hear it played well.

So why 'picket fences'? For some reason this makes me think of the 1950's stereotypical neighborhood with all those nice houses and their white picket fences. Everything and everyone was expected to fit within a mold. Sort of like that old TV show, Father Knows Best...
We don't know what goes on behind the closed doors of those nice houses with those nice families. I imagine there was a lot of social pressure to not reveal problems.

(Perhaps little Jimmy is an ax murderer
but let's not let the neighbors know about it!)

It's like that trombone solo. The audience doesn't care about your troubles. They just want to hear a pretty tune played well. Any problems playing it are your problem and not to be shared with the audience. like it is easy. Label it not as something awkward but as just a nice tune.

See it through the eyes of your audience
(or hear it through their ears).

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Instant-On Radar...and maybe a new kind of tuner

As I listen to a student play, I'm listening to a variety of things and usually forming a strategy of how to proceed next.

Sometimes when the student finishes, they sometimes ask me about something other than the thing(s) I was focusing on. For example, maybe I'm really focused on their rhythm and they ask me about intonation.

For some reason, this makes me think of police speed traps. If I understand correctly, the radar gun can be in an "instant-on" mode where it sits there silently until some unlucky driver comes by going faster than some preset speed.

As I listen to a student play, I think I must have something analogous to that radar gun. Even if my attention is on phrasing or rhythm, a really out-of-tune note can come along and set off that radar gun in my mind.

That reminds me of a different tuner design that could be useful. The SmartMusic software has a feature in which the program listens to your note and plays it back ('in-tune' at least in the equal temperament world).

So, if we combine that SmartMusic feature with the notion of instant-on radar, we get a tuner that sits there silently as long as you are close enough to the desired pitch. If you stray beyond a certain amount (maybe 10 cents) the tuner starts playing the note.

I'd buy it.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Mahler 3 - Dudamel and La Scala

This video was sent to me by my DMA student.

If you haven't seen it, I suggest this...

Listen first to the solo, then jump back and watch it.

any surprises??

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

I need a new door

So, thinking back on this past year, I've come to a startling realization.

Apparently, I need a new door on my office. It seems that the current model is outfitted with some kind of "mind-wipe" module (possibly alien technology).

I try to drive home those big points for students to remember. I try to inspire them.

They seem to get it. They seem inspired.

Then they walk out through that door....

...and their minds are wiped!

A week later they return. I consult my notes before they come in so I'm ready to go. I say something like, "So, how's it going with that new relaxed way of blowing? [You know, the one that was such a breakthrough? You know, the one that made you say, "Wow, this is so much easier!"?]"

I watch their faces for some glimmer of recognition.


"Oh yeah, about that...." [voice trails off guiltily]

It must be the door.

Maybe I can develop some kind of "Mind Wipe Defense System [MWDS]"
How about this?

Hmmm, I wonder how that would go over with the studio....

I'm going to have to think about this some more. The critical question is this:

How to bridge that gap between the end of the lesson
and the first practice session after?
Those wonderful flashes of recognition and inspiration...
how can they be in the forefront of the mind
as that first practice session begins?

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Simply Singing Update

Just a note to let everyone know that I now have in from the printers..
Simply Singing for Winds - medium treble clef.
Simply Singing for Winds - low bass clef

I've been doing some work on low treble clef and hope to have that ready sometime this summer.

Ensemble Publications is working on their version of medium bass clef. Chuck hopes to have it ready by ITF.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

A new buzzing exercise

Alright, I'm sure this isn't really new...not even original. Still, maybe it's new to you.

Warning: Don't injure your chops doing this. If you do it correctly, there will be very little stress on the lips. Please be careful.

  1. Buzz a comfortable, mid-range note on your mouthpiece.
  2. Now buzz it again but change two things: (a) separate your lips a bit more and (b) blow with much more wind than you would normally use. Basically, you are purposely over-blowing with a very loose setting. The lips should be separated enough that they won't vibrate if you blow with normal, more gentle air.
  3. Repeat this four or five times.
  4. Now with each new repetition, gradually decrease the air flow and bring the lips a tiny bit closer together.
  5. Notice the feeling of blowing with a very generous amount of flowing air.

My office is on the third floor of the music school. I often climb the stairs from the basement and arrive at my office out of breath. I started trying to buzz but was breathing so hard from my climb that I had to loosen my embouchure just to let all the air through.

As my heart rate slowed and my blowing became a bit more normal, I thought, "Hmm, this is interesting."

It reminds me of one of the quotes found on the "Best Things a Teacher Ever Said to Me" section of the ITA website. It has been attributed to Jeff Reynolds...

Loud is Loose

You should check out some of those other quotes as well. Over the years, we've managed to put together some pretty good stuff.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Audition for cardboard cut-outs

Ahh, jury time has arrived. That joyous time when nervous college students must get in front of a panel and prove their worth, musically.

When I hear stories about rampant cheating on college campuses I sometimes think, "Well the jury is one place where they can't cheat."

Whether it's a jury or an audition, I suspect many people have that feeling, upon walking out of the room, "Man, I want another shot at that. I just wasn't quite ready."

So here's a strange thought:

Set up a pre-jury "jury room" with cardboard cutouts of that scary panel frowning at you. Run through your program, then head into the real room.

Yeah, it probably wouldn't work (especially for those wimpy trumpets who can't seem to play more than about 6 minutes without their chops giving out!) but it's interesting to think about.

I guess, for now, we'll have to stick to mental run-throughs. You know: visualizing a great audition/jury.

Everybody does that regularly, right?


(cue cricket sound)

Friday, April 23, 2010

Like lifting with a tourniquet

Ah mouthpiece pressure. It so easily creeps into the playing.

For those of us who are light-skinned, we often see a white ring on the lips immediately after the mouthpiece is removed.

I like to call this the "white ring of death"

Notice how that white ring quickly turns into a red ring.

In case it isn't obvious, I'm guessing those changes of color might have something to do with blood. As in,
white=blood has been squeezed out by mouthpiece pressure
red=blood rushing back in

Now, I'm no expert but I seem to recall learning in school that blood does good things for muscles. Let's see....nutrients....OXYGEN.

Hmm, so what happens to those muscles (you know the ones we rely on to sound good) when we cut off the blood supply?????

Imaging going to the gym and seeing someone lifting weights with a tourniquet around their arms.

Ok, so as I often do, I ran a Google image search with the keywords "weightlifting" and "tourniquet" I didn't really expect to find anything. And then, boom, there it is: kaatsu training in which people actually lift while starving the muscles for blood.

I don't know but this REALLY sounds like a bad idea. Let's just safely say that it might not work for brass players.

(on the other hand, what are the odds that I'll go to one of these conventions and find some new miracle product designed to increase mouthpiece pressure. Maybe the Power Lung guys will the seize opportunity for a new product line here)

The blog's not dead yet

OK, so my last post was on Feb. 4th and now it is April 23rd.

One former student declared my blog officially dead. In those great words of Monty Python, "I'm not dead yet"

Some explanation...
Much of my inspiration for this blog comes directly from teaching lessons. Often during a lesson I hit on an idea that is "blogworthy."

For 8 weeks in the middle of this semester, I was granted a half sabbatical to work on the Simply Singing Books. During that time, not only was I not teaching (fewer ideas popping up) but I also wanted to devote a lot of time/energy to the books. Like most projects, they take up more time and energy than I thought they would.

I also worked on some other projects including writing a new fanfare, not for trombone week but the UT Austin trombone choir for this summer's ITF. If they like, you'll hear them play it. As requested, it is basically a medley of Texas tunes. I wrote it for solo quartet over trombone octet.

I also invested quite a few afternoons and evenings in one of my non-musical pursuits/obsessions: coaching a FIRST LEGO League robotics team. The kids I worked with (ages 9-13 on our team) won the state championship and recently competed at the FIRST World Festival in Atlanta. Great experience but very consuming. Not much time left over for blogging.

However, I hope to get it moving again.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

The Continuum of Outcomes

OK time to get a little philosophical. Today the USC School of Music hosted Todd Kays, a sports psychologist. Here's his website, The Athletic Mind Institute.

One aspect of his presentation got me to thinking more about something...
Outcomes vs. Process

Now, I'm not sure I like that term, "process" but here's the basic point (using the upcoming Super Bowl as an example).

There are those things you can control and those things you can't. For example, Peyton Manning certainly wants to win but he can't control the outcome of the game. At a critical moment, one of his receivers may slip, leading to an interception. His stats get worse even though that was an outcome he couldn't control.

You go to an audition. You certainly want to win but you can't control the outcome. At a critical moment, the room may be too cold or the committee too distracted, or the committee may already have someone in mind, or you might come down with the flu, or......
(you get the idea)

What's an outcome? What is the process? In one of our sessions with Dr. Kays, I described one set of goals: improving my ability to play passages that were fast, loud and descending. To me, those are goals/outcomes. To him, they were the definition of "process" not "outcome." It seems we were saying the same words but with different meanings.

I often have thought of it this way:
You have internal goals and external goals.

For example:
External goal - win the audition/competition, etc.
Internal goal - play well

So here's my new idea...instead of thinking of a dichotomy, think of a continuum.

Let's take that Super Bowl example...

One on end of the continuum for Peyton Manning you have the most internal of goals...
"plant your feet"
"watch the positions and movement of the defensive players"
"adjust the play and call it out to your team"

These things he can control.

At the middle of the continuum you have these kinds of goals...
"time the pass well"
"throw a good spiral"
"thread it between the defenders"

On the other end of the continuum..
"throw a touchdown pass"
"win the game"
"be declared MVP"
"go down in the record books"

These things he can only partially control.

In an audition you have internal goals...
"know exactly what the excerpt should sound like"
"breathe well as you play"
"listen carefully to your sound/intonation/ etc."

You have those goals that are in-between internal and external
"sound great"
"don't miss any notes"

Finally you have external goals...
"play well enough to get through the list"
"advance to the second round"
"advance to the finals"

In any audition or competition...

Focus on the internals
Let the externals take care of themselves

PS The images I used were from a Google image search. I don't know anything about Jon Gorrie or his book but for some reason I like the photo...

Monday, January 11, 2010

Mahler 3 solo - Jorgen van Rijen

Here's a nice one from youtube.

Interesting how much he moves around. Still, he sounds great. I wish the camera didn't spend so much time on the conductor. Oh well.

And heeere's another Mahler 3 (the slide position guide at shown at the beginning might provide a clue)...