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.