Friday, March 29, 2013

Clunkers for Sale?

Arnold Jacobs used to say...
 Make every note worth 50 bucks.

In the "First Studies" section of the newer Arban's Method, Joseph Alessi uses the phrase "Tone Cloning"  For this section, he goes on to say:
Clone each note so all the notes are the same style and tone quality.

   Sometimes I hear my students playing a passage and I hear a mixture of good notes and clunkers.  Imagine that each note is a car on the car lot. Your ears are the customer.  Would they be willing to "buy" EVERY  note that comes out of your bell? You want to give those ears a fine selection of well-crafted shiny notes.  Those clunkers do have a way of standing out...

Good music is made from good notes.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Breaking the Sound Barrier

   Here's an oddity: most people have a harder time with double- or triple-tonguing at slower tempos.
With most tricky material, many of us follow that time-honored sequence of "start slow and speed up bit by bit." But, with multiple tonguing, I see lots of people who can (sort of) do it fast but have a hard time slowing it down.

   For some reason, this reminds me of reading "The Right Stuff" years ago.  I remember Chuck Yeager trying to break the sound barrier in the X-1 and encountering a lot of turbulence right before he broke through.  (October 14, 1947).  According to the never-wrong Wikipedia, this is because "transonic air movement creates disruptive shock waves and turbulence."

   However, once he broke through, the ride became smooth.  For some reason, this reminds me of multiple tonguing and also lip trills.  We can get into "glide mode" and go really fast but going a bit slower becomes a struggle.  I suspect this is because, at faster tempos, we stop thinking of discrete notes and start thinking of a "state" of rapid notes.  Perhaps this is like speed-reading words.

   There isn't some profound moral to the story except to say that perhaps we should keep this in mind as we practice these faster things.  Even with a technical passage, thinking of it as a whole thing, not  discrete notes, might help with execution.

  It might also help in choosing creative practice strategies.  For example: Start multiple-tonguing very fast and gradually slow down (what I like to call the "Wheel of Fortune" exercise.)
[ahem: this very exercise shows up in Trombone Craft, Appendix 2.5 "Speeding up and Slowing Down"].
  I also like to use "tempo yo-yo's" in practicing a lick.  Start at speed, then slower, then slower, then slower, then really slow, then faster, then faster....

   In another way, this reminds me of approaching the speed of light.  According to Einstein, the speed of light can't be broken because our mass increases as we go faster.  The closer we get, the more our mass approaches infinity (hey, even ice cream can't do that!).

   This reminds me of people who gradually speed up but also tense more and more as they go.  It seems they can't really get up to tempo with an exponential increase of tension.  Sometimes I suggest that they just "fake it" at speed in a very relaxed way and, with each repetition, increase their accuracy.
So, there would be two approaches..
  1. Keep it 100% accurate and gradually increase the speed.
  2. Play it at 100% speed [relaxed!] and gradually increase accuracy.
Something to think about....

Saturday, March 23, 2013

[blank] as much as you text

 I'm not a very fast texter but I've watched some texting virtuosi in action before.  Man, their fingers just fly across these keys!  I can compare it to typing, I guess.  Sometimes I get in the zone and my fingers seem to zip along by themselves.
There has been some great new research about myelin.  Basically, if you repeat an action, the nerve pathways get wrapped in more layers of myelin insulation.  You've built a myelin "broadband" connection.

Apply this to triple tonguing. At first, it is slow and awkward but, once you get the hang of it (build up those myelin layers), the tongue starts to fly.  You might be able to apply the same concept to lip slurs or, for that matter, scales, arpeggios, solo passages ... whatever.
Are you frustrated that you still can't triple tongue fast?  Hey, it takes a long as it takes.
But, if you're in that texting generation, let me ask you.  Do you practice triple tonguing as much as you text?  Want your tongue to fly like those little fingers on the keyboard?
Triple tongue as much as you text!
Play that scale as much as you text!
Play that lip slur as much as you text!

This has changed the way I practice and teach.  In both instances, I incorporate a lot more repetition..especially once they get it right.  I guess that old saying is true:

Don't practice until you get it right.  Practice until you can't get it wrong.

Your brain doesn't much care what skill is being built.  Repeat enough (and correctly) and those myelin layers should start a-wrapping!

Want to read more about this whole myelin thing?  Try the Talent Code website.

Happy wrapping with reps!

Friday, March 08, 2013

Trace that Star!

Want to have your mind blown??

Try doing this exercise where you try to trace the outline of a star by looking in a mirror.  If you haven't tried it, it isn't easy!  

Right is left.  Left is right. Up is down.  Down is up.

I imagine if you practiced it for three hours a day, though, you'd get good at it.  Then you can impress your friends with your new-found skill!!
(uh, maybe not...)

At first, your drawing might look like this:
Your line (the curvy one) would approximate the shape of the star.

Of course, by now you've figured out that I'm actually talking about slide technique.  Think of each of those clean, sharp angles as a slide position.

Without becoming tense, you want your slide movement to perfectly "outline the star" of the position sequence you're attempting.  For beginning trombonists, it isn't easy.   I imagine if you practiced it for three hours a day you'd get good at it.

Instead of a star, imagine this crude drawing of a G-major scale (using the B in the lowered 2nd position with the valve)...
OK, not exactly a star but perhaps you get the idea (yeah, yeah, I know the dot at the top should be exactly above the one on the bottom since they both represent 4th sue me)

You want crisp, accurate slide movement, not that curvy approximation stuff.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Throwing the laundry behind the speakers

So, you're hanging around your apartment relaxing.  Maybe you are deep into some amazing video game.  All of the sudden, the phone rings.  Mom is coming for a visit (and she's two blocks away!).

Quick!!  We gotta make this place presentable.  And fast!

What to do with that dirty laundry?  There's the doorbell!  No time!
Throw it behind the stereo speakers.

You open the door for her.  Her practiced eye quickly scans your apartment.  Wait, what's that on top of the speaker??   What, a dirty tube sock??


(no, this never happened to me).

OK, let's retell that story if you're an embouchure...

So you're hanging around the teeth relaxing.  Maybe you are deep into some amazing dental hygiene video.  All of the sudden the lungs fire up.  A note is coming for a visit (and the conductor prepping the downbeat!).

Quick!!  We gotta make these chops presentable. And fast!

How to set for that high A-flat?  There's the downbeat! No time!
Just throw the mouthpiece in place and play.

You deliver your note.  Your practiced ear quickly scans the tone.  Wait, what's that fracking sound at the beginning??  What, a dirty attack??


(yes, this has happened to me).

And yet, over and over, I watch my students try to form the embouchure at the last possible instant, almost setting it simultaneously with the beginning of the note.

What I recommend is this: make sure the lips are ready just a bit earlier.  Don't set your embouchure just as the note begins.  You might be stuck with a dirty tube sock in your attack!

(not to confused with 'locking up' the air before an attack...which is also bad)