Thursday, May 30, 2013

Smooth Carpets

As I move from note to note in legato, I like to visualize an even surface over the top of my connected notes.  It's as if I'm rolling out a carpet of air/sound over the music.

Let's hope, for example, that the family cat doesn't get rolled under that carpet...

A question you don't want to hear: "What's that lump doing under the carpet?"

The same is true with our legato...we don't want certain notes to stick out.

On the other hand, we don't want our music to be a flat, featureless landscape either.  We need to imagine a carpet over a smoothly rolling hill.  Perhaps something like this?

Ack, no, I can't go there...

How about this?

Or this?

Ah, much nicer.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Encoding habits (aka Raised by Wolves)

A private student of mine (11th grader) asked if he can start working on excerpts next year.  I have mixed feelings about this.

Think about these two statements:

#1 If your technique is solid 
and you know exactly how you want it to sound, 
most excerpts aren't that difficult.

#2 The habits you build 
with any passage, good or bad, 
get encoded into that passage for a long time.

   So, if a high school player starts working on these excerpts without solid technique and possibly not a clear concept of "how it goes" musically, they will probably struggle with the excerpt.

   Furthermore, if they learn that excerpt with bad habits, they can pull out the same music years later and BOOM those old bad habits are right there!  It's as if the bad habits are literally encoded into the music.

But, if that's true for bad habits, shouldn't it also be true for good habits?

   So, let's take one excerpt, The Ride, and one stubborn problem, The Rhythm.  Instead of crashing on it and then having to slow down, what if you did the slow version first?

Here's the assignment I gave him...write it out in 3/4 time and spend some time (a year?) just playing it that way.

Like this:

   Suppose he had never even heard the original know the usual story: raised by a pack of wolves and this was the "pack song," etc.  So he spends the formative years of his life playing this over and over, always with accurate rhythm.

   Then, one day the wolf king returns him to the humans (he was starting to look too delicious) and he discovers that they also play trombone and have this same catchy tune, called Ride of the Valkyries, not March of the Wolf King.  And the humans have a funny way of notating it, too:

Well, since he already knew the tune.....

you get the idea.

(FYI: He won the first trombone spot with the North Rudfunk Symphony but then lost tenure when he organized a pack of brass players to attack the conductor)

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Tone Grafting

Here's a practice trick that might be helpful.  Sometimes we get so wrapped up in playing a phrase that we lose sight of maintaining a good TONE on every note throughout the phrase.

Sometimes, it helps to extract a few notes from the phrase and play them independently, just focusing on tone.

Here's an example from the opening of the Hindemith Sonata...

You know you want your best tone on that third measure but how many of you slow it down to focus just on tone quality?  Like this...

Work on this fermata example, get your best tone and than GRAFT that tone back into the phrase! (Like a skin graft).

What's the danger here?  Simple: unmusical playing, robotic playing etcetera. As always, we have to strike that balance.

Recently I have used this "tone grafting" idea in lessons with good effect.  It's nice to have that recent memory of good tone as you proceed through the phrase.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Gustav and Giulio Marco

At some impressionable age in my life, someone made this comment to me:
"So and so is such an amazing player.  He can play SO LOUD!"

I cringe at the impact this made on me! Specifically, I cringe at the number of orchestra auditions I took where my evil doppelganger self took over my brain, saying that we needed to show the committee that I can play SO LOUD.


The list of loud orchestral excerpts for trombone is a bit longer than the list of soft excerpts.  In my mind, however, the king of the loud excerpts is the first movement of Mahler's 3rd symphony.

Apparently, many students feel the same way about this excerpt because I've heard all too many people lose all good judgement in the all-consuming pursuit of ..


For many trombonists, the possible antidote to this mindset may come from the vocalises of Marco Bordogni.  Faced with these pleasant, lyrical pieces, they naturally try to show off their most lovely sound.

So here's the trick: take the notes of that Mahler and play it using that Bordogni lyricism.

Mind you, this is a practice technique, not audition advice.  However, my hope is that some of the Bordogni habit of beautiful phrasing and lovely tone will rub off on the Mahler.

While you're at it, try playing Tannhauser faster, softer and prettier.  Same concept.  

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Stereograms and Pitch

Doea anybody remember stereograms?  That's one shown above.  They were all the rage a while.  Commercially, they were known for a while by the brand name "Magic Eye."  Basically, you stare at the image for a bit (going a little cross-eyed seems to help), and a 3-D relief image begins to appears.  The one above shows a dinosaur...I think.  Officially these are known as autostereograms.  

Allowing your brain to perceive that image requires, for me, a certain "passively focused" state of mind.  If I try to force it, I can't see the image.  If I relax, it begins to appear.

This reminds me of that perfect pitch course by David Lucas Burge.  We got the CD's recently and, bit by bit, I've been wading through it.  I gotta say, that man sure can talk a long time without getting around to the point!  Still, he finally does start getting to a point and....well, I'll let you know what I think if I ever finish it.

At one point, he mentions that you can't force perfect pitch.  In fact, the harder you try, the more the ability seems to recede (like one of those nightmare hallways..)

To perceive the pitches, Burge advises us to use a more passive frame of mind...sort of a non-judgmental awareness.....kind of like those stereograms.

I think the same is true when listening to your own intonation as you play.  Here's a trick to try:

   If you are unsure of your pitch on a certain note...move it up and down by very small increments.  Instead of getting overly concerned about "right" or "wrong,"  simply listen as the "color" of the pitches changes with those very small slide movements.  If it seems to settle on one pitch as the best one, let it sit there and then glance at a tuner for some feedback.  

If it doesn't work, oh well, you can always stare at another stereogram...(this one seems to show some kind of geometric shape with multiple levels...I think)