A Christmas Gift List

Here’s a suggested gift list for trombone players from you to yourself.

1. Silver bells; That every note should start with the sound of a pure silver clapper on a pure silver bell, the size of the bell corresponding to the volume desired.

2. Mercury rising; That the legato be as smooth and continuos as mercury flowing through a transparent thermometer, like those desk ornaments gently swaying back and forth to emulated waves breaking on an isolated sea shore.

3. Love and marriage; That the slide and air forever be wedded “till death do us part.”

4. Chin-ups; That all the effort to produce sound be done from the chin up, and not from the gut, (like George Bush used to think from.)

5. Embou-sure; That the embouchure arrive at the note before the air and slide.

6. Profiles in courage; That no one be afraid to use legato tongue when needed in a legato slur instead of dropping the air and jerking the slide.

7. Dead center; That every change of note in a slur happen right in the middle of the slur instead of on the arrival note. You can never be too early with air or embouchure.

Lately I’ve noticed in mine and other peoples playing, a tendency when playing rapid descending passages, such as La Gazza Ladra, to lose contact with the mouthpiece and end up with a airy, thuddy sound and articulation. That’s because we tend to set with firmer corners and more mouthpiece pressure, which is normal, in the upper register. Then as we descend, the tongue pushes the mouthpiece slightly off the face which results in a fuzzy unstable sound. Try this: whatever mouthpiece setting you start with, say on “E” above the bass clef staff, keep exactly that amount of seal all the way down to the bottom note of that passage and don’t let the rapid movement of the tongue dislodge the mouthpiece from the embouchure. This is not a problem with ascending passages because we naturally keep enough embouchure stability as we ascend to the upper register, so that the final notes of the passage are firm and resonant.

Now for some trombone maintenance talk. Finding the right stuff to swab out a trombone slide has always been a challenge for players. Either the swab was too big or too small and either got stuck or didn’t have enough mass to clean properly. Those fabric covers over a cleaning rod are good for dry cleaning but not suitable for washing out an inner and outer slide. The brush that comes with some of them may be good for cleaning the crook, but are too small to clean the slide tubes. I think I’ve come across a good product that is the right size and texture to clean out inner and outer slide tubes. The main brand name is “Cottonelle,” although there are many similar makes sold buy most of the large chain drug stores. They are moist wipes that come in a sealed plastic box, and are about 5X7 inches. While they are a paper product, they have the feel of a cloth material and have enough substance to stay together inside a slide. I fold it in half, then half again, and half again until it is about an inch wide. Then insert it through the eyelet of a cleaning rod, fold over one end of the swab to cover the tip of the rod and shape it around the rod. This can be used with or without detergent and won’t get stuck or come off inside the slide. It is the right consistency to hold its shape and put the right amount of needed pressure on the walls of the inner and outer slide. It is the best answer I have found for this important function.