Fighting the Horn

Ah, so you think you know what I’m writing about this month, but maybe not. Obviously there are many facets of playing a brass instrument where fighting the horn would be a big mistake. Like being tense when you play, pressing too much etc. However, there might be some other situations where fighting the horn might be something that can help your playing, believe it or not. One such example is something I’ve talked about for years, and that is when the trombone comes from the factory it tends to want to be a laser-beam loud and a fog horn soft. Now that’s something I would fight the horn about. Not in a physical way, but in a concept way. I would work on reversing that and in effect I would be fighting the horn or at least challenging it to change the basic characteristics of dynamic changes.

Another thing I would fight the horn about is the tendency for lip slurs to jump quickly from note to note, and having no real control over them because of the air stream never having a chance to come into play. The partials are so close together that the embouchure can “wince” through them without using the airstream. This will work when the partials are close together, but doesn’t work when wide lip slurs or wide skips in different overtone series are required. That’s because the airstream should always be the thing that changes notes and not just the embouchure. To resist; i.e, fight that tendency, I will practice bending and glissing those close together partials, so that even lip slurs of a distance of a 3rd are smoothly changed by the airstream and not just winced to the next note. They will eventually sound like a slur that is not as close together and have a chance to be as smooth as a slur of a greater distance.

Fighting against what the horn wants to do when it comes to slurs other than lip slurs is something that is really worth a battle. Take a slur from middle F down to D in the bass clef staff. The horn wants to make that very smeary. The prevailing wisdom has been to move the slide as fast as possible, use little or no legato tongue and avoid any legato completely by dropping the airstream. A better way would be to move the slide smoothly and apply a good amount of legato tongue right in the middle of those 2 notes, somewhere between 2nd and 3rd position. This allows the air and the sound to travel all the way down the slide with the same amount of resonance that was on the note, in other words moving the sound that was on the note, down the slide to the next note with a smooth and clear legato.

Conversely, slurs that are close together in slide distance as well as note distance will want to change with virtually no legato at all, and this is something that can be overcome with the player not being content with what the horn wants to give them. This is accomplished by once again stretching those note changes, moving the slide smoothly and blowing through the partial change. Since it it impossible to get a glissando between such a short distance in note and slide position, thats when we should try to gliss. The object is to make both the wide slur from middle F down to D sound as smooth and clean as the slur from F above the staff to G in #2nd, AND make the slur from F to G above the staff sound as smooth with as much legato as the slur from F to D. That’s the opposite of what the horn wants to give you, but some battles are worth fighting, and winning.