I used to play golf a lot. When I was in high school, I used to hit golf balls just about every day. Then, I would go out on the course and do everything wrong. My Uncle was a famous golfer, and he really wanted me to be a golf pro, at least during the summer, and play trombone in the winter. Then I started practicing trombone and had no time for anything else. There went the golf game.
Just recently, I started playing again for exercise and also because I was curious about getting efficient at hitting a ball for maximum distance using minimum effort. Then I started thinking about the similarity between hitting a ball in golf and playing trombone.
It seems that the more you try to hit a ball hard, the less distance you get. Sound familiar? The harder you try with your body to play the trombone the less result you get. The other day I was reading a golf magazine and the article was talking about great “ball strikers.” What the heck is a “ball striker?” It seems that the way that a player puts the club on the ball at the moment of impact varies a lot between even pro golfers. The most efficient hitters are deemed good ball strikers.
This got me to thinking that there must be an analogy between this facet of golf and trombone playing. Anyone who knows me and my teaching methods know I use analogies all the time to put pictures or concepts in my students minds. I believe that a good ball striker in golf would correspond to a trombone player with good attacks. The golfer sends the ball flying and the trombone player sends the note flying. It’s clubhead speed that determines distance, and it’s air speed that determines the resonance of a note. The moment of impact determines efficiency.
If the golfer does not connect cleanly at impact the ball doesn’t go as far. If the attack of a note doesn’t start cleanly the entire sound of that note is spoiled. There is no saving a note after a bad attack.
The back swing of the golfer corresponds to the trombone player taking in air. The follow through is like the relaxation after the attack, using the body as a resonance chamber, assuming the air started fast enough.
A fortissimo is like hitting a long drive off the tee, requiring a smooth, relaxed body. A short chip corresponds to a soft dynamic, requiring more of a short, controlled, concentrated swing.
Some pros with quirky swings are great ball strikers and some with great swings are not and vice-versa. Some trombone players are great at taking in air and have sloppy attacks and some are not so good at taking in air and have good attacks and vice-versa. Starting notes is something of a lost art in today’s technique oriented world. So is legato but that’s another story.
Why do we want a good attacks? It’s not the attack per-se that’s important but the fact that the sound achieves 100% resonance instantly. A clean, crisp attack is the only way I know to get this result. A sound that speaks at full resonance instantly will be the best sound you can produce. If the start of the note is faulty, then it’s time to get another one (take a mulligan) and try again, because you can’t save it in the middle or the end. (You know what that sounds like right?) YUK!
If I want to soften the attack on a fortissimo I will withdraw the tongue a little slower, without slowing down the air. As the dynamic gets softer the tongue retreats quickly, replaced instantly by the air. Don’t let your tongue hang around the embouchure area after the note starts, because it will ruin your sound. It should retreat to the bottom of your mouth as quickly as possible.
I can’t overestimate the importance of relaxation after you start a note. And the only way you can relax after the start is by STARTING THE AIR FAST. Then all you have to do is let your lungs empty naturally (I like to see someone’s chest collapse). A great way to practice this is to play forte-pianos at all dynamics, with a great big fat, round, resonant forte and a nice pure trailing off piano. This is like taking a half swing in a golf stroke and concentrating on the impact area to get that nice clean, firm connect feeling as the club meets the ball.
My concept of the perfect forte-piano is something like the shape of a comet. The head is a brilliant, round sphere followed by a tail, which is a result of such an intense ball of light.
Now I’ve got to go to the driving range to practice trombone and later I’ll think about my golf swing in my practice room. I’m hoping some of my trombone will rub off on my golf game.