Home on the Range

I was wondering why when someone comes to play for me, it usually takes 5 to 6 tries before they can get a decent sound. This caused me to wonder what if everyone was judged on the first thing that came out of their horn? Many of us would be ranked several notches lower in quality than we deserve. When you consider that most of the time in an orchestra we come in after quite a few bars of rest, that is almost equivalent to those first notes in a lesson.

When I play my first notes of the day I am interested in one thing and one thing only. My best sound. Your best sound should be your only sound. I begin on middle Bb and slur simple smooth arpeggios, only concerning myself with the quality of the sound. Flexibility only comes after optimum sound quality has been established.

It takes a strong mental concept to overcome a lip that doesn’t feel good on a particular day, which happens to everyone occasionally. One of the biggest challenges an orchestral player faces is sounding warmed-up when you make an entrance. There are no second, third, fourth or fifth chances like in your practice room. Your sound concept must be so strong that no matter how your lip feels your mental image of your sound will over come any physical inadequacies in your lip.

When you have to make a delicate entrance and your are not warmed up, do an imitation of yourself warmed up. It doesn’t matter how it feels, only how it sounds.

I like to think of my embouchure as an elevator. I send my embouchure up to the right floor (say A in the Brahms 1st Chorale). I make sure the floor (embouchure) is even with the outside floor (the note) and then I blow the doors open.

The ratio of success is dependent on your preparation and not how your lip feels. I’ve missed that entrance when I’ve had a great lip because I didn’t think I needed that preparation, and I’ve nailed it (not literally) when I’ve had a lousy lip because my preparation was carefully observed. By preparation I mean right before the entrance, confidently sending the elevator up and blowing across a level opening.

I also think that controlling a trombone sound is like herding cattle. If the herd gets too spread out you can’t control it and you “wallow” in you own sound. If you can keep the herd crisp and neat and in front of you, not sideways or behind you, then you can move forward at a good pace toward your musical objective.