Just passing by

Now that most of us are home trying to stay well with lots of opportunities for practice time, I thought it would be beneficial to talk about slide technique as it applies to legato playing. I’ve talked a lot about legato in the past but not much about slide technique in legato. Modern teaching generally advocates stopping the slide in each position in legato playing to avoid glissandos. What if we applied that concept to singing? It would result in a pretty choppy way of singing and would be the opposite of the true Bel Canto style, which places importance on seamless vocal lines using vowels as a way to connect phrases. Since many of us subscribe to the adage; “the trombone is the closest instrument to the human voice,” it would behoove us to investigate what the human voice does to produce a seamless vocal line.

A good way to address this subject is to experiment at home with legato note changes where the slide doesn’t stop in-between positions, but passes by. Take 3 notes a whole step apart and move the slide at the chosen speed at a continuous speed through that shift. I discovered that many years ago I was doing that without knowing why. Now I realize I was trying to get a consistent resonance between notes and not “hopscotching” over them. That means never speeding up in the middle of a shift of positions. Of course on long shifts the slide would move faster to avoid a gliss, but still not speed up in the middle, resulting in a loss of resonance between notes. Since no ones probably listening to you these days, do an experiment and play a simple legato passage without stopping the slide at all between notes. You’ll notice some slurs are a little smeary, but a few are absolutely smooth and beautiful. That’s the trombone! Now take the smeary slurs and match them to the perfect slurs, but don’t start jerking the slide and dropping the air to make sure the excess legato is wrapped up tight and thrown in the garbage can! Better yet take all the sound that most people throw away and pack it in your horn.

A wonderful bonus happens when the slide passes by a note without stopping; it requires more air. This will automatically happen with no added impetus from the player because the brain senses a loss of connection since the slide didn’t stop; a good thing right? By doing this in a consistent manner the air will start to determine when the slide moves, and not vice-versa, which is a widely misunderstood formula. Another bonus is since there is a consistent stream of resonance between notes, a place must be chosen to cross the partial in a 3 note (or more) slurred passage. The optimum place to change a partial is in the middle of a slide movement. Since the air is usually slower than the slide, to get a change of notes in the middle of a shift the player must start the note change before getting to the middle to arrive midway between two notes. This gives us an even amount of sound, on either side of the note change. Otherwise known as LEGATO!  This has yet another gift for us; NO BLANKS! If a partial is crossed before the slide gets to the next position, there is very little chance of a blank occurring because the note was played on the way to the next position. Compare that to the common habit of flicking the slide to the next note and assuming the air will somehow get there because of the force of the slide movement. That’s not a horse I’ll put my money on in the long run! In precarious situations like exposed soft chorales, trust your air, not the slide! I said a long time ago; If you pay attention to in-between the notes you’ll never have to worry about on the note.”