My wishes for the new year are as following; I wish that trombone players everywhere realize that the trombone is above all a sounding instrument, and therefore spend more time and thought producing a great sound. I can’t count the times when someone has begun to play for me and I’ve said, “is that the sound you want to be remembered by?” The answer is invariably “no.” That is one thing that should always be there; your very best sound. Whether it’s early morning or your lip feels bad, or you haven’t played in a week, or anything else, your sound must be the best you can produce, even if only on one note. I always start with a middle Bb. I know my best sound will be there immediately even if I don’t have any flexibility. Warm-ups are for flexibility, not for sound quality. You don’t play your first note of the day to see how your sound is, you make a great sound on the first note and then try to get that sound all over. That’s what a warm-up is for. No matter how bad your lip feels you can make a great sound on a middle Bb somehow, if you have a strong mental concept of what that sound is for you.
Another wish for the new year is that everyone would play with a more beautiful legato. I’ve written a lot about this lately, so I’m not going to expound on this here, however I am reminded of Martin Luther’s comment; “why should the devil have all the good tunes”. I’d like to amend that to; “why should the jazzers have all the good slurs”. ‘ Nuff said.
Wish no. 3 concerns the way many players start notes. I wish trombone players would take more notice of the way a note starts. Apart from the dreaded “dwa”, there are a lot of versions of a poor start to a note floating around out there. I plan to spend an article or two on this subject in the near future.
I want to spend a little time talking about practicing and the concept of what you want to achieve when you practice. Question; is the object of a practice session to cover a certain amount of material in a prescribed time period? I know a lot of players who cover a goodly amount of material in one session and finish sounding the same as when they started. We all have the desire to play through a lot of music because it gives us the feeling of accomplishing more. Many times I’ll have someone play through a Rochut and then have them go back to the beginning. I’ll work on the first phrase (they always want to keep going) until I get them to play with their best sound, best legato, best phrasing, best articulation, and best intonation possible. We might work on a four bar phrase for 30 or 45 minutes. It’s intense work and usually not willingly accepted by the student, but ultimately the most valuable. I try to get the point across that if you can play four bars better than you’ve ever played before, you can play the entire etude at a higher level, and that is the kind of practice that leads to steady, incremental improvement. What can be deduced from this is; it’s not how much you practice, but how. There are sometimes when the object of my practice is simply to get in shape, or better shape after a lay-off or light period. In that case I’ll practice things I know well, with the idea of fine tuning or bringing up to snuff, things I can already do. The goal here is to spend maximum time playing to build endurance, thats why I play something I’m familiar with to avoid stopping. Incidentally, when I have something like the Bolero coming up, I don’t just practice that excerpt. I’ll practice things that are much more stressful in the high register, meaning higher and longer in duration, to give myself a margin of safety as far as preparation is concerned. On the other hand, if I want to work on basics, without a performance as the goal, I’ll practice things like Arban and Kopprasch. There is something about practicing middle and middle-low register etudes that put me in the best overall shape of any other type of playing. I remember my first teacher Vincent Cichowicz, giving me the O. Blume etudes when I changed from Baritone to trombone, and how difficult and awkward they were because of the preponderance of middle and low range. I practiced those etudes as well as Arban for several years and still do, and I think that work as much as anything else turned me into a trombone player in a relatively short amount of time. Speaking of Blume, I still think the Blume duets are some of the nicest things we have in the literature.
I have some interesting instrument news. After years of trying to get Bach to do something about the Alto trombone in their instrument line, that few people played or wanted, I finally got the go ahead to make a completely new model. Up til now if someone wanted an Alto trombone they had little choice between an American made and an expensive European model, which even then didn’t quite fill the bill as an orchestral instrument. I am hoping some time this year the new horn will be ready. Please read my article on Alto trombone for the ideas I plan to bring to this project. I am also expecting the new thin bells to be ready in the coming months as an option on 42 and 50 models. The idea for this project is to replicate the sound of the old Mt. Vernon and NY. NY. horns. Happy new year!