No, this article is not about playing soft, although I am and have been a fanatic on that subject. Last month I talked about legato on natural slurs, mainly aimed at trombone players, but hoping some of that information would rub off on the valve instrument community. This month I want to talk about legato, mainly on valve instruments, once again hoping that this information will inspire trombone players to examine their concept of legato and use the imagery of another instrument to do this. The old saying that a singer should try to sound like an instrumentalist and vise-versa, can also be applied to other instruments as well.
Question; how does a pianist achieve a legato on the piano? Why do composers even write a legato marking for a percussion instrument? Since the action of pressing a key down on a piano activates a hammer on a string, how can a player play a true legato? The answer is of course, before completely letting up one key and stopping the sound, (without use of the sustaining pedal,) depressing the next key at some point during the release of the preceding key. The earlier in the preceding stroke the next key is depressed, the more legato will occur. The later in the preceding stroke the next key is depressed, the less legato will occur. See where I’m going with this? When you get a chance, sit at a piano for a few minutes and try this out. Even if you’re not a pianist, you can take two notes on the piano and experiment with various timings of depressing and letting up the second key. You will be amazed at how smoothly you can get that change of notes by eventually keeping both fingers in motion and overlapping sounds to various degrees. My trombone playing brethren could benefit from this same exercise, i.e. examination, on another instrument, because the piano is a much more difficult instrument to produce a good legato on than a trombone, trumpet, horn or tuba. After doing the piano experiment I would think that some of this would naturally rub off on your thoughts about moving the valves, (or slide.) As you found on the piano, pressing the keys down smoothly and letting them up smoothly, CONTROLLING that action is the key (no pun intended) to a great legato and therefore A GREAT SOUND. In my “Trompete” article of many months ago I advocated the slide cream experiment, which I’m sure many people had fun with, with or without trying it. This is just another way to basically achieve complete control over the mechanism of the valve instead of just pressing ’em down ASAP and letting them up ASAP. Don’t let the amount of lapping on your valves at the factory be the determining factor in the quality of your legato. Imagine a great Mozart interpreter playing the piano this way. I don’t think they would be much in demand. Try the piano thing and let it inspire you to rethink your legato playing and reap the incredible sound benefits that will accompany this rediscovery.