Preparing and Executing a Melodious Etude

The Bordogni etudes arranged by Rochut have long been one of the most important study materials of the trombonist’s repertory. In this article I will lay out my method of preparing and teaching this important element of playing. Rather than opening volume 1 and playing through an etude, I have a preparation routine which I use and teach. I will first play the 1st few phases in the following manner:

These 8th notes should speak at full resonance instantly to make it possible to relax ASAP! This is the secret to making the best, purest sound on a wind/brass instrument.

The next preparatory step to achieve the best sound possible in a melodic etude is to articulate each note with exactly the same immediacy of the 8th notes, immediately allowing the lungs to empty naturally to the full length of each note. This allows each pitch to slightly taper into the next articulation.

If this is done properly the body will feel exactly the same in each step because the expansion of the lungs will expel the air sufficiently so that no muscle involvement from the torso is required. Consequently if both of these preparatory steps are executed precisely the same, there will be no difference in body function whatsoever. The torso will remain completely relaxed and act as a resonating chamber, resulting in maximum resonance with minimum exertion. What expels air without pushing? Elasticity in the lungs. When a large amount of air is inhaled the lungs expand and when allowed to contract they will push out air without any assistance from muscles in the body. The sealed embouchure starts the lungs emptying rapidly and will sustain all but the longest notes with an almost undetectable decay. This is exactly the same method as required in singing, and since the trombone is known as the closest instrument to the human voice, it should employ the same basic mechanics.

The term “sostenuto” has been widely misunderstood by many people. It is widely assumed to mean that a note is to be sustained at the same volume throughout the duration of a pitch. I believe that the term has a simpler, more basic meaning; referring to the length of the note, not it’s shape. Therefore the way I describe the method above would still be classified as sostenuto, even with a slight diminuendo on each pitch, but lasting as long as a note that was sustained at the same volume throughout. The shape of a note should be a different issue than the length, giving us another tool in the quest for variety in playing, otherwise known as “style.”

Assuming that the previous two preparatory steps have been studied and mastered, they can be used to complete the task of playing a legato, melodic etude. Since I have written Ad nauseam about legato in previous articles, I will only detail the method of optimal sound production in legato playing. The most important aspect in playing legato etudes is getting the same type sound that was achieved in the two previous steps described above. Since only the first note of each phrase is articulated, how can the sound be as pure and resonant as when articulated? The answer is to not slow the speed of the air when slurring. This is done by slightly pulsing the air on the start of each slurred note to take the place of the articulation. The cardinal sin when slurring is slowing down the air stream because of the lack of articulation. This will cause the torso to activate to sustain the volume of the note, thereby ruining the sound. The pulse of air eliminates the necessity to push from the torso, making it possible to get the same pure, resonant sound produced when articulating.

It is always important to constantly refer back to the previous steps to insure that the sound when slurring is exactly as clear and pure as when articulated short or full length. The ultimate test will be playing the entire 3 step process at a forte dynamic, then repeating at a piano dynamic and producing the EXACT same clarity and purity of sound. Takes years of work but totally worth it!