Slurs and Sound


The article this month, while aimed mainly at trombone players, is also applicable to valve players as well. It has to do with natural slurs; those slurs which cross a partial and do not necessitate the use of legato tongue. Of course every slur on a valve instrument is a natural slur because of the action of the valves. What I want to know is; where does the change of partial occur, for example in a shift from 1st to 4th position on the notes middle F to middle G. I’ll bet you a dollar to a donut that the partial change occurs when the slide reaches fourth position. And that’s the problem. That slur is not going to be as smooth or as dependable as it should be because of the slide being the thing that activates the partial cross, instead of the air. Instead of waiting until the slide (or valve) to reaches the next note, think about moving the partial change right in the middle of that shift, about midway between 1st and 4th, (or in the middle of the valve.) That will smooth out that partial change, make it take longer, make a better sound, and a better legato. Those natural slurs want to jump quickly across partials and it is the players job to control them and make them sound like the smoothest legato slur. If you move the partial change to an earlier point in the note change, you can totally control the speed and type of legato you get. And, boy, do you get a great sound, and besides that, it is so much more reliable. You can take such chances in performance situations with long shifts of the slide without hurrying the slur or sticking a legato tongue in to make sure the slur comes out. When I make a long shift that crosses a partial, I start bending the note down or up as soon as the slide leaves a certain position. I try to get the partial change to happen somewhere in the middle of the distance between positions. Even if the slur is in a higher register and the shift is short, I will move my air up or down before the slide gets to the next position, so the partial change still happens midway between positions. The object is to get the same amount of legato sound in front of the partial change as in back of it. Important; I move the slide in one smooth motion from beginning to end of the shift from 1st to 4th. Coming back from 4th to 1st with the same slur is difficult, but it’s in there, so don’t quit until you find it. I pick a speed to move the slide that I can maintain from beginning to end (no accelerando in the middle,) that gives me the most amount of legato without any smeariness. Then I fill that slide movement with as much sound as I can squeeze into it. I want you to think of a natural slur, (going across a partial,) as a speed bump that is very wide and rounded, and happens right in the middle of every change of position. That results in a perfect natural slur which you can then base your legato slur on and sound better than just about anyone else!

Sometime this month I’m going to record a couple of slurs and put them on a sound file for the site so you can hear what I’m talking about.


What’s the best way to get a good sound? Do you blow air through the horn and try to project the sound as far as possible? That sounds logical. Lately I’ve been thinking that maybe the trombone world generally has been blowing the air through the horn a little too enthusiastically. I’m all in favor of fast air when playing soft. There you need a laser beam at very soft dynamics to project the sound and musical line. But at middle and above dynamics maybe we have a tendency to blow the sound through the horn before the air fills the horn with resonance. At a nice comfortable MF I like to think about keeping the sound in the instrument as long as possible. This is a mental concept which gives me maximum resonance. Take the solo from the Saint-Saens 3rd. You have to play it a good MP in a performance. Instead of trying to project the sound, try to fill the horn with as much resonance as it will hold and keep it in the area of the bell. Let the sound project from a kind of spill over of resonance, always feeling that the horn is filled with resonance before it leaves the instrument. This, as I said, is more a mental concept than a physical one, and anyone who has delved into these things will know that a mental concept is a much more powerful stimulus than a physical one. The louder the dynamic the more resonance you try to keep in the horn before it leaves. The softer you play, and I’m talking piano and pianissimo, the more you try to narrow the bore on your horn with your air to focus the sound. Whatever sound you try to make it must be resonant and clear. Many people have a hard time making a clear sound. We must strive for a clear sound that fills the horn as long as possible before going forward. If a player can’t get a clear sound, most likely it’s the start of the note that doesn’t have enough velocity of the air stream, or perhaps the sound doesn’t speak immediately which has a profound effect on the tone quality of the note.