Use Your Head

Look at all the playing positions we see from trombone players all over the world. Every conceivable angle from high to low to sideways is common. Sometimes it’s a matter of embouchure structure but many times it’s however we started playing and fell into a certain habit. I don’t like to see people playing with the slide underneath a music stand, unless that stand is particularly in a high position.
It’s better to play to the side of the stand where the music is at eye level and the horn can be in a natural position, meaning just slightly below horizontal. This will insure that the spine is in a relatively upright position including the head and neck, which provides the freest route for the air to travel, a crucial element in wind playing.

It occurred to me the other day in my trombone class that while I always mentally visualize the horn in a stable, still position, and when I want to have more connection with the mouthpiece in a stressful passage, I will go to the horn. This is different than “jamming the horn in my face.” It helps me to use exactly the right amount of stability for the amount of air flow I need for a passage. Successful execution of a passage with the right sound is a complicated equation comprised of air flow, embouchure position, embouchure stability, tension in the corners, register, etc. Every note has a different formula for optimum results. The “no pressure” system is a hypothetical fantasy dreamed up by a 400 pound guy sitting on his bed in a basement! (Take that Mr. Trump!)

Why doesn’t that system work? Because to every action there is an opposite and equal reaction, basic science. When you ask your body to move a large amount of air rapidly there is a equal and opposite force playing havoc with your embouchure. Connection to the mouthpiece to stabilize the embouchure is necessary to allow the lips to vibrate inside the cup and not outside. Thus the exact amount of connection to the mouthpiece is crucial to allow the lips to vibrate at the right frequency. The no pressure system doesn’t stabilize the embouchure enough to maximize efficiency and will cause other parts of the body to take up that needed stability. This transfer of work load cuts down resonance and loss of purity in the sound. The more work done from the chin up, the better the result.

How do we approach what our playing position will be? I think most people position the instrument according to where their head and embouchure are. If they are a little slumped over which many are naturally, the horn will angle down that much. What if we visualize the horn in an upright, slightly below horizontal position and adjusted our head, body and embouchure to that ideal playing position? This position would make sure that our sound had the optimum projection, which would pay dividends in terms of endurance. There is nothing more professional looking than a section of 3 trombone players with their instruments just below horizontal and with all unnecessary movement eliminated.