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Variation of Articulation 

It is important as a trombonist to have a wide range of articulations at your disposal. Just as players with limited tone colors or dynamic ranges can be uninteresting, so too are players who only have one or two articulations! In my experience, the further forward you place your tongue, the firmer the articulation will sound. The further back you place the tongue, the lighter the articulation.
 
My “default” articulation is one that speaks clearly and firmly. I generally don’t like to play question marks or sneak into the note, unless the music indicates this is required.
 
Curve your left hand in front of you with your palm facing down. Imagine that your fingers represent your top row of teeth and the rest of your hand represents the natural arch on the inside of your mouth. My “default” articulation falls at the bottom of the fingers. This articulation would create the syllable “tho”. Think of saying the word “though” as you articulate, or spitting seeds off the tip of your tongue.
 
For legato tonguing, I like to use the syllable “la” or “lu”. Going back to your curved hand, to create the syllable “la” or “lu” the tongue has to strike on the palm or at the top of the arch inside the mouth. This creates a much lighter sound and can be used to make a very smooth legato. I recommend practicing this articulation over and over again on a single note, aiming to gain consistency of articulation that is light but clearly audible.
 
You may notice that there is a lot of space between “tho” and “la” on your palette. I encourage those interested in broadening their range of articulation to experiment with this space. Off the top of my head (in order of hard to soft)…. “tho”, “toe”, “doe”, “no”, “nah”, “dah” and “lah” provide a nice range of options. There are definitely many more. These are just a handful that I find myself using.
 
Some of my brass player friends from other countries who have a different language background have incredibly interesting and useful ways of articulating. I think the tone and inflection of different languages can greatly affect the way someone articulates on the instrument, and if you discuss this with some of your friends, you may learn some truly interesting things. Go to the practice room and experiment to find consistency with a wide range of articulations. Try something you never thought of before and see what happens. I met a GREAT player who articulates quick passages by moving his tongue from side to side. I still haven’t figured out how to do that, but his Blue Bells sounded AWESOME. Who knew?!?
 
 

Hungarian March 

Below are some tips for working on the excerpt from Hungarian March from Berlioz's Damnation of Faust.

1. Half note = 88 is a generally acceptable tempo. ALWAYS play this excerpt with a metronome. If you're anything like me, your natural tendency will be to rush. Set the metronome to half notes and think about the subdivisions as you play. For audition purposes, avoid the temptation to slow down during the last few bars of the excerpt. Just play straight in time from start to finish. Play through the excerpt several times at half tempo. Playing this slowly is a good opportunity to ingrain the habit of playing with extremely accurate slide positions. Be extra careful with 2nd, 3rd and 5th positions. There are no Eb's or Ab's in this excerpt. Be sure to always play precisely. Never play halfway between 2nd and 3rd positions or halfway between 4th and 5th. Come all the way in for 2nd and go all the way out for 5th! 

2. A good exercise for getting your slide coordination down on this exercise is the "hot note" exercise. I was introduced to this exercise by Joe Alessi. Basically, go through the excerpt note by note at half time. Play the first note staccato and immediately move the slide to the next position so that the slide arrives well in advance of the time when you need to articulate. Play the next note, and then continue forward in the same fashion. Practice a few bars this way. Then go back and do it again, this time shortening the space between the notes. Continue closing the gap until the notes occur in real time. Ideally, your slide should be reflective of the rhythm. As a test, make a video of yourself playing the excerpt or just moving the slide. Check to see if your slide motion is a clear rhythmic dictation. Watch the video again without the volume. Could someone who doesn't know what you're playing give a dictation of the rhythm?

3. Starting on the ascending scales 6 bars before rehearsal #4, begin with a dynamic that is COMFORTABLY SOFT. Don't start this excerpt at a dynamic that makes you nervous. Rather, play with a firm articulation at a dynamic that is soft but speaks easily. Think of making one long musical line from the beginning of the excerpt all the way to the second bar of #4. The intensity of articulation and dynamic should grow consistently from the beginning to this point, making the downbeat of the second bar of #4 feel like a true landing point. 

4. A major pitfall in this excerpt is stopping and starting the air. Often times, people struggle with keeping the air flowing consistently while moving the slide accurately. We use good air and move the slide sloppily, or we move the slide accurately and keep stopping the air. Work to do both good things at the same time! Otherwise, the music begins to sound choppy and the dotted quarter notes are cut off too early. There are a few exercises that I find helpful in resolving this issue from the second bar of #4 to the end... 1. Gliss the excerpt using a loose slide motion. 2. Gliss the excerpt using an accurate slide motion. 3. Flutter tongue the excerpt using an accurate slide motion, never allowing the sound to stop. 4. Play the excerpt playing all eighth note subdivisions. 5. Play as written. Try these exercises at slow tempos first to make sure you are doing everything correctly. If doing this for the entire length of the excerpt is too much, start by doing one scale pattern (3 bars) at a time, and then see if you can fuse 2 3-bar segments together.

5. Choose a dynamic that is comfortably loud. Try to avoid having a "swing for the fences" mentality with this excerpt. Never play a dynamic that is beyond your control. In a very generic sense, I view FF as being as loud as you can play with a beautiful sound. Avoid a sound that is raucous, blary and loses its center. If you're unsure about where you are dynamically, err on the softer side. It is preferable to play cleanly and in time with ultimate control than to err on the side of being over the top. Often times, playing too loud can compromise your ability to play in time and in tune. Begin your practice of this excerpt at a nice MF dynamic. Get your pitch, rhythm and articulation organized at this easy to control dynamic. Bump your dynamic up daily, but only as much as you can without compromising any fundamentals. Record yourself to make sure that you are playing with a full dynamic that doesn't sound the least bit out of control. 

6. In the last few bars, pay attention to the notes that are slurred. They are the only slurred notes that you have in this excerpt, so take advantage of the opportunity to show a contrast in articulation. Avoid clipping the second eighth note of the slur. Play full lenghth notes here, and use natural slurs as much as you can. 

7. Find a good recording to study. I would suggest listening to the entire opera Damnation of Faust. There's a ton of really great music, and there are more interesting trombone parts than just the Hungarian March. Check out the DVD recording we did a few years back at the MET. The production is really cool!

 

Bolero 

Below are some basic points to consider when preparing the excerpt from Ravel's Bolero for auditions.

1. Quarter = 69-72 is a generally acceptable tempo.

2. One of the biggest issues with this excerpt is steadiness of rhythm. Before adding the difficulties of playing the trombone, try a few excercises away from the instrument to help work out this issue. First, sing through the excerpt with the metronome. It can be helpful to have the metronome subdivide 16th notes first. When that becomes comfortable, switch to 8ths and finally quarters. Next, sing the excerpt with the metronome while conducting a basic 3 pattern. Once you can do this, there is a better chance you can be successful with the instrument. 

3. The high range requirements of this excerpt can be troublesome for many. I recommend practicing this excerpt, especially the first half of it, down an octave at least three times for each time you play it in the written register. There are so many issues that can be worked out before straining yourself. For starters, playing down an octave can make sure that you have the correct pitches in your ear. Additionally, I would recommend singing and then buzzing the pitches of the excerpt down the octave at the keyboard to make sure you are spot on. Often times, mistakes are made in the upper register because we just aim high rather than having a clear concept of the exact pitches. Practice scales and slurs that take you into this register and beyond on a daily basis so that you are familiar with playing in this range. Aim for a clear sound, not a big sound. Remember that this piece wasn't written with a .547 trombone in mind. Don't try to get your best Mahler 3 sound on Bolero!

4. Choose a very clear and consistent articulation for the duration of the excerpt. Please do not fall into the trap of playing everything legato. In my opinion, to do this is incorrect. The marking clearly states "sostenuto" and there are slurs written in some places. Challenge yourself to play sustained and with a clear/firm articulation at the same time so that when the slurs do occur, the contrast is noticeable. Musically, this is more interesting. I notice that many people associate clear articulation with short notes and dull articulations with long notes. Do your best to not let note lengths affect the clarity of your articulations. I recommend practicing Kopprasch exercises #1 and #2 "tenuto ma ben marcato" to solidify this technique.

5. Provide musical shape to the repetitive high Db's. Personally, I like to drop the dynamic slightly after the first two high Dbs. This provides me with enough space dynamically to shape the phrase in a way that is exciting and land firmly on the accented G. Please pay close attention to the accent on the G and make sure that you don't forget to emphasize it.  When listening to recordings of this piece, note the way the other instrumentalists who play the same solo shape these phrases. For them, these "high Db's" are not so high, and as you may notice, their phrasing reflects that. Don't let a handful of high notes dictate the overall shaping of the music. Play what's on the page!

6. Please hold the E at the end of the first half of the excerpt the full length. Take an easy, relaxed breath and enter on the D with a sweeter, more reserved character than you began the excerpt. This provides some musical variety and also gives you enough space to make a nice build up to the end of the excerpt. From this point forward, commit to a constant yet well metered growth in intensity of sound, ryhtyhm, dynamic and articulation all the way to the end of the excerpts. Try to avoid having any moments where the momentum is broken. Also, don't do anything funny with the rhythm. If you play the duples, triples and sixteenths exactly in time, much of the musical excitment and variety is already built into the writing. No need to get extra creative here.

7. Please do be sure to give the firmest articulation possible on syncopated notes and those with accents. This adds to the Spanish flair of the piece. Once again, do not sacrifice note lengths in an effort to be clear. 

8. Perhaps this should have been said at the beginning (and should be the case for every excerpt).... take the time to play through this many times slowly with a metronome and a tuner. Record yourself doing this. Give your face a break, and listen to the recording taking note of what you need to improve. 

9. After you have all the basics above on auto-pilot, try to have a one word character cue that puts you in the mood to deliver this excerpt with the musical excitement that it deserves. For me, that word is SEXY. Maybe for you it will be sultry or seductive or something else. Record yourself playing the excerpt and hold yourself to the highest standard possible. Is it in time? Are the accents in the right place? Are you getting the right sound? Is it tune? Is it REALLY sostenuto? Is it REALLY sexy? Hmm....

10. Good luck!

Tuba Mirum 



Below are a few basic things worth considering when starting your work on Tuba Mirum for an audition. 

1. Acceptable tempo usually falls between 1/4=72-80. I think playing at 1/4=76 puts you in a truly comfortable spot that will be acceptable to audition committees. 

2. Starting with the first three bars, aim for a sound that is comfortably full. Perhaps a mf or pocoF is good. Go for very clear, consistent articulations that give you the biggest sound at the front of the note without a hint of swelling. I like to think of all of these notes being both tenuto and marcato. Shape the phrase so the musical peak is the D at the beginning of bar two with the energy relaxing subtly thereafter. If you can play the appropriate dynamic and do it all in one breath, GREAT! If not, take a breath at the end of the first bar and shape the end of the F in a way that suspends the energy of the phrase over the breath. To practice this shape, play the first three notes on one breath giving the slightest crescendo into the D. Then try to recreate this general shape while breathing at the bar line. 

3. Make sure you count the rest absolutely accurately and metronomically. In the next couple of bars, give a clear articulation on the first Bb and the slur everything else. If a natural slur is available, take it. I would recommend using all natural positions. Playing the last D of this phrase in 4 position is the one exception where I think it can be done well.

4. Don't let the fermata last too long... just long enough to let the sound from the previous phrase clear the room and then continue on to the next one. Both the F and the Eb two bars later should have a crystal clear articulation followed by the smoothest legato you can make without a smear. Put a little tenuto on the repeated Bb in the second bar of this phrase to emphasize the repeated note and provide better shape to the phrase. Breathe before the Eb and play through the end of the first arpeggio on this breath. 

5. For each arpeggio, give a very subtle hairpin dynamic change. Each time you will lead to the 4th note of the arpeggiated passage, and each time should get progressively, albeit subtly, more pressing/intense. 

6. Count the rest accurately again. People are real sticklers for this in auditions. Play the last phrase with a smooth legato again, only re-articulating clearly the notes that follow the high Ab's. Don't slow down or a do fabricated rubato at the end. Also, I add a slight tenuto the high Ab's because I it highlights the harmony of the phrase. 

7. Play the excerpt straight through a few times with the metronome clicking eighth note subdivisions. Then move the metronome to quarter notes, then halves. Get accustomed to playing metronomically. After you feel confident that you are playing with very consistent time, I would recommend feeling this excerpt in 2. When you think in 4, it starts to sound more stagnant and boring. Two has more flow. Just don't let thinking in two suddenly speed up your tempo. 

8. After the fundamentals of pitch, rhythm, clear articulation and good tone are on auto-pilot, try to focus your mental energy on the general character that you are hoping to inflect. Have faith that the careful and repetitive work you have done with the tuner, metronome and recording device will not leave you. I like to think of the first three bars having a bold, stately character and the remainder of the excerpt being as cantabile and simply beautiful as possible. 

9. I would play the excerpt a few times a day and just record it. Each time check for something different. Be tempo/rhythm police one time, pitch police the next, then character police, etc. Create a checklist of all the things you would like to have present in the excerpt and don't be satisfied until everything can be found in a single take that you can reproduce consistently. 

10. Good luck!
 

State School vs Conservatory 

Q: Dear Weston,

Obviously an important factor in a student's career is where they study. You studied at a state school for 2 years and then went to a conservatory. Can you explain why you chose this and the advantages of doing so or any further explanation on this state school versus conservatory idea? I am a student at XXX State University and would love to hear your ideas on this. Thank you very much.

Sincerely,
XXXXX


A: Hi,
When I was in high school, I wasn’t very knowledgeable about music schools, teachers and programs. In fact, I never took private lessons consistently until after I had already done my college auditions and made my choice to attend Indiana. Also, my parents weren’t musicians either. As a result, I didn’t have the most expansive university search when exploring where to begin my undergraduate degree. The one thing I did know was that my parents wanted me to go somewhere I could get degrees in both music and something else (business). So, I looked at the rankings of US News and World Report and found that University of Michigan and Indiana University were both schools with highly ranked music schools and business schools. That’s exactly how I decided where to audition. Conservatories were nowhere on the radar. I knew very little about them, and even if I did, I don’t think my family would have been very interested in me going to a place like that at the time.

After visits to both campuses during my auditions, I decided I liked Indiana the best. So, I started at Indiana in the fall of 2000 with an intended double major in business and music. The double major part only lasted a couple of days. Once I had my freedom and the tuition was already paid for, I decided to drop the business classes with the encouragement of my teacher at the time, Carl Lenthe. Granted, he didn’t understand the arrangement I had with my parents, and my parents didn’t find out about this till several months later, but that’s another story! Just further proof that you can’t control college kids…. It all worked out in the end. ☺

Near the beginning of my second year at Indiana, I joined several of the other trombone students on a road trip to Chicago to hear the Philadelphia Orchestra on tour. I remember being blown away by the orchestra as they played Elgar’s Enigma Variations. At that time, all of the trombonists at Curtis were from Texas, and I knew one of them from our All-State auditions. We chatted every once in awhile online, and they told me stories of how great it was to study at Curtis, how great the student orchestra was, how great of a teacher Nitzan Haroz was, how amazing the Philadelphia Orchestra was…. So, I started to ponder what it might be like to go there and if all the pomp and circumstance about Curtis was true (it was!).

At some point over Christmas break that year, I woke up and something just told me that I needed to audition for Curtis. At the time, the school had an age limit of 21 years old or younger. I knew that if I didn’t audition that year, I would never have another chance to go, so I decided to go for it. After begging and pleading with the admissions office, they agreed to let me apply even though the deadline had already passed. A few months later, I auditioned and got in. I attended Curtis from 2002-2005 and won my job at the MET on the last day of school.

Truthfully, the reason for choosing this path is obviously not one that was incredibly well thought out and deeply considered. It was more one of intuition, hard work and good fortune. It all happened kind of organically in my memory. Having said that, in hindsight, I can see how and why I benefitted from each situation and how understanding these choices could benefit up and coming students.

Indiana (IU) and Curtis could not be more different. IU is in a small college town that’s surrounded by corn fields. The beauty of this is that the whole world revolves around the university. You get the real college experience…. Dorms, student cafeteria, parties, Big 10 sports, student union, etc. Musically, the family is very large and there is a healthy sense of competition that seems in step with the real world. I benefitted a lot from the opportunity to compete regularly with a large group of peers. I got a good idea of how I stacked up against stiff competition and how to deal with the pressure of feeling the need to separate one’s self from the pack. What makes you different than the other 50 trombone players? Musically, that’s a very real world thing to experience. You learn to musically elevate yourself and how to socially integrate yourself with a large group of people who have similar goals. Also, I loved going to the basketball games! To this day, I am a fanatic IU basketball fan. I watch EVERY game.

Curtis, like many conservatories, was much smaller and in the middle of a big city. The benefit there was that you had regular access to hearing world-class professionals in their natural working environment. It's one thing to have a great player for a teacher who plays recitals now and then. It's another thing to hear the Philadelphia Orchestra EVERY week, or sometimes 2 or 3 times a week, for a few years in a row. Also, there was more personalized attention in an environment that was less competitive. The orchestra simulated a professional environment (as much as is possible at a school) by reading through lots of repertoire with a personnel grouping that basically remained fixed because of the limited number of students. You’re forced to learn how to work with the people around you with no hope that it will change for the next concert.

Looking back on it, I’m very glad that I had both experiences. Both schools had profound effects on me, and I have lifelong friends from both places. I would encourage any student to try and attend both types of places at some point during their education. There is so much to be gained from both. One point worth making is that any player who has aspirations to become a professional classical performer needs to at some point be exposed regularly to the highest professional level. This generally requires spending some time in one of the world’s classical music centers (New York, Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, London, Vienna, etc.). I can’t think of many, if any, great artists that became great in a vacuum. They all had this exposure at one point or another. On the other hand, every person should have the chance to experience life on major university campus.


How do you deal with negative colleagues? 

Q:
Hi Weston,

First of all, I would like to thank you for everything I learned when I took a lesson with you and auditioned at XXXXXX a few years ago. I am still learning from the experience. I felt like my audition was a lesson! Also, thank you for contributing to online trombone nerdyness.

I have a question regarding negative colleagues.

I play in a section with three other bone players. One is always leaning over to me and saying things like "I (expletive) hate this music" or "I can't (expletive) follow his 7/8 pattern" trying to get me to laugh or just acknowledge him in some way. Basically, concerning himself with variables which he cannot control.

This frustrates me because I find that my mind will end up in a bad place which makes me sound worse (missing entrances, stupid stuff). When he is not in the section, everything is great because we all want to put in the effort to play our best no matter what. This is what makes creating music with others so much fun, consciously creating something beautiful with other people. It seems as if this other guy doesn't really want to be there and isn't really making an effort to take control of his life.

I really want to say something along the lines of, "Get your act together or quit!" I ask my friend what to do and he says, "Just respond with love. Everyone is on their own journey". I agree with him. I think that his negative ways will eventually self-destruct and he will have to start making bigger decisions for himself. Problem is, I see this happening years from now, long after any upcoming concerts.

My question is what should I do when someone is attempting to get me to acknowledge their negativity? Should I smile and potentially reinforce their behavior? Should I take the responsibility to push people around me? I find it better just to let things go and not burn any bridges.

What are some tips for putting on the blinders when you have to play with someone who's energy is counter-intuitive to the whole?

Thanks,
XXXXXXX

A:
Thanks for writing in. I think your question is a really good one, and it's one that isn't addressed very often. We are often times so concerned with trombone technique and musicianship that we often forget to give thought to handling daily working conditions. Understanding how to deal with your colleagues and manage your expectations for them and for yourself are important parts of maintaining a healthy mindset in your working environment.

There are a few basic things I would think about here....

1. Worry about the things that you can control.

Only you can control how you view your working environment and what affect it will have on your psyche. Others can only bring you down as much as you allow them to do so. Sometimes you have to work with a colleague who has a bad attitude. Sometimes you have to work with one that doesn't play so well. Sometimes you work with one who plays well but is having a bad day. Sometimes you have to work with somebody who just generally acts unprofessionally. Sometimes you have to work with all these types of people at the same time!! These are things you can't control. What you can control is doing the best job that YOU can do. You can be reasonably quiet. You can play well. You can be respectful of your colleagues. You can maintain a positive attitude and self-esteem. You own your attitude. As one of my favorite comedians, Katt Williams, says, and I paraphrase.... "I hate when a person says that someone took their self-esteem. Nobody can take your self-esteem. That's why it's called SELF-esteem!" His version is FAR more crass, but the point is an effective one.

2. Don't reinforce behavior that makes you uncomfortable.

People who act like the person you mention are often just looking for attention. Maybe they are in a bad mood and their attitude is that of, "Hey, if I'm in a bad mood, I'm going to see to it that you're in a bad mood by the end of the day too!". Learn to have some compassion for these people, but also be smart about learning how to manipulate this situation. As they say, hurt people hurt people. Give that some consideration. At the same time, realize that it generally takes two to tango. Usually, someone won't keep yelling at you if you consistently respond in a whispering voice. Likewise, if someone is egging you on about how much they hate the conductor or can't follow the pattern, respond softly, concisely, or not at all. Show by example that your focus is on doing a good job, not being distracted. People eventually tire of talking to themselves. If they don't, they need professional help that you aren't qualified to provide. 

3. Whether you are in a position to affect change varies depending on the situation.

Have a feel for the situation. Are you good friends with this person? Can you talk to them in a reasonable way without it turning into a catastrophe? Are you the leader of the section? Are you more experienced or more respected by your peers than the person you have a problem with? If so, or if not, why? Is this a long-term, regular situation or just something that will be over with anyway in a few weeks or months? If you complain to the authority (music director or orchestra manager), does your gut tell that it will make any difference? When people find out about this complaint, how will it reflect upon you? These are all thoughts you should consider before taking action that is beyond leading by example and being collegial.

4. Come to terms with the fact that no situation is going to be perfect.

At every level that you progress to in music, you will find that the situation is imperfect. Whether it's your high school musical, the university orchestra, a big summer music festival, or the world's greatest professional orchestra, you are going to find personalities and playing styles that don't gel perfectly with your own. There are at least two reasons for this... #1. Some of those same people you couldn't stand on your childhood playground have somehow made their way through the playing ranks just like you have. #2. Your standards and ideals evolve with time. Attitudes and behaviors that you were comfortable with ten years ago are no longer acceptable to you.

5. Use school as an opportunity to learn about all things, not just playing.

It sounds like you're currently in college somewhere. Take advantage of the opportunity to try different approaches and see what works in an environment that isn't permanent. One day in the next few years, you or this classmate will graduate, or maybe the clown next to you will get kicked out of the ensemble. Be thankful that it's not permanent. I had a similar experience when I was in college, and one of my mentors told me, "Weston, learn to deal with it. You'll figure it out. At least you know that school will only be a few years. I, on the other hand, have to deal with these types of problems till somebody retires or dies, or maybe until I die!" :-)

I hope this advice helps. Good luck!

How Tongue Placement Relates to Range 

Q: Hi Weston,

Can you explain with a bit more detail as to how the tongue level you mentioned can be actually practiced. You mentioned the whistling technique and I conceptually understand it but it's kinda tricky for me to apply it in on the instrument. Do you use the syllable from low Ah to high Eee?

Right now, I can produce decent tones all the way from low up to middle Bflat just above the staff with the Ah syllable but any higher than that, I just simply can't produce a sound since I'm disciplined enough to not force anything out by not using any tension or mouthpiece pressure. I'm almost convinced it's the problem with my tongue placement or shape if you like, which doesn't direct the higher air stream properly.

Regards,
XXXXXXX

A:

Hi there! Thanks for writing in. To answer your question, I do think that the tongue has to be placed in different positions for different registers. However, this isn't something that I consciously think about all the time. It happens a little more naturally. Obssesing over this type of thing can sometimes create more trouble than it's worth. For the most part, you can just hear the pitch in your head, try to sing it out of the instrument, and a lot of these tongue issues will naturally fall into place. In general, I don't think you want to be constantly overthinking where the back of your tongue is while you're playing, but if you feel like you have a real problem it is worth double checking to make sure nothing weird is going on. Basically, here is what I think is normal positioning for the BACK of the tongue as it relates to different registers....

Low to Middle Register = Low Back of the Tongue

Sing the syllable "AH" or "OH" as if you were saying the word "Tall" or "Toad". You will notice that the back of your tongue lays completely flat along the bottom of the mouth. This tongue placement leads to the air moving in slightly slower and warmer fashion than if the back of the tongue were more raised. 

High Register = High Back of the Tongue

Sing the syllable "EE" as though you were saying word "Deed". You will notice that the back of your tongue is now raised. In fact, you will probably notice that the back of your tongue is actually touching your top row of molars on both sides. This placement leads to the air moving in a slightly faster and cooler fashion than if the back of the tongue were more lowered. 

If you want something that falls in between, go for the syllable "OO" as is you were saying the word "Food". With this syllable you will notice that the tonuge is somewhere in between the two syllables previously mentioned. 

Long story short, I would play slow scales, preferably in whole notes at a quarter notes equals 60. Start in the lower register using the "AH" or "OH" syllable, whichever feels most natural to you. Then slowly work your way up the scale maintaining this vowel sound for as long as it feels easy and natural. For me, I feel like my tongue starts arching a little bit after I ascend past the F above the bass clef staff. Go slowly enough that you can take note of exactly what is happening. Experiment with different amounts of arching and see what works best for you. 

If you say that you start having some tone production/quality issues above middle Bb, my guess is that tongue placement is not the primary source of your issue. Tongue arching is usually something that gets more consideration about an octave above the register you're talking about. Rather, you probably need make sure that you have enough air moving easily past an open aperture. Work to make sure that as you ascend your corners remain solid/firm, the aperture remains open, the lips remain flexible enough to vibrate easily and the air is flowing freely. Without knowing you, my guess is that you tighten up too much and get too muscular as you ascend instead of staying flexible and letting the air do the work. Simply put, open the hole and let more air go through it. 

Lastly, you stated... "I'm disciplined enough to not force anything out by not using any tension or mouthpiece pressure." "Tension" and "mouthpiece pressure" aren't the end of the world. You just have to make sure that they are appropriately used. A slight bit of tension in the corners can be a good thing. Tension in the lips or in the release of the air... not such a good thing. Mouthpiece pressure is necessary. Excessive mouthpiece pressure is detrimental. Hold out your hand, palm facing up, and place the mouthpiece on your hand with the shank pointing to the ceiling, as though your palm is your lips. Feel the amount of pressure the mouthpiece places on your hand? That's about how much pressure you want to feel when the mouthpiece is on your face. That's natural. There has to be a certain amount of pressure to create a seal. Just don't overdo it. 

Good luck!

Weston

Embouchure work/Double buzz 

Q: 

Hi Weston,

Hope everything goes well with you! 

The more I play in the orchestra, the more I feel the basic things are very important. Now I am pretty sure the thing that causes my double buzz is my weak embouchure. Even in middle range my upper lip is overlaping the lower lip and the air anlge is almost parallel to my chin. I tried a method in the book wirrten by a trumpet teacher John Haynie to move my chin forward and parallel the teeth. But to keep it that way for the whole range is very difficult. I just want to double check with you to make sure that I am on the right track. Will you keep your teeth parallel no matter the range you play or just for the middle and low range? Now I can just play trigger and pedal range like that, do you think it is a good way to use the same embouchure to gradually build up my range?

A:

Hi. Good to hear from you and thanks for submitting a question. Sounds to me like you're on the right path and doing a lot of the right things. It's just a matter of allowing enough time and repetitions to make these changes permanent throughout the entire register of the instrument. I'm not familiar with John Haynie's book, but I do agree with the concept of moving your chin slightly forward and having the rows of teeth be parallel. Most of us have a natural overbite that then leads us to want to roll the bottom lip very far under the top. In my opinion, this creates a thinner sound that doesn't resonate fully.

I would definitely aim for the lips to lie flat on top of one another, with neither lip rolling behind the other. In order to do this, you will most likely have to move your chin forward. At first, it may seem uncomfortable or unnnatural because it is new and it is definitely not the way your mouth situates itself in a normal, relaxed setting away from the trombone. However, if your goal is to have chops that are evenly placed and provide an open passageway for the air to pass through, then it's sensible to have a flat chin and teeth that are slightly spread and parallel. 

There are several ways to think about this. Many teachers emphasize thinking about the air first. They say the speed and direction of the air leads the embouchure to the right place. In discussions and articles about this topic, Ian Bousfield and Jay Friedman seem to endorse this way of thinking. I'm not going to disagree with those guys! So... if you're going along this path, constantly think of the air moving straight forward and hitting a spot that's directly in front of you. A good start is to aim the air towards the end of your top slide tube. For greater visualization, think of something at the same height that's further away. 

If you want to think of this with the lips first, think of saying the letter M, followed by firming your corners. Try to keep this general shape throughout the entire register of the instrument. Keep in mind that because you have a natural overbite your tendency will be to roll the bottom lip under as the range becomes more stressful. Be creative in your ways of counteracting that tendency. Think to roll your bottom lip out.... roll your top lip in.... keep your bottom lip stationary. Experiment with sending different mental signals to your chops, and then check closely in the mirror to see what is ACTUALLY happening. You might surprised to see that when you're telling yourself to blow the air upwards in the high range, the actual result is that the chops are even and your are blowing in a straight line. Use trial and error with your mental cues until you find what cues keep your embouchure consistent. Once you have it, drill it until it becomes permanent. Don't be the person who keeps teling yourself the same thing over again, and keeps making the same errors. Mix it up a bit. 

Good luck with this issue. I hope my thoughts are helpful to you. All the best!

Weston



Great Mountains Music Festival 

The following link is to an interview with myself and Matt Guilford, Bass Trombonist of the National Symphony Orchestra. We were both artists/faculty at the 2012 Great Mountain Music Festival in South Korea. To see the interview, click here.

The Road to "Success" 

Q:

I was just curious, what are some of the things you did while in school/pre-MET, that you credit the most with your tremendous success? I'm sure even you had these thoughts when you were in school, that you realize how ridiculously slim the chances are of landing the dream job. I just turned 20 years old, and am feeling like it's really hitting me hard that in just a few years, I'll be out taking any audition I can (I'll definitley be using that audition article you wrote).

I fully believe that I have the ability to accomplish my ultimate goal of an orchestra gig, but sometimes I lack confidence in my ways of practicing. Is it as simple as "the harder I work the luckier I seem to be" or is it more than that?

Thank you for your time, and I hope someday soon to meet you.

Best wishes,

XXXXXXXXX

A:

First of all, thanks for writing in, and I'm glad that you liked the audition article. I suppose "tremendous success" in our business is sometimes defined as having won a major orchestral audition and then securing tenure in said orchestra. For anyone who has taken a major orchestra audition, you know how difficult it is to win one! Having said that, I recall that one of my heroes, Wynton Marsalis, once said, "Beating someone has never been the basis for knowing anything." In fact, in my case, winding up in the winner's circle has basically served as a license to start learning more in a way that is thorough and not forced. If you're a go-getter, when you are 20, there is little time for fun and games and thorough exploration of the finer nuances of many things. Rather, the goal is to climb to the mountaintop as quickly as possible and master the things necessary to get a job. Once you have the security of a job, you're freed from the constant search for validation (and food!) and you can focus your energy on broadening your knowledge base in the way that you think is most valuable, rather than in the ways that are most valued by an audition committee. 

As to your questions, I definitely realized how slim the chances were of becoming a "successful" trombone player. It is a very difficult business to make a good living in, and by no means do I want to sugar coat that reality for anyone. I am a firm believer that there is always room at the top, however. If you're willing to put in the time and effort, seek out the appropriate help and be brutally critical of yourself, I think there is a place for you. The thing is, not many people are willing to put themselves through this for several years. You also have to be prepared to accept failures. Many people don't have thick enough skin to persevere through that adversity and keep getting stronger.

I think the things I would credit most for my having a career are the following...

1. Hard work - This includes all the things you always hear about. Nothing new here. No shortcuts. Practice slowly with a metronome, tuner, a recording device and a brutally honest set of ears. The recording device is probably the most important tool you have. If you can't stomach listening to yourself, well, who are you kidding?

2. Surrounding myself constantly with like minded peers - The whole iron sharpens iron concept is real. Get around people who have similar goals and similar, if not better, skill sets. I went to high school and college with a "Who's Who" list of players in the world's great orchestras. They are far too many to mention here, but I assure you that the list is astonishing. Not only that, but it seems like several times a year, others I was in school with add themselves to that list. The old adage "birds of a feather flock together" is definitely true in music. There are some books out there that address the phenomenon of talent hotbeds. The Talent Code by David Coyle is a good place to start. People say that it's crazy that Nitzan Haroz, Ko-Ichiro Yamamoto, Demian Austin, James Markey, etc were all at Juilliard at the same time. That's not some miraculous coincidence or lightning in a bottle, in my opinion. My time at Curtis was similar in many ways. You want to be the best? Find other people that also want to be the best. Motivate them. Be motivated by them. Push them. Be pushed by them. It works. 


3. Consistently going to performances by the Philadelphia Orchestra - In three years at Curtis, I missed three subscription weeks of performances by the Philadelphia Orchestra. You have to keep yourself in constant contact with the standard. If you want to a pro, gain an intimate knowledge of what the pros sound like, in real time. There's no replacement for this. The greatest musical learning generally doesn't happen in a vacuum or in an ivory tower. You have to seek it out in a real live performance venue. I knew what it would take to play in an orchestra like Philadelphia because I heard them EVERY week. Listening is at least half of a good music performance education. I can't even begin to understand why so many students think they can succeed at the highest levels without this. I'm sure there is an exception to the rule out there, but how many people can you think of that got a great job in an orchestra who didn't at some point spend a significant amount of time in one of the world's cultural centers?

4. Great teachers - ALL of my teachers were awesome. I had the good fortune of just luckily falling into the right hands. I make a point to thank these guys, in particular Michael Warny, Carl Lenthe and Nitzan Haroz as often as I can. I'll never forget what they did for me. There are a lot of other good teachers out there too. Make sure you find them, with the emphasis on them being a plural. There is no one person with a monopoly on sound advice. Keep your eyes and your ears open. If you have a teacher that doesn't think it's a good idea for you to also get advice from other people, get a new teacher. Prod your teachers for information. Dig it out of them. Don't be a passive student who expects everything to be delivered to you. Be proactive about asking questions and being forward with the insecurities you have in your playing. These are the people that can ensure you're not just working hard, but working smart.

5. Exposure - You have to know what's out there. Don't sit at home and waste away all summer. Travel. Go to summer music festivals and seminars. Hear as many concerts as you can. Meet as many people as you can. As with the teachers, you can't learn everything in one place. Get out of the house. Get out of your state. Get out of your country. Learn about places, cultures, players and concepts that you otherwise would have no exposure to. 

6. Failure - People learn through failure. You learn to walk by consistently getting up after you fall. You learn to win auditions by first getting cut in the first round, then the second, then the last, then the first or second again. You have to have a stomach for failure. If you don't, try something else, and you'll probably experience some failures there too! Nothing worthwhile comes easily. So, if you want to get really good at anything, get ready for some tears and sleepless nights. Look no further than the lyrics of the late James Brown, which were later expanded upon by Rick Ross and Snoop Dogg....

"The Boss"

As a closing side note, you know who just paid the cost to be the boss? LEBRON JAMES!!!! I'm not a Heat fan, but I'm a big basketball fan and eternal hater of continuous unwarranted criticism. This guy got put through the ringer, and he is a living testament of success being born out of failure. Compare last year's finals to this one. Is he that much more talented now? Nope, but those previous failures allowed him to have the mindset necessary to use his skills in a way that proved to be the most dominant tear through the NBA playoffs in recent memory. He earned it fair and square. Amongst all the hate and criticism, despite being behind in 3 consecutive series, in the face of mounting pressure, he came through when it counted most. You know why? Because he paid the cost to be the boss. 





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