I just came across this neat video by “Paul the Trombonist.” He plays one chorus of blues either in the style of or an exact transcription by some of the greatest jazz trombonists who ever lived (born before 1943). Check it out.
The other day I was subbing for my friend, Jason M. and conducting his high school concert band. When I got there I noticed that a day or two earlier he had written a “bell ringer” on his board about the choral warmups he was using with his band (Two Chorales, by Sigfrid Karg-Elert).
Why would some composers choose to write a piece of music using 3/2 meter instead of 3/4? Jason’s hint: 3/4 (written today) would have sufficed fine.
What do you think? The answer after the break.
Have you ever tried to generate parts from a physical score by photocopying the score, cutting each part into strips, and then pasting them together on a sheet of paper? I recently discovered Parfiti, a free online resource that will essentially do the same thing electronically. Using Parfiti you can take a PDF score you have on your computer or a file from IMSLP and use the score to print out separate parts for musicians.
Using one of my own scores converted to PDF didn’t work so well. Parfiti doesn’t handle landscape orientation well as it currently assumes that the score will be in a portrait orientation. But going through a portrait orientated score worked great. You can even just copy and paste in the IMSLP ID number and Partifit will import that score automatically for you. You’ll next need to label each of the parts, but once you’ve got them properly listed it will separate the parts for you for easy printing.
If I needed to replace a part that was lost I’d probably find it faster to simply create that part using Finale, but if I needed to generate many lost parts from a score I think Parfiti would be a faster tool, particularly if you don’t have access to notation software or just aren’t all that quick at using it.
Back in September I wrote a post here on Practicing with a Metronome in response to a blog post by Mike Longo entitled Should You Practice Jazz With A Metronome? While I agree with many of Mike’s points about the cons of metronome practice, my main criticism is his emphatic dismissal of any metronome use at all limits teachers and students by completely removing a potentially useful tool from their bag of tricks.
Since then, Mike and a couple of others (including at least one student of Mike’s) have stopped by with comments to try to further debate the idea that metronome practice will always produce a soulless and stiff feeling pulse. Since many of their comments really don’t address the points I was trying to make and also rely on some fallacious logic, I wanted to write a new post to try to discuss this further. So while this post is superficially about metronome practice, it’s really more about the inconsistent logic we often use to determine what the best teaching methods are for a particular situation.
Here is the main point I would like to make. Dizzy Gillespie once made a point about the role of body rhythm being an important factor overlooked by many jazz educators. He would say that he can tell if a player can really play by observing the way that they pat their foot.
Addressing the above point, I would agree that coordinating our bodies to play is essential. Tapping the foot is an excellent way to get the feeling of the tempo internalized, for example. Even though some classical music teachers discourage this practice, I’m fine with it. Sure, looking up at a stage of a concert band or orchestra where everyone is tapping their foot can be visually distracting, but there are ways to tap your foot that are less obtrusive and if it helps the music sound better I’m willing to let it go. That said, tapping the foot to play isn’t a panacea for tempo or groove problems. Watch enough students tap their foot while practicing a passage and you’ll note that sometimes when they get to a difficult passage they still change tempos – they just change their foot along with their playing.
Furthermore, from a logical standpoint, just because an innovative musician told you that tapping the foot was better than using a metronome to practice doesn’t mean we can believe that it must be correct (see argument from authority). Ideas need to stand on their own merit, not be based on who said them. If a general consensus is found among experts it’s fair to assume that an idea is correct, but in this case the general consensus among musicians and music teachers is that a metronome can be useful at times. Many great jazz musicians advocated practicing with a metronome, including Lennie Tristano, Pat Metheny, Kurt Rosenwinkle, John Patitucci, Dennis DiBlasio, and Hal Crook. Going back and forth about whose expert has the right approach is pointless if you don’t directly address the logic behind these recommendations.
In terms of my opinions concerning practice with the metronome on 2 and 4, one must consider where the 2 and 4 thing originated in jazz. The answer is hand clapping in the black church. If one observes a gospel choir clapping on 2 and 4 and notes the way they are moving their bodies, I defy anyone to prove that a metronome on 2 and 4 can produce that feel or teach a musician how to get that feeling of swing in their playing. In fact I would go so far IMHO to say that musicians who engage in this practice are training themselves to play wrong.
The gospel music sung by African Americans in around the turn of the last century is quite a bit different from the syncopated music we hear today. The texture was largely heterophonic and the music didn’t have the characteristic 2 and 4 accent we associate with jazz.
The historical evolution of the groove that evolved into the swing feeling with 2 and 4 accents is too complex to get into for this essay, but if anyone is interested I suggest that you compare the New Orleans early jazz styles of the 1920s to how it evolved when the music and people migrated up to Chicago. Then compare it to the swing bands from Kansas City and New York. You will be able to hear an evolution of how the groove shifted from a more or less even stress on all four beats to become the standard swing feeling we have today (and of course, you can continue to trace how this groove shifts throughout different style periods).
Regardless, the origins of how a particular musical style evolved doesn’t really say anything about the results that a student might get from a particular practice method. I would agree with Mike that if you don’t spend time performing with great musicians who have a steady pulse and soulful groove you’re not going to be able to pick this up by playing along with a metronome. That doesn’t mean that at times in individual practice that a metronome is going to harm your ability to swing. Certainly if you never practice without a metronome you’re missing the point. And it’s certainly possible for some musicians to achieve a solid swing feel without ever needing to turn on a metronome. None of that really addresses whether or not a metronome may be useful for certain issues in a student’s personal practice.
As far as teaching how to keep good time, it is my contention that a metronome is not the kind of time music is played to. Is there an alternative?
There is no question that there are alternative methods to teaching a student to keep good time without using a metronome and that these approaches have value. What I’m arguing against is limiting our teaching to only one approach.
The other issue I have with Mike’s point here is that practicing with a metronome isn’t so much about teaching good time, but for providing feedback to a student who isn’t keeping good time.
I’ve found that most students, even the beginners I work with, are quite capable of keeping a steady pulse just by clapping or tapping their foot. But music students will often find their time to suffer when they have too much to think about at the same time. We really can’t keep our attention on more than one or two things at a time and if one thing isn’t completely internalized it can suffer when our focus is pulled away from it. As an example, students who don’t have the tempo internalized will often rush when the music gets louder or more rhythmically active. It’s also quite common for musicians to drag when playing softer and when the texture gets less active. I’ve found it quite helpful to use a metronome in these cases to help students become more aware of the tempo in these situations because the click provides them with instant feedback when they start changing their tempo. Likewise, when a passage becomes a challenge for the musician’s technique it’s very common for the tempo to slow down. Using a metronome that will accent certain beats in a metric pattern or a basic click on 2 and 4 can be used for feedback on whether or not they are dropping beats, which can be common when students are reading very challenging lines. Learning to play very challenging passages at a fast tempo can be learned very efficiently by using a metronome to start very slowly and gradually speeding up the tempo until the passage can be played correctly as fast as desired.
Is it musical to play with a metronome this way? Not really. That’s not the point of the exercise. Music students practice all sorts of things that have little musical value (Hanon finger exercises, long tones, scales, chord arpeggios, technical etudes, etc.). The purpose is to get whatever you’re working on so comfortable that you no longer have to think about it and can concentrate on playing musically when it counts.
Or another approach you can think of is if you can groove with a metronome click, think of how hard you’ll swing when you turn it off and jam with live musicians.
This was instigated by a prominent psychotherapist in that area by the name of Andrew Schoenfeld along with saxophonist Benny Wallace, both of whom were private students of mine at one point. As a matter of fact, Mr. Schoenfeld has been using the drum technique with his patients with a great amount of success and even has reported curing some of bipolar disease with it.
I tend to avoid discussing medical issues here and when I do I always want to lead with the statement that I am not a medical professional and in no way should anything I say be taken for medical advice. Nor should you assume that anything I write about health is correct. Check with your family doctor or another medical professional. Never get your medical advice from the internet.
Now that that’s out of the way, let me first state that Mike’s portrayal of Mr. Schoenfeld’s social work as “curing” bipolar disorder is most likely a great exaggeration. The National Institute of Medical Health statement on bipolar disorder says:
Bipolar disorder cannot be cured, but it can be treated effectively over the long-term.
However, I’m a big advocate of research-based music therapy and I think that it’s certainly plausible that musical activities can be used to help individuals with bipolar disorder treat the symptoms they live with.
All that aside now, what does music therapy have to do with practicing with a metronome? If medical treatments constituted as evidence for what is best for musical practice then there is likely more evidence for using a metronome than not. A cursory search through medical literature available online shows that a metronome has been found to be helpful for treating symptoms of stuttering, Parkinson’s disease, ADHD, hypertension, walking issues due to a stroke, and much more. None of this really says anything about whether or not we might find a metronome to be helpful in certain musical teaching situations.
Since the field of jazz academia, to my knowledge, is presently unaware of these principles I feel it necessary to call attention to this statement. “in determining best practice for teaching it’s been shown that a more scientific outlook will produce better, more consistent results with our students” This leads me to ask the question, “Science based on what?” I would consider what Diz made reference to be in fact Science. Maybe not as defined in the world of academia but surely in the world of professional jazz by the people who play it and teach it from that perspective.
We can’t redefine words like “science” to mean whatever we want it to in order to support an agenda. If it helps, reword my statement to say that “research based methods will produce more consistent teaching.” Research done correctly applies certain controls to a particular hypothesis (i.e., metronome practice will automatically produce a stiff feeling groove) and attempt to falsify your idea. You don’t do science by looking for evidence that supports what you believe, you attempt to shoot it down. If it withstands the scrutiny, then you’re perhaps on to something.
The reason we go through this effort in teaching is because of the cognitive bias that we all have.
“Cognitive Bias????” For one thing the music played by Dizzy Gillespie and his followers does not involve the mind. It comes from a place behind the mind… A “magical” place, if you will, and a place, IMHO, that practicing jazz with a metronome will render a student unable to ever achieve.
I’m a fan of using poetic language to help convey musical concepts to my students too, but ultimately I try to recognize when I’m speaking metaphorically and when I’m being precise. If you want to teach that music is outside of the mind and from a magical place, that’s fine, but you can’t invoke this as evidence because it is patently not true.
Since you accused me of “creating another false dichotomy” at the beginning of your article and since you are unaware of these principles your statement appears to me to be the result of projection. Who then is “fooling themselves?” Further I don’t see where this dichotomy you perceive is false but very real IMO.
I think perhaps I’m not being very clear on explaining my thoughts on metronome practice, but I also think that possibly Mike does not understand what a “false dichotomy” is. This logical fallacy is created when a situation is manufactured where only two extreme positions are listed as the only viable options, leaving out the possibility for a combination of both or other additional options.
I have never stated here or on my other post that I think metronome practice is the be all and end of learning to play with good swing. In fact, I have acknowledged many times that Mike’s points about the detriments of relying on a metronome should be kept in mind. The false dichotomy Mike has created is that because of the drawbacks to metronome practice exist there are no situations where a metronome might be helpful. The fact that one can get by without a metronome doesn’t mean that careful and correct use of a metronome at times might not be helpful. Nor does my recommending that a metronome can be helpful mean that I don’t think other approaches have validity and aren’t worth exploring.
Students are infinitely variable. Some students will need different approaches or explanations to grasp the same concepts. Anyone who has taught for long enough will also be familiar with how the exact same student can sometimes respond great to one method only to require changing our instruction up at another time. As I’m fond of saying here, if the only tool in our toolbox is a hammer every problem begins to look like a nail.
This leads me to another of your statements: “we musicians are trained to trust our feelings, experiences, and intuitions. This is a good thing because it helps us become better musicians.” To me, feelings, experiences and intuitions without reality can be very misleading and furthermore if exposed to one of Dizzy’s revelations can change in an instance.
Again, this misses my point about cognitive bias and research based methods. Mike is taking his personal experiences and making the leap to assume that his own background must be true for everyone. I can also list some personal experiences that contrast his. Which of us should one believe? Neither, without making an effort to remove our personal agendas from the equation.
One of Mike’s students, Angelo, made the same logical error:
I would like to offer my background and personal experience with Mike for you consideration.
. . .
I started studying music theory with a teacher, and for the first time in my life, used a metronome.
. . .
Years later I was living in New York City and looking to study composition and arrangement. After meeting with numerous teachers that were presenting me with the same common material over and over, I was given Mike’s name and number. When I met with him for my first lesson I immediately knew I had found what I was looking for. His approach to music was a revelation to me and at the end of my first lesson I asked if I should use a metronome when practicing. His response was “Why would you do that?” As he explained the difference between a click and a pulse feel I immediately recognized what had happened to me years earlier with the drummer and bass player.
I was only studying with Mike for a short while when I got together with a friend that I’ve been playing with for over 30 years. . . He immediately recognized a difference and improvement in my playing.
Now in no way do I want anyone to think that I’m disparaging what Mike taught you. There is definitely a benefit to this approach and in fact I would also agree that it’s essential for developing a good time feel and groove. That said, this is a common fallacy that I hear many folks make all the time. Here it is again, this time made by Mike.
A guitar student who came to me three months ago a nervous wreck because he claimed he had a “time problem.” It turned out his former teacher had him practicing with the metronome on 2 and 4 and he was getting put down by all of the musicians with whom he was playing, particularly a Brazilian drummer, and losing gigs. He came to his lesson yesterday and related to me that the drummer shook his hand after the gig the night before and called him Maestro.
It’s very common for musicians to say variations on the above. You will frequently here someone say something like “I practiced X over and over and didn’t get better. It wasn’t until I forgot about X and went to Y that I suddenly found my way.” What this completely forgets is that X might just have been a necessary step along the progression. Going back to what I wrote far above in this post, using a metronome might not have developed good time, but could just have helped the student internalize certain issues to the point of where forgetting all about the metronome click and going on to something else would be that much more beneficial. This may not always be the case for all situations, but it’s an important area to consider when we’re trying to determine the best way to help a student.
Testimonials, like those above, may be very good for selling books and DVDs, but their anecdotal nature make them extremely unreliable as real evidence. No matter how many positive testimonials you have, they still can’t be used in research-based approaches because of the inherent bias they carry.
I might also mention that the metronome wasn’t invented until Beethoven’s time so I feel sorry for all those sad musicians before him who must have had time problems including Bach, Mozart, Handel, and on and on.
In any honest discussion I think it’s important to only address points actually made by those we’re debating. Creating a “straw man argument” against which you can easily refute doesn’t benefit anyone. I never said that a metronome is the only way to develop good time feel. Again, this is a false dichotomy by reducing my argument to using a metronome is the only way and Mike’s way must therefor be ineffective. I actually advocate a combination of both metronome use for certain situations and then always moving on to internalizing the time feeling and concentrating on musical expression.
There is a story about Beethoven smashing the metronome against the wall and proclaiming, “This is not music!” This was related to me by a musician so I am not sure is it is a true story but if it is Beethoven was surly an extremist.
This story is almost certainly apocryphal. Beethoven was known for writing metronome markings in his music, so he was certainly not opposed to using one for the purpose of finding tempos. Additionally, while the metronome was invented around from the early 1700s, by the time that Johann Maezel patented it in 1815 Beethoven was almost completely deaf and wouldn’t have been capable of hearing a metronome click. Furthermore, Mike is again creating a straw man by implying I feel a metronome click to be musically expressive. It’s not. Or at least not unless you count pieces like György Ligeti’s Poème Symphonique for 100 Metronomes.
Since you have not bothered to check out where I am coming from you undoubtedly will continue to consider me to have an extreme perspective.
I want to reiterate that I don’t find Mike’s alternative to metronome practice extreme or something to avoid altogether. What I find extreme is his dismissal of any other approach as having some validity. Again, there are many different approaches that music teachers can take according to the situation and needs of the individual student and it’s my contention that the best teachers are able to draw from a variety of approaches.
As far as pros and cons of metronome use I will say that there is an alternative approach with evidence to back it up that has led me and students to conclude that there are no pros.
Simply because alternative approaches exists and that these methods are helpful doesn’t mean that we should automatically dismiss the metronome. There are definitely good reasons for avoiding a metronome at times, but there is a vast majority opinion among musicians and music teachers that a metronome, when correctly used for specific issues, can be quite effective for helping a student work out problems that cause time issues.
For anyone who is curious exploring ideas on how to best use a metronome, a good general discussion can be found on the Wikipedia entry on metronome practice. I’ll close this post by quoting a passage from this entry, with my bold emphasis to illustrate my basic point.
The “intuitive” approach to metronome practise, is to simply play your music along with a metronome. With metronome technique however, musicians do separate exercises with a metronome to help strengthen and steady their sense of rhythm, and tempo; and increase their sensitivity to musical time and precision. Only occasionally do you play your music with a metronome, to deal with particular issues. It is entirely possible that you never play your music with a metronome at all.
I’ve got three performances coming up in the next few days, if you’re around western North Carolina and looking for some live music. Tomorrow (Sunday, March 2, 2014) I’m conducting the Smoky Mountain Brass Band at Weaverville United Methodist Church. We start our concert at 3 PM. We’ve got a mix of music composed and arranged for a British style brass band, including pieces like Jubilee Overture by Philip Sparke, The Earle of Oxford’s Marche from the William Byrd Suite by Gordon Jacob, and a medley from Les Miserables arranged by Ron Glynn. We’re doing a repeat performance of this concert at Deerfield Episcopal Retirement Community the next Tuesday, March 4, 2014, if you’re a resident there or know someone who is.
Speaking of March 4, right after I finish conducting our Smoky Mountain Brass Band concert I’ll be jumping into my car and rushing over to play a swing dance at the Grove House complex in Asheville. This time I’m performing with the House Hoppers, a traditional jazz band that specializes in playing music for social dancers.
If you’re in western NC these next few days come on out and support live music.
I’ve written before about Dr. Charles Limb’s research using an fMRI scanner to study the brains of jazz musicians while in the act of improvisation. He’s now published some new research that, according to the editor who wrote the headline, supports the language/music link in our brain. He conducted his research by designing keyboards without any metal and scanning the brains of jazz pianists playing scales and trading fours.
That conversation-like improvisation activated brain areas that normally process the syntax of language, the way that words are put together into phrases and sentences. Even between their turns playing, the brain wasn’t resting. The musicians were processing what they were hearing to come up with new sounds that were a good fit.
At the same time, certain other regions of the brain involved with language — those that process the meaning of words — were tuned down, Limb found.
If I recall correctly, similar research showed that when musicians listen to or perform music certain regions in the brain, such as the areas that process vision, are less active than normal. The speculation was that it helps the musician focus on the aural feedback better. These results seems similar in that the regions of the brain responsible for processing language become less active.
What confuses me at this point is how this shows a link between music and language, since different regions in the brain are responsible for a spoken conversation as opposed to a musical conversation. It’s possible that something was left out of the news article, but I know also that editors tend to write the title and frequently choose a misleading headline in order to get readers to click the link. Without going to Limb’s original article, which I’m sure is quite technical and written for neuroscientists, not musicians, it’s hard to say. Either way, it’s another fascinating intersection of music and science.
I will be in Greensboro and Jamestown, NC this upcoming weekend for a couple of different events. Friday and Saturday (February 21-22, 2014) North Carolina’s All State Honor Choruses will be performing at Greensboro War Memorial Coliseum Complex. I’m not directly involved in this event, just chaperoning some students from Owen High School while I’m covering for their director while she’s on family leave (congratulations, Mrs. S!). The performance is on Saturday, February 22, 2014 at 3:00 PM. If you’ve not heard a high school honor ensemble perform before, you should come on out and hear these talented and dedicated young musicians sing. It’s really amazing how much they accomplish in just a couple of days.
Later on Saturday evening (February 22, 2014) I’ll be playing with the Low-Down Sires at Castle McCulloch for the Mardi Gras of the Carolinas party. We start playing traditional New Orleans jazz at 9:30 PM and the party will go into the wee hours of the morning.
If you’re in the area looking for live music to hear, come on out to one of these different performances. I will have some down time during the days, so it may also be possible to meet up for some lessons, if anyone was looking for a brass embouchure consultation and happen to be near Greensboro. Drop me a line if you want to see if we can arrange something.
Here’s another embouchure question from my pile, sent by Khai from Malaysia. As always, keep in mind that I’m going to have to speak somewhat generally and make some educated guesses, particularly since I haven’t watched Khai play.
Hi, I’ve been playing the trombone for about 3 years in my high school band. But a year ago, a senior told me that I am using a wrong embouchure, when I hit a high F (which would be my highest “comfortable” note) I would have a pretty extreme upper lip overbite which would more or less completely cover the pink flesh bits of my lower lip and my tone would sound really thin and airy. I have worked on changing it for a while by evening out my lips for a 50-50 or 60-40 ratio, well its pretty underdeveloped but its easier to go for higher notes even though there’s no good sound quality in it, and if I play softly the tone is alright but as soon as I try to go above a middle F in forte the tone gets weak and I run out of air really fast, I don’t feel like my lips are really vibrating and like I’m only using air to play the notes. So here are my questions. Do I need to change my embouchure? How do I change my embouchure? And how do I increase my lip vibration when I get to higher ranges? Do you have any tips that could help me with my embouchure change if I need to? I will really appreciate any tips or advice you can give, thanks.
I assume that by “high F” you mean the F a couple of ledger lines and a space just above the bass clef staff, and not the F above that. If you’re talking about the F above “high B flat,” then that would be high enough that my guess is that your embouchure is working fine up there and you should play your whole range with that setting. If this is the first F above the bass clef staff, then the same might apply, in spite of what a senior told you. Then again, maybe you would do well to make an embouchure correction for your entire range. Without being able to watch you play, preferably in person, it’s really impossible to say for certain.
You mention an overbite, by which I’m assuming that your lower jaw is naturally receded. Again, without being able to watch you play, I can only offer some possibilities. One thought is that you should bring your jaw forward some, possibly even as much so that your teeth are aligned. That said, some players do better with a receded jaw position and perhaps you are one of them. You might be able to benefit from Donald Reinhardt’s “jaw retention drill,” which is an away-from-the-instrument exercise. Follow that link to check out what this exercise is and try it out a bit daily for the next few weeks. If your jaw needs to come forward more to play this exercise can help you get more comfortable with this position.
You mention mouthpiece placement, but it’s not really clear to me where you’re placing the mouthpiece normally and what works best for your upper register. I would avoid trying to place the mouthpiece so that you’ve got a 50/50 ratio. Some brass musicians do play well on what might look from the outside like a half and half placement, but one lip or another must predominate inside the cup and the majority of players should place the mouthpiece so that there’s clearly more than one lip inside. Check out this link here for a little more about mouthpiece placement and air stream direction. You might benefit from trying to place the mouthpiece in both the upstream and downstream positions and see if you can find a “sweet spot” where the upper register becomes easier to play. While you’re at it, experiment a bit with placing off to one side or another too. Many great players have off-center placements, some very much so. Don’t worry too much about a big, rich tone at first, just see if you can find a placement that allows you to play high. It’s often easier to open up the sound after you find an embouchure that works for you rather than to try to go for sound first and then build range.
Ideally, all this sort of experimentation (and some others that are too difficult to describe just now) would be done in a private lesson or two. It’s quite difficult to do this stuff, even if you have some experience working with brass embouchures, let alone on your own. Whether or not you should change your embouchure depends on whether or not there are issues that are being caused by an incorrect embouchure type for your face or whether it’s due to you having other incorrect playing mechanics that are making your current embouchure work less than ideal. Often times the answer is a little bit of both.
My last piece of advice for you is to try to build some embouchure strength and control with a little bit of daily free buzzing. Follow this link to watch a video describing a simple exercise I recommend and read up a bit more about it. After a couple of weeks or so practicing this exercise it may become more apparent whether or not an embouchure change will be necessary for you or if you just need to make corrections in how you’re currently playing. Again, without being able to watch you play, that’s the best I can do.
As I’m trying to get caught up on some of the brass embouchure questions I’ve been emailed I thought it would be helpful to put together a single resource about how to ask for, and get, my help. Too often folks will contact me for help and I simply have to reply that I’d have to watch them play (preferably in person) to offer any advice. That said, there are some things that people can do that will help me get an idea of what’s going on so that at the very least I can speak generally, if not more specifically.
1. I have to see it.
Unlike some other folks’ approaches that either have a one-size-fits-all approach or even dismisses embouchure issues as related to breathing or use of the tongue, I really need to watch you play in order to understand what’s going on. Every individual has a different face, so every player has a different embouchure. Although there are certain patterns that you can learn to recognize, even players that have a similar embouchure type will have unique issues that can make what they need to work on different. There’s no way around this point, I have to be able to watch you play.
I don’t teach video lessons, and I’m skeptical of anyone who does. Having taken some long distance lessons myself as well as met with folks informally via Skype to try to help out with embouchure issues many times before, I know how incredibly difficult it is doing a video conference in place of an in person lesson. However, I suppose it’s better than nothing in circumstances where a knowledgable teacher isn’t available for some reason or another. Unfortunately, my schedule is usually busy enough that I really can’t afford to take a couple of hours out of my time to meet with players via a video conference, particularly since I refuse to take any money for this.
A temporary compromise is for you to video tape your embouchure for me playing some things and let me take a look. Sometimes I can spot right away what a player is doing and give very particular advice, so it’s worth taking 30 or 60 minutes to video tape your embouchure and let me get a closer look.
First of all, if you’re having a particular issue (trouble with range, a double buzz, difficulty holding a steady pitch, etc.) I need to see what it looks like when that happens. This may seem like a no brainer, but I’ve lost count of how many times someone has gotten in touch with me about problems with their upper register only to send me video footage of them playing in the middle and low register only. In order to correct problems we need to diagnose what’s going on when things work wrong, so please try to video tape it.
Somewhat counter-intuitively, problems in one register can sometimes be caused not by how you’re playing in that register but by something you’re doing in a different register. Additionally, there are sometimes other issues that I would consider a priority before any sort of correction to your specific problem can be addressed. I also need to see how you’re playing over your entire playable range. Octave slurs are a great thing for this because it also gives me a very clear look at not just how you’re playing a pitch, but also how you’re changing pitches. Here is a basic set of octave slurs that should help give an idea what I like to observe.
The specific pitches are less important than getting slurs that span over your entire range.
Take video that is close up enough that all that is mostly visible is the overall embouchure area, including the chin, mouth corners, cheeks, etc. Take a look at some of the embouchure videos I’ve created and you’ll get a good idea of the angles and how close I’d like it to be. Also please try to get views from both the front and sides (although with trombonists it can be hard to get a view of the left side because the horn gets in the way, that’s fine).
Rather than emailing the video file to me directly, post it someplace so I can download it when I’m ready to take a look at it. Large files as email attachments are sometimes inconvenient if I have to wait for them to download while I’m trying to take care of other business online.
Sure, if you have some general questions or just can’t get video posted for me to watch, feel free to contact me anyway. Just don’t be surprised if my response is, “I have to see it.”
2. Describe your specific questions in some detail.
Are there certain situations that make your issues more problematic? Did you notice these issues after a particularly demanding playing schedule or change of equipment? What does it feel like? Give this some careful consideration and give me as many clues as you can think of. Sometimes these things are irrelevant, but at other times they can help me come up with an idea that I won’t get from watching your video alone.
3. Be patient and polite.
I tend to stay pretty busy with teaching, performing, composing/arranging, conducting, blogging, social obligations, etc. As much as I’d like to help everyone out as quickly as possible, please also keep in mind that I do this stuff for a living. Because I don’t feel that this sort of consultation is worth charging you money for, you’ll need to wait for me to have enough time to give your questions the attention it deserves. Believe it or not, it can take quite a while to look through your questions and video and compile my best response.
If you don’t hear back from me in a couple of weeks or so, please feel free to drop me another line and update me on your issues. Like many of us, sometimes my email inbox piles up or I accidentally delete your message or otherwise forget. A polite reminder is helpful for me.
I hesitate a bit to bring this next point up, but I do get bothered by how often I spend a couple of hours or more going through video and putting together what I hope are thoughtful and helpful recommendations only to never get a thank you back. A quick reply to acknowledge you got my message goes a long way to me. If my suggestions don’t make sense or aren’t helping, let me know and I’ll see what I can figure out. No response at all, however, makes me less inclined to help you (and other folks) out in the future.
4. Don’t expect too much.
The way I teach really doesn’t lend itself to long-distance consultation. If your situation is interesting enough to me I will sometimes try to arrange a video conference to help you out, but even this is really a less than ideal way to diagnose and troubleshoot embouchure issues. There have been times where I have been able to help players, but there have also been times where I just couldn’t figure out what was going on. On a couple of occasions I’ve tried to help someone online and though I had come up with some good suggestions only to meet with the player in person and changed my mind. More frequently I’ve offered suggestions that the player didn’t fully grasp online and when we met in person I was able to get them pointed in the right direction. Online correspondence is just not conducive for this sort of teaching.
Maybe I can help you. Sometimes I can’t. Be prepared for the possibility that what I recommend isn’t going to work for you.
5. Please don’t contact me via YouTube.
If you’re reading this you’ve already discovered my blog. Many brass players will see my videos posted on YouTube and either ask questions in the comments there or via a YouTube message. While I usually see those (eventually) and try to get around to replying to them, YouTubes comments form and message features are really inconvenient enough for me that I’m likely to not get around to responding to you. The best two ways to get my attention are to either contact me here or leave your question in the comments section on a relevant blog post here.
Don’t let all the above discourage you. Brass embouchures happens to be a topic that I am passionately fascinated about and it’s really quite easy to get me to virtually talk your ear off about it. Simply dropping me a line or leaving a comment on a post here about your questions is usually enough to get me interested and I’ll do my best to give you all the help I can (eventually).
If you’re in the western North Carolina area this Saturday and Sunday (February 15-16, 2014) I have performances with three different groups going on you can come check out. I’m looking forward to the gigs, in part because I’m not playing the same show three times.
My first show is on Saturday the 15th in Marshall, NC with the dixieland band, the Low-Down Sires. We’re playing a “fancy flea market” fundraiser to raise money for heating homes in Madison County starting at 12:30 until 2:30. If you like traditional jazz styles from New Orleans and Chicago and like to swing dance this is the show for you.
Later that night the Land of the Sky Symphonic Band will be performing an evening of pops music at the White Horse Black Mountain in Black Mountain, NC. Some of the music I’ll be conducting includes Gallop by Dmitri Shostakovich, American Rhapsody by Anne McGinty, and Manhattan Beach March by John Phillip Sousa. We’ll also be performing some medley arrangements of music from Phantom of the Opera, Beauty and the Beast, and Pirates of the Caribbean. The concert starts at 8 PM.
The next evening, Sunday the 16th, the Asheville Jazz Orchestra will be performing from 8 PM to 11 PM at the ISIS Restaurant and Music Hall in Asheville, NC. It’s been a few months or so since we last played there, but they’ve got a nice stage and the room has great acoustics for a big band. I haven’t completely selected the sets yet, but I’m considering doing one set of our usual mix of charts, one set of music associated with Count Basie, and one set of nothing but original charts by myself and other guys in the band.
If you’re in the area this weekend come on out and support local live music. Be sure to come up and say hello to me on a set break or after the show!