Nils Wogram is a jazz trombonist from Germany. He’s really a terrific player, he’s got that great combination of excellent technique paired with a lot of creativity. I was surfing YouTube and came across this fantastic solo using multiphonics.
There’s not really a good look at his chops in this video to really guess his embouchure type. It *seems* like his mouthpiece is fairly high and close to the nose, but the camera never focuses closely enough and at a good enough angle to say more than his embouchure is one of the downstream types. I did want to post that video, though, because it’s a really neat example of what someone can do with multiphonics.
Go into the parking lot of any brass conference, convention or workshop, and you’re bound to find more than a few cars with the bumper sticker that reads, “Question authority.” Some would argue that this mindset is the province of trumpet players alone but that surely is not the case. Over the past twenty years, American orchestral playing has been undergoing a significant change, as brass players have (with some notable exceptions) asserted themselves beyond their traditional role in the orchestra.
Most students go through their “loud” phase, of getting together with other players and just knocking the living daylights out of orchestral excerpts. This can be great fun to do, good for the face and boosting to the ego. But excerpt sessions don’t always relate to the real world, and as many brass players have developed a more “muscular” concept of playing, the American orchestra has, in my mind, begun to suffer.
Yeo’s essay is specific to orchestral brass playing, but much of it seems to relate to big band brass playing as well, at least among the big bands I get to hear and play in. The details are different, as are some of the influences, but a lot is similar.
The job of balancing an orchestra lies with the conductor alone. But there is no denying that a 15 member brass section can ruin any orchestral concert (despite what the conductor wants) very easily as the combined volume of the strings and winds can never compete with that of even a single trombonist. Arnold Jacobs once told me that in his view, the bass trombone was the instrument of the orchestra that had by far the greatest “high volume potential” owing in part to the fact that after the flute, the bass trombone utilized the highest flow rate of any wind instrument, including the tuba.
John Berry, in his excellent jazz pedagogy text The Jazz Ensemble Director’s Handbook, wrote about the “Monster Bass Trombonist.” He’s describing a common trend in student musicians, not professionals, but occasionally I run into this player in the professional world (not recently, and not anyone I work with regularly now!).
About once a decade the music world renders up a bona fide (pardon the pun) “Monster Bass Trombonist” – you know, the guy who can play louder than any human on earth…
…A good MBT (or even a bad one who thinks he’s good) can “cop an attitude.” He becomes a star. He basks in compliments. He becomes a junkie for oohs and ahas. He craves ever more. He plays LOOUUDD!!! . . . All the time!
Well, it’s not just bass trombonists. You find them in the whole brass section.
In his essay, Yeo brings up equipment trends in orchestral brass playing.
Part of the problem is simple ignorance; the idea that Bruckner symphonies are to be played at maximum volume would horrify Bruckner, the reserved, insecure, Catholic composer of music for and about the church and the inexpressible “beyond.” Let us not forget that his symphonies also require us to play as soft as possible. Unfortunately, many players look at passages marked fff and simply blow until the seams pop. Unsatisfied with the way their instruments respond to this treatment, they continually hunt for something that will allow them to play even louder with a reasonably good sound. Hence, we now have tenor players in many major orchestras using bass trombone slides and 3 or 4G mouthpieces, and bass trombonists without leadpipes, playing mouthpieces that resemble tuba mouthpieces, and gigantic dual bore slides. All of these changes do indeed allow players to play louder.
This mirrors equipment choices of big band brass players, although the influences are different. Many big bands pride themselves on the “faster, louder, higher” school. Certainly big bands like Stan Kenton and Maynard Ferguson have greatly influenced big band style and the demands of those styles strongly influence big band brass players to make certain equipment choices that favor louder and higher.
About 15 years ago I went to a clinic the great big band composer/arranger Bob Florence was giving. One thing that really stuck with me is that he said, if the details I remember are correct, that he never uses mp dynamics any longer because bands never play soft enough. If he wants mp, he writes p. For p he writes pp.
I’ve been playing and directing the Asheville Jazz Orchestra for a while now. We’ve played a lot of gigs together, but some of the ones that stand out in my mind as being particularly good were those times we played without a sound system. Everyone listened closely, especially during solos, and dynamics were played consistently correctly. Knowing that there wasn’t a sound technician “fixing the mix” for us forced everyone to become team players. It was just a mental switch, but it made a huge difference in the overall quality of our music.
What about your experience? Are the big bands you play with a “blast fest” all the time? What gigs have you played were the musical quality was excellent specifically because everyone was a great team player?
This Sunday and Monday (November 8-9, 2015) I will be performing and presenting at the North Carolina Music Educators Conference at the Benton Convention Center in Winston-Salem, NC. While the conference does have a fee to enter, if you’re a member of MENC you get a discount. If you are a member, there’s a chance you’re already planning on attending. If so, please come to one of the events I’m presenting at.
On Sunday, November 8, 2015 at 3:30 PM the Asheville Jazz Orchestra will be performing one set for the music students and educators present. We’ll do a mix of my original compositions and some others by bands like Count Basie, Buddy Rich, or others. I haven’t finalized the set list quite yet. We will be in the South Main Hall 3 at the convention center.
The next day at 3:30 PM, Monday November 9, 2015, I’m joining Chris Nigrelli, Matt Buckmaster, and Wes Parker in a big band trombone section workshop. We will be performing some trombone solis from standard big band rep and talking a bit about how to get the best sound and style from younger trombone students.
I will also have a wee bit of downtime on Sunday evening and Monday morning. While I plan to spend it at the convention checking out other performances and clinics, I can also break away for a bit in case anyone is looking for a lesson or cup of coffee. Please feel free to contact me.
Brad Edwards, who teaches trombone at the University of South Carolina, has started up at the Trombone Embouchure Video Project where he is challenging many trombonists to video record their embouchures and post them so that others may make use of them. Here is Brad’s chops. Take a look and see if you can guess his embouchure type. I’ll hide my guess after the break.
A human voice can shatter a glass. Every object has a resonant frequency – the natural frequency at which something vibrates. Wine glasses, because of their hollow shape, are particularly resonant. If you run a damp finger along the rim of a glass, you might hear a faint, ghostly hum – the resonant frequency of the glass. Or you can simply tap the glass and hear the same frequency. To shatter the glass, a singer’s voice has to match that frequency, or pitch, and the glass must have microscopic defects.
The Mirror Duet is usually attributed to Mozart, although there is some question about that. If you’re not familiar, it’s a duet where the two players stand facing each other, reading the same page of sheet music. And it works.
I have no idea who Helen Amvroseva and George Shakhnin are/were, and no way to embed this video of them performing Csárdás on trumpet, trombone, and piano. It’s both impressive and funny.
This excerpt from a Christian Lindberg video master class where he discusses why he doesn’t practice mouthpiece buzzing. It’s caused quit a “buzz” online, since he goes against what is traditionally taught.
The gist of Lindberg’s argument is that getting a resonant buzz on the mouthpiece and a resonant tone on the trombone really require different things and when you practice a good mouthpiece buzz you’re actually practicing a poor trombone sound. Now I’m skeptical of Lindberg’s demonstration, since how we think we are playing doesn’t always reflect what we’re actually doing. That said, I think the point he makes is valid.
But this doesn’t necessarily mean that mouthpiece buzzing, done a certain way and with appropriate moderation, doesn’t help. I generally don’t practice mouthpiece buzzing a whole lot anymore myself, but find myself going to it while teaching lessons frequently. I will usually have my student play a passage on the instrument, then take out the mouthpiece and buzz the same passage. When buzzing, I instruct the student to only tongue the initial attacks after a breath and let the air and embouchure change all other pitches. Repeated notes, say four quarter notes of the same pitch, will be buzzed as one long note, one whole note in my example. Following the mouthpiece buzzing I ask the student to immediately put the mouthpiece back into the instrument and play again.
The results are usually instantaneous. It seems to help players move more air and also focus the embouchure more precisely on pitch. It also doesn’t usually last for very long, so I tend to use this more as a quick “pick up” technique to get the student focused on more positive results. There are, in my opinion, other things which are more beneficial in the long term to practice, but are harder to describe because they depend on each individual student’s embouchure and stage of development.
What do you think? Does Lindberg have a point or is he off base? Please leave your thoughts in the comments below.
A couple of weeks ago I finally broke down and picked up a pBone. If you’re not familiar with what a pBone is, it is a plastic trombone available in different colors (I got a red one). They play surprisingly well, noticeably better if you put a metal mouthpiece in rather than the plastic one that comes with the instrument.
I picked up a pBone because I wanted a super-cheap instrument I could carry around very easily and not worry too much about it getting knocked around. Since I picked it up, I’ve noticed a couple of unexpected benefits from practicing on it that I hadn’t anticipated.
First, while the instrument does play pretty well it is stuffy in the low and upper register for me. This has been forcing me to really focus my chops and air on playing the correct pitch, rather than on allowing the instrument to slot the pitches for me. In some ways this is similar to mouthpiece buzzing practice in that if I play something low or high on the pBone and then immediately switch over to my real instrument it feels easier than usual and sounds better.
The other benefit I’ve noticed is when I practice Donald Reinhardt’s “Endurance Routine.” If you’re not familiar with this routine, you will play for an entire hour without taking the instrument off the lips for the entire time. While this is certainly tiring on the chops, I find that my left arm gets very tired from holding my trombone up the whole time. I generally won’t play this routine with my symphonic horn, which weighs more than my jazz instrument, specifically because my left arm gets so tired after about 20 minutes or so into the routine. Since the pBone is very light, I find that my arm deals with holding up the instrument for so long much easier and I can concentrate on keeping my chops set for the whole time without having to hold the instrument with my right had between exercises just to let my left arm down for a moment. It makes it much easier to get through the whole routine for me.
There are a lot of plastic instruments becoming available these days. I’ve seen plastic trumpets, flutes, and clarinets and I think there are others available too. While these instruments aren’t great, they are good enough to suit many purposes, including making instruments available for students who might not otherwise be able to afford to purchase an instrument to learn to play. At MusicWorks! Asheville, an elementary music program I teach at, we have some plastic flutes and clarinets that our woodwind students are learning. Eventually they will need to move on to real instruments, but the plastic instruments fit our needs perfectly at this stage.
Happy Friday. I hope that some of you might come catch me at one of my gigs tonight or Sunday. If you prefer to spend your weekend home surfing the net, here are some random music-related links from around the web.
The way we conceptualize knowledge in the general sense informs our understanding of musical knowledge and how it comes into play during listening and performance. If musical knowledge goes beyond the ability to recite facts and extends into the ability to operate on musical information through performance, the charge to music educators is to teach students to think critically in addition to developing basic musical skills. It is possible to structure learning experiences in lessons and rehearsals through which students identify problems, critically evaluate them, and work together to solve them. If ensemble players are expected to blindly follow the conductor, there is no room for decision-making or independent thought. In skill-based music curricula students memorize information, but are not challenged to use that information to solve or pose problems. Any curriculum that focuses on performance without the integration of history and theory, or without providing opportunities for students to pose or to solve problems is limited in its effectiveness.
Using electronic musician Scott Hansen (AKA Tycho) as an example, David Holmes writes up on How To Make It In the New Music Industry. Even though I’m not a huge fan of the genre of music Hansen mainly covers in his article, I think there’s some good food for thought for musicians of every kind in there.
…Hansen regularly plays to sold out crowds around the world and sells or streams enough of his music to make a decent living. This runs counter to the narrative that unless you’re one of the hallowed few who write disposable pop hits that play well to Middle American Clear Channel listeners, music is no way to pay the bills. His career arc is not the story of a man who profited by sacrificing his art to the trends of the day. It’s the story of how an artist, with enough time, pressure, patience, and business acumen, can build a sustainable career while staying true to a vision. It’s still almost impossibly difficult to accomplish and requires a massive amount of serendipity. Then again, you could say the same thing about building a successful startup.
In Bb is an interesting idea reminiscent of John Cage’s music.
In Bb 2.0 is a collaborative music and spoken word project conceived by Darren Solomon and developed with contributions from users.
Here’s another question from way back (February!) that I’m finally getting around to.
First of all, many thanks for all the information you make available here. It is invaluable.
Here’s my question, in a nutshell – Will picking up the trombone and practising for, say, 30 minutes a day help a cornet / trumpet player develop their endurance, beyond what they would get by just playing their main horn?
I understand this might vary from case to case, and on the quality of the embouchure on both horns. But assuming an efficient (even if not highly developed) embouchure on both horns, would you say this would generally help from a purely “muscular” point of view? Could it even prompt a more efficient embouchure by “forcing” the player to “do things right”?
A little bit about me if you don’t mind – I’m a comeback cornet player after a 5 year break. My range and endurance were never great. I never got above, say, a G on the staff. The good news is – I don’t care about range too much. As an amateur trad jazz player, I don’t want to hit screaming high notes. As long as I can play within that range comfortably and play a singing solo, I am happy. So my main concern is really endurance. I still find myself struggling sometimes about 6 months into my comeback.
I would love to meet you in person, but I live in London so that would unfortunately not be possible any time soon (hey, who knows, I might be coming to New England some of these days). Sooner or later I might make a video as and send it to you to have a look at if you don’t mind, which would of course be much appreciated.
Many thanks again for all your time and effort you put into the site. Sorry if this turned out to be a long message!
All the best, Julio
This is really a good question, and to be honest I don’t have a very firm answer for you. I used to double on the different brass instruments, but I found it difficult to keep all of them up and especially had trouble moving from low brass to high brass. These days I infrequently play brass other than trombone, but I also have a much better understanding of how my embouchure works than I did when I was doubling seriously. As a result, I can play with a pretty decent range on any brass instrument, albeit with limited control and not such a good sound on high brass.
Most of the time when I pick up a secondary instrument it’s in a teaching situation to either demonstrate something or fill in a missing part. I do still sometimes practice trumpet in order to work on some specific things for my trombone embouchure. Occasionally I’ll play a low brass secondary and I find adapting to the valves more tricky than a different mouthpiece on low brass.
I think brass players can learn a lot about how to play their primary instrument by practicing other brass instruments. Generally speaking, going from something smaller to something larger (trumpet to trombone, euphonium to tuba, etc.) can help many players learn to move air better and relax the embouchure formation. Many trumpet players will play some trombone as a warm down (in fact, I recommend trumpet players who practice lots of pedal tones replace that with trombone playing).
Moving from larger to smaller (tuba to trombone, euphonium to horn, etc.) can often help players learn how to focus their air properly for their upper register. I don’t have the source at my fingertips (so take this with a grain of salt), but I recall that Arnold Jacobs (I think) once measured the air pressure required to play the exact same pitches on different brass instruments and found them very similar. For example, a trombonist playing a B flat above the bass clef staff will use the air similarly to playing a written C in the treble clef staff on trumpet (both Bb 4). There’s also probably some good strength building in the embouchure musculature that helps translate when going back to the lower brass instrument.
As you suggest, practicing on a secondary brass instrument with a significantly different mouthpiece size can force you to “do things right,” or at least to help you move into a more correct direction. I feel it’s best to go into such practice with an understanding of what specifically you’re going to work on and to carefully monitor your playing so that you can avoid picking up the wrong things or going too far in one direction. If you’re finding it beneficial to your primary instrument keep practicing your secondary, but don’t overdo it and get too much of a good thing. Likewise, if it’s causing problems you should dial it back or even eliminate it for a while.
To all the other brass doublers out there let us know what you feel in the comments below. Do you find practicing a secondary brass instrument beneficial to your primary instrument? Do you find differences going from a larger to smaller compared with going smaller to larger?