Wilktone

Jazz, brass, composition, and other things music related.

Wilktone - Jazz, brass, composition, and other things music related.

Guess the Embouchure Type – Brad Edwards

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.

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Weekend Picks

Here are a handful of random music-related links for your browsing this weekend.

Can you shatter a wine glass with your voice?

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.

Mirror DuetThe 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.

 

CsárdásI 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.

 

Christian Lindberg On Mouthpiece Buzzing

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.

pBone as a Practice Tool

IMG_5009A 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.

Weekend Picks

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.

I feel all music teachers should practice the craft of teaching, as well as the craft of making music. Dr. Brad Hanson discusses some Strategies for Teaching Aural Recognition.

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.

And lastly, trombonist David Finlayson gives us a slide’s eye view of a Rochut Melodious Etude.

Embouchure Question: Does Trombone Playing Develop Trumpet Endurance?

Here’s another question from way back (February!) that I’m finally getting around to.

Hi Dave,

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?

Embouchure Questions: Relationship Between Free Buzzing, Mouthpiece Buzzing, and Playing

I really need to go through my inbox and respond to all the good questions I’ve gotten. This one is from January.

Hello, Dr. Wilken. My name is Kevin and I am a college sophomore who plays the trombone, and I just had a few questions. First, I would like to ask what the relationship is between free buzzing and buzzing on the mouthpiece alone. I can free buzz a little bit, but I do not do it often. And I can buzz on the mouthpiece fine although I wasn’t really able to when I first started playing which was about 3 years ago. Should you be able to free buzz a note and translate that into mouthpiece buzzing? Also, what would be the best thing to do to try and play with great tone? A lot of times when I play, I play with a nasally sound, and I really want to fix that. I realize that I should probably already know the answers to these questions since I have been playing for a couple of years, but my initial training wasn’t too informing because I switched somewhat spontaneously about halfway through high school. Thank you very much for your time.

There are similarities between free buzzing, mouthpiece buzzing, and playing your brass instrument, but there are also some important differences. If you’re clever and understand how your embouchure should function (or have proper guidance from a teacher) you can use buzzing to enhance your playing. If you’re not sure what you’re doing or are working under a false assumption, you can develop habits that potentially work against your playing.

In order to put this into context you need to have a basic understanding of the different brass embouchure types. Of the three basic types, two place the mouthpiece higher on the lips and are considered downstream embouchures. The third is less common, places the mouthpiece low on the lips, and is upstream. You really can’t choose your embouchure type, the one that works best for you is dependent on your anatomy, not your teacher’s embouchure or what player you want to emulate.

One of the reasons why this is important is so that you broaden your understanding of the influence the mouthpiece and instrument have on how your embouchure functions. Consider first that when buzzing, either with the mouthpiece or lips alone, you don’t have the instrument slotting the correct pitch according to the overtone series. This means that you can be a little bit off with your embouchure firmness for any given note and the horn will force your embouchure into the correct pitch, assuming you’re close enough.

Try taking a legato phrase or three from a Rochut etude or something similarly lyrical. Play those phrases on your instrument first and make sure you know what the pitches sound like, then buzz it on your mouthpiece. When you buzz it, I recommend you eliminate tonguing from the equation and only allow yourself to tongue the initial attacks after taking in a breath. Don’t worry too much about glissing between pitches, although if you can accurately mouthpiece buzz without sliding from note to note you should. Immediately after mouthpiece buzzing pop the mouthpiece back into the instrument and play the passages on your instrument.

Usually after this sort of practice players will find that their playing feels easier and the tone sounds more focused and resonant. Mouthpiece buzzing correctly will force you to focus the embouchure vibrations perfectly, rather than relying on the instrument to help slot the embouchure for you. It also requires more air to mouthpiece buzz. When you transfer the feeling of mouthpiece buzzing to playing the instrument it can make the playing more efficient in these ways.

However, often this feeling and improved timbre go away after a minute or so of playing. Furthermore, it’s pretty easy to mouthpiece buzz in a way that isn’t so conducive to good playing, but works great on the mouthpiece alone. Because of this, and also because the improvements you’re working on with mouthpiece buzzing can also be developed in other ways, I hesitate to recommend mouthpiece buzzing unless I am able to show a player how I prefer to approach it and how to avoid problems. In a nutshell, try to mouthpiece buzz with the exact same embouchure formation as you play with. Don’t let your lips get blown more into the cup when buzzing than how you normally play. It may feel to you like this is a good thing when you transfer it to the instrument, but I don’t feel this practice is sustainable in the long term for most players.

Free buzzing is also a different animal from playing and mouthpiece buzzing. As an upstream trombonist, I use free buzzing in my own practice purely as a strength building exercise. I feel that all players can benefit from some simple free buzzing exercises for just 2-5 minutes a day (follow my link above on free buzzing to learn about one exercise). Many downstream players can also benefit from free buzzing into the instrument. For downstream players at an appropriate stage of development free buzzing a pitch and then bringing the mouthpiece and instrument up to the lips can help them find the most efficient mouthpiece placement, horn angle, lip position, and fine tune other embouchure characteristics. For upstream players, and some downstream players, this exercise will work against your playing, so use at your own risk.

Regarding your question about playing with good tone, it’s difficult to offer specific advice since I haven’t been able to watch you play. Mouthpiece and free buzzing can help, if done correctly, but could also potentially mess you up if overdone or practiced wrong. Don’t forget the importance that breathing and tongue position have on your tone quality too. There are times in a player’s stage of development where it might be better to accept a thin sound short term in order to practice playing correctly long enough to develop the knack for opening up the sound.

Guidance from an experienced teacher with regular lessons will go a long way here compared to advice given over the internet. You mentioned you’re a college student, but not if you’re enrolled in trombone lessons at school. Most colleges offer private music lessons for credit, even if you’re not a music major, so check that out in the fall and see if you can get weekly lessons. Even if you already study from your college trombone professor, you might try visiting another teacher for a lesson from time to time and get a different perspective.

Good luck and keep us posted on your progress.

Weekend Picks

Yes, I’ve been slacking off on keeping up on posts lately. I haven’t, however, run out of random music related links to recommend for your weekend surfing.

I wasn’t familiar with Geraldine Evers before. She plays bass trombone with Orchestra Victoria and is the woman to hold a permanent trombone position with a major Australian orchestra.

Even if you’re not a fan of the prog-rock band Queen, you’re probably familiar with their tune Bohemian Rhapsody. Learn about it’s story, compiled and discussed here.

Here’s a good dictionary of Musical Terms and Definitions. Here’s an example.

Schmalzando

A sudden burst of music from the Guy Lombardo band

Dave with Guy LombardoHere’s a photo of me doing my best to play schmalzando. I’m the trombonist on the far right here.

Do you have a tune that you just can’t get enough of? If you want to listen to an infinite, yet still ever changing version of that track you can upload it to The Infinite Jukebox. For fun I tried it with a 10 piece trombone choir composition I wrote. Not sure if this link will work, but you can always try out your own. It probably lends itself to certain styles. While the full results aren’t really all that exciting, some of those random moments are pretty interesting and could make for a composition exercise or method to come up with ideas.

Lastly, Mick sent me a video of Weird Al Yankovic’s tribute to Frank Zappa, Genius in France.

Weekend Picks

Sorry for missing the last couple of weekends, but if you’re looking for some music related stuff to visit around the web, here are my weekend picks.

Are you a trombonist working on solo repertoire, like the Hindemith Sonata, Creston Fantasy, or Larsson Concertino? You might want to practice with an accompanist, but it can be expensive to practice a lot with a quality pianist. Laine Lee has got you covered, with free downloadable midi files of the accompaniment parts for those pieces – and several others. Thanks, Laine!

Do you like Latin music? Me too. Would you like to learn more about the musicians and development of the diverse musical styles that fall under the umbrella of “Latin music?” Check out Latin Music USA and watch this great PBS documentary.

Have you ever hear been at a jazz club and heard the following conversation?

Hey, man. Hip that crazy chick over there.

Yeah, I’m dig.

Don’t embarrass yourself at your next jazz gig. Learn to speak jive.

Lastly, you should take a few minutes and learn a little bit about Carol Kaye.  You may not know her name, but you probably have heard her play bass. It’s unfortunate that the full documentary was never made.

Got a cool music related link? Post it in the comments or drop me a line.

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