As I mentioned last Monday, this week I’ve been revisiting focusing on my tonguing for much of my routine technique practice. In particular, I’ve been paying attention to how I tongue the initial attacks after breathing in different registers and listening carefully for the results.
I think one thing that sets off the really great players from the rest of us is they don’t get complacent with any aspect of their technique (or maybe I should say, I personally get complacent from time to time and it holds me back). In years past I’ve spent lots of trombone practice time working on not bottling up the air with my tongue just before the initial attack. When I do, the attack is too explosive sounding and doesn’t match the articulation of any subsequent attacks on the same breath. This was particularly challenging for me in the register above F4, where I would often crack the attack. These days I no longer usually split those notes on the initial attack (just sometimes, which is still too much), so I figured that I was heading in the right direction here and quit spending time daily on it.
However, while practicing with awareness on my tonguing this week I noticed that I’m still bottling up the air in that range. As it happens, there are some other mechanics that I’ve been working out in that same range. A fair amount of my improved accuracy lately is no doubt related to those other corrections, as now that I revisit how I tongue the initial attack I see that I’ve slipped back a bit. Of course it’s interesting to note that practice tonguing very lightly for the initial attacks, instead of bottling up the air with the tongue, has made those other corrections in the same register work more consistently too. All these mechanical things are interrelated, I believe. There’s still more work for me to do on tonguing and I’ll likely need to always do a little focused tonguing practice, at least as long as I’m still playing and trying to improve.
The moral of my story is that while it’s helpful to focus on only one thing at a time (playing musically, breathing, embouchure, whatever), it’s equally important to remain at least peripherally aware of how your body all interacts to play your instrument. Furthermore, don’t let yourself get complacent because you sound better now. You might be just getting better at playing incorrectly. It’s useful to simplify your focus while practicing, but not to any one extreme. To mix up an old cliche, you can’t understand the forest until you understand the trees, but you won’t understand the trees unless you also look at the forest.
Going back and making this sort of reflection on your practice is a great exercise and really helps target your next week’s practice goals. I’m also curious to hear some other player’s reflections about what and how you’re practicing. Share your ideas in your own blog, post your link, or feel free to write about them in the comments here.