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┬áplay 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.

Tim Brown

Dave,

I thought this was an interesting assertion and so I tried it out. For a solid week, I played everything on my pBone. Then I switched back to my vintage king Concert 3B brass horn and played the exact same stuff. I thought the difference was quite noticeable. It wasn’t the same as playing with a mute a while and then playing open. It was deeper than that.

I call it a Forest Gump effect. Remember how he struggled with his leg braces, but when he had to run away from some bullies, they broke off and he could run very fast? Maybe the pBone provides the same kind of resistance and by playing on it, we can build ourselves up.

My pBone only seems to have two tones; loud and soft. I can’t shape my tone on it like I can on my brass horn; and yet I try. I think that trying and the increased resistance helps to open my tone up and strengthen it.

I plan to practice hard with my pBone and hope – as a result – to actually perform better on my brass horn. Time will tell if this holds up, but the initial trial was encouraging.

Thank you!

Tim

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