What Every Trombonist Needs to Know About the Body: A Review

Trombonist David Vining has a new book out.  Called What Every Trombonist Needs to Know About the Body, Vining’s book is a fascinating discussion on human anatomy and how to use that knowledge to become a better trombonist and music teacher.  It’s 134 pages (spiral bound) and lists for $34.95.

Vining’s main point in his text is to familiarize trombonists with the human body in order to provide an accurate “body map.”  He effectively argues that a poor understanding of the body and how we actually use it to play the trombone can inadvertently make things more difficult than they need to be.  Vining writes,

To avoid misunderstandings it would be helpful to designate common ground in trombone teaching approaches.  “What Every Trombonist Needs to Know About the Body” provides this common ground by applying anatomically accurate information to playing the trombone.  By teaching from a position of anatomical accuracy, not only do we avoid misunderstandings, but we also provide ourselves with a secure somatic foundation upon which we can make music.  Somatics is the study of the body in motion and a secure somatic foundation is provided when we teach with accurate knowledge of how the body is constructed and how it moves.  Concepts which do not cooperate with the reality of how we are built endanger our somatic foundation and cause confusion.

In the midst of covering topics like the spine, balance, breathing, the embouchure, the arms, and the legs Vining introduces “Movement Breaks” where readers are invited to try out some exercises with attention placed on our mental conception of our bodies and our movement and how it conforms (or not) to reality.  This isn’t a traditional method book of exercises to develop breath control or embouchure strength, it’s a text designed to improve our awareness of how we move when playing trombone.

Being the embouchure geek that I am, I’m a little disappointed with his chapter on embouchure.  It doesn’t mention certain things I feel are important to understand, such as the role mouthpiece placement has on air stream direction and the embouchure motion.  Instead, he more traditionally approaches the embouchure as reacting to the quality of the breathing (click here to see a little of my take on this approach).  However, unlike many other texts that ignore important embouchure characteristics, Vining’s suggestions about the embouchure are generally sound and won’t screw up players who have the anatomy suited for any particular embouchure type.  I would quibble with his suggestions on dropping the jaw to descend (a topic I’ll get around to sooner or later).  I also would prefer if he corrected this statement:

When placing the mouthpiece on the face, trombonists need at least on half top lip and one half bottom lip in order to achieve a good sound.

I’ve written about this many times here, but here’s one post where I addressed the Low Placement embouchure type and how instructions like above can inadvertently cause more harm than good.  While most players will find it best to place the mouthpiece with more top lip inside, a significant minority will do best with more lower lip.

Ultimately, my criticisms here are incredibly minor compared with the overall high quality of Vining’s book.  While reading it I discovered that even someone like me, who has an academic interest in the physical mechanics of playing a brass instrument, can have an inaccurate mental conception of how I move to play music.  There are some real gems of wisdom, sometimes just mentioned in passing, so this book is worth a careful reread.  I’ve already begun adapting some of his ideas into my daily practice and am looking forward to trying some of them out with private students come fall.

If you’re interested in learning more about Vining and his story about recovering from severe embouchure troubles check out his web site.  What Every Trombonist Needs to Know About the Body is published by and available from Mountain Peak Music.  You can see some videos of Vining’s teaching and playing on his YouTube channel.

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