What kind of trombones do you play?

I’m playing on a Bach 42B that has been “modified” over the years. I bought the instrument in 1976 and have used it most of my career. However I also play and did play in the orchestra an Edwards trombone for about 7 years. They are also excellent instruments.

How do I develop proper tonguing skills?

First you must think about your vowel sound. If the tongue is too high of a position it is easy to start the habit of moving too much of the tongue. Think of more of an ouh vowel sound, particular attention to the feeling of the tongue being down in the back. Next think about where the tip of the tongue strikes in the front. Ideally the tip should strike where the gums and teeth meet. Try to think of only the tip of the tongue moving and the rest of the tongue quiet. Sometimes it is good practice to play a long tone and very lightly just brush the front of the tongue in the front against the gums in a light “dou” or even “lou” syllable. Just to get the feeling of the tongue stroke being light and relaxed. Next you might try putting the metronome at a moderate speed and play one or two scales each day ascending and descending with the pattern of in 4/4 halves, quarters, eigths, triplets, and sixteenths. Increasing the speed as you feel more comfortable. When doing this you must concentrate on the tongue position both in the back and the front. Finally sometimes it helps to “feel” that the tip of the tongue is thin and pointed. Good Luck, diligent and concentrated practice over time should show positive results.

How do I improve my soft playing?

I’ve always said you can probably teach a gorilla to play loud in a couple of hours, but that you might not ever get him to play soft! I agree that many people don’t practice playing softly enough. Playing Rochut Etudes very softly is good practice. You might also take a look at the Art of Trombone Playing by Kleinhammer and look at the lip slurs he suggests doing at MF,FF,and PP. I believe that is also a very good way to practice soft playing. Playing crescendo – diminuendo long tones is excellent practice. You should certainly “push the envelope” as much as possible, not just soft with a good sound but literally softer than you can play. You may also find that you are able to buzz the note exactly in the center (mouthpiece practice) that you will be able to start that note much softer than if you are not in the center of the tone. I also used to use a practice drill where I would start with the trombone down, put it to my face, and as I was breathing in think of a note and then play it ppp. Then put the instrument down and do the same routine again, but in no particular order or pitch center. Soft playing is much like many other aspects of performance, the more I practice the luckier I get.

What are the differences between vintage Bachs and current Bachs?

I am fortunate enough to own a Mt. Vernon 36B. There is no doubt in my mind it is the finest instrument I own. It has a beautiful clear, warm sound, a wonderful slide, and the instrument is extremely well in tune with itself (overtone series). I cannot speak to whether the current heavy Bach is the same thickness as the old one I own. I will say I have played a new regular 36B and it played very well. Remember a couple of things though, there is more to the sound of an instrument than the thickness of the bell. The material the bell is made from is important, and how the bell was “drawn” is also important. Plus I tend to believe older bells that have been played on for some years tend to have a different sound than a new instrument.

What is your experience with late ’70s model bach 42s?

I play a ’73 Bach 42B that has been altered by Scott Laskey. Many of the 42s of that generation were inconsistent. A good one was great, but some were stinkers (I would think most of those by this time have faded away). I’ve always believed that an instrumemnt that was broken in by and played by a good player played better. So what I guess I’m trying to say is if you know who is selling you the instrument and he is a good player your chances of it being a good instrument are better. On the other hand I have known players who bought an instrument from a pawn shop and it turned out great!?! I guess the only way to know for sure is to play it and let people listen and go from there. One final point I can’t say the instruments of the ’70s or ’80s are necessarily better than the ones made in the ’90s because of say the material used. I do believe the Mt. Vernon instruments are special (I have a Mt. Vernon 36B that I believe to be the best instrument I have ever played).

What kind of mouthpiece do you use?

I believe that the mouthpiece one uses on this instrument is quite important. I think many people try to use a mouthpiece that is too big. I use a Bach 6 1/2 with my 5G rim put on. I think the cup volume to the 6 1/2 matches the instrument better. Larger mouthpieces then to make the high register flat and tends to make the overtone series more out of tune.

What did Scott Laskey do to your horn?

First of all, Scott won’t tell you exactly what has been done. I do know he takes the lacquer off the bell and the tuning slide. He puts on a new neck pipe, one that has a larger bore. Scott told me that he does many, many treatments to the bell and tuning slide. I believe the instrument has more interest in the sound, particularly in the center of the sound. I think Scott is a real craftsman.

How can I fix my embouchure?

This is a fairly common problem for some players. There are a couple of things you might try. One is to simply watch yourself in a mirror as you play lip slurs “slowly”. You can control your muscles with your mind. You might also try just buzzing your lips without the mouthpiece. Look at the muscle formation when you do this. You should find that it is very difficult to buzz your lips if one side of your face puffs. When you get so that you can buzz your lips without the mouthpiece, then buzz the mouthpiece the SAME way. Then finally watch in a mirror and play your trombone the same way you buzzed your lips. Remember this will now sound different than it did before. You will have to find the proper vowel sound and resonance with the new muscle setup. Make the sound you hear in your head!

How much should one practice daily?

When I was in college and in the military I practiced a good many hours every day, or should I say I played my trombone many hours every day. There are a number of factors that should be considered in response to your question.

  1. How old are you?

When you’re younger the muscle tends to snap back faster from heavy loads of work.

  1. What kind of playing are you doing?

If you’re spending several hours a day playing french etude books or Rochut etudes in tenor clef, I would question the advisability of that.

  1. If you’re playing in a band or orchestra at least half of the time that’s not a big deal. Also playing orchestral excerpts is not as difficult on the embouchure because they don’t last a long time.

All that said, I must tell you what I say to my students. Or should I say what I ask them. Do you know the amount of time that most adults can concentrate and retain material?

The answer to that question is not just one I have, but one that many studies have verified – about twenty-five minutes! Of course we like to play the trombone, so it might become easy to just sort entertain ourselves by playing the trombone several hours each day. Whether or not we are getting significantly better may be an entirely different question.

I suggest you consider a routine of concentrated practice (with specific goals in mind for each session) for 25 to 30 minutes. Put the horn down for a few minutes and take a small break to clear your mind. Come back and do the same thing. If you can do that routine 3 times a day (total of 3 hours) I believe you will get really better faster. If when you finish practicing you are not as mentally tired as you are physically fatigued then perhaps you aren’t really practicing but merely entertaining yourself. I certainly in no way what to diminish your joy in playing the instrument, but if you are getting ready for auditions remember this is business not entertainment. The idea is to get a job! I hope this is of some help – good luck.

What is your daily trombone routine?

I am a strong believer in a daily routine. I do a series of lip slurs, scales, and arpeggios which I’ve done for over thirty years. I feel that this sort of daily physical workout keeps the basics of tone production, embouchure strength, flexibility, and intonation in order. Beyond that, in daily practice I believe we have to balance all the aspects of playing and the kind of playing we may be doing on the job. I play fairly basic etudes to cover these areas. But, if we are playing a Bruckner symphony I probably would not play a bunch of French etudes. If we are having a light week, I would work harder at home. Again, “balance” is a key word here.

What methods and studies do you recommend for bass trombone players?

Try playing the Tyrell tuba studies on tenor trombone, faking the low B naturals. Strive for a clear, clean tone production and consistent embouchure, especially on the trigger and pedal notes.

What steps can a young player take to get a good start as a soloist?

Just keep playing well and getting better and getting your name out will take care of itself! Get first divisions at solo contest, make your all-state orchestra or band. Do those things and people will want to know who you are.

What is the proper use of a practice mute?

I use a Dennis Wick practice mute at work (both onstage and backstage)and at home. At work the reason I would use one is simply to not irritate my colleagues or the audience by practicing loud passages before or at intermissions of concerts.I believe the practice mute can be a useful practice tool. When I practice with one I generally play quite loudly. If you are not in the center of the tone you should be able to tell right away, particularly if you are playing short notes. Sometimes the note won’t come out at all. For example, in a Kopprasch Etude I would play fairly loudly and short. Noncenterd tones will not speak or the timbre will be so false you should be able to tell immediately. I have used a practice mute for years with good success, but one must careful how one uses it and listen very carefully. Clearly one must make sure to play the majority of their practice without a mute. Sometimes though in hotels, on tour, etc. a practice mute is an excellent tool. I like particularly to play loud, short tones.I also use at work a Trumcor practice mute made by two members of the Dallas Symphony, Rick Giangulio and Greg Hustis.

What tips do you have for playing the second trombone solo in Russian Easter Overture?

The Russian Easter Overture is one of the few opportunities trombone players and particularly second trombone players have to exhibit their musicianship and lyric playing. It is marked Recitative, which gives the player room to be as expressive as he or she wishes to be. It is also marked “a pena voce” which means, in a full voice. Since this was written by Rimsky-Korsakov, a Russian, I have always tried to imagine a Russian priest chanting this melody in an old resonant cathedral. As a child I was an altar boy in a Catholic church and heard several older priests chant the mass. Some of that sound has stuck in my mind. As to the actual performance of the passage, there are a few things I think it is important to keep in mind:

  1. Vibrato – if one is going to use vibrato it should be used consistently throughout the passage.
  2. Intonation – since this passage uses only a few different pitches the player must make sure that he or she really plays “in tune” with himself. Check the C – D relationship carefully. Make sure it is a real whole step. Everyone on an audition committee can hear if you play this passage out of tune.
  3. Alternate positions – if the player decides to play the D in fourth position make sure the tone quality and the pitch are as good as if the D were played in first.
  4. Rests – I believe one should hold the notes before the rests into the rests, in a very vocal way.
  5. Rubato – again think of singing this passage with your voice, not playing it on the trombone. There is a great deal of room for pushing and slowing of the tempo within each little phrase segment.
  6. The last breath – when we play this piece here in Dallas, our second trombonist, Phil Graham, plays the last passage (B-A-B-C-C-C-C – whole note C) without a breath. I join him on the last note, the whole note C softly and crescendo into the note to give the illusion of one phrase and one player. I would suggest breathing in the same place in an audition. No one has won a job by how well they hold out two whole notes!

These are just some ideas about this passage. A player must find his way to express himself on this beautiful excerpt. I believe if a player plays with real conviction and musical style a conductor is less likely to meddle in your interpretation. I hope this gives you something to think about.

How do you deal with performance anxiety?

I think everyone who performs feels “anxiousness” or “excitement.” The question is whether one becomes disabled by these feelings. Adolph Herseth once told me that if he didn’t feel something in the pit of his stomach before he started to play Mahler 5, then he would know it was time to quit. I belieive one of the best ways to deal with performance anxiety is to be so prepared that you know you can play it. If you aren’t sure, all the way into the deepest recesses of your mind, then I think you are setting yourself up to fail and then blame it on “performance anxiety.” Clearly, though, some people do better under stress than others. I believe good posture, good breaths, keeping the grip on your instrument light and relaxed, and keeping your mind free of negative thoughts are ways we can deal with the stress of performing. I also believe that if we can “hear” a passage in our head the way we want to play it and then “sing” it out of the instrument, we can be more successful. Audition stress is something that is possibly more intense than actually playing in the orchestra. It is here that the proper preparation (sometimes over a number of years) can allow a player to feel secure even under the tremendous stress everyone feels at an audition. One thing is clear, though. You either have to deal with the stress of performance or it will “get” you sooner or later.

Is it possible to quickly regain your abilities after taking a long break from playing?

I do believe one could take some considerable time off and come back and if one “hears” clearly enough the sound one wants to make it would be possible to play fairly well for short periods of time. Whether or not you could sound like he/she never put it down might depend on what your standards were before you “put it down” and what they are now. To simply enjoy playing again, I’m quite sure that is possible. To be at a high performance standard might very well be something quite different. When I was in the military and was at basic training for 10 weeks and came back and had only a few days to get ready to play again I was surprised how quickly I was able to play, but it was some time before I really had a great deal of endurance and control over all the aspects of playing. If you have come back after a long layoff I hope you stay with it this time!

What is the best way to prepare for an audition?

You will be “ready” first of all when you can consistently perform the 15 to 20 most difficult audition passages. When you can play them “cold” time after time. Not just some of the time, on a good day. You feel you can perform them under trying situations, and under extreme stress.When you and your teacher feel you are ready you should start taking every audition you can get to. Because you learn something about yourself and your playing every time you put it on the line in an audition. Don’t wait for a job you want or one that is in a city you would like to live in. Start taking every audition you can get in to and get to.Performance anxiety or audition anxiety is something that everyone in the business has to learn to deal with at one time or another. There are many ways to approach being able to perform well under stress. This is not an easy one line answer, but you can think about these things:

  1. Be prepared (really prepared) – If you really know the passages you should be able to perform them under any situation, even if you are very nervous. There is an old saying, “the more I practice the luckier I get.”
  2. Practice putting yourself under stress. Play for anyone that will listen to you. Play for groups of people. Obviously, I mean play the audition passages.
  3. Learn to play the audition passages correctly the first time. In an audition you don’t get 2 or 3 chances and every passage, you need to be able to play the excerpts correctly the first time.
  4. Learn to play the orchestral passages “musically.”
  5. Lastly you have to learn to “face” your anxiety. Look at it, see what you do negatively when you are nervous. Practice taking slower breaths, relaxing your solar plexus muscles, not gripping the horn tightly, in short all the things I’m sure your teacher is telling you. But, you must think about and deal with it, it’s not just going to go away.

In addition to playing, what physical exercises do you recommend to keep in shape?

If you are talking about physical workout in terms of non-trombone playing, I think that is different from the physical working out on the trombone. Playing any brass instrument is a physical activity. It requires a certain amount of pure physical strength. Obviously, at some point it would be good for every brass player to do physical activity that improves his or her breath support. Jogging, swimming, or just walking. I used to jog quite a bit. I love to go out and shoot baskets with my son or play a little one on one. But, for me, golf is the thing. The walking is good for me, and being on the golf course, outside in nature, is such a great stress relief that it makes it much easier to handle playing in an orchestra. There is simply no denying the fact that one feels better after physical exertion.