Posts

Tuning Drones with a groove – tune on the move!

The ability to play in tune isn't ultimately about being able to match a pitch - it's about being able to match a pitch even before you start the note!

What does this mean? It means you need to be able to imagine the pitch before you start the note. If you have to adjust your intonation after beginning the note, then you were out of tune before being in tune. Music doesn't have room for that! (There are occasions, of course, when you need to adjust to play in tune with a sound that isn't in tune...it's not a perfect world.)

 

 

Try these drones with the opening of the Tuba Mirum.

The key of Bb should be easy...how about the others?

Get used to transposing in your head!

 

 

Bb

B

C

Db

D

Eb

E

F

Gb

G

Ab

A

Excerpts – Ride of the Valkyries (Major)

Another challenging standard excerpts is the Ride of the Valkyries by Wagner. It is in a simple, arpeggiated triple meter with a pesky sixteenth note thrown in that makes it a bit tricky and and can easily tip you into obsessive mode. But, it really isn't that hard! OK, it's in B major but you've known that key for years, right? Now it's time to get comfortable with it.

Let's put things into a context that helps us play the music successfully. Some tried and true methods of doing that are:

  • Slowing the music down so that we can sort it out at a reasonable tempo

  • Study the music so that we understand it. Sort out the notes, the slide positions, the scales, the keys, the rhythms, etc

  • Transpose the music into a more playable range - up or down, easier key...

OK, what's hardest about this excerpt? I think that it's the key. So let's start by transposing it into our favorite key, Bb major. Simple. Down a half step.

Here are a series of Band in a Box tracks in Bb to play with at different tempos. Check it out. I'll guarantee that you'll find it fun to play with and I expect, much easier to play. Once you can do this in Bb, check out another post on Slushpump.com to play it in B Major.

Ride of the Valkyries – in Bb Major!

Tempo 88

Ride of the Valkyries – in Bb Major!

Tempo 90

Ride of the Valkyries – in Bb Major!

Tempo 92

Ride of the Valkyries – in Bb Major!

Tempo 94

Ride of the Valkyries – in Bb Major!

Tempo 96

After the clicks count-off, there is a 2 measure rhythm section introduction before you start playing the excerpt.

Ride of the Valkyries – in Bb (Pop groove)

Tempo 88

Ride of the Valkyries – in Bb (Pop groove)

Tempo 90

Ride of the Valkyries – in Bb (Pop groove)

Tempo 92

Ride of the Valkyries – in Bb (Pop groove)

Tempo 94

Ride of the Valkyries – in Bb (Pop groove)

Tempo 96

You'll notice that you'll play differently depending on what the 'feel' is - i.e., the 'groove'. This is a natural tendency, to go with the flow, and it really helps when you are having trouble finding the feel. Having something to plug into is really a great solution!

So, get used to playing it comfortably with the groove, internalize the groove so that you feel it even when you are playing alone.

Excerpts – William Tell

One of the more challenging standard excerpts is this one from the William Tell Overture by Rossini. It jumps between the sustained notes to 8th notes without much time to breathe - and the 8th notes are in a somewhat awkward tessitura. General difficulties include articulation, intonation, tone consistency, tempo, rhythm, musicality, breath control...

I find that in trying to surmount the technical difficulties we often paint our way into a corner that we can't easily escape! We obsess on holding the long notes to the bitter end, taking a quick breath, not getting enough breath and losing time in the meantime - then trying to catch up while holding the tempo steady, getting burned in every direction!

A great way out of this proverbial corner is to put things into a context that helps us play the music rather than makes it more difficult to succeed. Some tried and true methods of doing that are:

  • Slowing the music down so that we can sort it out at a reasonable tempo

  • Study the music so that we understand it. Sort out the notes, the slide positions, the scales, the keys, the rhythms, etc

I particularly like to use a program called Band in a Box to generate rhythm section to practice the music with. Complete with harmony and sometimes even the melody.

Here are a series of tracks to play with at different tempos. Check it out. I'll guarantee that you'll find it fun to play with and I expect, much easier to play.

After the clicks count-off, there is a 4 measure rhythm section introduction before you start playing the excerpt.

William Tell

Easy Funk 88

William Tell

Easy Funk 92

William Tell

Easy Funk 96

William Tell

Easy Funk 100

William Tell

70's Funk 88

William Tell

70's Funk 92

William Tell

70's Funk 96

William Tell

70's Funk 100

Did you notice that you played differently with the different grooves? As it's easier to play with the 'band' rather than fight it, you probably played more aggressively with the 70's Funk groove than with with the Smooth Funk groove. And it's easy to fall into the groove, isn't it?? Having a clear path to take is usually easier than trying to cut your way through the jungle. Finding the groove, and having the harmonic context as well, make success much more accessible!

Raphael Mendez Brass Institute

Check it out! I am there every summer and consider it one of the best values of all the summer brass festivals!

ABOUT THE INSTITUTE
Join us this summer to discover your full potential. The Rafael Méndez Brass Institute is an inspiring place for brass players to learn, grow, and explore their musical horizons.  This intensive one-week seminar is guaranteed to be a milestone in your musical career.
Our world-renowned faculty provides unparalleled opportunities to learn, perform, and collaborate with both peers and successful professional players. Activities include excerpt competitions and daily master classes, career seminars, concerts, and chamber ensemble coaching.
GENERAL INFO
Dates: July 8-14, 2018
Enrollment: Limited to 150 participants
Scholarships: Available in amounts up to $500!
Application Fee: $35 (non-refundable)
Discounted application fees for returning participants and pre-formed groups!  Application fees go up May 1st.
Tuition: $875
Includes lunch Monday through Saturday
Location: Lamont School of Music at the University of Denver; Newman Center for the Performing Arts: 2344 E Iliff Ave, Denver, CO 80210
INTERNATIONALLY ACCLAIMED FACULTY
Trumpet: Joe Burgstaller, David Hickman, Alan Hood, John Marchiando, Ronald Romm
Horn: Thomas Bacon, Allene Hackleman, Susan McCullough, JD Shaw, Denise Tryon
Trombone: Scott Bean, Scott Hartman, Carl Lenthe, Larry Zalkind
Bass Trombone: John Lofton
 
Euphonium: Brian Bowman
Tuba: Kathleen Brantigan, Warren Deck, Timothy Northcut, Daniel Perantoni
Conductor: Joseph Parisi
Visit our website to find additional information on individual faculty members for each instrument.
APPLY NOW
Enrollment is open through May 31 and is limited to only 150 participants. Application fees increase May 1st. Click on the link below and apply for the world’s leading performance and career development seminar today!
303-832-4676 | RMBI@denverbrass.org | www.mendezbrassinstitute.com
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Slurs – basic ideas and exercises

Basic Slurs

 

These exercises are intended to promote smooth air-flow and efficient embouchure and slide movement.

When you play a pitch on a brass instrument, you are buzzing that pitch into your mouthpiece, i.e., you are making that pitch with your embouchure. The place where the air goes through your lips is called the aperture (French for ‘opening’) and this is where the buck stops…embouchure control is all about aperture control.

Your aperture changes slightly to make each pitch, which means that the muscles involved somehow change or move. Somehow, in some teaching circles, the idea that the aperture shouldn’t change when changing pitch has been taught. Most people now disagree with this concept and acknowlege that the aperture has to change in order to change pitch. Go ahead and try it. If you can change pitch without changing your aperture, let me know! 1 octave? 2 octaves? I don’t think I’m going to get any emails proving me wrong on this one! (the bigger your mouthpiece and the lower you buzz, the more obvious this movement becomes)

But too much change (movement) of the aperture gets negative results, and too little movement doesn’t work so well either…the necessary amount is what we are striving for. Embouchure movement should be as little and graceful as possible – but enough to get the job done. Watch in a mirror as you play.

Let the aperture move with the pitches but don’t overdo it – or underdo it! Try to keep the movement contained within the mouthpiece rather than extending beyond the rim.

On the trombone, one method of achieving and recognizing this minimal embouchure movement is to notice the feeling as you glissando from Bb to F (in 6th position) and back to Bb. Here’s a great time to watch in a mirror. The embouchure moves very little – this is our ultimate goal as we slur across partials too. Pay attention to the corners of the embouchure; they should be firm but not clenched. The sound should remain relaxed and resonant. If you hear the sound get twisted or feel – or see – something ungraceful happening, you’ll notice that they all are related. If you see something weird, you are going to hear something strange and feel something out of place. So notice one issue and it will steer you towards other issues that are related! The good news here is that if you fix the problem in one area then you generally have fixed all of the related issues too!

Play the first three notes of the exercise below. Practice this glissando until you feel comfortable. Then go ahead and play the whole line, alternating playing a glissando to F in 6th position with playing the F in 1st position.

Strive to use the same air and embouchure movement both during the glissando and the slur. This may not be possible, but use this as an ideal goal while experimenting with your air and embouchure to move as efficiently as you can.

 

 

Air Concepts

Here are a few ideas about how to use air as a brass player.

Think about it...it's the combination of vibrating lips and the air that a player uses to make them vibrate which makes a brass instrument come alive with sound. So the sound that's made, the music that's made, is a direct result of how you use that air and embouchure.

Since how you blow into the horn affects what comes out of the horn, you'd better know what you want before your start... So making music is a process of reverse engineering!

Therefore, you must always have an idea of how you want to sound, because otherwise, thoughtless breathing will create thoughtless music! Create your own sound. Don't be a victim of generic breathing!!

How you blow is crucial but in order to blow out you need to breath in. Since 'breathing in' doesn't (generally) create a sound on the trombone, you can 'breathe in' many different ways, but, keep in mind that the manner that you 'breathe in' is often reflected in the way you blow out...for example:

  • if you take a breath in tempo you will probably blow out in tempo
  • if you breathe 'fast' you will probably blow fast, if you breathe 'big' you will probably blow big!
  • If you breathe in gracefully you will probably blow out gracefully
  • if you breathe in awkwardly you will probably blow out awkwardly

 I'm not going to get into breathing exercises here but I recommend that you look into this topic. Gaining control of your breathing is necessary to playing a brass instrument well. But again, playing well is making music, which is a process of reverse engineering.

 

Engineering some music - let's explore how air affects sound on a brass instrument

 

Without using your tongue, start blowing softly and accelerate the air until the lips start to buzz. Continue playing the note making a series of crescendoes and decrescendoes. Finish by diminuendo-ing to nothing.

 

Play a different note using the same process. Again - don't use your tongue.

Now try this process in a more rhythmic context.
Start with the rhythms in the following exercise, then continue, improvising your own rhythms. Try rhythmic patterns using syncopation, quarters, triplets, eighths, etc. You are articulating just using your air and embouchure.

OK, now think about what you have just been doing with your air.

  • Was it always the same? NO
  • Was it always steady? NO
  • Was it always fast? NO
  • Was it always slow? NO
  • Was it consistently the same? NO
  • Did the sound change everytime the air changed? YES
  • Do we need to pay attention to how we blow in order to get what we want? YES
  • Get it?
  • yes???
(Advanced players take notice:)
The embouchure is an active - yet often unconscious - participant in this process.
Notice how your embouchure feels, it is the same sensation as a very slow lip vibrato! It is a very slow lip vibrato! Cultivate this awareness because without it your vibrato will be uncomfortable and erratic!
(Let's define 'active' in this sense. Being 'active' is first being aware of a process and then monitoring, and possibly, controlling the process rather than passively reacting to events in an unconscious manner. Many brass players think of their embouchure as a passive vibrating diaphragm. I disagree. For me, it is very active - the aperture of our embouchure is the focal center of a brass player's technique with which every other aspect of our technique relates and is either coordinated - or uncoordinated. To consider it passive is to miss the opportunity to learn how to control the aperture and further our technique! To further explore this concept of Active and Passive behavior, read 'The Inner Game of Tennis', then revisit here...)

Buzzing – Buzz this on your mouthpiece or play it on the trombone without tonguing

This is one of my go-to buzzing exercises. I first wrote it to work on buzzing upwards with a minimum of effort. Using a slingshot affect to propel the pitch from the tonic of the scale diatonically upwards to the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th scale degrees. Then turning around and doing the same downwards. It is excellent for working on clarity of pitch, nuanced airflow and efficiency in manueuvering upwards and downwards. 

I don't recommend going beyond the interval of a fifth, until the player becomes very accomplished and efficient playing it as it is written. To go further invites tension to creep back into the embouchure and airflow - so resist the temptation to go further until you are very relaxed playing this exercise as it stands.

Notice that it starts on the 2nd scale degree, swinging downwards through the tonic on it's pendulum/slingshot trajectory and setting the player up for the interval jump. Don't lunge at the interval, let the rhythmic motion and airflow do the work for you.

Buzz this while playing the exercise on the piano. This promotes pitch accuracy plus rhythmic timing. This is strongly recommended as the benefits are incredible and easy to monitor. Without the piano, a lot of inaccuracies can creep in... I don't usually tongue this exercise as it is designed to fine tune airflow. Tonguing this is an advanced and more difficult version of this pattern. So make sure that you can do this great without tongue before adding it in!

I do suggest playing this on the horn as well - transposing the pattern through the keys up and down. Doing so addresses the awkwardness of many keys and gives you a chance to work through the possible slide patterns enhancing your ability to play these common intervals. 

It works equally well for high range and low range. Plus, it highlights the function of the corners of the embouchure and their structural role. Corners need to be strong and stable while the interior of the embouchure (the aperture) must remain flexible and relaxed. You will notice that this exercise will really tire those corners if you are doing it accurately and spend some time transposing it gradually into the high range and/or the low range.

Working on the Tuba Mirum from Mozart’s Requiem Mass

Here is our standard Tuba Mirum excerpt and several pages of exercises to work on some of the challenges posed by the opening 'Call to Judgement', and the short tag that follows.

I'm not going to tell you what the exercises are working on - can you tell?? 

Knowing how to identify issues to be solved, and then finding ways to solve them are primary skills that need to be developed. The more creative you are with tackling this aspect of playing the instrument, the more interesting you will become as a player.

Recital Repertoire

Looking for standard repertoire? Here is a link to David Guion’s article on most played rep in recent years (close to 50 years now…)

http://www.trombone.org/articles/library/recitalrep.asp

 

Here are some of my favorite pieces to play the last few years:

 

Alessandro Besozzi; Sonata in C Major for Oboe and Piano

Joseph Jongen; Aria and Polonaise for Trombone and Piano

Richard Peaslee; Arrows of Time

Astor Piazzolla; la Muerte del Angel

Astor Piazzolla; Milonga del Angel

Stjephan Sulek; Sonata for Trombone and Piano

Benedetto Marcello/J.S. Bach; Concerto for Oboe in C minor

Stephen Shewan; Just Sayin’

Gregory Fritze; Trombonico

Enrique Crespo; Improvisation #1

Sammy Nestico; Reflective Mood

Henri Dutilleux; Choral, Cadence and Fugato 

La Gitana; Fritz Kreisler

12 Fantasies for transverse flute; George Telemann

Songs of all sorts!

 

Tuning Drones for your practice session

It's never too early or too late to improve your intonation. Working with tuning drones is a wonderful way to lock into tune not only individual pitches - but also intervals and key areas.

 

DAWNOFMA

I'd suggest playing a major scale with each of these drones to start. I'll be posting more specific exercises in future posts...

 

A

Bb

B

C

Db

D

Eb

E

F

Gb

G

Ab