Mar 6, 2007

A flat and retooling

I've noticed lately that just about everyone plays middle A much too low. Since the middle Bb on most trombones is low, (thats why we have to lower the other 1st position notes,) the A in second position needs to be the highest note we play in second position. I don't count G above the staff because that is not a true second position note. Most players play middle A where E in the bass clef staff should be played. This also applies to C# above the staff. It is usually played where the note E should be placed. Therefore the C# octaves in the Ride are usually too low in pitch. There is a slight difference between A and E in second position. The E should be placed slightly lower on the slide than A, and C# is approximately in the same place as A. This does not take into account adjusting these notes for "Just" intonation; tempering notes in a chord to produce beatless intervals which is a well covered subject. When coming from the lower register it is especially important not to place the slide in too flat a position because the pitch will already be lower by the fact that the corners of the embouchure will have relaxed in order to produce the notes in the low register, thereby resulting in a pitch that is lower even if the slide is placed in the proper position for middle A. It is amazing how much the amount of firmness or lack of it in the corners of the embouchure affect the frequency of the pitch. That's why it is so important to never just put the slide in a certain position and assume that the note will be in tune. Anyone who has spent serious time working with a tuner can see that every time you reset your embouchure a different pitch is produced. Therefore the ear must be the judge of where to put the slide and not the eye.

Speaking of A flat, I have a suggestion on how to play high A flat, the black sheep of the overtone series, which I talked about last month. The problem comes when we try to play it at a loud dynamic. It tends to have a growl effect because of it being the 7th of the overtone series. If you play it the same way you would play a fortissimo A a half step higher the result would be what used to be called a "wolf tone," meaning a note with lots of hair on it! My solution to this problem is to push my upper lip against the upper rim of the mouthpiece and "morph" into the start of that note. In other words avoiding an accent even though the dynamic is fortissimo. This gives me a round middle of the note and avoids the breakup of that note which so often happens. I do occasionally play A flat in second position with the valve depressed. This avoids the 7th partial curse. This seems to work well for some passages. This is something that works for me in the heat of battle and I wanted to share it with my readers.

Something I've noticed the last few years is the tendency for players to not refocus their embouchure when starting a new phrase. A basic fact of playing a brass instrument is the loss of focus in the sound the longer a phrase continues. Another fact that needs to be embedded in our brain is; THE SOUND QUALITY OF THE FIRST NOTE OF A PHRASE WILL DETERMINE THE SOUND QUALITY OF THE ENTIRE PHRASE. In other words, you can't fix a bad start to a phrase in the middle of that phrase, just as you can't fix a bad start to a single note in the middle of that note. To put it differently, however the first note of a phrase starts, you are stuck with that sound until you take a breath and reset your embouchure. I have noticed that most people don't refocus the sound after playing a phrase and the sound gets more and more unfocused, causing a distinct loss of resonance and therefore quality of sound. If you start a succeeding phrase with the same sound you ended the preceding phrase with, a significant loss of sound quality will occur. Take a Rochut etude for example. The legato style of these studies tends to unfocus the embouchure after a few notes, especially in the lower middle register. Unless the sound is refocused every time a breath is taken and the embouchure is reset to get the clearest sound possible, the sound will get muddier and muddier, and this is the NUMBER ONE problem I encounter in my role as a teacher.

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