Feb 15, 2007

Adjustable cup, adjustable bell and the 7th sin

One of the biggest challenges we face as trombone players is getting a clear, focused sound. A clear, focused sound results in more resonance, which is the secret of a great sound. The number one problem with the people I see is the inability to produce a clear, resonant sound. I've noticed when I have someone try a smaller mouthpiece or a smaller bore horn in order to get a clearer sound, it never works because the result is an unclear sound on that mouthpiece and horn as well. That tells us that the problem is in the production of tone, the way the air leaves the body, and that is controlled by the embouchure and not the equipment. I want you to think about having an adjustable cup on your mouthpiece that changes with the dynamic you are playing. When playing loud dynamics you use the entire cup, which means a larger aperture in the focal point of the embouchure. As the volume decreases to MF and down to PP, the aperture narrows as if the mouthpiece gets smaller, AND THE AIR MOVES FASTER. Don't think about narrowing the embouchure per se, but concentrate on making the diameter and depth of the cup smaller using the air stream to accomplish this. This will result in a musical stimulus rather than a mechanical one, and that is the way to approach all changes in the basic way you play. When playing soft dynamics the player should only think about clarity and nothing else. The problem comes when someone plays at all dynamics using the same size aperture in the embouchure. The size of the equipment we use today is generally aimed at the louder dynamics, so that the sound doesn't get hard and edgy. If we use the same embouchure for soft dynamics as for loud, the soft dynamics will have a fog horn quality, which is a dead sound that is not resonant. The aim of this concept I describe is to have the same type of sound at all dynamics, and to achieve that the focal point of the embouchure must change in size like the lens on a camera. Thinking of an adjustable cup mouthpiece is the best way I know to achieve this result.

Remember those old baritone/euphoniums that had 2 bells, one large and another small one? It's a valuable tool to get a clear, focused sound if you think of playing through the large bell in F and FF dynamics and playing through the small bell at soft dynamics. Once again the power of mental stimulation is amazing. Just thinking of playing through a small bell will cause your body, through the embouchure to do things to make the sound you are imagining. Nothing is as detrimental to resonance as a big hole in the middle of your sound. We're talking about fuzzy sound here, and the cure for the fuzzies is a fast moving air stream, and that means a smaller more lazer-like air stream in medium and soft dynamics, although some players unfortunately can get this even in the louder dynamics, which is caused by notes not starting cleanly and quickly enough, a topic I have covered adequately in previous articles.

I also want to talk about 7th partials on the trombone. The 7th partial has always been treated as the black sheep of the overtone series, because of the adjusting it takes to correct the intonation on these notes. However, there is a good use for pure 7th partials in certain situations. When you have the 7th of a 5/7 chord, there is no need to adjust the intonation. Take for example, a Bb 7 chord and you have an Ab on top. You should play it in 1st position and it will be perfectly in tune. Likewise the G in 2nd in an A major 7 chord is in tune in normal second position, and so on down the line.

In such excerpts as the Bb arpeggio in Ravels Daphnis and Chloe, there is no reason not to play the Ab in 1st because it is the 7th of Bb. Although I haven't seen any one do this, the high Ab in the 2nd phrase of the Mozart Requiem solo should be played in 1st because of it being the 7th in that phrase. Moral of this topic: render unto Caesar what is Caesar's.

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