May 8, 2017

Billiards, Not Pool!

I use this mental analogy when playing legato to stimulate the airstream. I imagine the surface of the billiard table as the layer of air which the slide rides on. The billiard balls represent notes. When changing notes I want to think of a level surface, not pockets like on a pool table. When a slide stops in a position there is a tendency for the air to drop into a crevice with a sharp edge. That’s because almost everyone waits until the slide gets to the next position to change notes with the embouchure. This creates the pool table effect of the note dropping down into a pocket resulting in a quick, clean and jagged-edged legato. The billiard table vision provides a mental image of the slide passing by a note, with the air, (surface) supporting the sound thereby taking the jagged edge off the slur. This results in more resonance because the legato has more pure sound around the edges of the change.

Now if we add the secret ingredient the result will be a totally secure, 100% foolproof smooth as silk legato that is available from triple piano to triple forte! What is that secret ingredient? Playing the next note with the embouchure on the way to the arrival note, and before the slide gets there. The note change should happen as close to the middle of a slide position shift as possible. In order to accomplish this, it is necessary to start the change of note as soon as the slide leaves the preceding note. This is because the air is always slower than the slide movement. If a note is played with the embouchure before the slide arrives in a position, there is no way it will not speak, even at the most delicate, exposed musical moment, and will be a beautiful slur as well. Example; a middle B natural, top of the bass clef staff, to a middle Bb half step lower. The embouchure should start slurring down to the Bb partial as soon as the slide starts moving from 4th to 1st position. This will result in the actual note changing approximately midway between the two positions. By the time the slide arrives in 1st position the embouchure will already be playing Bb, therefore making it impossible for the note not to speak even at the softest dynamic. The slide movement should be at a continuous speed through the change, not the jerky motion common today. Using this method results in a variety of speeds of slurs available to us as long as the air and slide move together. Instead of only paying attention to on each note in legato playing, let’s start focusing on what happens in-between notes. That’s a far more valuable tool to make sure that on the note will be as pure a sound as possible.

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