Apr 10, 2013

Blankety Blank Blank

Nothing should bug us more than throwing the slide out to a position and getting nothing! This usually happens in slurred passages but actually can happen anytime. Why? Because the slide gets separated from the air. When that happens the slide arrives at a position and when there is no air to vibrate the lips, nothing comes out. That's because there is a superstition in trombone playing today that the slide makes the note. Like most superstitions it's belief and not fact. There's an old Chinese proverb that goes; "the more you know, the less you believe." Lets carve that in stone. The air makes the sound not the slide. No matter how hard you jerk the slide out there, if the air isn't with it, (or before it!) nothing comes out!

So how do we fix this most frustrating of bloopers? WELD THE AIR STREAM TO THE SLIDE! When moving the slide out, put a very short trailer hitch on the slide and hook-up the air stream to it. When the slide moves the air moves with it. The slide never moves without the air stream. When moving the slide in, use the slide as a basket, capturing every bit sound and bringing it up the slide, leaving no sound out there. If it's a legato slur put the legato tongue right in the middle of the shift, not when the slide arrives at the final note. We want an even amount of legato on both sides of the slur, and that means the partial change happens midway between notes. When the slur is a natural slur where no legato tongue is needed the air needs to get to the arrival note BEFORE the slide in order to have the partial change happen midway between notes. Example; take F natural above the bass clef staff to F# in sharp 3rd position. If the air and embouchure are nice and early playing the F# before the slide gets to sharp 3rd, the partial change will happen right in the middle of that shift. Not only that but there is no way the arrival note will not speak, because the air got there before the slide, and a really smooth slur will result. Early air will always make sure the note speaks, and late air will make sure it doesn't, so don't try to fix blanks by jerking the slide faster because that only makes things worse. Once the slide and air are wedded (welded) together not only will blanks be a thing of the past but the quality of sound will improve because of the act of blowing through slurs rather than around them, causing an increase of resonance. Use of legato tongue in legato slurs allows us to blow through legato slurs, which results in increased resonance.

Review of new Plastic mini bone in Eb

The company that makes the Pbone tenor plastic trombone has come out with a smaller alto version in Eb. Unfortunately those who were disappointed in the tenor version will be even more disappointed in the alto version. First of all the bore size is too large for an alto. It looks like the same bell size as the tenor which could have been a cost saving tactic. This causes the sound to be very diffuse, and requires use of an extremely small mouthpiece to center the sound. Since the slots for partials are so large it is necessary to try to blow every note sharp to get a reasonably focused sound. A smaller bore would have helped the instrument's sound immensely. As it is the sound is very airy and the plastic material no doubt adds to this problem.
With todays molding technology it would seem that a proper sized plastic alto trombone would be not that difficult, and if the blowing characteristics of plastics had been taken into account the size could have been adjusted accordingly. Someone needs to make a different up-quality version of these instruments because there seems to be a waiting market for inexpensive starter instruments.

This article has been translated into Polish by Lukasz Michalski.

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