Feb 5, 2008


It's time to remind people once again about the use of legato tongue in slurring on the trombone. Too often I hear people using what I call the triple whammy to avoid glisses in natural slurs. I. hard legato tongue, 2. dropping the air stream between notes, and, 3. jerking the slide. The combination of all three results in a nasty, hard, somewhat anemic sounding slur, with most importantly, a significant loss of resonance, the holy grail of what we strive for. Hey, it's time to use your head and quit playing by habit alone, and begin to decide that you are not going to play like everyone else. That means making a conscious decision on how you will sound when slurring. I want to make one very important point; the legato tongue was invented, or discovered, whichever you prefer, in order to not have to lose continuity between notes, which is the definition of legato. As I've said before, I admire the old European method of very little, or no legato tongue in legato slurs, dropping the air just enough to avoid a gliss. This was a thoughtful attempt at not overusing the tongue, thereby softening the amount of sound between notes. As sincere a method as this was intended, it did result in a significant loss of sound in a phrase. The advantageous feature of using legato tongue in legato slurs, and why I think it was invented, is being able to keep an absolutely steady air stream between notes, which results in a great deal more sound in a legato phrase as well as a better basic sound throughout, because of the continuous nature of the air stream. I cannot stress this enough. I have worked with people who had trouble getting a great sound, and just focusing in on this one aspect of playing resulted in a huge improvement in the quality of sound overall. The good thing about using legato tongue is the amount of options it allows. This varies from very little use in the upper register, where the partials are much closer together and require a very soft stroke of the tongue, to a much more definite stroke in the register of the bass clef staff. Just as we don't play the same dynamics or the same style constantly, use of the legato tongue should match the requirements of the register and the type of slur desired. The same slur in a soft solo type passage may not be appropriate in a loud orchestral excerpt. The main point is, the use of legato tongue allows the player to keep an absolutely steady flow of air between notes, resulting in a great sound and slur! (That is, if the slide doesn't jerk to the next position and disconnect the air flow from itself.) By the way, I only use legato tongue on legato slurs and not on natural slurs.

Try this; Take a middle G# in the staff and smoothly slur with no tongue to a B, top space, bass clef. Try to blow through the slur as if pushing the sound to the next note with the air and slide. The air and slide move smoothly together as if glued to each other. Do this again and again until there is one sound on the note and in-between the note, and no one can hear exactly when the note changes. What you are trying to do is make going across that partial last as long as possible. This takes a very steady air stream, with the air and slide moving exactly together. When one note flows to the other with no interruption whatsoever, try to reproduce the exact same sounding slur on a legato slur, from Eb in the staff to F. Match the legato slur exactly to the sound of the natural slur you just played, using just the right amount of legato tongue, and moving the slide as if it was glued to the air stream. Try to use the legato tongue mid-way between the 2 positions, so there is an equal amount of sound on either side of the slur, just as you should in a natural slur. No matter how big the shift with the slide, I always keep a small amount of sound flowing between notes. DON'T CUT BAIT! With practice you can easily match the smoothness of natural slurs to legato slurs, in fact eventually you will find that your legato slurs are capable of being even smoother than the natural slurs, and then you can start matching the natural slurs to the legato slurs! Along the way you will start to notice that the overall sound you make will get more resonant, purer, and at the same time clearer, but only if the air and slide move together as if they were super-glued to each other. I can't stress this enough. Every time the air and slide get disconnected in legato playing, the sound goes into the waste basket!

Want to know the sound you should be making all the time? Stand up nice and tall, take a big breath and aim for a D above the bass clef staff. Start the note with a large bell-tone type of articulation, with a good energetic, and at the same time round church bell attack, at a forte dynamic. As soon as the note starts, totally relax your body and let your lungs release the air in a long natural diminuendo, until the end of that breath. Your chest should naturally decompress as your lungs empty. Since you started the note with an energetic bell-tone type of articulation, there is no need to sustain the note using muscles in the body, and you can be completely relaxed, letting the natural elasticity of the lungs release the air in one long even diminuendo. That's the sound you should be making all the time.

This article has been translated into Polish by Lukasz Michalski.

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