Jul 10, 2011

Game of Opposites

I was thinking the other day about how playing an instrument, the trombone in particular, is remarkably similar to the golf swing in the fact that both obey the rules of opposite actions and reactions. In golf if you want a ball to go high you hit it low; if you want it to go low you hit it high. If you want it to go close you hit it hard and if you want it to go far you hit it soft. If you want the ball to go straight you don't try to make it go straight, and if you try to make it go straight it goes crooked.
Don't get me wrong, I'm no expert on golf, I'm a duffer like most people but I'm really interested in the science and art of the golf swing as it relates to playing a wind instrument, because as in golf a person needs a tremendous amount of control of their emotions to be efficient.

Lets examine some of the opposite actions and reactions in playing an instrument such as the trombone. When we want to play low we move the mouthpiece higher; when we want to play high we move the mouthpiece lower. When we want to play soft we move the air fast, when we want to play loud we move the air slower. When we tense up to make the sound go far it goes short, and when we relax the sound goes far. When we trust our air and move it freely and without hesitation the sound is pure and resonant. When we don't trust our air and are stingy with it the sound will be undernourished. When we move the slide harder and faster to avoid glissando it results in more glissando because, if only the slide speeds up it will create even more distance between the air and slide, the basic cause of glissando. If we want to make sure every note comes out full and resonant in legato, the attention should be focused on in-between the notes. The foundation of a great golf shot is the idea that we swing the club and the club hits the ball. We do not hit the ball. It's as if we took a practice swing and the ball got in the way. It is the flow of the club that provides the speed to send the ball far. It is also the flow of the air that sends the sound flying forward. The air and slide flow forward and the notes get in the way.

When I hear most people slur on the mouthpiece alone there is usually a lot of tongue used to outline notes. But when they play the same thing on the horn, not enough legato tongue is used. This brings us to the fact that there are not enough breaks on the mouthpiece alone and way too many and much too hard on the horn. This is something that needs to be carefully addressed and balanced by the player. I'd like to see/hear much less break in buzzing the mouthpiece, in fact none, which in turn will result in smoothing out the hard breaks on the horn. Try this; play the legato passages from the Mozart Requiem solo without stopping the slide in each position. In other words the slide is always in motion and there is no difference between on the note and in-between the note. Make sure the air flows consistently through every slur. You are moving the air stream and slide and the notes got in the way. Now use enough legato tongue on the legato slurs only, so that even though the slide stops in each position you mentally imagine it doesn't. What a beautiful sound emerges! 'Nuff said.

Open sesame

Here's an idea to create a picture of what a correct start to a note should look like. Imagine a series of doors in which can only be opened by a breath of air. The instant the air touches the door, the door immediately opens. The door represents the embouchure which is closed until the air reaches it. Visualize the door as an electric sliding door that opens very quickly and silently. Then the air moves through to the next door and opens it instantly with a quick burst of focused air. If the air emerges from the embouchure slowly then the door will open slowly and the sound will suffer because the sound won't reach full resonance soon enough and the note will be over before full resonance is achieved. The tongue should seal the the embouchure for a millisecond to propel the air forward instantly opening the door (embouchure.) I guess you could say a good way to approach this is to "blow the doors open." In this way the start of the note is achieved solely from the chin up, allowing the rest of the body to be relaxed, which is the secret to a great sound.


This article has been translated into Italian by Alberto Tortella.

This article has been translated into Spanish by Antonio Jiménez.

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