May 10, 2009

Play the ol' pin ball

How'd you like to get the best sound you can possibly get on your horn? I'm going to give you the best analogy I can think of to achieve this goal, which is the most important facet of playing a musical instrument.

Remember the old style pinball machines that had the metal knob that you pulled back against a spring, released, and it snapped forward to hit the steel ball that went up and around the course to see if it would drop in the right hole to score lots of points? Well I can't think of a better analogy to visualize how to start a note to get a great sound, in fact the best sound possible on a brass instrument.

Think of the knob pulling back as taking a deep breath, the lungs becoming the spring that wants to go forward. Now you would think that the tongue becomes the knob that hits the ball to propel it forward, but it's actually the air. The tongue only seals the embouchure to build enough pressure to drive the air with enough energy to send that ball all the way up around that course. The player must blow the ball all the way around, and if not enough air velocity is achieved at the moment of departure, that shot is weak and will drop in the nearest hole and so will your sound.

So you don't have a old style pin ball machine to demonstrate this concept? OK, here's what will drive this idea across: Take your index finger and wedge it behind the end of your thumb. Push against it to build up some stored up energy, (didn't they call this potential energy in school?) Now flick the index finger against the rim of the bell, like you were giving flight to a mosquito. The nail on your index finger should start the bell ringing, AND THAT'S THE WAY YOU START A NOTE. If you're rich, and how many of us are, you can do this with a crystal glass. See what a pure sound happens when enough clean energy is applied to an object capable of vibrating, such as a column of air. To equate this to starting a note on a brass instrument, the building up of potential energy is the process of sealing the embouchure with the tip of the tongue, building up pressure in the mouth, pulsing the air forward which blows the tongue down to the bottom of the mouth. When this is done with enough energy, 90% of the work is done. It is only necessary to let the lungs empty using there own natural elasticity. No pushing is required. This gives the purest, most beautiful sound we can produce.

If you've been a faithful reader of this website, you know that I have covered many topics over the years and all of them have been related to playing a brass instrument, especially the trombone. However, if I had one idea I could spread to the trombone/brass world, it would be this concept of starting notes to be able to make a great sound. Believe me, if starting notes by bulging into them with a slow, soggy air stream resulted in a great sound, I would do that, BUT IT DOESN'T. If fact what it does do is; require you to tense up your midsection and push the air out in the middle of the note. This tension is the thing that kills resonance! If you use your embouchure and oral cavity alone to move air, the rest of your torso becomes a CONCERT HALL, and creates ring or echo in the sound, which is the result of a correctly produced sound. So; ping the glass, play a note, ping the glass, play a note, ping the glass, play a note, ping the glass...........................

This article has been translated into Italian by Alberto Tortella.

This article has been translated into Polish by Lukasz Michalski.

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