Jun 11, 2006

Something you can count on

How do you count rests? 1,2,3,4, 2,2,3,4, 3,2,3,4? When I was in high school one of the books I read about music had an interesting thought about counting rests. I doubt if that subject has been explored much in how-to books, if fact I don't remember ever seeing anything about it in my experience. Most counting of rests is a pretty simple process because of familiarity with the music as well as many times, an abundance of cues. But there is also a large percentage of rests, especially for brass players, that need to be counted very carefully and contain no help as far as cues are concerned. I have found the advice given in the book I mentioned, (I've forgotten the title, it being long ago) namely that instead of counting every beat in your head with the corresponding beat number, you should only mentally say the first number of each bar and then let that number extend through the rest of the bar. Instead of counting a 4/4 bar 1,2,3,4, 2,2,3,4, etc. you would count; "wah-n-n-n, tu-u-u-u, three-e-e-e, four-r-r-r." etc. I don't mean to re-pronounce each letter, but just let the first number ooze into the rest of the beats. Counting and feeling 4 beats in every sequence, say; onennn, twoooo, threeeee, fourrrr" etc. Why does this make a difference? Because when you are counting 45+ bars rest, it is too easy to lose count at the end of a bar because you forgot what number you started with. I have found this method to work very well and has saved me a lot of embarrassment and probably some nasty looks from conductors.

Last month I talked about that nasty passage from Zarathustra with the D slurred octaves which shows up on many auditions. I'd like to delve into that excerpt even more this month and give you some strategy for developing this excerpt, so that you have a decent chance of getting through it in an audition. Of course I'm referring to the passage in the 1st and 2nd tenor trombone parts.

The first thing to focus on is getting those D octaves so you can get them almost every time. I am in favor of isolating them in a practice setting. As I said last month I like to play the middle D in 4th and the high D in 1st. I find the shift from 1st to 4th helps to get the air moving to first position ahead (or in front) of the slide, which is essential for this slur to be smooth and powerful. Before you try to play the entire passage, you should only work on those D octaves, and know exactly what needs to happen to make them reliable. The other notes in that passage have a tendency to distract the embouchure away from what it needs to do at that moment, so therefore a regrouping of the embouchure is necessary just before the D octaves. To achieve the proper action of embouchure and air required for such a strenuous task, these octaves need to be practiced and perfected before playing the whole passage. There are several ways to play this passage. You can play the low part on a low embouchure and switch to a high setting after the middle A, or you can play the beginning on the high embouchure and try to get a decent sound on it. Incidentally, I play the E# in 6th position. The important thing is to know that the D octaves should be completely reliable before adding the rest of the passage. This will make sure you are working backwards in developing this excerpt, which is the key to success. Just playing this passage over and over while not being able to play the octaves by themselves is a waste of time. By working backwards you will set in granite how to play the most difficult part of this excerpt and then add the beginning, and that will change the normal approach from a unsuccessful strategy to a successful one. Of course this method can be used in a multitude of other difficult excerpts, namely those that go from low to extreme high in a short period of time. I want to remind you how to play those octaves again as I did last month. When you play the middle D in 4th position as I advise, remember to make sure that the shift to 1st captures all the air in front of the slide and leaves nothing behind. Then the embouchure must shift in time to be waiting in first position to receive the air that has been delivered by the slide. If you can audibly KEEP TRACK of the sound from first to fourth position, so that there is a constant flow of sound from D to high D, and avoid jumping over that slur, I believe you have a good chance of making this difficult shift happen.

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