Aug 6, 2007

That F...rigging valve

One topic I haven't talked about in past reflection articles, is the F attachment, although I have certainly hinted at the technique of using it in relation to the other valved brass instruments. That Rochut etude that starts with a C in the staff pick-up, slurred to an A top line, can give you fits if the use of the valve isn't carefully done. We all can get other notes or noises in that slur unless it is properly played. As usual the culprit is early valve, late air. If the valve comes up before the air and embouchure reach the second note, you either get in-between notes or garbage in the sound. The trick is to learn to move the valve as you would the slide; smoothly. As I've said before, I don't want my legato to be determined at the factory. I want some, (in fact all) say in it. Today's industrial excellence in most cases make a valve action lightening fast, so fast that very few air streams can keep up with it. Therefore I want you to entertain the idea that you can learn to control the action of the valve to conform to the slur you want. Since the space of the downward-upward throw of the valve is very small, it makes it difficult to make a smooth slur because the jump from C to A, or worse from C to middle C octaves is in a way, bigger than the space between the throw of the valve. If the valve comes up and you're still making the slur, it's not going to sound good.

A good exercise to practice is just pressing the valve down and letting it up without stopping in-between. This takes practice, but it's worth it. Eventually you should be able to move the valve like you would move the slide, if you wanted the slide not to stop, but just past by a position. Then it's another step to add the air stream and embouchure, so that between two notes the sound doesn't stop, but just passes by. The crucial element in the slur from C to A or C to C is; if the air and embouchure can get to the arrival note a fraction of a second before the valve reaches its journey up, you will get a clean, smooth slur. Common sense will tell you that either the air has to speed up or the valve has to slow down. Preferably, I'd like to see a combination of both. Of course the same idea would apply to downward slurs as well. I love the passage of the contrabass trombone in the second scene of Rheingold, where there are those 4 soft slurs from Gb bottom line to Db a fourth below. Do you bass trombone players have any idea how smoothly those can be played?

Hey, you know what? I've been thinking about the "Ride" lately, because it seems to give everyone (including me) so much trouble, and it's on just about every audition. I been thinking about the triplet figure and how difficult it is to not only play correctly, but make it sound good too, which may be two different things. You know what I think? Even though the first beat of every measure is a triplet, the fact is, that triplet is divided into equal parts; a dotted eight on the first half of the beat, and a sixteenth and an eight on the second half. This in effect makes it a duple because you have the same amount of time divided in half. If it is played exactly as it's written, I don't think it sounds enough like a triplet. I think to make it sound like a triplet figure, a tiny amount of time from the second half needs to be shifted to the first half of the beat, so that the first half (dotted eight) takes slightly longer than the second half. This makes the figure slightly uneven, which in my opinion gives more of the feeling of a triplet than if it is played with the same amount of duration on each half of the beat. If you say the word "timpani," (which I prefer to the old "Amsterdam,") you will find that you naturally extend the sound of the "mmmm" consonant longer, giving it a true sounding triplet feeling. Of course possibly the most difficult challenge we face in performing this excerpt is keeping the accent on the first note of the triplet consistent throughout the entire excerpt. Trying to imitate the "timmmpani, timmmpani, timmmpani," sound will give you the length, as well as the style of the first note, which suggests a natural diminuendo. My feeling is, if the first note of the triplet is of the right length and style, then the rest of the figure will naturally fall into place. Please check out my previous article on this excerpt, "Ride in style" for more info. And remember, don't play any duple eight-note pick-ups when performing this excerpt.

This article has been translated into Polish by Lukasz Michalski.

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