Blog Post by Dr. Edwards: Go Somewhere

Sometimes long notes wobble a bit. The tone gets a little quiver.

There is a simple mental trick I use that helps with this. I imagine my sustained note as moving forward from my bell through the space in front of me.

It’s almost as if my sound is a column of light moving forward from the bell. In fact, I sometimes like to visualize an entire phrase as a single, unbroken column of light that changes color for the different notes of the phrase.

In lessons, I sometimes use a hand motion where I begin with my hand close to the bell and then, as the student sustains the note, I move my hand slowly away from the bell, giving them a visual image of forward motion to the sound. This often helps.

Playing any note without a sense of forward motion is often a source of trouble. Not only is the note less musically satisfying, the tone is often less resonant as well.

In that way, you can almost imagine a little, nearly imperceptible crescendo as you sustain the note.

When buzzing, it is nice to get visual feedback of the air-in-motion. A pinwheel is good for this. So is a piece of tissue paper suspended in front of the mouthpiece.

Think of this analogy: If you were to drink from a stream, it is better to drink from flowing water…

..than it is to drink from stagnant water!

Just as you wouldn’t drink from stagnant water, don’t subject your audience to stagnant notes.

Congratulations, Jason Roseth

Congratulations to Jason Roseth (ASU MM, trombone, 2014).

He has been appointed Instructor of Trombone at Augustana University, Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Jason has responsibility for teaching trombone and coaching brass chamber music at Augustana.

Way to go Jason!

The Monsters We Make (A Blog Post by Brad Edwards)

I shall the name the above monster:

The Ding-Slurp

More about that later.

So often, I see students decide that a passage is difficult. Once they have placed that label on the music, it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy!

We see that batch of notes, we think, “Oh man, that’s difficult.” and we tense up accordingly.

This reminds me of that famous experiment with Pavlov and the dogs.

The bell is the stimulus, the salivation is the response.

Do we have similar learned responses?

As you listened to that music, perhaps you envisioned yourself getting ready to play the solo. Did it evoke a learned response?

Students studying for psychology tests will sometimes encapsulate this Pavlovian experiment as the “ding-slurp” theory.
Thus, the name of our monster!

So, if we have developed a learned response that hinders us, we’ll have to learn a new response to replace the old one.

Here’s one simple example. When a younger student is struggling to play higher notes, they often label a note as ‘really high’ and proceed to freak out. Stepping away from the music, I simply play a gliss from 6th to 1st and back down, asking them to imitate me. Back and forth we go, moving to higher partials. When they hit the partial on which they can’t gliss to 1st position, I suggest that they just gliss to 3rd instead. In each case, I play and ask them to imitate.

Usually, they end up playing higher than they thought they could!
Then, I tell them what high note they just reached and even write it down on the page.

Sometimes, their eyes grow wide with the thought,
“Whoa, I just played *that* note?”
Now they are looking at the printed note (stimulus) and realizing that they just played with far more ease than they thought possible (new learned response).

It’s a good beginning.

Pause to consider what monsters you create as you practice your music.

October Practice Reflections

I ask my students to write lesson notes and practice reflections.  I love seeing their comments in writing…

Working on making a beautiful sound in softer dynamics, air support, articulation
During run through ask yourself “Am I doing this the easiest way possible”
Let your body freely bridge the passage between your imagination and your lips
Working on phrasing and bringing character to everything I play; pinwheel concept for breathing; focusing on having no breaks in my sound
I think I need a clone… so I can multi-task more efficiently
Still trying to accomplish basic principles we have discussed, and with overall practice, it has seen progress; although, I am still trying to divide my time to initiate better management of what I need to accomplish.
Easier to play lip slur melodies and tbone craft etudes if I remind myself to look ahead. I think I am forgetting to do this sometimes.
Getting the lips to be proactive vs reactive
I found it easier to work on my material due to using this rotation method for practicing
It’s been an excellent practice week. The idea of simplifying and focusing only on listening, while I’ve heard it before, seems to have helped me considerably this time.
I think I learned to never underestimate how helpful mouthpiece buzzing can be. I always had an issue when slurring down to the lower register, I never liked the tone and the pitch was unsteady. I made the simple discovery that I was not buzzing the right pitch, I was always too high or too low.
I managed to translate the last song in my Brahms cycle, and have also spent tons of time singing. Both the translation and the singing practice have been really helpful for developing my interpretation, and I’m hoping to continue that progress.

September 2017 – Practice Reflections

I ask my students to write reflections in their practice notes. Every now and then, I like to compile some of their comments.
All in all, I’d say I have a very insightful studio!
Don’t expect a good sound, predict it. You have to work to meet an expectation, predictions just happen, they’re a given.
“Relentless patience”
Creative, come up with new solutions
Working too hard, put less effort into blowing
Celebrate successes and acknowledge failures
Lips are just there to respond to air
Discovered that if I don’t shift my face, I can play in and out of the pedal range without having to reset! Victory! Just hold the instrument straight, hear the note, relax and sing.
Working on bringing the intensity and purpose behind my Romeo & Juliette sound into everything that I play, from the studio tune to the Sulek
Experiment and try more things.
Lead to one of my most productive practice sessions this academic years.
2 observations
* Playing relaxed
* Lip and Horn harmony (lips put the pitch where the horn wants it)
~Isolating weak areas inside and outside of the context of the music
Snapshotting” – Don’t think of the movements between two points (inhale/exhale, large leaps, slide movement), take a snapshot of each end and just switch between the two images.
Something I didn’t realize that soft buzzing helps more than loud buzzing. I previously thought that loud buzzing could help you “open up” more in terms of tone. I learned of this when you mentioned this either Wednesday or Thursday of last week during studio class. I started doing soft buzzing and I feel like it has been benefitting my tone even more!
I’ve realized that I usually start playing by blowing air into the trombone before even consciously setting my embouchure. I guess I got away with it up to this point because it’s often overlooked, but I think I should improve at it. Before I start playing something, I will always consciously set my embouchure until it’s been ingrained as a natural habit.
Something that [name] brought up this week that helped me out significantly is playing a piece of music incredibly slow so that I can hear exactly what is coming out of my bell. I think it helped me with some of the intonation issues I’ve been having.
I have continued to use a tuner at least once a day to make sure I have a central focus on my intonation. If not using a tuner, I’ll just head over to the piano to make sure I can hear the notes correctly. So….
* Increased intonation
* Keep using tuner
* Correct intonation helps note changes?
* Continue to listen and reflect
Very hectic week, but have been trying to implement practicing within small windows like mentioned in last lesson. There’s always time somewhere!