Trombone Technique

Updated: Sep 21, 2019

This blog entry/post concerns specific information regarding the technique playing the trombone. Although there may not be any interest in this technique, nor seeming purpose to reading the entry, that would be a mistake. The lesson here is not how to play the trombone, however inherent that is in this discussion. Rather, this blog entry/post is about the careful way, or considerations that accompany excellence in musicianship, performance and the manner of both study and learning transfers to any other subject.

Once practiced, whatever the activity, we become feeling how natural such activity feels. This discussion lends itself to instruct the attitude and manner of care one exercises in order to achieve excellence in any activity. Thus both Part I and Part II are worth reading, even for the uninitiated. Part II will follow, once enough time to digest Part I elapses.

Technique for Trombone

Part I

Relaxation, Breath control, assertive slide movement. Consistent well placed embouchure. Full resonation of the horn, Continuity

These are the most frequent words or concepts I heard in my education of the trombone from every teacher who taught me.

The rest is musicianship.

One of my early teachers spoke of my delineating or defining trombone technique and musicianship and not to confuse the two: once developed, good musicianship then applies to every musical performance using whatever chosen instrument and its technique as means to that expression.

The physics of the trombone and brass instrument in general starts with the production of a buzz. Propelled by an air stream, this buzz produced through a specifically cone shaped mouthpiece, (there can be many designs of such a cone,) travels in a specific pattern through the horn. It is a sound wave, which travels through the shank of a mouthpiece while setting up the then consistent pattern which vibrates the metal of the horn. When those vibration strike air molecules and the sound of the vibrating horn travels to our ears, it is this we hear as trombone sound.

A sound wave is a pitch determined by the length the wave periodicity. A certain wave length gives rise to both a steady or consistent beat and the repetition of that sounding establishes a specific pitch. I.e. 440 cycle per second means sounding a pitch we call “A” (directly above middle C) and 441 beats during. The time of one-second defining both the beginning and end of that second, (hence 441 beats)

So, when a non-specific buzz, considered noise at this point, enters the mouthpiece, it bounces against the metal, develops a certain pattern defined by the shape of the cone in the cup, the rim of the mouthpiece and the narrow and cone shape of the shank of he mouthpiece.

From this point the air stream-buzz enters the mouthpiece shank and the trombone, controlled by the above factors, if the air is properly supported, the vibration of the buzz strikes (hopefully) the entire inner horn. This air stream-buzz travels through the entire horn and as it reaches the bell, notice this bell made in a cone shape, again physics creates a surprising result. When a sound wave encounters a cone shape, it compresses at the widest opening of the cone. That compression activity causes the wave to rarefact, or turn in the opposite direction, returning from whence it came. A hidden cone shaped metal within the pipe near to the mouthpiece, called a Venturi pipe, or lead pipe causes a similar compression and rarefaction and so depending upon the pitch, this buzz sound travels back and forth though the horn from approximately 55 times a second to perhaps 1700+ cycles per second. With so many compressions and rarefactions in a single second, chances are, with good full support, one can cause a full resonation of the horn.

Imagine then the trajectory and the needs involved to manufacture this trajectory of a sound carried by air stream and through the trombone.

From inside the player, air emerges from the bottom of the diaphragm, through the bronchial tubes, windpipe, up to the soft-palette. From there, with the aid of a well curved tongue, the air travels over he tongue, then shaped by the hard palette, descends until the tongue initiates a small explosion sending the air stream through the lips, guided by the then depressed tongue so as to maintain this propulsion through the lips the player produces the buzz.

When the diaphragm descends small sacks in the lungs, called alveoli, fill with air. The support of air through the trombone is directed by the diaphragm and the muscles of the torso acting in concert with the diaphragm. Since all the muscles of the body work together, relaxation throughout the body, good posture and support instead of pushing or forcing creates the desired effect.

Different approaches to breathing result in different sound character. One major influence in this country, Ernest Glover, from the Cincinnati School of Music and who came from a Germanic tradition tended towards filling the horn with air, thus creating the environment for the buzz to strike as much of the metal as possible thereby creating a full resonation. One of his students used to say, “I breathe from my toes,” and would warm up by breathing in large amounts of air, prior to playing. Another tradition, this one from someone who started out as a Minstrel player, Emory Remington from The Eastman School of Music, encouraged his students the use of normal conversational breathing. The average adult takes in four to six quarts of air. Once respecting the body’s need for breath, the player can take in what is a normal breath for use playing the trombone. Just as though you talk through the horn. We take in air beyond our body’s needs in order to talk, likewise we do so for trombone playing. Full resonation occurs when the expulsion of air causes the buzz to then vibrate the entire metal of the horn, efficiently. He likened the experience of filing the horn in a relaxed normal conversational breath to, from a completely unrehearsed and relaxed place, shouting the word “Hell,” without using tension and as loud as possible. Try this and you will be surprised at the freedom of the result coming from such a little amount of breath support.

The next part deals with the development of the American sound, the embouchure, the use of expression and development of excellence in musicianship. Stay Tuned.

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