How to improve your trombone playing with 5 minutes of theory (and a lot more practice…)
The only way to get to the next level of brass playing
Get that music-school-trombone-sound out of my life!!!
The truth about one of the worst and most common bad habits among brass players
Are you convinced that you continue reading this? Good, then let us get down to business! This post is about attack and tonguing for trombone players and ALL other brass players. This post is about how to discover one of the most common bad habits among brass players – and more important – how to get rid of it.
The correct way of starting a tone is by using a tu-attack. The tone should be started with the airflow controlled by the diaphragm and abdominal muscles, using the tongue only to support the attack. (Actually, lot of players tend to build up air pressure in the mouth “behind the tongue” before playing a note. They then release the air by moving the tongue down, resulting in a minor air explosion and uncontrolled attack. This is another common issue, and I will address it in another post.)
So far so good, but playing a note is not just about at starting it. It is just as much about ending it. Lot of players end the note with the tongue instead of just stop blowing. This results in a very abrupt cut of, similar to stopping a cymbal with the hand instead of letting it ring.
So the first step is to figure out if you do stop the note with your tongue. Try playing a note, and be aware about what happens in your mouth when you stop it. It is very simple – there should not happen anything in your mouth when the note ends. The tongue should be relaxed, laying in the bottom of your mouth, ready to play the next note.
Try to play a series of short notes with breaks in between while watching yourself in a mirror. Does it look like you are chewing a piece of meat while playing? This is a strong indicator that something is wrong with your embouchure, and it could very well be that you cut of notes.
So what happens when you cut off the note with the tongue? Besides sounding bad, you will build up pressure in the mouth and throat making it harder to play the next note with a smooth, relaxed attack. Furthermore you don not let the diaphragm relax between notes, building up tensions in your body. You do not want any of that!
If you are one of the many players with this bad habit, it is about time to get rid of it! It is usually not something you do over night, but with a few exercises and awareness, you can do it. Of course, you can not lock your self into a soundproofed cage for three weeks, focusing on nothing but not stopping the notes with your tongue. Just carry on gigging and making music, but try to set off some time everyday for a period where you focus on this issue. Then it will gradually be integrated in your playing.
Here are some basic exercises to help you end notes properly.
Stand up without the instrument and just blow air without using the tongue at all like this:
1. Hu hu hu hu (tho “u” is silent and just illustrates air)
Make sure that you stop the air flow by relaxing the diaphragm and not by locking up the throat.
2. Hu tu hu tu hu tu huuuu (inhale and repeat)
3. Tu tu tu tu tuuuu (inhale and repeat)
Now get your trombone (or whatever brass instrument you play) and try step 1-3 on a single note. Pick a midrange note, like F or the Bb above on first position. When it is starting to feel comfortable, you can start to apply it on a scale or other patterns. Just keep the tempo slow – no more than 60 bpm!
One thing to be aware of when you no longer end the note with the tongue, is that you don not lock up the throat instead. This is just as bad as ending the note with the tongue! Starting and ending notes should be controlled by the air flow and breathing, nothing else!
So what about the rule-confirming exception?
Well, I actually cut off lots of notes with the tongue while playing! Since it is very abrupt, it is a good special effect. I primarily use it when playing big band and I am supposed to end a long note in time. If the whole section cuts of together on a given beat, you get a rhythmical effect out of ending notes as well.
Also, ending a sfz cresc.-note by cutting of with the tongue underlines the effect of the crescendo. So yes – cutting notes with the tongue is a very useful technique, but make sure that you control WHEN to use it!
Good luck, and please let me know if and how this was helpful to you!