Butler Trombones Carbon Slide Review

Butler Carbon Fiber Trombones
(214) 356-8002

This was an outer slide replacement of Earl Williams Model 6, serial #1128 – manufactured in Burbank circa 1966. Here’s a terrific history of Earl Williams trombones.  Received the slide yesterday afternoon, played it for 20 minutes at home then took it to the show:

Weight: Obviously this outer is the lightest I’ve ever played. I don’t know how many ounces it is, but it can’t weigh but 1/4 (or less) what the stock brass outer slide does.

Speed: Easily the fastest slide I’ve ever played in a 42-year playing career. 10/10. Enough said.

Feel: I usually determine this by moving the slide slowly, simulating teensy-weensy adjustments. This test is deceptive, because the feel is so different from a metal slide. A metal slide has heft, which gives it inertial potential, and in an optimum metal slide allows for a glassy feel that provides little drag. No “glassy feel” here – obviously – because we’re not evaluating metal-on-metal with some intermittent viscous fluid. We’re evaluating straight-on carbon fiber on metal.
This slide is just do damn light, the “smoothness/slickness” factor isn’t really comparable and is barely determinable. It’s like the normal evaluation rules don’t apply, and I found myself not *wanting* to evaluate it by traditional methods. In other words, this slide changes my preferences.
Treatment: It seems to like to be dry, because whenever I add any of the (recommended) Yamaha lubricant to it, it incrementally slows down – which takes away from the superior slide speed. The whole thing with this slide is speed, not slickness, and adding anything diminishes the speed just a bit – which is the whole point of the slide.
I guess what I’m getting to with this whole Speed/Slickness analysis is that the classic slide feel is out the door with this one. It doesn’t have the traditional slickness of a metal slide, but after playing it you just don’t care, because it’s SO damn fast.
So fast in fact: this show I’m playing requires a lot of fast 1st-to-6th and 7th-to-2nd technique which I normally use a trigger on (was using an Elkhart Conn 79H), and this is a straight horn and I had NO problem cleanly playing the phrases. I will finish the run with this horn.
Now given all of this, I am a slide placer and not a slide slinger/thrower, and I can’t speak for how this would affect slinging/throwing technique players.
First, a quick primer as to these two techniques:
There are two general schools when it comes to slide technique – placers and slingers.
During fast passages, Slingers don’t like to change slide direction too abruptly. When making a fast position change of two positions or more finishing with a reverse, they push or pull the slide with EITHER the fingers or thumb, and then catch it or bounce it with the opposing digit(s). If it’s multiple notes in the same direction, they accelerate/decelerate the slide during the one-direction position change in order to attempt to coincide the moment of articulation with the correct slide position.
Placers – like me – keep thumb and fingers in contact with the brace at all times. When I need to play something fast, I place my arm and wrist at the right positions, and quick changes of direction are done with wrist whip rather than throwing and catching. If I’m in first and I have to jump quickly out to fifth or sixth and back, I do it by extending my arm, with all my fingers and thumb never losing contact, and the wrist being the “whip” or shock absorber.
It must be noted that since these two techniques are inextricably tied to overall intonation/sound/style, slide slingers and slide placers are positively married to their respective technique.  They usually can’t understand the other, which is why so few players will speak of or acknowledge these two – generally exclusive – fast slide techniques. They are like ardent members of opposing political parties – they just don’t “get” the other.
I have no idea how a slinger would like this slide, because it doesn’t have the normal heft/speed/feel characteristics of a metal slide; I would think they have to feel heft in order for throwing/catching the slide to feel “right.” I’m a slide “placer” and I positively love the speed/feel of this slide.
Air Feel: I cannot determine ANY differences in air feel from the stock metal slide.
I am a painfully picky player in this regard – I just had new (metal) tubes drawn for another horn, and I sent the slide back because even though the slide felt amazing and the construction was perfect, the tolerance between the inner and outer was JUST a micron or two too loose and it (incrementally) changed the blow.
Nothing like that here. Nothing. Air feel is identical to a stock, mid-60s Earl Williams 6. Probably helps that David Butler is a Williams expert.
Sound: this was the truly surprising & exciting part – I cannot determine ANY differences in sound quality from the stock metal slide. None whatsoever, not even low Bs/Cs/Fs/Es where a third of the trombone is carbon. All the resonance qualities that I love metal horns for – and have had problems with all-CF horns – are absent here.  It projects, resonates and rings just like any good mid-1960s Williams.
Disadvantages: the only thing I can think of is the inner has to be widened to accommodate the carbon fiber outer, so once you convert you can’t switch back and forth.
Based on playing it about three hours yesterday, it’s safe to say this is my new primary gig setup that I will use on all but large-bore gigs, no question.
Absolutely excellent.  Flawless construction. Real game-changer. Highly recommended.
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Summer Fun 2018!!

Plenty of public performances coming up in Summer/Fall 2018!  Appearances with Chaise Lounge, Brian Simms’ Junkyard Saints, Bohemian Caverns Jazz Orchestra, Art Sherrod Jr., Annual Galas at Strathmore and Ford’s Theatre, and the 5-week Pre-Broadway run of “Ain’t Too Proud – the Life and Times of the Temptations” at Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theatre.

See the full schedule, and I hope to hang with many of you in the coming months 😀


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Learning Jazz Trombone – It’s All In the Ears!

Aside from simply learning/improving/maintaining good fundamental trombone skills, learning to play in a jazz ensemble is largely a function of knowing what it is supposed to sound like and developing the EARS. The ears are the only thing that matter in jazz.

We often tell aspiring improvisers that the primary, numero uno thing they need to do is to put the horn away and LISTEN to recordings of great jazz, to submerge themselves in all kinds of jazz music — big band (Ellington, Basie, Glenn Miller, Thad Jones/Mel Lewis, Buddy Rich, Maynard Ferguson, Kenton, Woody Herman), trad/swing (Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton, Gene Krupa, Tommy Dorsey, Fats Waller, Jack Teagarden, Lester Young, Benny Carter, Billie Holiday), Bop/Post Bop (Charlie Parker, Dexter Gordon, Sonny Stitt, Sonny Rollins, Clifford Brown, Thelonius Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, Freddie Hubbard, J.J. Johnson, Lee Morgan, Frank Rosolino, Bud Powell), Modern/Free/Post Modern Jazz (Miles Davis, Bill Evans, John Coltrane, Wayne Shorter, Horace Silver, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Dave Holland, Ornette Coleman, Archie Shepp, Cecil Taylor, Art Ensemble, Charles Mingus, Wynton Marsalis, Jerry Bergonzi, Chris Potter, George Garzone, Nick Payton, Kenny Werner, Danilo Perez, John Scofield, – the list of greats today gets far too numerous to effectively thumbnail…).

And most significantly of all today: the great Elvin Jones who passed away last Tuesday at 76.

So there is an initial outlay here of money (to Aebersold Jazz or Mosaic or Amazon or Barnes & Noble) or time and energy (going to the library). Much as the aspiring novelist MUST immerse him/herself in the great literature of the past, the aspiring musician CANNOT get past the profound, primary step of committing the great music of the past to his or her psyche.

But immersing one’s self in great live and recorded music is not merely a critical task for the improviser – it is also of primary importance to the big band section and lead player. One simply HAS to have the sound of a jazz line being played with great, swinging time and inflection completely ingrained in their head in order to be able to play in the big band style. So I cannot stress this step enough for ALL musicians learning to perform in a jazz setting.

Next, we can get the horn out again. Start to play along with some of the simpler jazz recordings we have heard, such as Miles’ solos on his “Dig” and “Kind of Blue” CDs, any Louis Armstrong or Harry “Sweets” Edison or Kenny Dorham or Paul Desmond (1950/60s Dave Brubeck) solos — there are also a variety of historical trombone figures whose solos are, relative to the other instruments of the period, reasonably accessible to the novice jazz trombonist: Trummy Young, Jack Teagarden, Lawrence Brown (Ellington trombonist) and J.J. Johnson. Pay attention to emulate the sweet subtleties of each player, the length of the notes, the character of the articulation when they play a line.

As one’s technique progresses, one can move on to the more advanced Bebop and Modern players.

Of course, the improviser MUST spend a great deal of time actually playing jazz with a live combo or with play-along CDs, such as the Jamey Aebersold Play-A-Long Series. This is where you learn to actually find ways of applying what the ears have picked up from all of this intense listening in one’s own playing.

And one last, vast, fundamental jazz skill is the ability to read chord changes and standard notation in the jazz genre.

Jazz notation is a whole level of literacy unto itself. Learning simply what chords are and standard scale choices associated with chord symbols comprises an entire, two-semester class – but a good place to have all this material in one comprehensive reference is in Dan Haerle’s excellent The Jazz Language.

In order to develop your ability to read standard notation jazz charts, it is good to bug your band director to get some copies of trombone parts to jazz band charts to take home and practice. But don’t just pile into these pieces! Remember how the great musicians you listened to sounded when they played those lines? It is a good idea when playing these parts to periodically stop, walk to the stereo, and listen again to how Hank Mobley or Art Farmer sounded when they played simple, swinging jazz lines. Push yourself to match the relaxed and smooth style of these greats – the ability to play in this manner is a skill which will benefit you tremendously in any ensemble performance situation for the rest of your life.

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The Legato Trombone

The legato tonguing style is one of the hardest and most important things we learn on the trombone.

From the exquisite sounds of jazz ballads softly played by Tommy Dorsey or Bill Watrous, or a lush Jay Friedman performance of Tuba Mirum, the trombone is inherently an instrument capable of the most lyrical and sublime sounds. In the modern classical setting, legato has become even more important in many orchestras as trombonist increasingly apply legato beginnings of notes to even marcato figures. And beginning in the modern Jack Teagarden /Lawrence Brown) jazz trombone era, legato tonguing became and today remains *the* default mode of tonguing.

Unlike many other important skills on the trombone, the ability of a trombone performer in the legato style cannot be measured by tempo, or range. It is a purely aesthetic aspect of playing, and is inseparable from and integrated in the overall quality of sound of a player. Many, many trombonists can produce a full, pure and wonderful sound holding a note. Far fewer players can produce a full, pure, natural and seamless sound whilst changing notes.

I have heard the goal of how the legato trombone articulation should sound described as the seamless sound of a baritone or euphonium changing notes with the valve only. Certainly this describes a seamless articulation; however the legato trombone style can be so much, much more. In many musical situations this may be precisely what we want the articulation to sound like, but in others, perhaps a Lawrence Brown or Trummy Young  wants a touch of slide into, around and out of the notes – these are subtle yet vital stylistic prerogatives of the performer which merely illustrate the importance of the art of the trombone legato in the musical palette.

The four keys to developing a beautiful legato style on the trombone are simply, the ear, the air, the tongue and the slide. The ear, because as with the development of most technical skills on the trombone, legato tonguing is best informed by listening to great performers and broadening and deepening the ear and mind

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The Musician’s Best Friend: YOGA

As a person with an active yoga practice that has changed my life, I am quick to offer yoga as a comprehensive method of training the body to move and “be” in a way that eliminates occupational injuries and enhances overall health in a way that therapeutic treatments simply are not designed to.

Therapeutic modalities, including chiropractic, massage therapy, acupuncture are often very effective in addressing pain that is symptomatic of body imbalances, joint and bone degeneration, sports injuries and occupational injuries.

On the other hand, the physical intent of a rigorous yoga practice is to train the body, by adding strength, flexibility and teaching correct ergonomics of moving/sitting/standing, for the purpose of eliminating the underlying cause of pain, as well as for the purpose of enhanced muscle/organ/joint operation.

The result of a commitment to work hard at a yoga practice under the guidance of a good teacher is a level of well-being, actualization and personal power that one often (as was in my case) cannot otherwise really envision.

What Does Yoga Do?

As with Alexander Technique, a practice used by many musicians, a general description of what yoga can do is to create space and flexibility in regions of the body, relieving chronic pain, increasing circulation, balancing imbalanced muscle groups and generally improving body position and function.

What happens as we grow older and lose subtle flexibility in different areas of the body (the hips is the most common area in middle-aged men, the shoulders are probably the second most common) is two things; one, the adjacent joint takes up the slack in terms of flexibility, and two, the muscles tendons, ligaments and organs in the afflicted area become compressed, and the circulation to the area likewise becomes constricted, which reduces the ability of soft tissue to withstand the compression.

Many times the result of these factors is tendon/ligament irritation, muscle weakness, pinched nerves, organ disfunction, bone spurs, arthritis, etc. etc.; really the list goes on and on.  Many of these disfunctions tend to lead to other, often more serious and degenerative, conditions.

Yoga has proven to me to be very effective in educating me in changing the way I sit, stand and move so that I am creating space and flexibility where my body needs it to be, while taking stress away from the regions where it causes problems.

Example: The Lower Back

I’ll try to use the lower back as an example, since this is the region of the body that has plagued me since my early twenties and almost ended my career in my thirties.

It is common that humans, upon approaching middle age, begin to lose flexibility in the hips.  There are many reasons for this, the primary ones relating to the fact that a) people today sit on chairs rather than sitting on the ground as they usually did 1,500 years ago, and b) people don’t move around as much as they did even 100 years ago.

Because of differences in physical structure, loss of flexibility in the hips is much more of a problem in middle-age men than women.

This loss of hip flexibility and loss of suppleness in the hips produces a domino effect in the body.  First, the connecting tissue between all of the bones and muscles in the pelvis begin to lose flexibility and strength, and all of the bones, joints, cartilage, tendons and muscles that comprise the pelvis begin to collapse inward and crowd together.

As this pelvic structure crowds together and loses flexibility, it crowds the tailbone and limits the circulation of blood and fluid around the base of the spine.  But even more profoundly (in my case) the loss of flexibility due to the hips crowding in forces the lumbar area of the spine to exert far more than the amount of flexibility and strength it was designed for.

The back muscles, which are completely inferior to the hips in terms of strength and suppleness, cannot begin to carry the load.  When the flexibility is lost in the hips, it is an awful lot to ask for the system of vertebrae, cartilage and disks in the back to provide the flexibility lost in the hips, in addition to the work it was designed for.

So, in the moments throughout the day wherein we make movements that exceed the back muscles’ ability to absorb the forces put to it, the muscles begin to fail in their primary mission of supporting the spine.  Then, the cartilage and disks, already stressed by the additional flex and torsion load, begin to absorb force that it cannot withstand, and often the result over time is that the disks lose their ability to circulate fluid, and often begin to shut down, resulting in atrophied, herniated and even ruptured disks.

Disk problems and bone spurs often manifest themselves in pinched (and sometimes even severed) nerves, which directly cause pain, and moreover cause muscles to spasms, which further pull backs out of alignment, which further pinch nerves.  It can be a horrible, painful, self-replicating situation.

Many people think the way to address lower back problems is to add flexibility and strength to the back.  Make no mistake, back strength and flexibility is important.  But if the back is a Porsche, then the hips are a Mack Truck, and if you ask the Porsche to do the work of your broken-down Mack Truck, you are liable to break the Porsche.

Ergonomics For the Working Musician

Additionally, what a very good yoga teacher teaches is not just the exercises that work to develop the small neglected muscles that promote flexibility and space in the minute corners of the anatomy (such as the rotator cuff) but also teaching the basic art of being; learning, by feel, to place and carry limbs and loops in anatomical neutral at all times, to move consciously, using movement as a way to create space in the body.

For the musician, one of the profound improvements realized by the recovered space in the thoracic cavity is the ability to breathe fully and freely, and some of the biggest benefits for the musician in proper limb mechanics is the ability to operate our instruments with our arms with flexibility and strength, while removing the constrictions and crowding that set the stage for occupational injuries.

By taking the shoulders back and resting them on the shoulder blades, we create space in the shoulders, allowing good blood circulation in the shoulder socket, and free operation of the joint.  Good blood circulation and free movement is critical, since poor circulation and lack of flexibility puts stress of the rotator cuff, and misaligns the arm, which causes injury in the shoulders and elbows.

In Summary…

Gravity is hammering at us 24/7, and I spent about ten years in my twenties and early thirties injuring and reinjuring my back and being confined to bed rest for weeks at a time. My Air Force career was, frankly, in serious jeopardy.

Then I figured out that my hips had lost all of their flexibility and my back was taking up the slack. I initiated a rigorous yoga practice in 2000, and after about a year, the horrible back problems disappeared. Certainly, I experience back pain somewhat regularly as I have some broken cartilage in my back that won’t ever heal. But compared to what life was like before, it’s nothing at all.

Yoga has changed my life – I strongly recommend it.

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Developing The Upper Register

While there’s really two parts of developing the high register, they both have one thing in common: extending the high range is 80% mental and only 20% physical.

Part one is that there’s really not a fast way to learn to make everything work so efficiently that you can play in the upper register with facility and versatility of tone and dynamics. It takes years and years.

So I suggest you go at it from the strategy of play in your regular range using good, strong fundamentals, and slowly work to extend your range with those good fundamentals intact.

(By good fundamentals, I am referring to a solid embouchure with good “meat” – whether pucker, corners in or corners down – and a strong-cored air column that has it’s bottom at the base of the gut. Pushing from the bottom, and focusing a clean, coherent air stream through massed lip tissue is the heart of strong trombone-playing fundamentals)

The second factor is the important concept of focusing on modulating the airstream to the proper size, intensity and shape for the range you are playing in, and pushing from the bottom to create an air column that has the large, stable muscles of the torso doing the hard work.

Push From the Bottom 

“Air support” is important for two reasons. The first of which is because air pressure from the bottom of the gut, combined with the small aperture described by Richard Corliss, = an air stream with the size and speed needed to buzz the lips for high register playing.

Also, solid air support from the bottom of the air column means you are using thebig muscles to do the heavy lifting, and it means you are taking in and using more air, which increases the oxygen content in the bloodstream and means the blood getting to the facial muscles will be charged with oxygen, thus increasing the amount of time the face can support the higher mouthpiece pressure requiredby intense, high playing.

So strong air support from the bottom = increased endurance.

Air Focus at the Top 

Lest those who have a different approach take offense, I should say there are quite many ways to go about funneling or focusing the airstream for the upper register.

First I’ll tell you how I do it.

The closest analogy I can make to describe what I do is to just whistle and observe the size and shape of your mouth and the position of the tongue as you go back and forth between low and high whistling. That is the general movement of my mouth.

The big difference between the whistling and the actual playing is that the *front* of my tongue is not quite as elevated when I play.

Now the way I usually start younger students on focusing their air is the way Jake taught me, which is to push out with your air, and as you slur upwards, say past the   , you begin to change the syllable a bit from perhaps an “AUHHH” to an “AHHH” or even an “EHHH”.

Some have trouble with these syllables because they want their mouth to be in an “O” shape. I have decided that all this means is that they tend to pull their cheeks in in addition to dropping their jaw which is fine. This is actually what I do (as in the whistling analogy) is try to envision blowing air through a straw without hitting the sides (!).

Randy Purcell told me the number one thing he does to achieve a focused air stream is put your hand about 8 inches in front of your face and blow into it, trying to make the airstream hitting the hand the size of a quarter.

I like to employ the analogy of a ball player. A professional hitter in baseball (cricket for you brits) doesn’t hit with their arms. A player that uses their arms can barely clear a ball out of the infield. Power hitters and even finesse hitters use the large muscles of the legs, hips and torso to effect the proper biomechanics to have a swing with enough power to hit a ball hard; even the high average hitters use that approach because they can take a, 85% effort swing and have absolute bat control.

The same goes for playing trombone. The big muscles pushing the airstream from the bottom are where the power and intensity of airstream come into play; combining that with modulating the size and shape of the airstream in the mouth and you get great sound (the tone chamber goes deep into the body instead of just in the chest), a powerful ability to play at the dynamic extremes (obvious for the louds, but using the big gut muscles to drive a pianissimo sound produces a big and steady soft sound), a tremendous ability to make big interval jumps (a little more effort in the gut combined with a precise airstream adjustment in the mouth beats the heck out of trying to muscle it up with the little chop muscles) and good range with control and sound.

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The “OUT, NOT UP” Gateway to Air-Based Playing

(Excerpts from “Jake’s Method, the Trumpet Method of Don “Jake” Jacoby” surrounded by “**”)

Stand in the middle of a fairly large room.  You are going to play a middle “F” in the staff.

**Put your mouthpiece on your lip where it always goes and then, TAKE YOUR MIND COMPLETELY OFF OF YOUR LIP. We are not going to try to play this F with your lip. We are going to put an attack on it and let the air vibrate your lip to produce the note. Remember, think only of the air and about six feet out in front of your horn. There should be no lip movement whatsoever. OK, try it. Try it again. Try it once more until you feel the air making the sound instead of trying to manipulate the note with your lip. When you get that feeling, then let’s do this:

Play the F exactly as before and when you slur to the “G” one step above, don’t change anything but just reach out about one additional foot and move the air just a bit faster. This will produce the “G”. It should feel exactly the same as the “F” and be just as free and full-bodied with no lip involvement. You should feel, at all times, completely relaxed and think AIR, AIR, AIR. Be careful not to use “more” air — just a little “faster moving” air.**

Start on the “F”, and slur to “G” and then to “A”, each time simply moving the air out in front of you one additional foot without changing your lip at all, and just moving the air a little faster. Repeat this until you are comfortable with the feeling of letting the air do all of the work, with no lip involvement whatsoever, then add another note in the “F” major scale. Feel free to use natural breaks of the horn and gliss or use a very lightly legato tongue – just ensure that the focus remains on driving the air faster and “out”, one foot at a time, to make the note change – with NO ADJUSTMENT OF THE CHOPS.

When you reach “C” and higher, **we add JUST A HAIR (no more) of the tongue slightly raised and forward. Remember, no more than a hair of tongue involvement and when it is put into that position, keep it there.**

When you have completed the entire “F” major scale, use this same approach to playing slurs: middle “F” to middle “Bb”, then down chromatically. Then try it with “F-Bb-D” and so forth. The important thing is not to rush through this as if it is a set of calisthenics – it is not. If you lose connection with the feeling of ignoring your lip and letting the air do the work, you must go back to the beginning of the exercise.

The point of the exercise is that learning to play OUT (visualizing progressive points in space in front of you, adding a slightly raised tongue in the middle register) instead of UP on a simple level and gradually teaching the body to incorporate the technique in everyday playing is a very effective gateway to the very essence of air-based playing, which is a prerequisite for any brass player with aspirations toward becoming a professional. There are many ways that brass players learn to base playing the instrument on air (although some are born to it and have no need of single-mindedly focusing on air), but using air as the primary tool of playing is an absolute necessity for the professional brass player.

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Seven Habits of Effective Trombonists

If we were to assemble the great trombonists of the world in a room and poll them as to the “common denominator” of what makes a successful player, we would quickly discover that none of these accomplished professionals have a single, overriding behavior that has made the difference for them in terms of overcoming obstacles in their playing career.

The reality is that there are a multitude of habits or behaviors that give players what they need, not to become great players, but to put them in the best position possible to overcome obstacles and constantly improve their craft.

In this article, we will look at some of the habits we have observed many of the accomplished players have in common. By no means is this a complete list, but it can represent a starting point for all of us in our lifelong quest to improve as players.

I. Listening

Music is a language, and our ability to express ourselves musically can only grow as we develop in our ability to understand and “speak” that language. Let’s carry the language analogy a step further: experts have always claimed that the best way to learn and to integrate a new spoken language into our lives is through immersing ourselves in speaking it and hearing it spoken. Why is this? Because what is truly critical in mastering a language is not the words and phrases anyone can learn in a book; it is the expressions, tempo, gestures, tone and rising and falling pitch that supply the critical nuances of verbal communication. So the vital habit of those who seek to effectively communicate as musicians is to listen to music.

Whether the musical “dialect” is the one heard spoken at the Lincoln Center on Philharmonic night, the Light House at Hermosa Beach, CA, or at an all-night bar in Tijuana, immersing ourselves in the language by attending as many live music performances as we can is an important habit in the attainment of musical literacy.

Going to the recordings of the masters is another invaluable resource, especially when the opportunities for live performances are rare, or in the event that the standard-bearer(s) of that particular style (or “dialect”) lived in earlier times.

And finally, we cannot underestimate the significance of “cross-training” our ears: learning to recognize the language of music through as many dialects as possible presents ways to crash through impediments to our own art that we may not have even dreamed.

II. Feedback

As a natural consequence of cultivating our ears by integrating ourselves into the music of others, we start to hear our genuine “inner self” emerge within the framework of a common musical culture: this is the essence of being a musician! And as any accomplished professional or amateur knows, it is a lifelong process that consists of overcoming an endless series of obstacles: technical & musical. An absolutely critical habit in creating a mindset of overcoming such obstacles is seeking feedback.

Feedback can be found pretty much anywhere we look for it, and the task of the musician is to seek feedback that is valuable and useful to us. One source, lessons from accomplished teachers and performers, provide a direct and concentrated manner of feedback on specific issues that challenge us.

And while auditions primarily fill the role of opportunities for employment, the degree to and way in which we succeed and/or fail at them provides a precious feedback resource. In the event that an audition did not result with a job offering, strive to seek feedback from the auditioner (ensure that your request is phrased as an honest request for feedback for improvement, and not appearing to be asking for a justification why the position was not offered!)

And finally, recording and listening to ourselves practice and perform provide an absolutely invaluable source of feedback. The final arbiter of a quality or a performance is, in the end, the player. So for analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of a performance, the quality of projection, sound and articulation, the blend achieved in an ensemble setting, there is not a more critical or relevant source of feedback than the performer’s own ears.

III. Lots of Short & Varied Practice Sessions

As we move into the practice room, we discover that there are many, many methods and paths to improvements, and no one method or technique to improving one’s playing is going to be right for everyone. It is important that we find for ourselves the right practice methods that in essence become “our method”. But there is an underlying common denominator that spells success for many top professional trombonists: the habit of taking practice sessions that are numerous, short and varied throughout the day.

There are many, many luminaries in the trombone world that have told us again and again that once you get the horn out for your first practice session of the day, leave it out and in plain sight. This will encourage you to pick it up and play more often. The great Jimmy Knepper advocates hanging the trombone by a hook on the wall.

Rather than play one or two longer practice sessions, many greats of the trombone advocate shortening the practice sessions and doing more of them, inserting rest periods between each one. The reasons for this vary from player to player, but the habit is widespread among those who have learned to maximize their practice routine.

And just as we learn to “cross-train” our ears, utilizing different trombone methods in our practice can facilitate breakthroughs in our playing. One weightlifter friend told me that when you do the same weight training exercises each time you work out, your body gears up specifically for what it knows it’s going to be asked to do. As in weight training, we must “shock” our bodies into responding to a practice routine or method that is unfamiliar to it.

IV. Equipment

Equipment is a touchy subject, because many of the experimenting and adjustment done by highly experienced trombonists should not necessarily be attempted by the beginner or intermediate trombonist. Given that, the habit of finding, “sticking to” and maintaining your equipment is an observed habit of the highly successful trombonist.

It is essential that the issue of finding the “right” equipment be scaled to the level player you are. For the absolute beginner, an intense process of auditioning different makes and models of professional-grade equipment is not appropriate; simply getting a recommendation from a trusted teacher or pro as to an appropriate student-grade setup is perfectly adequate. But for the college-level trombonist on up, taking the opportunity to reevaluate or “re-audition” their equipment is a vital element in the lifelong quest to move towards the sound and feel that most authentically represents them as players.

We have known many great players who have, through decades of professional experience, honed their sense of sound, projection and feel to such a fine point that they can pick up trombone after trombone and know exactly how the horn would feel once they became accustomed to it. But for the college student or the young professional, it is highly recommended that the audition period be extended to weeks, even months.

And once a horn/mouthpiece combination has been chosen, the habit of sticking to that choice through thick and thin is absolutely vital. In fact, the temptation to and propensity for many players to embark on a life of equipment quests is so rampant that many professionals encourage students to avoid them altogether and simply stick to what they have. Clearly, while periodically looking to improve one’s equipment situation is an important element of the overall improvement process (especially for intermediate and advanced players) the pitfalls of not sticking with equipment choices over the medium term are clear.

Another element of solid equipment habit is that the working order of a player’s equipment and the effort a player puts forth in keeping his or her equipment properly maintained has a strong correlation with the player’s view of themselves as players. Beyond the simple logistics of how a well-functioning slide adding technique and intonation benefits, the appearance and condition of equipment used by the great players always seems to be exemplary.

V. Conditioning

While it is certainly true that there are notable players who do not place exercise, & proper diet as high priorities in their lives, the evidence does seem to indicate that players who are capable of withstanding the rigors of daily performances or touring (especially in middle age and older) have taken measures to develop the habit of proper conditioning.

We live in a world where there are as many approaches to physical fitness and levels of commitment to those approaches as there are people, and it seems fair to conclude that the right regimen is just as much up to the individual as is the right trombone method. But at the very least, many who have been able to maintain themselves at a professional level for a number of years have discovered that some kind of cardiovascular work (walking, running, biking, swimming) and some sort of expansive work (yoga, Alexander Technique, Pilates, stretching) offer benefits that put our bodies in the best place to physically support the physical and mental stress of trombone playing.

With regard to diet, again there are a good many approaches to proper nutrition, and there are many physiologies and individual dietary considerations that make a one-size-fits-all answer impossible. Given that, attention to how our bodies react to what we eat, and altering our diet in order to maintain the best body chemistry and preserve a good “playing weight” is vital.

One aspect of conditioning our bodies that does not vary from person to person is hydration. Between sweat and saliva loss, playing the trombone is, at it’s heart, a “wet” proposition. Beyond the need to replenish fluids after playing, proper hydration also supplies the blood and organs with needed fluid, and flushes toxins from our bodies.

And finally, on a serious note, there is no end to the tales of great musicians who have had their careers, and often and more importantly their lives, wrecked by alcohol and drugs. Excess in these areas could very well be characterized as the most demonstrable occupational hazard of the music profession.

VI. Rest

Closely tied to the habit of properly preparing our bodies to be better instruments is to give our bodies the time to recover from the daily stress of playing and living by developing the habit of undertaking proper rest.

While there are certainly exceptions to the rule, the majority of long-term professional players give themselves time between performances to allow their bodies to recover. And in the event that we have multiple performances in consecutive days, that may even mean we do not maintain a full practice schedule. In fact, many have found that cutting out all but short, easy slur or long-tone sessions between frequent gigs give them increased energy and endurance come show time.

Proper sleeping habits are absolutely critical in giving our bodies the rest they need. Often, performances and tear-down go into the very late hours, and the time we need to “spin-down” enough to sleep take us into the wee hours of the morning. In these cases, if work or other commitments do not allow us a full night’s sleep many have discovered that a short late-afternoon or early-evening nap provide huge benefits in terms of recouping the lost sleep time. Likewise, oversleeping should be avoided.

And last, many players swear by the value of taking a week or two off from playing once or twice a year. The speed with which a player is able to come back from such layoffs varies widely, but the mental and physical benefits of the time off are plentiful. Again, it is up to the individual to decide whether these “decompression” periods are right for them.

VII. Professionalism

Last, but certainly not least, one of the most valuable habits of the highly successful trombonist is a high level of professionalism: collegiality, promptness and self-respect.

There is a saying I have heard from many hard-working pros: people will tolerate someone who is a jerk and plays great, or someone who plays OK and is terrific to be around. But the great player who is a joy to work with will always get the first calls. When it comes down to it, musicians and contractors are people who want to be treated with respect, and it is an awful lot to ask for to expect that our playing speaks for itself. Strive to be the complete package: someone who shows up to the gig, is generous and respectful of others, and plays their behind off!

Second (but pursuant to collegiality), there is no greater fundamental sign of a lack of professionalism than someone who shows up just in time to begin the performance, or (shudder) is late to the gig. Make every effort to arrive at the job site with plenty of time to spare.

And finally, a vital element of maintaining ourselves as professionals is to always think of ourselves, carry ourselves, and respect ourselves as professionals. There is a critical time in a young trombonist’s life where they transition from being a student to being a professional; the obvious sign of this is when they do their first job for money. But the transition to professionalism truly begins when the player begins to carry with them the self-image of a person whose art is worth money. Self-deprecating humor aside, we must always realize that there is something about us as musicians that is special, that no other person in the world can offer. And it is that precise thing that makes us valuable.

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Spain w/Dave Steinmeyer

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