Mini-Exercises (2018)

In 2018 I’ve started creating little exercises that target some focused aspect of playing. I think of these things all the time and often invent them during lessons.
I’ll post new ones in my blog and try to keep a running summary on this page. They appear in reverse chronological order for the year (so the newest addition is always at the top).


27 Nov
Audacity Slide
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The beauty (and agony) of recording technology is that you can play things back at half speed. At first, this was commonly done with reel-to-reel recordings. Now it can be done digitally.

I haven’t exhaustively studied every program and app out there but one excellent choice is Audacity (Windows or Mac). It’s a free program that can do a lot!

Under the ‘effects’ menu of Audacity, you can choose “Change speed” or “Change tempo.” The “Change speed” option will lower or raise your pitch and is most akin to the old reel-to-reel machines. The “Change tempo” option keeps the pitch the same using an algorithm but your tone on playback will have a jagged quality.  For the purposes of this exercise, I recommend “Change tempo.”

So, record yourself playing the exercise and then listen back at half tempo. Use both your ear and a tuner. When you hear a misplaced note, pause the recording and practice that pattern to retrain both arm and ear.

Do some of this kind of thing daily and diligently and you will see good results.

Here’s a pdf of Audacity Slide.

21 Nov
Flow Blow
(Click on the image to enlarge)

This exercise is a bit tricky to notate. The key thing is the concept behind the exercise. The act of moving the slide shouldn’t impact the way we blow. It is the *music* that should impact the way we blow. In the first two measures, move the slide quickly between 1st and 3rd position while blowing a steady stream of air. The quick slide movement shouldn’t impact the blowing action.

In measures 3-4, play a gliss with a steady sound. The slide should move quickly between positions but that steady air of the first two measures should result in a steady tone (no dip in volume as you change positions) throughout.

In the last two measures. Add the lightest touch of the tongue; just enough to conceal the quick gliss. Keep the air flowing throughout.

Here’s a pdf of Flow Blow


14 April
(Click on the image to enlarge)

Sometimes I invent exercises on the fly to meet a student’s needs of the moment. In fact, I seem to do this a lot.
I have noticed many students struggle with engaging their throats on downward slurs. It is almost as if they using a brief pulse from the throat to help with the slur (articulating from the throat). If you listen carefully, you can hear a sort of ‘click’ sound coming from the throat.
Well, we don’t want anything that involves closing off the the throat even for an instant. Too much tension and of course it cuts off the air flow!
This little exercise inserts a gliss as a way to teach or fool the body into realizing that the slur can be achieved without a pulse from the throat.
Think of it as an “anti-click” exercise.

Here’s a pdf of “Anti-Click”

27 March
Easy Rider
(Click on the image to enlarge)

This is almost more of a concept than an exercise. Most of you will recognize this for what it is, a version of Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries that has been simplified both with respect to meter and key.
What if (range permitting) we were to assign this to a younger student and ask them to just work on this for a few months?
Then, as a next step, we could introduce a version of this in B Major (still 3/4 time) and have them work on that for a few months.
Eventually, we hand them the original excerpt and allow them to make the connections.
I suspect that the months spent of playing it in the other keys and meters would have reinforced good habits that could prevent some of the persistent problems players have with the excerpt. It might help with tension and tone quality as well.
Just a thought…

Here’s a pdf of Easy Rider

25 February
Just Seeking
(Click on the image to enlarge)

Just intonation is all about pure ratios. Equal temperament (the system that your tuner probably uses) is all about a compromise in which all keys are the same but none are ideal. When possible, adjust notes up or down so they lock in nicely.
Notice that the piano part has no thirds.
Major thirds – top note down a bit
Minor thirds – top note up a bit

Here’s a pdf of Just Seeking

The sample pages for the book Tuning Drone Melodies have a lengthier explanation.

18 February
Alternate Organic

This is related to the “Organ Symphony” of Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921). Some players argue that excerpt is best performed with no alternate positions or valved notes. Others argue in favor of these things. Ultimately, it needs to be smooth, centered and in-tune.
Maybe this little exercise can help.

Here’s a link to the pdf of Alternate Organic.

12 February

This one is mostly for younger players. Because of those initial ‘band keys’ of B-flat, F and E-flat, younger players start to fuse 2nd and 3rd positions into a one-size-fits-all position somewhere between 2nd and 3rd position. During band scale tests, many band directors won’t call this out.
Over time this leads to a chronically flat 2nd position and high 3rd position.
This exercise helps to clarify the difference.

Here’s a pdf of Accu-Slide

08 February
Hindy Slurs

This slur exercise is not just useful by itself but can demonstrate an important point. The intervals are derived from the opening of the Hindemith trombone sonata. Whenever we confront awkward articulated intervals, it can be very helpful to slur them as a practice technique. If the embouchure can cleanly navigate these leaps while slurring, chances are the tongued version will sound much better!
Here’s a pdf of these slurs.

04 February

This one is useful for soft control. One level of challenging is fading out to nothing while maintaining a good centered tone (and pitch!).
Another level of challenge is fading IN from nothing without a sudden bump in the sound. This one will take some time a patience to master but yield nice benefits. By sure to stay relaxed on ‘re-entry.’
Here’s a pdf of Faders [180204]

29 January
Yellow Brick Road

In legato, I like to keep half steps in adjacent positions. In this octave of the A-flat major scale, that creates a conundrum. We would normally play B-flat in first followed by trigger C. However, that leads to an awkward leap to the D-flat. By playing the B-flat near fourth position (probably raised) we can allow the slide to glide out to 6th, facilitating the half step move to 5th.
Alternate positions are always a trade-off. You gain facility but risk intonation problems and uncentered notes.
If only there were a practice technique [like slowing it down] that could help us master our technique [you know, like slowing it down]. I’ll have to give this some thought [while practicing licks slowly]. I know it will come to me….
Here’s a pdf of Yellow Brick Road [180129]

27 January
Octave Leaps

Achieving a solid sound and attack in the lower register takes work. You can’t force it. Personally, I (and many people) pivot the mouthpiece a bit in search of the best placement for lower notes. I believe all of this pivoting serves the goal of allowing the lower lip to set in the right place for best vibration.
Also, lower notes call for a more air stream to allow good resonance. Some people like to think of ‘warmer’ air such as that you would use to fog up a mirror.
Here’s a pdf of Octave Leaps [180127]

These mini exercises also have a
dedicated page on