Mini Exercise: Audacity Slide

(Click on the image to enlarge)

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.

Another Mini Exercise: “Flow Blow”

Flow Blow
(Click on the image to enlarge)

Well, it has been quite some time since my last mini exercise but here you go!

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

These exercises also have a
dedicated page on

Another Mini Exercise: “Hindy Slurs”

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.

These exercises also have a
dedicated page on

Mini Exercises! The first one: 8ve Leaps

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 exercises also have a
dedicated page on

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.

The Monsters We Make

I shall 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.

Shining Moments

What happens after you finish playing a piece?

Your mind automatically fixates on the things that didn’t go well. That’s human nature, I guess.
However, if you only criticize yourself for the bad moments, without giving equal praise for the ‘shining moments,’ practicing and performing can become a pretty dark affair.

Don’t live in denial, vaguely thinking that everything is just wonderful. But I have found that acknowledging the good moments is a more effective ‘springboard’ for improvement.

How to get started with this?

Here’s a simple trick:
1. Play a passage twice.
2. Ask yourself which one was better. Which one had more ‘shining moments?’

See if you can replicate that success.

Always building, always finding something positive in your playing is just as valid as finding all the negatives.

Slide Leaps

When I’m about to leap out with my slide to a longer position, something like this…

…I anticipate the jump just a bit bit slightly bending my wrist so it can easily snap out to the longer position.

Yes, this can be easily overdone!!

It reminds me of a whiplash move but nothing as violent as this!….

Slide and Air

In legato, we sometimes allow the air to ‘bump’ when the slide moves.
The air is driven by the phrase, not the slide.
To help separate the two, try this little exercise: