Announcing: The Play It Forward Campaign!

Please help me fund my efforts to attend Suzuki teacher in June 2020, and beyond. In return, I’ll donate educational time and resources to Minnesota students.

First, the big news:

In January of this year, I auditioned, was accepted, and registered for Suzuki teacher training in its emerging new instrument category- BRASS! I’m incredibly excited and honored to have been chosen to undertake training and certification in Book One for trombone and euphonium. I’ll be traveling to the Intermountain Suzuki String Institute in Draper, Utah (near Salt Lake City) in June 2020 and spending a week learning from the woman who quite literally wrote the book (and the program, and the training) on Suzuki trumpet- Ann Marie Sundberg!

For those of you unfamiliar with Suzuki methodology, it’s extremely compatible with the pedagogy I already model. Developed by Shin’ichi Suzuki in the 1950s as a way of encouraging young folks to pick up music as naturally as acquiring language, it started with violin and other string instruments and has since expanded to include piano, guitar, flute, and many other instruments. Suzuki’s method focuses on learning by ear, making music fun and accessible, and developing well-rounded appreciators and performers of the arts. There is a high level of parent involvement and frequent performances to help students build confidence and enjoyment as they learn music.

Suzuki trumpet was pioneered in Europe in 2011 and has since expanded to cover the other brass instruments. I will be, as far as I know, the first officially certified Suzuki teacher in brass instruments in the state of Minnesota! This is a tremendous opportunity for me to grow as an educator, and to make music in my community more accessible.

This is where you come in. While valuable in the long run, the upfront costs of training in Suzuki methodology are not cheap. I’ve applied to grants and scholarships, but will still need to cover some program costs as well as lodging and travel- not to mention that I’ll unable to maintain my teaching and performing schedule while I’m away. But I don’t want to just ask you for money and then use it for my own ends- I want to continue my tradition of paying it forward and bringing accessibly music education to more young musicians in my area.

Donate

That link right above this paragraph takes you to my Donorbox page- and you’ll notice that it’s not one big, fell-swoop funding campaign. It’s engineered to be more incremental, and asks for regular monthly donations. This is an experiment- rather than do crowdfunding projects at all once and risk donor fatigue, my own personal introvert exhaustion, and potentially not raising enough or having to do it again down the line, I’m hoping you’ll be willing to support me long term. This opens up so many new possibilities for my musical outreach. Below are a few of my visions for your donation:

  • Every $50 between now and June unlocks a free low brass clinic for a school or program in my area that couldn’t otherwise afford it
  • Creation of online educational content
  • Once certified, each $150 donated per month allows me to offer 4 Suzuki lessons to a low-income student
  • I’ll continue to offer free clinics
  • Money will be saved, invested, and paid forward in the form of additional trainings, developing my business and outreach, and beyond

Of course, you can make one-time, or quarterly, or yearly donations- whatever works for you! I foresee recurring donations as a process that might be less emotionally draining and exhausting for me, personally, while also being more sustainable in the long run. If you can’t donate now, or regularly, you can share the campaign and spread the word!

Donors will be subscribed to a special mailing list where I’ll send out monthly (at least) updates on how the money is being used and the impact it is having. I’ll also continue to post on social media (mostly Instagram and Facebook) with updates and donor calls.

Your support is so greatly appreciated. That you also believe in the accessibility of quality music education for young players is so important to the future of all our lives, and ensures that we’ll all be creating and performing humans for many years to come.

One Day in the Life

April 6, 2019, is not a day I’m going to forget any time soon.

It was a day that reaffirmed my two professional loves, pedagogy and performance.

Freelance musician/educator life is constantly in flux- long periods of moderate or low activity, short bursts of busy busy busy- and our states of mind can often match those highs and lows. February and March were relatively slow months for me, performance-wise, and as often happens when the balance between teaching and performing is so heavily weighted in the direction of teaching I was feeling distressed and burnt out. There were many things on the horizon, but there was also the slog to get there, through long days of lessons and rehearsals, and no small dose of a trauma anniversary relating to my time at the U.

In a word, I was feeling stressed, crispy (that stage just on the edge of burnout), and worried. But I have faith in my abilities, my knowledge, and my experience, and I knew I had to power through, so I got to work.

And having goals? That means everything. A huge component of my pedagogy is helping people find Flow- find that place where distractions and worries slip away, and they work in the moment toward musical communication. It’s an inherently healthy state for our minds to be in. In a focus-challenged society, Flow States help us balance anxiety, depression, and stage fright; they help us do something for the sake of itself and gain reward from the result. I’d been losing track of my own Flow lately. Too much time trying to manage a social media presence for both my personal and professional life here, a healthy dose of staring out the window willing the flowers to come up there.

So back to those goals. Number 1: Present my pedagogy in an hour-long clinic at Twin Cities Trombone Day. Be convincing, be engaging, let the science prove itself. Sitting down to refresh myself on the source material took away almost all my worries. Being honest with a few folks about the struggle I was having to create an introduction to the clinic led me to some awesome suggestions that ultimately let the whole talk tumble forth fully formed. And walking around all week reciting, “You are an expert, you are the boss” certainly helped.

Guess what? That presentation rocked. The audience, a mixed crowd of professional, student, and amateur trombone players, was so open-minded and supportive, asking good questions and giving great feedback to the young folks who came up to help me demonstrate. Afterward I talked with so many people whose eyes were opened to a new way of thinking, and took a few cards to follow up on taking the clinic on the road.

Sam wanted advice on improving his bass trombone low range in the double trigger register. I refocused his attention on a musical goal- performing Mary Had a Little Lamb- so he could stop worrying about the technical aspects of low range playing. Video credit: Keith Hilson

Goal Number 1 had a bonus effect on Goal Number 2: Rock the bass trombone parts on the AMO charts. Bass trombone, and in particular my 1970s Holton 180 BEAST of a bass trombone, sometimes feels like driving a U-Haul through the Rocky Mountains with one arm tied. It’s hard. I’ve been working for a year on improving my air efficiency, my intonation, and my control over the lower register.

Working on that airflow

In getting back into the research, the thinking behind my natural learning-based pedagogy, it reminded me that I have been overthinking the hell out of approaching the bass trombone. I was letting all the little things I didn’t hear myself doing well ramp up my anxiety, and man, the self-talk was DIRE. But coming out of a funk, remembering why I do what I do, and getting back into Flow made all the difference.

So how was the show?

There have been numerous times in my life that have been tremendously musically rewarding. Almost nothing can compare to the act of finally putting something out into the world that people can hold in their hands, an album, and celebrating the artistic labor of love that went into every second. I’m just a tiny part of the AMO, but when it all came together, it felt like no moving piece was too small. We were all working together to put Adam’s incredible music out into the world, and enjoying the collaboration.

The Adam Meckler Orchestra performs with Toki Wright, April 6th, 2019
Photo by Reid Baumann

And to have an appreciative audience. What a joy. The act of sharing art, and feeling the reciprocation back. Music requires an audience, and communication goes both ways. We give what we have, the audience tells us how that makes them feel, we give more, etc…the loop feeds itself and everyone is better for it.

So how am I feeling this week? Incredibly, incredibly lucky, but also satisfied. I’ve done the work, I’ve sought the knowledge, I’ve walked the walk. Owning one’s strength is not egotistical, even if it can sometimes feel that way. I’m learning to overcome that learned impulse and walk into every room with confidence that I belong there- because I do.

Stay tuned for more photos & videos from the AMO CD Release show. Meantime you can order the album here.

#MusicAndMentalHealth Wisdom Wednesday: Dear Nano

Wednesdays this month, I’m aiming to feature the writing of a colleague who’s doing good work helping musicians find ways to balance work, life, and play. Whether they’re finding paths for themselves and sharing their journey, or actively guiding people through the process of gaining a good groundwork, these folks are truly thinking outside the box of our traditional grindstone mentality. The result is careers and people that are happier, more productive in the long run, and ultimately, more successful (and it all depends on how you define ‘success’).

This week I am delighted to have a personalized question answered by Dear Nano, aka my amazingly astute, wise, and versatile friend Leah Pogwizd.

Leah is a bassist, bandleader, and educator living and working in the Seattle area. We met at the University of North Texas in the early Aughts- she was getting her bachelor’s in jazz bass and I my masters in trombone performance. (Leah was a member of the band from which comes the infamous “grow a pair” story referenced in this post, and it’s part of the reason we got to know each other and become friends). Over the years she’s transitioned from being an academic ethnomusicologist to one of the most exciting new voices in jazz education. Her approach to life and work constantly surprises me with refreshing new insight into what it means to be a musician in our current era (This post: “Versatility, not Virtuosity“,  has become my rallying cry for the future of music ed).

Her newest effort,  “Nanoversity of Jazz: Byte-Sized Musicianship“,  is tackling all areas of learning jazz performance in small, manageable lessons.  Check out all her great work and support her Patreon if you could use individualized, amazing insight each month to further your playing.

She’s started a weekly advice column called Dear Nano, and this week, answered my question! As always she completely surpassed any expectation and answered in a uniquely Leah, completely insightful way.

Dear Nano,

How does a freelancing musician find any time for herself? What does it look like to balance ‘always being on’ with a healthy approach to playing and performing?

Thanks,

Overwhelmed Minnesotan

First of all, I’m tickled that it’s only week two of Dear Nano and already we’re getting formal notes with moniker signatures!

Second, it’s funny that you should mention finding “time for herself.” The vast majority of books about freelancing are written by White men. It’s not that they don’t have good advice, it’s just a totally different game if you’re female (or POC, LGBT, disabled, etc.) 

Advice like “take time for yourself” and “learn to say ‘no’” is great unless you’re having to work twice as hard to prove yourself and are the only person fighting the good fight on an issue. So instead, I’m going to offer some advice to female freelance musicians that’s going to sound a bit odd and will require some explanation/pop-culture references: embrace your animus.

Growing up, my mom was really into Jungian psychology and effectively passed it on to me. Jung postulated that men have a feminine anima and women have a masculine animus. In true dude fashion, he wrote mainly about how it affected men, which is why there’s no widely-discussed counterpart to “a man being in touch with his feminine side.”   

There’s a whole book on the topic called Invisible Partners (available in full on Scribd), but at almost 40 years old, it’s a bit dated (such as some cringe-worthy discussions of how homosexuality is sometimes the product of maladapted anima…)

Instead, I’ve opted for pop-culture references. I was recently watching the video for Kelis’ “Caught Out There” (1999), directed by Hype Williams. Just listen/watch and I’ll explain what I mean.

Notice that the only time the male actor speaks with his own voice is at 1:55 when he says, “I love you” – that’s her philandering ex. The other times, when he’s lying on the floor or bruised on the therapist’s chair, it’s her voice which (IMHO) represents her animus.

I totally get it – when you’re betrayed by a male partner (or watch male superiors and colleagues get away with annoying, abusive, or criminal behavior; or get constantly told that femininity is inferior to masculinity), you get mad as hell and pummel your “invisible partner” within an inch of his life.

The video outlines a good course of action: tear shit up (my primary regret of being rendered homeless by my last breakup was that I didn’t get to destroy a living room in such an epic fashion), march in solidarity with other rightly angry women (or honor your feminine archetypes, if you want to read it that way), but ultimately embrace your masculine side (the way Kelis kicks it with the Neptunes (who produced the track) at the end of the video).

This isn’t about manning up or copping male entitlement, it’s about becoming a whole, balanced person in the face of hardship and trauma. If you’re going to be a successful freelancer, you need to be a one-woman-army and have all archetypes on deck – including some strong, sensitive masculine ones.

See what I mean? That was not at all what one might have expected- but it was spot on. I’m reminded of the great Maxine Waters, D-CA, and the now famous “reclaiming my time” moment. Don’t let expectations about who or how to be stop you from getting the answers, rest, gigs, recognition, or WHATEVER you need to be happy in your career. 

For Gatsby

My best friend and lifelong companion Gatsby, aka the best cat in the entire world, passed away on March 23rd, surrounded by love. I miss him dearly.

I played this improv for him as I contemplated life without his cheerful, mischievous, compassionate little soul. Toward the middle I start to transition into the tune of “Waltz for Gatsby”, which I wrote for him last year and arranged for brass quartet.

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Gatsby loved to distract me while I was practicing. He was pretty good at it, too.

Brass Lassie’s Debut Album: Over 50% Funded!

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Brass Lassie’s Debut Album Fundraiser hit 50% exactly one week after we launch it- and it’s still going steady! We are a little ways off from our goal still, but the momentum is truly tremendous and humbling. If you’ve supported, thank you! Could you take a moment to share our music with your friends and encourage them to make a pre-order as well? If you haven’t- check us out!

 Brass Lassie Homepage

Brass Lassie on Facebook

 

January Topic Article: Why Music Matters

This month I’m thinking and writing on #whyImakemusic, and on Wednesdays I want to share articles and resources that have gotten me thinking about why music matters to me and how I can better share my vision with the community.

A recent article in the Atlantic highlighted how jazz musicians communicate through improvisation, unsurprisingly using the parts of their brains dedicated to speech and syntax. On top of that- music has no discernible semantic meaning the way that speech does, because it means something different to each listener. When two musicians are improvising back and forth, they are talking- but they’re sharing more than just words.

From the article:

“If the brain evolved for the purpose of speech, it’s odd that it evolved to a capacity way beyond speech,” Limb said. “So a brain that evolved to handle musical communication—there has to be a relationship between the two. I have reason to suspect that the auditory brain may have been designed to hear music and speech is a happy byproduct.”

So in a sense- why I make music, why you make music, why most cultures have developed musical systems, has more to do with communicating beyond our normal language abilities than just developing something pleasant to listen to. And whether you make music or simply curate a listening library of your own, you engage in musical activity that fires up an important center of your humanity.

I make music…because music makes me human.

“Ear on the Prize”: Employing External Attentional Focus in Learning Brass Instruments

Part 4: The VALVES/SLIDE vs CONCEPT/SLOW PRACTICE

Recently, I recapped the excellent text of studies related to attentional focus and its affect on motor skill learning by Gabriele : . To review: where we put our attention when learning a new skill is important in the development of efficient and accurate movements and will contribute to longer-lasting results and quicker progress. Even at the very beginning level of a skill, an external focus will allow our bodies’ natural learning processes to take over and solidify our abilities.

In several installments, I’d like to tackle a few of those tricky concepts associated with learning the particular motor skills of brass playing, and offer some practical strategies for natural, effective learning.  I’ll address common methods, fads, and accepted techniques and then offer ‘external’ focus solutions for each.

In Parts 1,2, & 3 we dove into AIR, EMBOUCHURE, and ARTICULATION and INTONATION.

Today, I’m looking at the VALVES/SLIDE, but more importantly, how we use CONCEPT and MEASURED PRACTICE to develop our technical skills in an externally focused manner.

MOVE IT OR LOSE IT

We’ve got our Arbans, our Clarkes, our Koppraschs, and any number of other texts, all engineered to help us develop fluid, fast technique on the horn so that we can master it. We practice scale studies and etudes and work hard on our execution. It’s definitely a necessity in obtaining a high level of performance on an instrument, so how we can we utilize external attentional focus methods to help lessen the task (and dare I say it- make it fun)?

I’m going to speak primarily from a trombone player’s perspective, since that’s what I play and mostly teach, but these ideas could apply to any instrument.

The main big idea I want to talk about today is CONCEPT- which has something to do with the ‘brain magic’ and ‘umbrella tasking’ I’ve discussed before. Basically, we need to be able to tell our body what the music we want to make sounds like, and so we rely on our concept to guide us. Too often, we go the other way- assess something as a technical skill, learning it as an action our body does and then trying to shoe-horn musicality in over it. We set students on the task of ‘learning their scales’ but we don’t always explain how those scales can show up in music or teach tonality instead. It’s just something we have to do to be better and it’s really boring.

But I think scales and drills can be fun, if you change your concept of them. An ascending scale pattern can have direction- aim for the top! pull down to the bottom!- thirds can be like skipping stairs, arpeggios outline cool chords that can be played underneath the student as they practice, showing them how Western harmony works. If we’re clear on our concept, we’ll have a better shot of integrating the technical skill we’re trying to accomplish into our skill set.

It is of utmost importance that we are helping our young musicians develop their ears. From an early age, they learn recognize sounds and intervals, and are seeped in harmonic structures and internal rhythm. As they begin learning a brass instrument, they can use those tools to conceptualize on the instrument more quickly and easily.

One of the hardest early skills to get on the trombone is a clean slide. Most of us start out slipping around and getting all the semitones between two pitches in the same partial, and have trouble lining up tongue, air, and slide to get a clean attack. Some approaches to going from F(1) in the staff to Eb(3):

Internal Focus: 

“Move the slide really fast and tongue right when you get to 3rd, trying to line the slide and tongue up together.”

External Focus:

“Let’s think of a song that uses this interval. Happy Birthday could start on Eb and go to F and then back- let’s sing that on those pitches (demo on piano). Can we hear those two notes cleanly on the trombone?”

Turn on a metronome. Encourage the student to arrive with the beat each next note, keeping that as their focus. Keep the tempo at a pace they can conceptualize and execute, and speed up slowly.

Another tricky skill is executing the whole step from F in the staff to the G above it. It requires changing partials and moving the slide from 1st to 4th. Most of the time, a beginner will end up glissando-ing down to the D in 4th before being able to make the upward change.

Internal Focus:

“As you’re moving out to 4th, make your air go faster and tongue on the G”

External Focus: 

“Let’s listen for Happy Birthday again, but this time let’s start on F. It’s going to go F-G-F, and we need to hear that interval as we play it. Let’s sing first!”

“Let’s try playing F in 6th position…did you know that was an alternate? Then, we can stay on the same partial and smear up to 4th. Listen (demo). Now, let’s try playing that cleanly from 6th to 4th. Once you have that, we’ll try 1st to 4th- let’s keep hearing a song we recognize as we do it!”

MEASURED PRACTICE

“Slow practice equals fast progress”- Musician’s proverb

One of the biggest lessons I learned in my studies with Jan Kagarice is that CONCEPT has to meet ABILITY, not the other way around. In other words, if we cannot play something at the speed we have heard it done or want to play it at, we need to lower that concept down to where we can play it. That doesn’t seem like rocket science, but it’s an important piece of the puzzle. This includes all of the elements of a given phrase: direction (dynamics), style (articulation), and execution (mechanics). In a sense, we need to practice performing at all levels of our learning process in order to truly cement the finished project in our bank of motor skills.

For beginners, clean slide/valve technique and faster passages can seem like daunting tasks. But with measured practice skills, bringing concept down to a manageable tempo can make the task more accessible. Adding external focus techniques such as “what is this phrase saying/what does this interval remind you of” will keep the learner’s attention on the execution and not on the physical skill.

This is easier for some than most, but it’s critical in developing fluid, easy technique that responds to the musical goal one is trying to achieve. A metronome can be a lifesaver in this regard- it gives the learner something to aim for rather than guessing blindly at where the next note will be when their sense of steady time has yet to develop. I never move a student faster than they can play any given thing, and in fact sometimes we end up going even slower. To keep from boredom setting in, I keep the task manageable and limit the amount of time we concentrate for. Our brains, in addition to not being able to multi-task, really need time to develop focused concentration abilities. So be patient with your young students and don’t make them do one thing for too long- vary the tasks and move incrementally.

As one of my students said recently: “I can’t play fast stuff! But I’m playing fast without thinking about it!”

“Ear on the Prize”: Employing External Attentional Focus in Learning Brass Instruments

Part 3: ARTICULATION and INTONATION

Recently, I recapped the excellent text of studies related to attentional focus and its affect on motor skill learning by Gabriele Wulf. To review: where we put our attention when learning a new skill is important in the development of efficient and accurate movements and will contribute to longer-lasting results and quicker progress. Even at the very beginning level of a skill, an external focus will allow our bodies’ natural learning processes to take over and solidify our abilities.

In several installments, I’d like to tackle a few of those tricky concepts associated with learning the particular motor skills of brass playing, and offer some practical strategies for natural, effective learning.  I’ll address common methods, fads, and accepted techniques and then offer ‘external’ focus solutions for each.

In Parts 1 & 2 we dove into AIR and EMBOUCHURE, and now it’s time to approach the concepts swirling around ARTICULATION and INTONATION (both of which involve the tongue and its many machinations).

WHAT DOES YOUR TONGUE DO? DOES IT MATTER?

The motor skill behind each of the concepts involved in this post utilize the tongue (and by an extent, the oral cavity), so they made sense to explore in one post. There are more opinions on what one is supposed to do with one’s tongue when articulating and tuning then there are trombonists in the world (ok, that’s hyperbole, but still), and it’s easy to get overwhelmed with advice from all sides of the equation. Just Google “how to tongue on a trombone” and you’ll get all the hot takes you could ever wish for.

“The Teachers do what they do; they tell the Student what they think they do; the Students think they hear what the Teachers think they said about what they do; the Students then try to do what they think the Teachers said about what they think they do.” – Denis Wick

But as you probably already know by now, if you’ve been following along with this series, WHAT we’re trying to achieve is far more effective a learning strategy than HOW we’re doing it.

Recently, Boston trombonist and bass trombone guru Douglas Yeo participated in a study that allowed him to see the inner workings of his mouth and throat while playing a modified trombone set-up while in an MRI machine. When I first saw this post, I was pretty wary. The last thing most brass instrumentalists need is more stuff to think about and more focus of attention on the symptoms of our playing process. And on top of that, while more trombonists while participate in this research, we have at the moment only one player demonstrating these exercises and extrapolating them as evidence for what is  proper playing technique.

I don’t want to seem like I’m denying that this is fascinating information to have, or that we can’t learn something from demonstrations like this. I think it could be very useful if we lived in a learning culture where we trusted the educational effects of external focus, and could view the results objectively while still moving forward with our attention on the music.

But unfortunately we don’t, and I can see a whole generation of trombone players and teachers pointing back to this study and inflicting detailed internal focus instructions on themselves and their students. And the result will be inefficient, amusical playing.

Disclaimer time: Some players and teachers deny that anything is happening with their tongue or throat when a brass instrument is played effectively. I am not one of those people; I believe all manner of things are happening! It’s pretty cool that our muscles and tendons and neurons can all work together to form beautiful sounds and music. However, I’m just going to say it: I don’t care what’s happening. It’s just a symptom, and I’m going to let it keep doing what it’s doing and not interfere. Again, the more I focus on the results I want, the more efficient my technique will be.

“A symptom is not a prescription for doing.” -Jan Kagarice

There is enough scientific evidence out there now to tell us that we are not capable of actually multi-tasking. We can ‘serial task’: i.e. switch rapidly from one high level task to another, or we can incorporate an automated task (like walking) into a high level task (like talking on the phone), but we can’t do two high-level tasks at the same time, especially if they utilize similar brain functions. (Source) (I find fault with the example given in this article, listening to classical music while reading, because I certainly cannot focus on both!)

When we provide our brass playing self sets of internal instructions at the same time- “Strike the tongue at the tip of the teeth and pull back while moving the slide rapidly into position and blowing”- we are asking ourselves to do this all at once, but we are really serial tasking. When we provide external instructions- “These notes all connect and they sound like this. Imitate what you hear”- we form chains of functions that can occur simultaneously because we are not giving them high-level concentration. It’s sort of like ‘umbrella tasking‘; combining all the elements of successful brass performance under the umbrella of our concept. It goes back to what I referenced earlier in the Wulf text:

This lines up with what Wulf calls “optimal attentional focus” (Wulf 149) and what I call “brain magic”. When we learn a complex skill, the components of the skill line up in a queue of actions, and if we want to be most effective, we will let the highest-level affect lead our focus. All other components will tick off without need for conscious intervention.  (Husting)

Ok! So you get the point. Whatever we’re trying to do, we should get out of the way and not interfere with the system. So let’s get back to it.

ARTICULATION

Internal Focus:

“Your tongue should strike the back of your top teeth and interrupt the air but not stop it”

External Focus:

“We’re playing Hot Cross Buns today. Do you know the words to the fast part? ‘One-a-penny Two-a-penny’. Let’s say that together- can you hear how clearly we articulate that when we sing it? Let’s imitate it on the instrument.”

[I love teaching my students simple songs and making sure they know the words. We don’t teach young children how to manipulate their tongue when they are learning to speak, so why not utilize the same type of mimicry for brass playing?]

Internal Focus:

“This scale is staccato. Play really short notes by flicking your tongue quickly and using a hard syllable”

External Focus: 

“This scale says to play it staccato. What kind of character could we give it? Bouncy? Cheeky? Let’s listen to what that sounds like on piano for reference”

INTONATION

I have to do a little more exposition here. There is no reliable INTONATION without reliable TONE. Before I even introduce my students to the idea of ‘playing in tune’, I train their ears to recognize that they are resonating the whole horn and matching whatever pitch I give them. It will take time for them to develop the capacity for fine adjustments, but it will be much easier if they are producing a good sound. If they are struggling to play something in tune, I might take them back a few steps to AIR and EMBOUCHURE. The idea that the position of our tongue, the shape of our oral cavity (because of the position of the tongue), and the relaxation or tension of our throat has an effect on intonation is not unprecedented: the shape and tension of physical objects determine pitch according to acoustical science. But don’t put the cart before the horse. Form follows function. Those physical objects have been fiddled with over centuries to find the desired sound and range du jour! All because someone had a concept, and they wanted to improve upon the form of the tool they were using to execute it.

Also, a note on tuners. I generally discourage overuse of tuners in my studio in favor of things like pitch drones and reference instruments with stable intonation (like an electric keyboard). I find that staring at a tuner turns the focus inward, and players start to fiddle with physical aspects rather than trying to blend or match a sound. There is one great (and really cheap) tuner on the app market, and that’s Tonal Energy. It has lots of great tools, like metronome and playback, but most importantly, it provides high quality drones in a variety of sound types (including trombone!) that allow you to really work on expanding your ear and your sound’s relative pitch.

Internal Focus:

“Move your tongue up or down to create a better/more in tune sound”

[What I’ve noticed about this: Moving my tongue around in my mouth really only affects the pitch if I’m not thinking about resonating my sound all the way out to the bell. If I’m effectively resonating my instrument with a good tone, moving my tongue around has little to no affect- UNLESS I give it an intention along the lines of “now I want to bend the pitch and make it sound lower/higher”]

“Watch the tuner and react to what you see”

External Focus:

“Listen to the drone pitch. Hum or sing along, and then move air against your balance point and resonant the instrument with that pitch. Only look at the tuner for confirmation, and then start the process over by refocusing on the drone sound.”

[Intonation also works differently in different settings. If you’re playing the melody, you’re going to play the melody in tune with itself, and your accompaniment will adjust (unless it’s a piano, haha) to you. If you’re playing with piano, you can play your phrase on the keyboard to see what it sounds like in equal temperament, and then imitate those relationships on your instrument.]

That’s a lot! But I think these are really important concepts to consider when trying to approach your instrument in the most efficient and healthy way. Stay tuned for Part 4- the topic of which is yet to be determined but will probably be something along the lines of slide technique- and a second live video soon!

 

Husting Studio Scholarship Fund- Year 3

 

I’m excited to announce that my Scholarship for the 1718 School Year is going to look a little different- and it’s going to reach a lot more music learners!

I’m developing a collaboration with Elizabeth Winslow, the band director at Richfield Senior High School, in order to bring high-quality brass instruction to her band kids. I’ll be offering private lessons, clinics, chamber ensembles, and sectionals- but I’m going to need your help to do it. Donating to my campaign will help pay for my time, skills, and program development. There will be more content as the program begins and I meet the kids, so stay tuned.

About Richfield SHS: Richfield is a inner-ring suburb of the Minneapolis area. The high school is about 67% students of color, and the median income falls around $55k/year. There is a strong need for support within in the music program, helping to develop a culture that values private music instruction and life-long musicianship.

Thank you in advance, and I’m looking forward to seeing what this school year brings!