As I have blogged about before, I used to be a one mouthpiece guy and I thought that any short-comings were due purely to a lack of experience or practice. I have been trying a lot of different mouthpieces lately and have learned how different my sound and technique is with each one. Therefore, the mouthpiece, and how it matches your physique and playing style, needs to be carefully considered for each brass player. For me, I have pretty full lips, so I needed a mouthpiece cup diameter (trombone mouthpiece) that would accommodate them. I learned that the greater the width of the rim, the better endurance you would have (the longer you could play), and the thinner the rim, the better the flexibility you would have. There are many other factors, such as the depth and shape of the cup, which affects articulation and the tone. Additionally, there is the size of the throat and the shape of the backbore. For me, the best fit was the Stork T2 standard (similar to a Bach 7C, except the Bach has less "bite", i.e., a more rounded rim). While I am still getting used to the Stork's rather thin rim and the sharp bite, I am finding that the cup allows for a full, dark sound while still allowing for quick/sharp articulation. Additionally, the upper register on the trombone is enabled while the lower register is not impeded. Further, while the throat/bore hole is rather small, there is not much back pressure and this might be because of the shape of the cup, which is more funnel than "C" shaped. So what am I saying? Try a stork mouthpiece? Sure. What I am really saying is that you might want to try other mouthpieces and see if they help your playing a bit. Every little bit helps. For educators, do not buy the "every student should start on a Bach 6 1/2 AL crap." Everyone is different. Have a few different mouthpieces around and see what enables the student or what he/she prefers. Let's take some advice from our trumpet friends and become knowledgable and inquisitive about our mouthpieces. Diagram below from trombone.org/articles/library/mouthpiecemed2-gloss.asp
Looking forward to purchasing a Stork T2 mouthpiece this weekend. It is similar to a Bach 7C, so I should really try that as well. Maybe there really isn't a mouthpiece that solves all your problems (now that's a naive statement) or that is a "love at first buzz" kind of thing. The last time I tried the Stork T2, it improved my high range, provided a crisper attack and did not significantly detract from the lower range . . . maybe that is enough. Maybe I will grow to love it. As my wife says, "This is your profession. Stop thinking about it and just buy it." Good advice. Any improvement is worth it.
Live at Old Town Hall @TownofNewmarket New tracks from @AHBBjazz w @NewmarketCB #livemusic #jazz #bigband #band
Like Kenny Rodgers said, "You've got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em," and this applies to working big band repertoire. You can spend significant time choosing repertoire to fit your ensemble, and I often choose challenging music, but at some point you have to decide if you double down or if you fold 'em and acknowledge that the chart does not fit the band. There could be various reasons why a chart will succeed with more work, either communally or individually. Or, it may never "swing," but at some point you must make that call and be confident in your decision.
For the longest time, I thought that it wasn't the horn or the mouthpiece, it was the player, and this is largely true. However, finding the most suitable equipment for your playing style and, for lack of a better word, physique, can make a huge difference in sound and easy of playing. When I started playing the trombone, I was given a Bach 6 1/2 AL mouthpiece and I played that bad boy for years. Nothing wrong with that. I learned later that there are other options and eventually switched to a Bach 11C, which seemed to fit my King 3B well. Now, the title of this blog is misleading, because I am not a mouthpiece master. I do not warm-up on the little cup nor do I know the ins-and-outs of rim size, cup depth and aperture widths. I am now a mouthpiece guy in the sense that I know the importance of this piece of equipment. I also know that I need to do some serious study of the things previously mentioned, as I have run into a dilemma. I had to change mouthpieces again. My Bach 11C was breaking up the sound of my new horn: Courtois "Extreme." I tried the Courtois 6 1/2 MP and loved the deep, dark sound but found that I needed more help with the upper register; I often play lead trombone. After trying Al Kay's mouthpiece, I thought I had found the match for my horn, but it did not feel right on my lips, and that, I found, is one of the most important things you can do for yourself as a horn player (this was advice given from a fellow musician). Find a mouthpiece that feels right on the lips, and then manipulate the other variables, e.g., cup depth and aperture width, to find the sound and feel you are looking for (amount of back pressure). For me, I have gone back to the Bach 11C and am dealing with the risk of overblowing, because I just like the way that mouthpiece feels on my lips. I will now venture to find another mouthpiece with a similar rim. As I learn more about the mouthpiece, I will check back in and write another blog. Maybe then, I will become a mouthpiece master too.
I am finding that one of the best ways to practice improvisation in any tune is to practice switching between playing the melody and your favourite chord pattern in four bar, two bar, and one bar phrases. Ideally, you are referencing the melody and the chord structure in your melodic improvisations so force yourself to move between them in your practice sessions. You will find that you come up with some very interesting phrases. You will also find that you are playing some pretty lame phrases, but that is a small price to pay for the benefits of this exercise. Making your brain switch back and forth between focusing on the melody and the chord structure really challenges you and creates some interesting lines. Sure, it is best to play along with the masters and learn the vocabulary and style that way, but if you are looking for a different way to free your improvisation lines, this might be for you.
Just diving into a orchestration of Our Love is Here to Stay (arranged by Nelson Riddle) for the After Hours Big Band with vocalist Jess Owen, and the Newmarket Citizen's Band. There is very little repertoire out there like this. I guess writers feel there is too much overlap in the instrumentation to pair a big band with a concert band, but I have an opportunity to do so in an upcoming concert at the Old Town Hall in Newmarket on May 25, and am jumping at the chance. It is a real pleasure to learn from the great writing of Riddle and to see what I can do to complement his classic arrangement with some support from the concert band. If you are around on the 25th, come out and see the result. I will be doing the same treatment to Ain't That a Kick in the Head. This will be a performance that will not be replicated for some time.
Sometimes I feel that the right decisions are elusive or maybe not even apparent at the time. Is it bad luck, poor decision making, or just the tough lessons of life that put us in the position to look back and say, "Yeah, that was not the best choice." Sure, we have 20/20 vision when considering decisions of the past, but at times, I can not shake the feeling that I am learning the "hard" lesson a little too often. Maybe it is just the time and day. It's early and we are still house-bound with snow here in Canada. Well, it is hard to know what any decision will bring - what the outcome will be immediately after you have chosen one path of the fork in the road. Time will be the ultimate test, and I may have made the right choice after all.
While I do not have a live recording of the big band playing the chart yet, I think the small jazz ensemble gives you a great feel for the arrangement. Check it out!
For the love of students' posture . . . bring the instrument to you! #musiceducation #musiced #elmused #music
I just did a music clinic at a local elementary school and the teacher thanked me afterwards and said that the biggest thing that she would take away from it was to remind the students to "bring the instrument to you." It is a simple concept but an essential one. We all stress proper posture but what we can forget to remind the students is that the instrument comes to you and that you do not go to the instrument. If you are sitting at the front of the chair, with your feet on the floor, your back straight, and you are relaxed (think of being suspended by a string, like a puppet or marionette) you are ready to receive the instrument. Then, all you need to do is bring the instrument to your embouchure for brass and reed players. Too often, bad posture if the result of the students moving to the instrument, where ever it is held, e.g., the left, the right, downwards or upwards. So sitting "properly" but relaxed and "bringing the instrument to you," eliminates a lot of problems, especially for trombones, trumpets, saxophones, and clarinets. Flutes, euphoniums and tubas need a bit more instruction with posture. French horn players need special instruction. Keep it simple and you will be simply astounded by the results.
Dr. Michael Kearns
Musician, educator, husband, father, web designer ... my life is like a mosaic with each piece vying for my attention.