Introductions and a little story
Welcome everyone! This blog is where I will talk about my experience and opinions of different pieces of equipment I have tried over the years and answer any trombone equipment questions you may have for me! What better way to start a blog than with a story about the equipment I've played on through out my life because it's been quite the journey that will probably never end as much as my wallet would like it to. I started on the standard Yamaha student model horn and eventually in middle school upgraded to a Yamaha YSL-448G because I was envious on my trombone teacher's F- attachment. Eventually in high school I decided I wanted togo into the music field and my instructor told me it was time to upgrade my horn again. I went to the Washington Music Center and tried out all kinds of different horns but settled in on a Bach 42BO, which lasted lasted me all the way through college (I wont go into my mouthpiece journey just yet because that's a story better for another entry all together). Then I found myself in Boston visiting schools for grad school when I stumbled into this little music shop next to my hotel called Virtuosity Music. I had no idea that I was about to stumble into the world of trombone equipment that day, but did I fall hard. There were so many trombones on that wall and I just wanted to try them all! After awhile I found myself only playing a specific brand because I just loved the way it played and the brand was Edwards. One of the workers came over to me and told me a bit about some of the different horns I like and he told me all about how at Edwards you have your horn fitted to you and it's like being tailored to how you played and it was in that moment that I was sold to switch. Fast forward to the summer after I graduate college and I found myself out in Elkhorn, WI at Edwards Instrument, Co. getting fitted for my own horn! I absolutely loved the experience and walked away with an amazing new horn that I still play today! I have made some adjustments over the years with my set up but every time I do the horn just gets easier and easier to play and I start to hear the horn in my head more and more outside of my head. It's been such a long journey so far and I'm sure that with the years to come Edwards will continue to produce more innovative equipment that I'll have to try and most like fall in love with, but I can't wait to talk more in detail about all of the equipment I've tried over the years. I've spent a lot of time at different workshops and music stores trying different brands of horns before I settled into the Edwards family and I can't wait to share it all with you!
Oh and for all of you who are dying to know what my current set up is. I play on an Edwards 350-HB with a rose brass OFT bell, rose brass tuning slide with a tone enhancing resonance device, or T.E.R.D., counterweight, a yellow brass TBC 25 hand slide with a sterling silver T2 leadpipe, and a Griego Alessi 1C mouthpiece!
Also, if you have any questions or comments for me while you're reading this please feel free to contact me through this website or on any of my social media profiles!
Bells (not the kind to be hit with a mallet)
Today is going to be all about bells! I got a question from a good friend of mine asking if I prefer two piece to one piece bells and if there was a color of brass I preferred? So lets talk about it.
Two piece vs. One piece bells
I have to say I haven't tried many two piece bells so far in my life, but I have tried one! I tried a Thein Universal Model with a two piece bell once while I was in Boston for a weekend trip. My reaction was the horn felt a little stuffy compared to my set up, but there are a lot of things that can factor into that. The sound was a little duller than I prefer and the horn was very front heavy so it put some extra stress on my wrist, which was an immediate turn off for me. The case was nice and small which made it travel friendly but all in all I found the two piece bell to have more negatives than positives. Another player could tell you something else since we all play differently and have different preferences. If you're interested in a two piece bell by all means don't let my opinion keep you from trying it.
My current bell is an Edwards OFT bell. What make it unique is that the bell flare is comprised of a different thickness of brass than the rest of the bell. So, in a sense this is like a two piece bell but it's still all one piece. I really like this set up because compared to a traditional one piece bell the balance point of the horn is more over my wrist and makes holding my horn more effortless. It also seemed to make my articulation a lot clearer and I could resonate the bell a lot easier than my previous one piece bell.
So in conclusion I'm not a fan of a true cut two piece bell, but I am a fan of a one piece bell that has a different thickness of brass for the bell flare.
Now here's something that I've done a lot of experimentation with! I used to think that yellow brass was the way to go all the time, however in recent years I've found I like the tone I get with rose brass. I've found yellow brass to have a very bright sound to it which works great in some settings, like principle playing, commercial playing, and depending on the group some chamber ensembles.
Since I've changed over to a rose brass bell I noticed that my tone has a lot more depth to it, but can still have a nice amount of brightness to it if I need to play with it. I can resonate the metal a lot easier and can produce huge sounds when I want to. I have given up probably 1% of my clarity of articulation with the change but that's something that can be easily gained back with practice. I really like the sound of rose brass for second players because it adds some very nice colors to the section sound that the principal can sit on top of very easily. It's also great for solo playing because you have a larger array of colors to choose from with a rose bell.
Why is there such a difference between the two metals? Well the easiest answer would be to say that yellow brass is a harder metal than rose brass making this higher overtones of a note much easier to speak, while rose brass is a softer metal which allows the metal to vibrate easier and the lower overtones speak out much more.
There are a couple other colors of brass that I haven't talked about and that's because they're not as common to see played. Red brass is a softer metal than rose brass so it's much darker than and duller than rose. I played on a red brass bell once just to try it and if was just very dark, dull, and hard to get to project well. Silver bells are much brighter than yellow bells which is why you really only see them in marching bands and some jazz ensembles. these bells are much easier to cut through a large group or a group that plays very loud. Gold brass bells. I haven't tried a gold brass bell yet but from what I've heard from friends who have it plays very smoothly and is kind like a combination of attributes from yellow and rose brass bells.
Tuning Slides and Why They Matter
This week is all about tuning slides. I know when I started playing, I didn't really give tuning slides much thought. I know they helped to tune my horn but I played an instrument that's main way to change pitch is just a really long tuning slide, so I didn't really pay too much attention to the smaller one that was behind my head. It wasn't until recently that I discovered just how much of a difference a tuning slide can make. I recently changed my tuning slide from a yellow brass tuning slide with a thin brace to a rose brass tuning slide with a thin brace and a Tone Enhancing Resonance Device counterweight and the difference it made to my sound huge! The overall sound of my playing didn't change too much but the feeling of the horn changed like night to day.
Now that I think about it the tuning slide can make such a huge difference to how the horn plays and sounds. The tuning slide is where the pipe starts increasing in diameter. Which means this is where your tone starts taking shape. Don't believe me? Try just playing on your horn without the tuning slide, it'll sound more like an obnoxious mosquito than a trombone. Then add just the small radius of the tuning slide on to the trombone and the timbre will sound more like a Sakbut player with a really tight embouchure. So the type of brass, the type of brace, and if you have a counterweight will all affect the tone of your sound and how your horn plays.
As I discussed last week, the color of the brass will affect how the horn responds. A yellow brass tuning slide will have a brighter sound quality to it and I found that it didn't respond as well to articulation. A darker brass is going to have a warmer sound and I've found that it responds to my articulation much easier and I have to work less to get a clear articulation. If you're having a hard time deciding on a material for your tuning slide I would think of what you want your sound to be to narrow down on a material, then do some articulation exercises like the five note exercise and some multiple tonguing exercises and see how it feels (examples of both are coming up soon in my warm up series on Instagram). Also, consider how you prefer to play, if you tend to articulate heavily you might want a yellow brass tuning slide and if you tend to have a soft articulation maybe try a darker brass like rose brass.
Thin vs. Thick Brace
The brace of a tuning slide can greatly change the way the horn feels. A thin brace resonates a lot easier than a thick brace. After watching one of my friends get fitted for a trombone I learned something about the bracing of the tuning slide. My friend is a very powerful player that tends do a lot of work to play and has some of the strongest corners I've ever seen. He also really blows into the horn when he's playing. When he was being fitted he started on a thin brace tuning slide and the sound of the horn just didn't seem to resonate and it didn't really have much color to it, but as soon as he switched to a thick brace tuning slide his sound became huge and vibrant with color. The issue was that he was overpowering the thin brace, but the thick brace added just enough resistance to the horn that his playing started to resonate the horn. So I discovered that a thin brace works best for players that want a horn to play itself and just want to supply it with a constant amount of air and a thick brace is better suited for a player that wants all the control of the horn coming from their-self.
The counterweight can really affect the way the horn plays. I've found that it makes the partials of the horn feel closer and it can make the horn more balanced taking weight off of the wrist. Since I've added a counterweight to my horn I've noticed that my low playing has become a lot more consistent and open than it did before. This is probably due to the fact that the horn naturally wants to lift up when I play freeing up my bottom lip. Counterweights aren't for everyone though so I would suggest getting used to your horn with out it and then adding it on later to see how it affects your playing. However if you're being fitted for a horn you should always go with the suggestion of the person doing your fitting because they're getting a better idea of what you actually sound like since they are on the other side of the bell.
Mouthpieces are one of the most important pieces of equipment we use as brass players and there are a lot things to talk about with them. The mouthpiece is what takes our buzz and makes the initial changes to create the beautiful sound of a trombone. It’s also the piece of the instrument that touches one of the most sensitive arts of our bodies, our mouth. Having the right mouthpiece is crucial to having a good sound but all a long career. There are many different ideas out there about mouthpieces, some people think that the 5G is the only mouthpiece you should use others think their students should only use the brand they play on. I personally think that a mouthpiece is a personal piece of equipment that we need to find the right one. We all have individual ideas for comfort and therefore we’ll have to experiment with different mouthpieces throughout our life, but once we find a mouthpiece that fits our comfort our playing will increase greatly in quality. I went through a very long journey with trying different mouthpieces until I finally found one that is comfortable and gives me the control I want. When looking for a mouthpiece I keep a few thing in mind: comfort, back pressure, cup depth, rim size, and material. I place my priorities with a mouthpiece in that order. Over the next couple of entries I will go over each of these and why prioritize them the way I do.
Picking a Mouthpiece
Disclaimer: DO NOT GET A NEW MOUTHPIECE JUST TO TRY AND FIX AN ISSUE WITH YOUR PLAYING. It's very easy to fall into the trap of "my tone/articulation sounds funny it must be my mouthpiece,"it's probably not your mouthpiece. Save yourself some time and a lot money by just going back to your fundamentals and really get picky with how your playing the horn. If it still sounds weird and you start to feel uncomfortable playing then it's time to look into a new mouthpiece.
Choosing a mouthpiece is a very personal thing. everyone has a different idea for what is comfortable on their face and no two players play exactly the same. Some advice I would give those who are in the market for a new mouthpiece would be to experiment with as many different sizes and brands as you possibly can. The best place to try as many as you can are at trombone conferences with a show room, like the American Trombone Workshop, International Trombone Festival, even Midwest, and education conferences like TMEA will have a fare amount of booths with mouthpieces to try. When I was in the market I would spend hours at these booths trying different mouthpieces trying to find something that was comfortable and helped to make my horn easier to play. When at one of these conventions we have a different obstacle to overcome: There are well over 50 other trombonist playing in the same room at the same time. It becomes very hard to hear yourself play so make sure you have someone you really trust and knows your sound really well with you so they can listen to you and give you advice. I'm going to to give my list of priorities when it comes to test mouthpieces so you can keep these in mind when play testing.
1. How does it feel? Regardless of if its just you in a room or 50 plus trombonist playing excerpts in a room at the same time you can feel how a mouthpiece changes the blow of your horn and how it feels on your face. If it's uncomfortable and makes the horn to resistant or open then it's not right for you.
2. What are the most noticeable changes to your tone? The material and size of the mouthpiece can all effect your timbre. Does it match with you tone concept behind the bell?
3. How does it affect the reaction of your horn when you articulate? Does it make articulating easier or harder? Can you resonate your horn right away or is it dull?
4. How does it sound on the other side of the bell? This is by far the most important question. This is where the person you bring with you is so important. We always sound better behind the bell and it's very hard to get a real idea of how you sound in a exhibit hall even behind the bell. Having someone really listen to you and give you feed back is the most important step.
I would also suggest that if you play to buy a mouthpiece at convention that you make sure that you check up on the return policy and make sure to spend a lot of time in a practice room after buying the mouthpiece so that you can hear for yourself in a room with less distractions how you sound. It can be amazing how different a mouthpiece will sound in an exhibit hall compared to a practice room.