So I don't think I'm a very good trombone player. I point this out because I all the time say things like "I don't think I'm a very good trombonist" and people act like I'm fishing for compliments or something, but no, it's simply true that I don't think I'm very good trombone player. So when we started this blog, I made some vague commitment to providing a post every Tuesday, and talking about trombonery among other things. But because I think I'm a lousy trombone player, I have been a little reluctant to actually say anything practical about trombone playing. So it took a little coercion, but here we go: it's my first discussion on how I work on trying to become a non-sucky trombonist!
One of the downsides of being your own worst critic is it's hard to narrow down stuff to work on when you're practicing- everything sounds bad! So every now and then I go and take a lesson with somebody smarter than me, and we concoct a practice regime that prioritizes some of the things I have trouble with. The last time I did this, the two problems that we focused on were range and dynamic contrast. For now, I'm just going to go through range, and just on high range, or we'd be here a while.
Back a long while ago, I had a really solid high range, brought about by lots of fights with obnoxious trumpet players. As it turns out, I squeaked out a lot of high notes through some massive embouchure shifts, which is ok as long as you don't have to shift rapidly through shifts. I started running into serious trouble playing some of the standard trombone literature- for example, I couldn't make the leap from E (right above middle C) to C# (an octave and a half step) above middle C in the Guilmant Morceau Symphonique, had a hard time with the jumps in the Grondahl concerto from Db in the staff through Bb and Db up to the high Bb, and Couldn't make any of the runs in the David Concertion. I simply couldn't make the transitions that fast. I had similar problems in the lower register- but we decided to focus on the high range, since I was closer to having a decent high range than low range. There definitely seems to be an argument made that you need to work in both directions, but once again, I'm ignoring that for the sake of brevity.
So the practice routine we came up with involved two major points. The first was holding the embouchure in place- no shift at all! This is accomplished by working on intervals. When I started, I did half steps: F-F#-F, slowly and in time, holding the second note as a long tone, then up to F#-G-F#, and up as high as possible. After half steps, I would do the long intervals, up to octaves. I've heard of people doing this exercise up to two or three octaves, but I've never had to play over those sorts of intervals, so I skipped it This exercise is to explicitly link the various ranges together, to get to the point where the different intervals can be played with the embouchure in the same setup.
The next exercise is pretty standard: all it is is rising fifths, F-G-A-Bb-C-Bb-A-G-F, again holding the high note and the last notes, and again going up in half steps. This is supposed to help with both flexibility and, again, linking the whole range.
The last part exercise is probably the toughest, although it could be tough because I do it last. This one is a slow gliss from sixth position up to first, starting usually on high F (a fourth above middle C!) and glissing up to high Bb in first position, and repeating several times. After that, start on G, A, and so on, still starting in sixth, playing as high as you can and while maintaining control of the embouchure and the notes coming out the other end. The point here is to feel the way the embouchure changes over that range, now that it's been established and linked to the lower range and a single set.
There are some other things I do, like playing Rochut exercise in tenor clef, that I think help significantly, but the exercises above are the basis of working my range up. When I do them, I actually end up pretty pleased with the high range- things like the Morceau or the Grondahl are not a problem, although I've still got some (a lot) of double tonguing work to do for something like the David. But it's a start, and something that I've got some positive results with!