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Sage New Words from a Trombone Master

Brad Howland

Brad Howland

Mastering the Trombone. By Edward Kleinhammer and Douglas Yeo. 77 pages. EMKO Publications. $20.

Mastering the Trombone

In 1963, midway through his career as Bass Trombonist of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Edward Kleinhammer wrote one of the most important treatises on brass playing we have: The Art of Trombone Playing. Drawing upon his wealth of experience as a player and teacher, the book distinguished itself by offering one of the first systematic, pedagogical approaches to playing the instrument, as opposed to being a transcribed trumpet book such as the Arbans Method Book. The Art of Trombone Playing, along with Denis Wick's Trombone Technique and Donald Hunsberger's Remington Warm Up Studies, were "must have" reading material for any serious trombonist.

Jump ahead to the year 2000. Mr. Kleinhammer's illustrious Chicago Symphony career ended 15 years ago, and it's reasonable to assume that he would be enjoying a quiet, well-earned retirement, perhaps with the occasional lesson, clinic, or summer festival thrown in. Who would expect him to come up with another monumental work about brass playing? And yet that's exactly what he did, with Mastering The Trombone!

Co-written with Douglas Yeo, Bass Trombonist with the Boston Symphony and a former student of Kleinhammer's, Mastering The Trombone revisits all aspects of playing the trombone, but it's not just a rehashing of old material. Almost all of it is new and relevant for today's musicians.

What's New

"Everything we play should be beautiful and meaningful."
… Edward Kleinhammer

Mastering The Trombone includes updated chapters on "Breathing and Breath Control," "The Embouchure," "Tone Quality," "Volume Range," "Tonal Range," "Buzzing," "Slide Accuracy," "The Tape Recorder," "Legato," "Detached Playing," "Daily Exercises," "Intonation," and "Rhythm." A chapter from The Art of Trombone Playing entitled "Musical Interpretation and Style" is replaced with an excellent article on the same subject by University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee professor Jack Snavely. There are two new appendices: "Newtonian Law," which introduces one of the first new analogies about brass playing I've heard in a long time; and Douglas Yeo's essay on "Symphony Auditions: Preparation and Execution," which should be required reading for all music students. Mastering The Trombone contains numerous musical exercises and etudes, and throughout uses tenor and bass trombone excerpts from the orchestral repertoire to illustrate basic musical concepts.

As in The Art of Trombone Playing, Mr. Kleinhammer continues to emphasize the need to stay relaxed while playing. For example:

"Believing (as I do) that all natural body functions are pleasurable, breathing while playing the trombone should also be a relaxed, comfortable, pleasurable activity." (Breathing and Breath Control)

"Many players use too much facial muscle in forming an embouchure, and are therefore opposing themselves in efficiency; working too hard." (The Embouchure)

"Correct breath control, including the proper use of the tongue and the absence of tension in the throat, is the main factor in production of a beautiful sound." (Tone Quality)

"Breathing and Breath Control" now contains an explanation of the Valsalva Maneuver (without specifically calling it that), and offers up a cure. "The muscles of breathing are capable of generating seven or eight pounds of pressure per square inch in the case of a cough or sneeze. Here is where we can run across a problem of sending up to the lips more air than we need, and resisting the excess air with either the throat or the tongue or some of each." A series of breathing exercises are prescribed to help overcome this problem, using a piece of inexpensive equipment – a plastic tube which can be purchased at any hardware store.

In "Buzzing," Kleinhammer continues to recommend the use of a visualizer or cut-away mouthpiece to "look at and listen to the source of our sound," and he also discusses new teaching aids developed since the publication of his first book, namely the B.E.R.P. (Buzz Extension Resistance Piece) and the F.A.R.T. (Forced Air Resistance Tube). "With a cutaway mouthpiece or B.E.R.P. inserted into the receiver of the slide and a copy of William Tell Overture on the music stand, we have an excellent challenge before us."

"Rhythm" focuses on common mistakes, and gives succinct illustrations of how to correct them with mental subdivisions. Certain tendencies are discussed at great length with mathematical solutions offered, for example, how to place a half note triplet over a measure of 4/4 time (four against three).

The first appendix, "Newtonian Law," deals with one of my own long-time, unanswered questions about trombone playing: why do teachers so often recommend using faster air in the high range, when experience shows that using the same air while ascending into the high range gives the best results? On the one hand, it seems self-evident that the air must speed up if the hole is getting smaller and the frequency of vibration increasing. On the other hand, it never worked for me to consciously speed up the air.

Kleinhammer explains this conundrum with a simple garden hose analogy, which proves that it actually takes less air to play a high Bb than it does to play a middle Bb, at the same dynamic. If you believe that it's a natural tendency for higher notes to sound louder (in other words, if you like to crescendo into the high range), then the same air is what you want. I won't give away the analogy here – you'll just have to buy the book!

Douglas Yeo on Auditions

The second appendix, Douglas Yeo's "Symphony Auditions: Preparation and Execution," says all the right things about this important subject. The information imparted here can be used in almost any audition situation, from trying out for a spot in a local, amateur concert band, to going for one of the big orchestra jobs. Topics include musical preparation and education, the audition system and how to get invited (making resumes and tapes), and what to do before the audition, on audition day, while on stage, and between rounds.

Mr. Yeo makes a very important point about those musicians who "major in music education so as to have that to 'fall back on' if a performing career doesn't work out. This often leads to one of two serious problems – an aspiring performer who, because he has a music education 'parachute' doesn't devote himself with all diligence to his primary goal of performing and therefore fails to achieve it; or worse, a performer who, after failing in his primary objective as a performer, bitterly resigns himself to a career as a school teacher." The competition for full-time orchestra jobs is extremely fierce, and you just can't get there without devoting yourself to it 100%. Mr. Holland's Opus aside, become a teacher because you love it, not because you are forced into it!

Kleinhammer doesn't shy away from making possibly controversial recommendations. There are new discussions of sniff and circular breathing, and the use of a "noo" or "no" articulation in detached playing is suggested. "Take an orchestral excerpt such as William Tell, The Ride of the Walküre, Till Eulenspiegel or La Gazza Ladra and try a 'no' or 'noo' tongue on it. Chances are very good that you will like it – more power – less fighting the air stream with the tongue – easier and less staccato. But it may cost you more air, so keep the tube around your neck at home for a frequent check of proper and efficient breathing." There is also the idea of adding a touch of vibrato as an "automatic center finder" or to "keep the upper and lower lips in balance," in such passages as the trombone chorale in the finale of Symphony No. 1 by Brahms.

The use of double brackets (>> <<) throughout the book in place of quotation marks is somewhat distracting. I realize that these are normal in certain kinds of writing, but personally find that they detract from an instant comprehension of the text. Call me old fashioned, but I still prefer a nice set of "sixes and nines"!

Not only is Mastering The Trombone required reading for any serious trombonist, but it is one of the most informative reference books for brass players I know. To find out how to order Mastering The Trombone, visit Doug Yeo's web site.

Related Books at

Art of Trombone Playing
by Edward Kleinhammer

Trombone Essentials
by Douglas Yeo (Editor)

Trombone Technique
by Denis Wick

Remington Warm-Up Studies for Trombone
by Donald Hunsberger

Related Web Sites

Douglas Yeo's Web Site

The Infography
"Six Superlative Sources" related to the study of trombone.

The all new ultimate B.E.R.P. (Buzz Extension Resistance Piece)
Available for Trumpet, Cornet, Horn, Trombone, Euphonium and Tuba.

About Brad

Brad Howland is the Principal Trombonist of the Victoria Symphony Orchestra.

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