I first became aware of the value of playing along with recordings in the 1980s when I observed an orchestral trumpeter playing his part along with an LP. Since then, I have made extensive use of the technique and consider it to be an essential aid in staying competitive professionally. Play-along practicing can be especially helpful to the trombonist who has limited available practice time or who is not able to play regularly in high-quality ensembles.
These are some of the benefits you can expect from diligent use of play-along practicing:
- Intonation improvement
- Improvement of rhythmic accuracy and steadiness of tempo
- Developing habits of playing with correct style
- More interest in practicing and performing
- Recommended CDs
- Orchestral works scheduled for performance.
- The Legacy of Emory Remington – featuring the Eastman Trombone Choir with demonstrations of Remington warm-ups by Ralph Sauer.2
- Concert Works & Orchestral Excerpts – Chicago Symphony Low Brass.2
- Orchestral Excerpts for Trombone (vol. 1) – Ralph Sauer.2, 3
- The Bass Trombonist's Listening Guide to Excerpts from the Opera & Orchestra – Denson Paul Pollard and James Markey.2, 3
- Eruptions: Orchestral Excerpts for Low Brass – Timothy Buzbee.2, 3
- The Singing Trombone – Jay Friedman (includes Bordogni/Rochut vocalises and orchestral excerpts).2
- Bordogni Vocalises – edited by David Schwartz (with piano play-along accompaniments).
- Four of a Kind – Joseph Alessi, Blair Bollinger, Scott Hartman, Mark Lawrence.2, 3
- General Guidelines
- Tune up with the recording.
- Adjust the volume so that you can hear the recording over your playing.
- Challenge yourself to match or exceed the level of artistry and technical expertise demonstrated by the recording artists.
- Occasionally buzz your mouthpiece along with recordings.
- Use a variety of mutes, including a practice mute.
The Legacy of Emory Remington CD
For an example of a properly blended unison sound to strive for during play-along practicing, listen to track 2, Bach's Fugue in G minor. Each of the four parts is played by eight trombonists who expertly match pitch, articulation and tone quality.
Play along with a variety of the Remington warm-ups demonstrated by Ralph Sauer. Written versions of these exercises can be found in The Remington Warm-Up Studies published by Accura music. For variety, play the exercises at different intervals above or below Mr. Sauer. For example, when playing along with Track 22 (E-flat major scale), play an octave below Mr. Sauer; also a fifth above and below. Bass trombonists should play the Remington exercises in unison with Mr. Sauer and also an octave below him.
Ralph Sauer and Jay Friedman Orchestral Excerpts CDs
Tune up with the B-flat arpeggio at the beginning of the Mozart Requiem solo. After learning to accurately play in unison with Mr. Friedman and Mr. Sauer, play the second and third trombone parts along with their lead part. Doing so will improve your intonation and ability to follow a section leader. Bass trombonists can improve their range by playing the Bordogni/Rochut vocalises in unison with Mr. Friedman and an octave below him.
Using a variety of mutes during play-along practicing will improve your musicianship by helping you to learn to adjust to the intonation idiosyncrasies of each mute. Additionally, blowing against the resistance of mutes will improve breath control. I frequently use a Yamaha Silent Brass mute during play-along practicing (just the mute – no wires or sound mixer).
Because of the important role of intonation in orchestral success, any trombonist with professional orchestral ambitions would be well advised to invest in a good-quality CD-based intonation program. Two of the leading programs currently available are Stephen Colley's TuneUp System and Thomas Kociela's Intonation Repair Tool.
The Pezel Sarabande tracks in David Schwartz's Breakfast – Intonation Practice for Trombonists are very helpful for learning pure harmony.
If you are having difficulty accurately playing along with a recorded passage, do not continue to repeat the passage inaccurately. Doing so will result in reinforcing the habit of how to play the music incorrectly. Instead, practice the troublesome passage at a slower tempo, buzz the mouthpiece along with the recording, or work on music closer to your current ability level.
Play-along practicing is no magic cure-all for one's musical deficiencies. For best results, complement its use with other proven practice techniques such as long tones, scales, using a metronome, mouthpiece buzzing, and recording yourself.
- Technology Aids
- TonalEnergy Tuner – a combination tuner, metronome, tone generator, recorder and sound wave analyzer.
- Amazing Slow Downer – software to adjust the playing speed of audio files while maintaining pitch and sound quality. Playback pitch can be adjusted to any of 12 keys.
Q & A
"Should the player already have worked on the passage and be able to play it accurately alone?"
Yes. Repeating a passage inaccurately along with a recording reinforces the habit of how to play the music incorrectly. Instead, as stated above, "practice the troublesome passage at a slower tempo, buzz the mouthpiece along with the recording, or work on music closer to your current ability level." Play-along practicing can be used as an assessment tool to help identify which passages need additional practicing away from the recording.
"What is the intent of recommending Four Of A Kind?"
I consider that CD to be helpful for developing orchestral skills because playing along with a quartet of professional trombonists of that caliber is similar to playing in an orchestra low brass section in which everyone is expertly matching pitch, articulation and style. Challenge yourself to match the standards they set; first on individual notes and phrases, and then on complete tracks.
"What is the proper place for play-along within an overall practice strategy?"
It is up to each musician to experiment and decide on the practice methods that work best for him or her, taking into account such factors as: upcoming playing commitments, your specific goals for improvement, and what has worked for you in the past.
Whenever I can obtain a recording of a piece of music scheduled for performance, my practice sessions include playing and buzzing my part along with the recording. That applies to wind ensemble, brass quintet, and solos, in addition to orchestral music.
Here is an additional example of a useful type of play-along practicing to include in your practice sessions:
Play slow arpeggio patterns (such as Exercise One from Buddy Baker's Tenor Trombone Method) with a drone tone in the background.
"Has anyone else done any research on this subject, and where has it been published?"
Play-along research was conducted in developing the CD intonation programs mentioned above and in David Schwartz' series of play-along CDs. Two 1990s articles from The Instrumentalist briefly refer to playing along with orchestral recordings:
Joseph Alessi, "Of Slides, Sinatra, and Trombone Technique," February 1993, p. 15.
As Warren Deck [former New York Philharmonic tubist] suggests, playing along with a recording is a good way to learn the score. Your playing should convey an understanding of the score.
Ellen Rose, "Auditioning With Finesse," January 1991, p. 14.
Using earphones, play along with the recording to get a sense of vitality, phrasing, and musical scope that practicing the excerpt out of context cannot yield. Successful contestants play and sound as though they hear an orchestra surrounding them.
1 Daniel Kohut, Learning How to Perform Music, T.U.B.A. Journal, May 1988, p. 19.
2 Available from Hickey's Music Center
3 Available from Amazon.com
Related Web Sites
Online Trombone Journal: Orchestral Excerpts for the Tenor Trombonist
Douglas Yeo: The Bass Trombonist's Orchestral Handbook
Play-along Materials by Rich Begel
Jerry Fallenberg has been publishing articles on play-along practicing since 1995. He has performed as trombonist with the Monterey Bay Symphony, Carmel Bach Festival and Lexington Philharmonic.