Blog 3 - Flexibility
I am the least flexible person you know, not in an argument sort of way, but in a yoga way. I try and do the moves they say, but it just doesn't feel right - my arms and legs just wont quite get to the right place. Sometimes playing a brass instrument feels the same way! You try to manipulate the notes and move them in a certain way, but they just dont want to go there.
Flexibility on a brass instrument is the ability to slur around the instrument without the use of the tongue and without bulging the air. Its a hugely un-utilized skill, and one that when it used well makes the instrument sing. I listen a lot to the great Jazz Trombone players, Urbie Green, Bill Watrous, Frank Rosalino, JJ Johnson, the list goes on. These guys glide around the instrument like its the easiest thing to do, when we all know it isnt.
So - on day 3 of our new regime, we are going to make a concerted effort to improve our flexibility around the instrument, and hopefully you will start to see an improvement pretty quickly.
As you can imagine, there are a few things that are important to think about before we do any exercises. Its very easy to move or pivot our instrument to help make these slurs easier, but you dont need to do this. In fact, when first doing flexibility ask a teacher or friend to watch you to make sure you have minimal movement. You want to be able to glide around the instrument without putting you neck out. So, first rule:
1) Keep movement to a minimum - focus on relaxing and let the air do the work.
Next - we need to make sure the air is not surging through the instrument, but keep it relaxed and free. Try and do as little amount of work, rather than over working and getting a big dramatic leap up to the note.
2) Keep the air stream constant and free of surges.
And finally, do all these exercises slowly, don't try and run before you can walk, start slowly and build up over time.
3) Take your time, set the metronome on slow, and go up a click each day.
Ok - the exercises are very simple. You want to start slowly, and try be as efficient as possible.
I found all these exercises on the internet, and they are all very similar to the ones I do everyday.
Ok - this is a good start for examples of what you need to do, try and do 10 minutes of flexibility exercises each practice session. As I said earlier, start slowly, and work your way up. Set the metronome on slow, and work your way up only when you have done it correctly. If you want to be hard on yourself - why not do it 10 times without a mistake before you move the metronome up. Good luck with that!
Flexibility is something that brass players neglect in their everyday practice. When I judge competitions, it is so easy to hear the players that can move easily around the instrument and everyone should be able to do that. Make this part of your practice a must, a priority. It might be difficult at first, but as it gets easier you will start to have confidence in this area and it will change the way you perform. Its all about the air!
And finally - listen to the great Jazz Trombone players, you can hear in their playing how to do it, much better than my words. I listen to them, and then I try and emulate them - its the best form of learning.