A clinic topic presented by
Milt Stevens, Principal Trombonist
National Symphony Orchestra


1. Dull playing!
Be an actor. Think of moods, atmosphere, characters. "Be a story teller."

2. Not knowing tempos, styles, interpretations!
Listen!: Get lots of recordings.
Listen!: Keep radio tuned to classical stations.
Listen!: Attend live concerts.

3. Having poor posture and not looking like a performer!
Use a couple of mirrors in your practice room, a full length one for total body viewing and a mirror to place on your music stand to view embouchure. Study the Alexander Technique, the Feldenkrais Method, etc.

4. Pointing bell into the music stand!
Don't wander with the bell as you play (unless you are David Taylor). Play off the left side of your stand, and when you read from the right hand page of music, don't angle the bell into the stand.

5. Pointing bell too low (toward the floor) or too high (at the head of the conductor)!
Ideally, the entire trombone section would agree on a mutually acceptable angle to hold the trombones. Use the "bells up" angle only for special effect.

6. Playing as through scared or intimidated!
Look confident, even if you have to fake it. Stand or sit tall with eyes straightforward, chest capable of filling lungs with air, sternum up and forward.

7. Allowing sound to puny, weak!
Get a weighty sound with resonance. Pretend that you can feel your resonant tone coming back into your body through your feet. Start with better quality inhales. Inhale thinking "OH"; exhale thinking "HO".

8. Not having focused vibrations from lips in mouthpiece!
Practice "embouchure solfege" by being able to buzz tough spots in your music. Match pitches on piano.

9. Not having a focused or directed air stream!
Channel your sound by keeping your cheeks touching your molars. This also promotes keeping the corners of your lips anchored and not smiling.

10. Having tone production and embouchure problems due to using a dry lip embouchure!
Most brass players play with moisture on lips, even where the rim touches the lips. Mention survey of NSO brass.

11. Shooting blanks/getting air balls or ghost notes!
Realize that tones are produced when the lips and air are working in perfect harmony. Practice breath attacks all over the registers in order to insure proper position of the lips. Imagine a perfect "buzz point" for all your notes.

12. Trying to have a big sound by opening lips too far!
Your tone will be "woofy", if your aperture is too wide for your air stream. Instead, open breathing apparatus, throat, and inside of mouth.

13. Not being able to play with a good sound at fff and ppp!
Practice the Rochut books at extremes of volume.

14. Not letting lower jaw protrude enough to align lips!
When descending into lower register, allow a pivot. When ascending into extreme high register, try a reverse pivot!

15. Having to shift mouthpiece up and down to change registers!
Learn to traverse registers without excessive shifting.

16. Having a mixture of slurred and legato effects in a phrase!
Do not arbitrarily use a natural slur, if other notes are being playing using legato tonguing. The audience, conductor, or audition committee desire similar and unified effects. However, still practice natural slurs and legato tonguing so that the difference is imperceptible.

17. Not being able to reliably change notes without tonguing!
Practice Rochut's or anything using slide smears. Control registers with air and lips.

18. Not having enough variety of articulations!
Tenuto syllables: T/D. Legato syllables: D/L/N

19. Having a smeary or broken legato!
Discuss how to coordinate changing from note to note. Tongue with slide move.

20. Having a diffuse tonguing sound or airy staccatos!
Remember that an attack is simply lips put into vibration when air is in motion. If your staccatos are airy, first be sure that air is causing the lips to vibrate instantaneously. Then, perfect a "magic placement or attack spot" for the tongue.

21. Having poor slide holding and control habits!
Article from Instrumentalist: NEGLECTED SLIDE TECHNIQUE; FEBRUARY 1994.

22. Avoiding long positions on the trombone slide!
Become familiar with the entire slide. Develop ease of negotiating long slide shifts.

23. Having a non-existent or improper vibrato!
Discuss proper speed and amplitude. Discuss lip/jaw and slide vibrato. Mention diaphragm vibrato as not commonly done on brass instruments, except French horn.

24. Not relying on basic tools to help you learn!
Metronome. 1/2-speed tape recorder. Mirror. Video camera. Tuner.

25. Playing out of tune and not knowing it!
Using the Peterson tuner, watch the window for correct overtones in a key.

26. Not tuning F attachment so that low C is in tune at end of slide!
Show two methods of tuning the F attachment and the advantages and disadvantages of both. Discuss tuning for Hungarian March by Berlioz and Romeo and Juliet of Prokofiev.

27. Not practicing efficiently or enough!
Show importance of drills. Get out of the comfort zone. Challenge yourself.

28. Exhibiting poor stage presence
Emptying water too obviously. Drinking water too obviously and too often. Not acknowledging audience/accompanists. Not bowing and taking curtain calls correctly.

29. Having no vocal training!
Sing in choruses and choirs. Be able to hear intervals before they happen. Have a singing quality to your sound.

30. Not being a complete musician!
Listen to many and various recitals. Improvise. Be able to play by ear. Play in public often. Know how to effect a phrase and "turn a nuance". Performing musically, with understanding, style, and emotion, is the primary goal of this art form.