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Palen Music Center Quick Note

Monday, September 16, 2013


Palen Music Center is dedicated to helping children experience excellence, personal growth, and joy through involvement in music. We carry out this mission by supporting area band directors through weekly service, support, educational programs, and quality products. This weekly Quick Note newsletter strives to highlight topics that are immediately helpful in the classroom. Comments, suggestions, ideas, and articles are always welcome.


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Teaching the Beginning Trombone Class: Some Practical Suggestions by Dr. Jason Hausback

Teaching a beginning trombone class can be a daunting task for the music educator, who may have little experience with the instrument. As the only instrument in the band with a slide, the trombone provides some unique challenges to the student and the teacher. The following is a list of suggestions that may be helpful:

First note: F or low Bb?
At the beginning of the year, consider individually determining which note is easier for the student to play. Some students will be able to play the F with ease and will be too tight to get the low Bb, while others may be more relaxed and may have trouble understanding how to play the higher notes. Oftentimes, individual differences in airflow can be a contributing factor to this. Having each student start on the note that is more comfortable for them can help build confidence, as they will be playing these first notes a lot in the beginning of the semester!

Monitoring the position of the trombone
Many beginning trombonists develop bad habits simply because the music stand or other items are in the way. It is easy for the teacher (who is often busy and occupied with other issues) to overlook this. If it is possible to put more space between the students (perhaps by having them sit in every other chair), it will be easier for them not to play into the stand. This simple step can save lots of playing issues later on. Students who play into the stand will often slouch and not play as loud because they hear their sound coming back at them. It can also hinder the development of range, and some students will even begin to place the mouthpiece off-center on their face to avoid hitting things in front of them.

Blowing air
Most beginners (and sometimes even students that have played for several years) do not realize how much air it takes to play a trombone with a good sound. Emphasize to your students that the trombone is about 9 feet long if unwound in first position, and over 13 feet long if fully extended! Sometimes just giving them a visual aid or a target (“blow the air across the room to this point”) can really help with tone and range development. Additionally, fostering an environment where it is ok to “go for it” and occasionally mess up (which may sometimes cause beginners to play too loud or to make an explosive sound) will lead to stronger, more confident low brass players in the future.

Using the slide to develop tone
Having students play moving long tones on the slide is one of the best ways to develop a full, consistent sound. It is possible to do this before beginners have even learned the positions, as the concept is more about the “feel” of consistent airflow. A simple exercise is to start in first position and move the slide outward while maintaining a consistent tone and volume. The student can then either stop in an outer position, or return back to first position, sustaining the sound the whole time. This is the basic premise behind the Remington exercises; after all, Remington was a trombonist! This exercise can be used for the development of the low range on the trombone. Additionally, once the student has a better sense for sixth position, the exercise can be used in reverse for the development of the upper range as well.

Mouthpiece buzzing for range development
Encouraging students to buzz long tones and sirens on the mouthpiece will not only help reinforce and strengthen the embouchure, but will also aid in range development. Because some students will create artificial resistance while buzzing, it is good to monitor the development of this individually when possible. The use of BERPs (Buzz Extension and Resistance Pieces) can help with this, but simply having the student cover part of the shank end of the mouthpiece with their pinky also works pretty well.

Developing muscle memory with slide positions
Much of the consistency with tuning and slide technique comes from developing muscle memory. Creating games to challenge the students’ ability to accurately hit positions can be fun for the students, and will foster better muscle memory. A simple game to play is to have the students close their eyes, and then have them move to a position. Over time, you can add on to the number of moves in the sequence, and then have them look and see if they ended in the correct place. This is especially helpful for developing “in between” positions like second and fifth.

Playing simple melodies by ear
Since much of playing in tune on the trombone is also related to ear training, encouraging beginners to play simple tunes by ear (many of which are already in their beginner books) will help teach them to find positions and will ultimately foster the development of better slide technique. Playing simple melodies in different keys (especially a half-step away) is also possible even before the student has learned many scales or key signatures.

Using “call and response”
In addition to modeling techniques for the students by playing for them, devoting a short segment of the class period to making up simple rhythms and slide position movements will help further develop ear training. Having them repeat these (with some occasional descriptive words to help) not only encourages creativity, but can also be very helpful for teaching articulation. It is also a good technique for breaking up the class period and keeping the students engaged.

Reinforcing that the trombone is cool and that music is fun
As an educator, it is sometimes easy to forget why students are drawn to band in the first place. After the novelty of an instrument like the trombone has worn off, students may become bored with the seemingly endless repetition of fundamentals. This may also be the case when full band rehearsals begin, and trombonists realize that their part is not always as interesting as that of other sections.

  • Keeping the classroom interactive and cultivating an environment where trombone is “cool” can go a long way towards sustaining the interest of the students

  • Creating packets of melodies for the students to play (especially during the winter and summer breaks) will keep them interested. If these melodies include some of the same fundamentals you have been working on in class, then the students are practicing without even realizing it!

  • Having older students or trombone professionals occasionally come in and play for your class can have a huge impact on the long-term development of your students

  • Use the resources in your area! Seeking out trombone private lessons teachers and encouraging students to attend events at local high schools and universities will only strengthen your students’ interest in the instrument. Ask local experts like trombone players and college professors about questions you may have – most of them would be excited and happy to help out!

If you foster the love of music in your trombone class from the beginning, students are much more likely to continue to practice and to come back to band in future years.

Jason Hausback
Assistant Professor of Trombone - Missouri State University

[email protected]

Dr. Jason Hausback is the Assistant Professor of Trombone at Missouri State University. In addition to teaching the trombone studio at MSU, he is the director of the Jazz Studies Ensemble II. Jason received his Bachelor of Music degree from the University of Wisconsin: Madison, and his Master’s and Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the University of North Texas. Prior to arriving at Missouri State University, Jason was active as a private lessons and master class teacher in the Dallas/Ft. Worth metropolitan area, and has also been involved as a marching band and drum corps instructor for the last ten years.

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