Does the Tongue Start the Note?

Articulation on brass instruments is a relatively simple affair, or at least it ought to be. I frequently admonish the young teachers in my methods classes to teach tonguing to beginning students not by using anatomical explanations of tongue placement, but by simply telling students to say “tah.” As students progress the variants “dah” and in select cases even “thah” are added, along with “kah” and “gah” that are introduced for multiple-tonguing patterns. And, of course, there are the changes of vowel shape needed to change registers; “thaw” is a favorite for the lowest notes on bass trombone and tuba, along with “tee” for the highest notes on all the brasses, and several other intermediate vowel shapes. Explaining articulation using consonant and vowel sounds that students already know from spoken language is one way to prevent the paralyzing effects of trying to think in detail about how the body works while playing while at the same time avoiding the use of unwanted types of articulation such as “pah” and “hah.”

When playing brass instruments a tongued articulation is used at the beginning of each note except when slurring, in which case the tongue strikes only on the first note of the slurred passage. The near-ubiquitous presence of tongued attacks can promote a certain felt dependence upon the tongue to begin notes. This is especially common with trombonists, who are able to truly slur less frequently than other brass players, but it happens with others, as well. When this happens there is sometimes a long pause between the breath and attack (which negatively impacts timing) and often the student will plant the tip of the tongue behind the upper teeth very early, and then allow the air to back up behind the tongue for a split-second before releasing it, making the tongue a sort of gatekeeper for the airflow at the beginning of each note. The result is a predictably explosive beginning to the note, though some students will manage to do this with more refinement. Still, the achievement of a truly delicate attack in this way is impossible, to say nothing of a good legato tongue.

When a student comes to the university articulating in this way (not an uncommon occurrence) one of my first questions for that student is “Does the tongue start the note?” Most students answer in the affirmative, though a few surmise from my even asking the question that the correct answer is “no.” Either way, I demonstrate that the tongue does not begin the note by playing a series of notes using breath attacks. Here there is no tongued articulation, and yet notes still occur. I then indicate to students that the necessary ingredient for a sounding note is vibration, supplied in the case of brass instruments by air blowing through the lips and causing them to vibrate. The tongue is engaged at the beginning of the note, but it is not absolutely necessary for the note to be present. The only necessities are air and buzz.

So if the tongue does not start the note what does it do? Simple: it shapes or defines the attack. Its job is to eliminate the unwanted sounds of breath attacks and of smears when legato tonguing on the trombone, and to give the beginning of each note the desired character, whether gentle, forceful, or something in between. I tell students that the default articulation ought to be one where just enough tongue is used to provide clarity, avoiding the uncertain beginning of a “hah” attack. From there the strength of the articulation can be increased or decreased as needed to produce the correct sound in any given context. We do this all the time in our spoken diction; articulating on a brass instrument should be no different. At no time should we play as if the note sounding at all is dependent upon the tongue striking at the beginning of the note.

Is the use of the tongue an important part of brass playing? Sure, but is a tongued articulation necessary for tone production on a brass instrument? No. Cultivate a way of playing in which air and buzz are primary (because they are!), and enjoy the freedom of being able to use a variety of tongued articulations to shape the attacks as desired but without ever depending upon the tongue to start the note.

Posted in Music, Playing Fundamentals, Teaching Low Brass, Alto Trombone, Trombone, Euphonium, Tenor Trombone, Bass Trombone, Tuba, Music Education, Pedagogy, Articulation

Want to Understand Brass Instruments? Understand the Overtone Series!

The overtone series is an acoustic principle that is sometimes cursorily discussed in music theory and other music courses, but is often poorly understood even by musicians. The “short, short version” is that the pitch sounding when, say, an open string is plucked or bowed is actually a complex sound containing a number of tones, sometimes called “partials” or “harmonics.” Readers of this blog will be more interested in how this applies to brass instruments. Consider here the “pedal B-flat” on tenor or bass trombone. Here is that note along with the twenty-three notes above it in first position.


That pedal B-flat is the fundamental pitch of an air column vibrating in a tube approximately nine feet in length (i.e. a trombone in first position with no valves engaged). It is a complex tone, containing all of the notes here listed above it (and more). Ascending to pitches higher than the fundamental on brass instruments is achieved by “overblowing” to higher partials in the overtone series by increasing the air speed and the speed of the vibrations of the lips. This makes an exponentially larger number of notes available to the player, and as one ascends to higher harmonics multiple fingering possibilities with differing timbres and tuning tendencies become available for each note. You’ll notice that while the fundamental and its octaves tend to be more or less in tune, the other harmonics deviate to various degrees from a perfectly tuned version of that note as registered by a tuner.

At this point I have nearly exhausted my rudimentary technical knowledge of the physics behind the overtone series, but the practical ramifications of this for brass players and teachers are both familiar to me and vitally important. Here are a few thoughts on the benefits of understanding the overtone series for every brass player and teacher.

1. Every brass instrument is built on this same principle. This might seem obvious at first, but if you’ve never thought about how brass instruments work in this way perhaps it isn’t obvious at all. While different instruments have different fundamental pitches, from there the overtone works in exactly the same way on every brass instrument. The second partial is always an octave above the fundamental, the third partial a perfect fifth above that, the fourth partial a perfect fourth above that (or two octaves above the fundamental), etc. Combine this with the fact that the second valve (or second position on the trombone) always lowers the open pitch by one half-step, the first valve (or third position) by one whole-step, etc. and you will see that understanding the overtone series provides a tool by which you can quickly and easily find multiple available fingerings for any note on any brass instrument. And the similarities don’t end there.

2. The tuning tendencies of each partial are the same on every brass instrument. While individual instruments will have a few notes that deviate from the rule, in most cases on any given brass instrument the third partial will be slightly sharp, the seventh partial quite a bit flat, and so on. Moreover, doubles of each partial (or octaves) will always have the same tendency. Thus, partials 1, 2, 4, and 8 are normally true; partials 3, 6, and 12 are sharp; partials 5 and 10 are flat, and so forth. Understanding how this works—and how simple it really is—enables the player or band director to anticipate the likely tuning tendencies of any note using all of the available fingerings for that note. When armed with a solid understanding of the overtone series choosing the best fingering for a note in a given set of circumstances becomes a rather simple matter.

3. Benefits of understanding the overtone series for doublers. As I have repeatedly opined here and in my book on the subject, doubling is a professional necessity for the working low brass player. The player with an understanding of the overtone series and how it works can quickly gain a working knowledge of a new instrument. Rather than slowly and laboriously memorizing notes, fingerings, and tuning tendencies one at a time, the player who understands the overtone series can quickly apply that knowledge to the new instrument, thus anticipating particular tuning difficulties and even associating known fingering patterns from other brass instruments with their applications on the new instrument. Those who find themselves teaching related instruments that they seldom play, such as when I teach F or CC tubas, can use that understanding to help correct students’ fingering errors and even find solutions for their tuning or timbre difficulties. This teaching-related benefit is even greater for band directors.

4. Benefits of understanding the overtone series for band directors. As I just mentioned, I use my knowledge of the overtone series as a means of effectively teaching every member of the tuba family, despite my rarely playing some of those instruments. How much more, then, can the band director, who works with trumpets, horns, trombones, euphoniums, and tubas on a daily basis—and these sometimes in multiple configurations—use such an understanding to effectively identify incorrect fingerings, correct tuning problems, and suggest alternative fingerings for particular situations? Memorizing just the first 8-12 open (or first position) notes on each instrument along with the tuning tendencies of each partial (which, remember, are the same for every brass instrument) will provide a basis from which you can extrapolate as needed to the overtone series for each finger combination or slide position. This will enable you to find multiple fingerings for any note on every brass instrument and prescribe those fingerings which best address specific tuning or execution difficulties.

Despite my best efforts, verbally describing how understanding the overtone series improves both teaching and performance always makes the process sound more cumbersome than it really is. In practice, the process is very fast, efficient, and intuitive, far superior to trying to memorize chromatic fingering charts for every instrument and learning every fingering and tuning tendency none note at a time. Overtone series charts for every brass instrument can be found easily through various search engines; I have several available on my website, as well.

Posted in Doubling, Music, Music Theory, Overtone Series, Pedagogy, Performing, Teaching Low Brass, The Low Brass Player's Guide to Doubling

The Utility of Clef Studies for Future Band Directors

The necessity of learning to read proficiently in tenor and alto clefs is a bane to many trombone players at the college and university level. In most countries the sheet music used for initial trombone instruction and performance is written exclusively in bass clef, but in advanced repertoire trombone parts in tenor clef begin to occur with great regularity. Alto clef occurs less frequently but often enough that learning it is necessary, and occasionally other clefs are needed, as well. While developing the reading abilities needed to master music in multiple clefs is an obvious necessity for those trombonists who are pursing performing careers, why trombonists pursuing careers as school band directors need to go to all of this trouble becomes a legitimate question. (A related question is why applied music study is necessary for future band directors at all, but that will have to wait for another time.) Here are two big reasons why clef studies are useful for trombonists in music education programs.

1. Proficiency in multiple clefs greatly increases the amount of music available to you to play. As mentioned above, advanced repertoire for trombone makes frequent use of the tenor clef. One assumes that composers and publishers choose to do this in order to reduce the number of ledger lines needed to notate parts in the upper register, but whatever the reason, the ability to read tenor clef is simply assumed by those creating music for trombonists of a certain level of proficiency. I often say that learning to read tenor clef triples the amount of music available to the trombonist, but even that might be an understatement. In any case, without the ability to read tenor clef a wealth of solo, chamber, orchestral, and increasingly even wind band music becomes inaccessible. Alto clef, while less common, still occurs enough to be a reasonable expectation even when one does not play alto trombone (in fact, the first trombone parts for my orchestra gig next weekend are notated exclusively in that clef despite being intended for tenor trombone). Continuing with the movable C-clefs, learning to read mezzo-soprano clef is not a bad idea, either, as it provides a relatively simple tool for reading Horn in F parts at sight (I will explain how this works below). Learn to do this and you’ll never again sweat when a church music director puts a horn part on your stand and sheepishly asks you to play it. (Yes, this does happen. Fairly often.) Non-transposing parts in treble clef are rare, but those who specialize in high register work should not be surprised to see it. If you play in churches or otherwise with choirs you can expect an occasional need to read tenor voice parts notated in treble clef but with an octave displacement.

2. Proficiency in multiple clefs provides a tool for the band director to be able to read a transposing score as if it were in concert pitch. While the above examples provide ample evidence of the utility of clef reading for the performing trombonist, should that trombonist one day become a band conductor he will find those skills to be a great aid in score reading. In most cases, wind band scores in the United States will have some instruments with parts notated in concert pitch in both treble and bass clefs, some instruments notated in B-flat in treble clef (meaning that the sounding pitch is one whole step lower than the written pitch, sometimes with an additional 1-2 octave displacement), some instruments noted in E-flat in treble clef (meaning that the sounding pitch is a major sixth lower than written, also sometimes with an additional 1-2 octave displacement), and the horns in F in treble clef (sounding pitch a perfect fifth lower than written). Excepting the rare instances in which one encounters a part for D-flat piccolo, clarinet in A, or some other odd transposition, the four possibilities mentioned above provide a comprehensive list of the types of parts one typically encounters in a wind band score. Happily, the bass, tenor, and mezzo-soprano clefs can be used as an easy way to read the transposing parts in B-flat, E-flat, and F as if they were notated in concert pitch.

For parts written in treble clef in B-flat, simply imagine that the part were in tenor clef and add two flats to the key signature (or subtract two sharps). In the example provided below, the D as notated in treble clef sounds a C, which occurs on the same line in tenor clef. Depending on the instrument there will be octave displacements to keep in mind but at least the work of transposition is eliminated.


Incidentally, this way of using tenor clef to read B-flat treble clef parts makes the tenor clef a simple way to train bass clef euphonium players to read treble clef parts which use this transposition, likewise trombone and tuba players who will encounter such parts in British brass band music.

For parts written in treble clef in E-flat, imagine that the part were in bass clef (with octave displacements) and add three flats to the key signature (or subtract three sharps). In this example, the C as notated in treble clef sounds an E-flat, which occurs on the same space in bass clef.


For “French” horn and English horn parts in F, imagine that the part were in mezzo-soprano clef and add one flat to the key signature (or subtract one sharp). No octave displacements will occur in these cases. In this example, the G as notated in treble clef sounds a middle C, which occurs on the same line in mezzo-soprano clef.


This way of “transposing without actually transposing” parts while reading a band score does bring with it a couple of oddities: a few of the written accidentals have to be altered to make this work—for example, written C-sharp in B-flat parts sounds a B natural—and as mentioned before, there are in some cases octave displacements involved. Nevertheless, the obvious utility of being able to look at a full score and know immediately what each instrument’s sounding pitches should be more than makes up for these minor adjustments.

Perhaps instead of trombonists complaining about being required to study multiple clefs in their lessons, players of other instruments should complain that this is not included in their training!

Posted in Alto Trombone, Bass Trombone, Clef Studies, Euphonium, Higher Education, Low Brass Resources, Music, Music Education, Music Theory, Pedagogy, Performing, Score Reading, Sheet Music, Teaching Low Brass, Tenor Trombone, Trombone, Tuba

Introducing H.R. Rookmaaker (1922-1977)

In the four years that I have been writing this blog I have regularly referred to the works of Francis Schaeffer (1912-1984) as being formative not only for the cultivation of my own identity and worldview as (at least I hope) a thinking Christian. My initial exposure to his thinking as a first-year graduate student was eye-opening, as I finally began to realize that there were evangelical Christians out there who considered difficult topics and big ideas in a serious way, one far removed from the shallowness that so often pervades modern American Christianity. Rather than holding my roles as an academic musician and an evangelical churchman in an uneasy tension, I began to see that I could be both a Christian academic and a Christian musician in a way that was intellectually and artistically credible as well as true to “the faith which was once delivered to the saints.” Although I was not aware of it at the time, Schaeffer was also my first introduction to the Reformed and Calvinistic view of Christianity which I embraced several years later, though his was a more broadly evangelical take on the Reformed faith than some in that part of the church hold.


H.R. Rookmaaker (1922-1977)

I mention Schaeffer today because in reading some of his works a few months back I noted several citations of his friend Henderik Roelof “Hans” Rookmaaker (1922-1977), and quickly regretted that I had theretofore overlooked this seminal figure in evangelical thinking on the arts. Rookmaaker was born in Holland but was raised partly in the Dutch East Indies, though he returned to his native country in time to join the Royal Netherlands Navy and served briefly during the war. While a prisoner of war he was converted by reading a Bible he had been given (something near to my heart as a Gideon), as well as through interaction with imprisoned Dutch Christians, including the philosopher Johan Mekkes (1898-1987). After the war Rookmaaker studied art history while continuing to cultivate a long-held interest in jazz and other music arising out of the African American community in the United States. He eventually earned a doctorate and was given the chair of art history at the Free University of Amsterdam. Rookmaaker’s interest in cultivating a Christian approach to his academic work was well aligned with the views of the Free University’s founder Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920), a well-known thinker in this arena. He became friends with Francis Schaeffer in the late 1940s, and the two shared an interest in applying a Christian worldview to all of life.

One of Rookmaaker’s more popular works is Modern Art and the Death of a Culture (1970), which was celebrated in the Christian community but criticized by the author’s academic colleagues. Evangelical critiques of contemporary art, music, and culture are often shallow, eschewing serious engagement with the works considered and instead simply declaring them to be unattractive or otherwise unchristian because their beauty is not immediately obvious to the disengaged observer. (Conversely, the “art” most often marketed to Christians is thoughtless and kitschy, if superficially pretty.) While Rookmaaker sharply criticized much that he saw in the arts of the twentieth century, he did so in a way that was robust and intellectually credible, seeking to understand the artists’ visions for their works and then exploring the historical circumstances and philosophical commitments that undergirded them. Rookmaaker discussed the vital relationship between beauty and truth, and the difficulty of creating truly beautiful art in a milieu in which the very concept of truth has been discarded. Perhaps more importantly, he saw the ends to which these philosophical and artistic trends were pointed, and in a way reminiscent of his friend Schaeffer’s work rightly predicted much of the shape which the arts and society would take in the nearly 40 years since his death, and the impact that these developments would have upon Christians. Modern Art and the Death of a Culture is a challenging and edifying read, recommended for those Christians who take the arts seriously and lament the ugliness of so much contemporary artistic expression, yet are not sure how to level defensible critiques or cultivate an alternative approach which celebrates beauty without resorting to shallowness or kitsch.

A short work published just after Rookmaaker’s death is Art Needs No Justification (1978). If in the previous work the author had contemporary non-Christian artists in his crosshairs, here he spoke largely to Christians who too often belittle, cheapen, or ignore the arts, ascribing value to artistic works based upon the non-artistic ends to which they can be employed, particularly evangelism. This pragmatic approach to beauty ignores something so foundational to what it means to be human: that as image-bearers of the God who created so much beauty for its own sake, it is likewise right and good for us to pursue and create beauty as an end in itself. In this short work Rookmaaker also rightly breaks down somewhat the artificial division between “art” and “craft” which has developed in Western societies, and challenges Christians in a variety of creative endeavors—and in areas not so directly creative—to “weep, pray, think, and work.”

These two books, in addition to Schaeffer’s citations of him, have provided me with a challenging and edifying introduction to the works of this great Christian thinker, and I commend them to you. Hans Rookmaaker’s complete oeuvre is also available in both print and electronic formats; I hope one day to delve more deeply into his writings.

Posted in Apologetics, Calvinism, Christian Education, Christian Worldview, Church, Doctrine of Vocation, Francis Schaeffer, H.R. Rookmaaker, Higher Education, Music and Theology, Practical Christianity, Presbyterianism, Reading and Study, Society, Theology, Truth

“Buy the Truth and Sell it Not….”

While the reader might assume that I have chosen today’s topic in reaction to recent events in the news, that reasonable assumption is not correct. My usual practice is to choose topics for the blog weeks or even months in advance, and this particular subject has been on my mind for quite some time. Christians have a particular interest in the concept of truth, and lamented its decline long before the present political and social concerns presented themselves. After all, as followers of the One who referred to himself as “the Truth” (John 14:6) and as those whose faith stands or falls depending on whether or not certain historical events—especially the Resurrection—actually took place (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:15-17), Christians are very concerned with determining what is and what is not actually so. We deny the relativism that has for years now been prevalent in our culture, particularly in the area of religion. Christianity cannot be “true for you if it works for you but not true for me,” nor can two competing religions or worldviews be simultaneously true. Christianity might be true or it might be false, but it cannot be simultaneously true or false for different persons, times, places, or circumstances. The denial that truth or falsehood are salient categories in the area of religion has long been a barrier to Christian apologetics and evangelism, as it is impossible to convince a person of the truth and exclusivity of the gospel if he does not even accept the idea of religious truth.

In recent years this loss of truth has become an increasing concern in areas beyond religion, as we are seeing the reporting or presenting of facts in a variety of areas replaced with spin. People in politics, the media, and even in private conversation seem increasingly unconcerned with ascertaining and reporting truth, instead concerning themselves with constructing compelling narratives. Everywhere we look we are presented not with facts but with spin, and people on opposing sides of the issues are unable not only to agree, but even to speak to one another on the basis of some shared understanding. This is to the detriment of our collective well-being.

While the pervasiveness of spin is perhaps new, its presence, of course, is not. When Christ was questioned by Pontius Pilate our Lord answered in part that he had come “to bear witness to the truth,” to which Pilate cynically answered “What is truth?” (John 18:37-38) This same Pilate quickly demonstrated himself to be concerned with the maintenance of order more so than with his own assessment of Jesus’ innocence; truth and reality took a backseat to appearances. Centuries earlier, when Adam and Eve were confronted by God over their disobedience both attempted to deflect blame; Adam blamed Eve, and Eve blamed the serpent (Genesis 3:9-13). Our first parents were also the first spin doctors.

While the strategic shaping of narratives goes all the way back to the Garden, Adam and Eve were guilty only of trying to present the facts in the most favorable light, not of denying that they had indeed eaten of the Tree in defiance of God’s command. Such a denial would have been futile, of course, but in any case the strategic presentation of verifiable facts is a far lesser violation of truth than the denial that truth even exists. What concerns me today, and what seems to be ruining our society’s capacity for civil discourse, is that we are witnessing a collective denial of objective reality, with every party, every faction, and even every individual constructing unique versions of “truth.” We’ve gone from spinning the facts to our advantage to denying the very existence of facts and being left with nothing but spin. No wonder we keep talking past each other.

Daniel Patrick Moynihan (1927-2003) famously said that “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts,” but this hasn’t stopped people from pretending that truth, if it exists at all, is endlessly malleable. The result? Democrats and Republicans sound less like two groups of people offering competing solutions to the same set of problems and more like people from different nations entirely—if not from different planets! The same can be said about our national conversation in numerous areas of social, political, and moral concern. I fear that until we learn to “Buy the truth and sell it not,” as the scripture commends (Proverbs 23:23)—until we collectively remember that truth exists, can be known, and should be known—we are going to keep finding ourselves not only unable to agree with those with differing opinions, but unable to communicate with them at all.

More importantly from a Christian perspective, without a shared commitment to truth the communication of eternal truths—with regard to which the stakes are infinitely higher than those regarding various temporal concerns—becomes nearly impossible.

Posted in Apologetics, Bible, Christian Worldview, Doctrine, Political Systems, Politics, Practical Christianity, Society, Theology, Truth

Reflections on the Process of Making a Solo Recording

stepping-stones-for-bass-trombone-vol-1My first solo album, Stepping Stones for Bass Trombone, Vol. 1, was released on the Potenza Music label a little over a year ago. Some readers will know how stressful the project became for me, as its release was delayed for nearly two years by the illness and passing of the recording engineer and producer Rich Mays (himself a very fine bass trombonist during the first part of his career), yet its completion was a necessary component of my application for promotion and tenure at the University of Mississippi. Thankfully, all turned out well. I was very pleased with the final result and the album has received good reviews. More importantly, I was promoted to associate professor and granted tenure (for the second time, since I successfully went through the same process at the University of Louisiana at Monroe before moving to my present position). I’d like to offer a few reflections on this process, both for the benefit of any readers who might be considering making a solo recording and also as I gather my thoughts in preparation for possibly making another album in the next year or two.

1. Secure as much funding as possible. Making a recording is an expensive venture, with costs easily exceeding $10,000. The greatest expense is usually hiring a skilled recording engineer, as few performers possess the skills, equipment, and software needed to record, mix, and edit a professional-quality recording. Recording brass instruments well is particularly tricky, requiring precise placement of a particular type of microphone to do well. Usually a separate mastering engineer must be engaged to give the sound a final polish. Depending on how well your engineer knows your instrument and its repertoire, a separate producer might need to be hired, and in any case someone to offer general assistance in the booth will be needed (this is a great role for advanced students). Additional costs include mechanical licensing fees paid to the publishers of the works recorded, hiring an accompanist and probably a piano tuner, rental fees for the space in which the recording will be made, travel and lodging for the engineer if necessary, and any fees required by the record label which will carry and market the album. And this is not a comprehensive list! Unless you are independently wealthy, funding through fellowships, grants, and similar sources will be necessary to meet all of these expenses, so apply for everything you can!

2. Expect to make zero net profit. (Actually, you will lose money.) There was a time when even classical musicians recording solo albums could expect to recoup at least a substantial portion of the cost of doing so through selling physical albums, most recently on CD. Sadly, it seems that few consumers are interested in buying physical copies of recordings anymore, and the music streaming services that make millions of tracks available to listeners at little or no cost pay very low royalties to the musicians who recorded the content. These days a solo album functions largely as an expensive business card, meaning that those who record such albums really need to have motivations other than profit for doing so. (You know, like your university basically requiring it as part of your tenure application!) That there is no hope of profit in making a recording also makes the securing of outside funding even more important.

3. Expect delays. While it is a good idea to plan a timeline of how the album should progress from initial planning through release, you should take it for granted that this timeline will have to be revised repeatedly throughout the process. Why? Because “stuff” happens! Perhaps the availability of the recording space or engineer or pianist will change due to illness or unexpected obligations, or perhaps you will be the one with an unexpected life event. Maybe your funding will be held up or canceled somehow and additional money will have to be found someplace. While the unhappy circumstances that led to the long delay of my own album are particularly unusual, any project that requires the contributions of multiple human beings with their own individual desires, motivations, and obligations will be subject to the various postponements that inevitably accompany “real life.” Still, beginning with a plan will almost certainly minimize the number and impact of such delays.

4. Practice a lot and mark “everything.” The 3-4 days during which recording takes place can be particularly taxing physically, so building stamina by undertaking lengthy practice sessions in the weeks and months leading up to the recording itself is a good idea. These practice sessions need not consist entirely of the material that is on the album (in fact, review of playing fundamentals is very helpful), but do make sure that the material on the album is thoroughly mastered, as this will minimize the number of takes needed to record the various materials. Mark places where mistakes occur or might be anticipated in the music so that these are avoided both in practice and while recording. Remember that fewer takes means not only saving chops, but also saving money due to less time spent both recording and editing. After all, you’re the only one working on this thing for free!

5. Provide detailed notes for editing. If I could pick one thing that I could have done better to speed up the editing process, it would be to mark in greater detail the precise locations (as in minutes and seconds on the timer) in each take from which certain measures in each piece should be taken. I had a bad habit of indicating this more generally (“take these measures from the second time through on this take”), which led to Rich spending unnecessary time “fishing” for the location of a given passage. That sounds so obvious to me now that I’m kicking myself for not thinking of it at the time, but I didn’t. Also, let me remind you again that the better prepared you are and the better your playing is, the less editing that will be necessary, leading to a more seamless final product that will be produced more inexpensively.

6. Purchase high-quality headphones. When listening to unedited tracks and particularly when evaluating the final sound quality, using the best headphones you can obtain will be of great help in assessing how things are sounding and what further adjustments will be necessary. Happily, Rich loaned me a very fine set of headphones for this purpose; next time around I will purchase some for myself. Listening on headphones is much better for detailed evaluation than on even high-quality speakers, and the headphones used should have the fullest dynamic and tonal range possible. Needless to say, earbuds do not fit the bill!

7. Defer to the knowledge of others. When making a recording for the first time, take for granted that there is much that you do not know, and be ready to adjust your expectations in various areas according to the advice of your engineer, your accompanist, and anyone else that might have more experience than you. This is another area in which I have some regrets, as I became quite frustrated during recording when my unreasonable expectations for how quickly things should proceed were not met. “Experience is the best teacher,” as they say, and while I’m happy that I will have a bit of experience to offer next time, I should have more readily deferred to the knowledge and experience of those working with me the first time.

8. Pursue a “perfect” final product, but accept that you’ll never get there. Despite the positive reviews and comments that I have received regarding my recording, I can still name particular spots that I wish could have been better, or edits that are obvious to me because I know about them, even though no one else listening can tell. (Rich was a great engineer!) Happily, my recollection of these things is fading with time, and I can listen to the finished album with more satisfaction now than I could a year ago. The pursuit of perfection ensures a quality product, but as with everything in this fallen world, we all must accept that absolute perfection will not be achieved in any human endeavor.

But again, the pursuit of perfection is valuable despite knowing that it is an impossible goal. I look forward to pursuing it again in the recording studio in the coming months and years, God willing.

Posted in Bass Trombone, Higher Education, Micah Everett, Music, Playing Fundamentals, Practicing, Recordings, Stepping Stones for Bass Trombone, Vol. 1, Trombone, University of Mississippi

Fall Concerts and Activities Preview

This year we have more low brass students than ever at Ole Miss, and with a correspondingly large number of things going on both for me and for the students this fall, at least toward the end of the semester. The first couple of months will largely be spent preparing for all of this stuff! Here’s a short run-down of things going on around here later this fall.

October 15, December 3, and December 10: Performing with the North Mississippi Symphony Orchestra


North Mississippi Symphony Orchestra

This will be my fourth season with the North Mississippi Symphony Orchestra as first trombonist, and the schedule for this fall includes a classical concert, a performance of The Nutcracker with the Tupelo Ballet, and a Christmas program for chorus and orchestra. While my role in the orchestra is usually as a tenor trombonist, at various times I have found myself playing alto trombone, bass trombone, or euphonium in the group.

November 7: Faculty Recital Series: “The Big Horns”

everettbasswithpianoFor my faculty recital on campus this year I will be following last year’s program for tenor trombone and euphonium with a program for bass trombone and tuba. The bass trombone portion will reprise the half recital I played on the first night of TROMBONANZA back in August, with works by Jacques Castérède, David William Brubeck, and Frank Gulino, while the tuba portion will include works by Anthony Plog, Gordon Jacob, and Øystein Baadsvik. After having put off taking up tuba in earnest for many years, I have been pleased with my progress on the instrument in the past year-and-a-half or so and am looking forward to presenting these works.

November 10: Investiture of University of Mississippi Chancellor Jeffrey S. Vitter

UM Trombone Ensemble August 2016

UM Trombone Ensemble

Although he has been at Ole Miss since January, the formal investiture of the university’s seventeenth chancellor will be held on November 10. I am pleased to announce that the University of Mississippi Trombone Ensemble has been asked to play for the processional and recessional during the event, in which the university faculty will enter and exit in full academic regalia.

November 14: Carmina Burana


Carl Orff

The choirs at Ole Miss will be performing Carmina Burana by Carl Orff this November, and an ensemble of faculty, Memphis area musicians, and a few students has been engaged for the performance. An audience favorite, Orff’s work is frequently performed in various venues, and I have performed it a number of times in the past.

November 16: Guest Artist: Jonathan Warburton


Jonathan Warburton

On November 16 British bass trombone soloist Jonathan Warburton will be presenting a recital and master class on campus. A champion of new music, Mr. Warburton has commissioned a number of works for bass trombone, and we hope to hear one or more new pieces during his visit to our campus.

November 29: University of Mississippi Low Brass Ensembles

UM Tuba-Euphonium Ensemble August 2016

UM Tuba-Euphonium Ensemble

Our low brass ensembles concert this semester is occurring later in the semester than usual, and given the proximity to the winter holiday we’ll be including a number of tunes appropriate for the season in addition to the types of works more typical of our programs. One highlight will be a performance of Eric Crees’s sixteen-trombone arrangement of Eric Clapton’s hit Layla, which first appeared twenty years ago now on the hugely successful (well, for trombone music anyway) album The London Trombone Sound.

Besides these events, there will be a number of student solo and ensemble performances, including three senior recitals that are still awaiting scheduling, activities with the Mississippi Brass Quintet and Great River Trombone Quartet, and the usual mix of “church gigs” and other smaller engagements for me. And, of course, lots and lots of teaching—between my work at the university and private teaching opportunities I am working with students over 30 hours per week at the moment. Mine is a busy but enjoyable life at the moment.



Posted in Alto Trombone, Anthony Plog, Bass Trombone, David William Brubeck, Education, Euphonium, Frank Gulino, Gordon Jacob, Higher Education, Jacques Casterede, Jonathan Warburton, Micah Everett, Music, Music Education, North Mississippi Symphony Orchestra, Oystein Baadsvik, Performances, Teaching Low Brass, Tenor Trombone, Trombone, Tuba, Uncategorized