Dealing with the Trombone

My trombones, must and St. Louis Cardinals paraphernalia add up to a great practice nook!

Have you ever seen a trombone? It’s pretty darn unwieldy. There is only one moving part on a standard trombone and the sound is produced by the buzzing of the lips into a metal mouthpiece that the elongated open tube amplifies into a beautiful tone.

Or at least it should be a beautiful tone.

When looking at the trombone, it seems like there is a great deal of work that needs to be done to produce the aforementioned beautiful tone. But really, the bulk of the work takes place hidden from view, and I’m not talking about practice time at home (Although practice does make perfect).

I’m talking about a frame of mind and a healthy body.

For years I’ve known that if I drank dairy products, had a large unhealthy meal or ate sugar before I had to play the trombone, I would have difficulty playing. My lips would become sticky, my mouth and throat would feel coated and I’d have difficultly breathing. Since I’ve gone vegetarian and more recently vegan, I have had no such issues. In fact, I feel much more energized and focused when playing and I attribute it to my new vegan diet and stoppage of my excessive drinking.

Before, when I was eating meat or eating an unhealthy vegetarian diet, I felt like I have to work pretty hard to maintain a good base on the trombone. I would easily get tired, forget simple things and find it hard to catch my breath, which is pretty important for a brass player. Now that I’m exercising regularly, drinking plenty of water and losing a bit of weight, my endurance, technique, agility and sound on the horn have all improved!

Mental Focus

Being focused mentally is also important when playing trombone. In the past, I would need time to get myself ready and focused, or I’d find my mind wandering during a gig. Now, there is no need for prep time and my mind doesn’t wander (or at least it doesn’t wander as much!) I can visualize what the trombone is going to feel like, and I can hear the sound that will come out. I practice every day, but I rarely have to warm up before a performance. My warm-up is in my head.

Speaking of warming up, I HATE to hear people say, “I didn’t get a good warm-up today.” Does that mean you’re not going to sound good for a while? Isn’t sounding good why we play? My ‘warm-up’ happens in my head. I get in a state of mind that allows my body to reproduce the proper way of playing without going through a ‘routine’ or a lengthly warm-up. (My friend Joey Tartell has a thought provoking blog post titled ‘The Case Against Warming Up‘)

Everything we do as professional musicians, from how we sleep to what we eat will affect the quality of our playing. The stronger my mind and more healthy my body, the better I sound, which will in turn (hopefully) lead to more work!

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