Friday, January 29, 2010

The Audition


“A trumpeter’s life is risky business. No greatness can be achieved if the player is paralyzed by fear.”

Auditions are the most important performance opportunities of any musician’s career. Yet, most spend too little time in advance preparation. As a result, the few opportunities that come along are wasted because they are practice sessions rather than performances.


Most brass players, who aspire to a career as a professional musician, have only a five to ten year period to win their first job. There are many more gigs for horn players than for the other brasses. A bass trombone, euphonium, or tuba player might have as few as ten opportunities in an entire career. However, the opportunity to prepare for auditions is unlimited.

Audition preparation must begin long before a musician first hears about an opportunity. A friend remarked, “My college trumpet teacher showed me how to play but he didn’t show me how to win an audition. That’s why I never had a professional career.” Winning a professional audition starts with developing your musical and technical skills, but there is much more expertise must be acquired.


“A career in music is a difficult challenge for those who have not developed their skills. For those who have, it is a wonderful life.”

“Although hundreds may audition for the job you want, you are only competing with the small number of players who are capable of winning.”


When I first began playing professional auditions, there were no repertoire lists. The audition system was not standardized as it is today. You didn’t know what you would be asked to play until you were in the audition room. Yes, there is a general list of repertoire that is always on every audition, but sometimes there were unwelcome surprises.

Some audition opportunities were not widely publicized or came up suddenly at the last minute. Musicians were expected to be prepared at all times. It was not uncommon for a conductor or orchestra to call Jake, or other prominent teachers personally, and ask to hear one of their students.

Today, there are no surprises other than the acoustics of the audition room. Audition procedures are more or less standard throughout the United States. They include repertoire lists that allow enough time for the candidate to prepare. However, the audition system is not without flaws.


The standard system in the United States evolved over the last forty years. It is primarily the result of union musicians who wanted to reduce the unfair practices of conductors who hired players for political, rather than musical reasons. The system has raised performance standards everywhere by gradually eliminating most incompetent players and providing a real opportunity for everyone.

In Europe, the entire orchestra votes for the final round of auditions. The conductor is considered to be a member of the orchestra and has a single vote.

There are many instances where highly accomplished musicians were unable to advance past the first round. For principal positions, major orchestras routinely audition and reject candidates for two or more years. They eventually invite well known players for the final round. Many of the finest players avoid playing preliminary auditions because they understand that the system is flawed.

A former principal oboist of the Chicago Symphony was rejected twice in preliminary auditions. Finally, the orchestra invited him to the final round. He was awarded the job.

Preliminary auditions are heard by a diverse group of the orchestra musicians. Audition committee duty, is usually not voluntary. And it is not something most orchestra members look forward to doing. Like jury duty, when your name is called, you reluctantly participate. I have served on several audition committees.

Recently some orchestras, including the Boston symphony, experimented with having candidates record their audition rather than have a committee hear it live. Thankfully, that practice never became widespread or standard.

A typical committee hearing a brass audition might be comprised of 12-15 orchestra members. Maybe only 2 or 3 members are brass players. In Europe, the committee might be the entire wind sections of a double orchestra! I once played for 50 members of a double opera orchestra in Germany.

Most of the committee members know very little about your instrument or even the specific repertoire for your instrument. However, they are all very fine musicians and will be able to adjudicate based on the music they hear and see in front of them. They will have different opinions about tone color and stylistic interpretation but they all see the same scores. Understanding that common element is very important.

Too often, candidates think they are performing for a cadre of people who play the same instrument or even within the same family. Doing so, can be a major strategic error. If you play an instrument that has only one in the orchestra, such as bass trombone or tuba, there probably won’t be one on the committee. Orchestras rarely ask the retiring player to participate in the selection of their replacement.


“It’s the music that will unify an audition committee, not your instrument.”


There is no safety in the middle of the group of players at any audition. You must be able to separate yourself from the others in a dramatic way. It is risky business but you must have the confidence and courage to perform at such a level that you are noticed and remembered by the committee. You are an anonymous person behind a screen, so you must deliver a powerful musical statement introducing who you are and what you can do.


“The audition committee is looking for reasons to eliminate you as a candidate. You must be proactive by immediately demonstrating you are the person who should be hired.”



“There is no place to hide in the audition room.”

“If there is weakness in your playing, it will be exposed and amplified in the audition room! Your weakness will dominate your strengths. Weakness will cause you to be fearful because you have an expectation of failure and your expectations will always be realized.”



“If a trumpeter is fearful when they play, they have no business playing the trumpet.”

Too often, I hear about brass players who try to control their audition anxiety with drugs or some other ineffective action. We have absolutely no conscious control over these emotions because they are subconscious reactions motivated by the possibility or expectation of failure!

However, there are two things we can do regarding fear.

1. Function in spite of it.

2. Eliminate the cause of it.

I read about the terrible anxiety the great tenor, Luciano Pavarotti suffered before every performance. Yet, he was able to transcend his anxiety when he was on the stage. He was anxious and fearful before the performance but not during it. It is important to understand why he suffered so much and how he was able to function anyway.


“It is only when I am completely committed to the music that I can move my audience.”


The only reason fear emerges from our subconscious is that we have an expectation of physical or emotional harm. Certainly, embarrassing ourselves with an instrument in our hands, qualifies as being an emotionally harmful experience. For a brass player, it’s not pleasant physically either. Brass players receive a double dose of negative conditioning resulting from failure.


“We cannot consciously control fear but we can control what is motivating it”


There are two ways to alleviate our fear of death if we are standing at the edge of a 1000 foot cliff.

1. Step back from the cliff.

2. Imagine that you have stepped back from the cliff.


The subconscious mind responds in the same manner to fantasy or reality. Fantasy is how great actors become the character they are portraying. I frequently ask my students to pretend they are some other musical artist. When I ask my high school orchestra to pretend they are professionals, they sound different immediately. Musically, they don’t sound like a very inexperienced group of young string and wind players.

Jake frequently asked his students to compete with him or some other great musician. I remember he would say, “Imagine how the music would sound if Bud Herseth played it on the trumpet.”

The primary cause of performance anxiety is the brass player’s expectation of failure. There is an involuntary reaction in the subconscious mind that protects us from experiencing physical or emotional harm. This reaction manifests itself by creating fear and paralysis.


“I expect the notes to be there.”


“A musician can only develop an expectation of success by creating a history of success.

Successful performance can be accomplished only if the player has a methodology that works for them.”

Many brass players do not know how to create success on a consistent basis. The methodologies existing in the educational field are contradictory and ineffective. When lecturing at a music school, I always ask the brass players the following question. “How many of you have ever wanted to throw your instrument at a brick wall?” The response is universally affirmative no matter where I ask.


This formula is discussed elsewhere in this website.


“Without an expectation of success, failure is inevitable.”


Since a candidate has no control of where their audition will be held, they must eliminate the elements of acoustics, lighting, and temperature from consideration. They must not allow themselves to be distracted from the music by any external condition.


The great British euphonium player, Robert Childs once told me how he prepared for the Brass Band National Championships in England. He was principal euphonium for the world renown Grimethorpe Colliery Band. From experience, he knew the performance hall would be very warm, his mouth would be dry, and his heart would be pounding in his chest.

To create these conditions, he dressed in layers of winter clothing, turned the heat up in his home, and ran up and down stairs to elevate his heart beat. Then, he played the important solos from memory. The audition environment can be intimidating and stressful no matter the physical conditions.


“The audition room is not a place to practice. It’s a performance hall.”

“If you expect to win, your professional audition must occur as the final event in a series of 25-30 preparatory auditions.”


A friend was auditioning for the fourth trumpet chair in a major American orchestra. He was a well known and highly respected free lance musician in Chicago. He also had several years experience playing with a German opera house orchestra. He wanted the gig more than the other candidates and was willing to do what was necessary to get it.

Here is what he did to prepare for the most important audition of his career:

1. He performed a solo every Sunday in different church around Chicago. He called music directors and offered to play gratis. There was no problem finding places to perform.

2. Since he was an active free lance trumpeter, he worked for all of Chicago’s major orchestras and at one of the professional musical theaters downtown. At the intermission of rehearsals and performances, he asked a few of the musicians to hear his audition. He played it dozens of times.

3. He also teamed up with another fine trumpeter who was also auditioning for the same job. They regularly performed and critiqued each other.

4. Choosing different locations, he played the repertoire list for a tape recorder.

He and his partner both made the finals which included another fine trumpeter. On the day before the last round of auditions, he called and asked if he could play the repertoire list for me. Hearing him was an experience that I’ll always remember.

When he took his instrument out of the case, I noticed that his hands were trembling. I thought his performance might not go well. I was wrong! At the conclusion I said, “If you play like that tomorrow, you will win the audition.” He nodded his approval. The next day I received a call announcing that he won the job.

The two trumpet players who were not chosen for the job that day eventually became principals in other major American orchestras.



“You must ask yourself these important questions about the audition repertoire. Why is this music on the list? What are they looking for musically? Always give the committee what the music is communicating to you! ”

“You must interpret the music precisely as it is notated. However, every element must be distinguished beyond what you expect will be heard from your competition.”

“Most candidates at any professional audition will be able to play the correct notes. You must have the courage to elevate your performance to the limits of your ability.”

“Your interpretation must be appropriate for the part. A principal part must be interpreted differently than playing a section part.”

“No principal player wants to hire competition for their section.”

“You cannot be an anonymous musician behind the screen.”

“Most musicians realize music in shades of gray and black. Great musicians perform using all the bright colors of a rainbow.”

From my experience on professional audition committees, I recall that most candidates don’t do enough to distinguish themselves musically. Although they are politely allowed to play, they are usually eliminated in the minds of the committee members within the first few seconds. I could tell by their body language that most fellow committee members no longer listened after 30 seconds because their evaluation was over.

In time, a musician came along who commanded our attention immediately. The difference musically was striking. Because their musical skills were more imaginative, they had the confidence to do more technically as well.

The audition committee will judge a brass player on their tone, rhythmic accuracy, intonation, and most importantly, musical interpretation. Because the committee will be looking at the same scores as you, the interpretation must follow the notation precisely.

Avoid altering the score in any way. There may be accepted alterations that every trumpeter in the world knows, but don’t count on every member of the committee knowing them. Very few orchestras provide copies of the scores to candidates. A candidate should be prepared if there are various editions of the music. Stravinsky published several editions of his ballet scores to maintain royalties.


There is a well known story about an audition, performed for a major American orchestra, by one of the world’s finest bass trombonist. Although he is quite well known, he was not automatically placed in the final round. He knew he needed to distinguish himself from the other players in the preliminary rounds by demonstrating something extraordinary.

All candidates were asked to play a simple Bach choral. It had a mid-range tessitura and a compass of about two octaves. In a well planned but very risky maneuver, he decided to expand the range to four octaves. He is a great player and pulled it off beautifully. As a result, the committee could not ignore him and was eager to listen further. He was won the job.

A tuba player recently won a job with a different major American orchestra. Although he is a somewhat older player, it was the first successful professional audition of his career. After years of failed attempts, he knew his “window of opportunity” was closing fast and that he needed to take some risk.

In the preliminary rounds, the candidates were asked to play the first movement cadenza from the Vaughan Williams Tuba Concerto. The range is slightly more than three octaves. He decided to expand it to four octaves, up to double high C. He played it brilliantly. The highly impressed committee could not ignore the effort.

In a professional audition, no one should ever “show boat” specific orchestral or solo repertoire. However in cadenzas, it’s commendable if what you do is musical and you can pull it off. Sometimes, the orchestral parts alone don’t demonstrate the limits of your capabilities. You must find a way to communicate all your skills in the very limited time available.


“Persistence is omnipotent”

One of my former students, now a colleague, is a well known artist and teacher of the horn. He played fifty professional orchestral auditions in his career but he won jobs only five times. On forty-five occasions, he walked away without a contract. However, he did acquire very valuable experience.


“Experience is your most influential teacher.”

“Failure is an opportunity to learn.”

“We must learn to accept failure as an inevitable component of the process of creating success.”

“If we cannot tolerate imperfection, the resulting paralysis will never allow us to achieve greatness.”

“With each audition, a musician’s ultimate test is the level of their need to persevere.”

With continued experience, the horn player learned more about his personal strengths and weaknesses. He also gained valuable insights into what is required to win a job. However, he would not have acquired that knowledge and experience if he had abandoned his efforts. He eventually reached his ultimate goal of playing with a major American orchestra. He would not allow the emotional pain of failure to deter him.



While a member of the Honolulu Symphony, I scheduled an audition for the Seattle Symphony. I had to leave for Seattle immediately after returning to Honolulu from a five day tour of the outer islands. There was no time to go home from the airport. I waited five hours for an overnight flight to San Francisco and a connecting flight to Seattle. It took about eighteen hours to arrive at the concert hall for my audition. I was a little late but the committee was willing to wait for me.

In the warm-up room, I recall that I was so exhausted I could barely play. I began to experience a feeling of panic because I didn’t think I could function on the stage. I knew the committee was waiting only for me because all other candidates had been heard.

Finally, they called me to the stage. I refer to this time as “The Walk”. It’s when you leave the warm-up room and walk to the audition room. The rooms are always far apart with a long corridor between them.

As I walked the corridor, I began to remind myself that “nothing mattered but the music”. As I repeated that phrase mentally, I began to notice that my anxiety diminished and my confidence began to build. As I proceeded closer to the stage, the phrase became more intense like the long crescendo of “Bolero”.

When I reached the stage, I was completely focused and confident. My despondent state of mind had been dramatically transformed.

After playing the first excerpt, I knew I could win the job. I remember having only a peripheral awareness of where I was and what was going on around me. I starred holes through the music because nothing else mattered. I played well enough to be awarded the job.


The first step in any musician’s audition preparation must be the development of their playing skills far beyond the requirements of the repertoire. A player’s comfort zone must exist well within the limits of their ability, not at the limits of their ability.

The brass player’s understanding of the repertoire must exceed the particular part they are preparing. They must understand the interpretative elements of entire score. I always prepared as if I were the conductor as well as a member of the orchestra. I frequently asked myself, “What is the conductor looking for at this moment?”

A horn, trumpet, or trombone player must understand the musical difference between playing a principal part and within a section. If you are auditioning for second trombone but they ask you to play first trombone solos such as Bolero, you must play like a principal. If they ask for a second trombone solo, such as the Tuba Mirum from the Mozart Requiem, you must perform like a principal player.

However, if you are playing the second horn part from the second movement of the Tchaikovsky 4th Symphony, you are accompanying and supporting the principal part. You must interpret the music appropriately.

There aren’t enough opportunities to afford the luxury of practicing for the audition in the audition. We must have the courage and determination to play as many “mock” auditions as possible. Play these auditions for anyone. They don’t have to be players of your instrument or even brass players.

Most importantly, the musician must persevere though the inevitable failures. I only know of a couple brass players who won every professional audition they played. Occasionally, a committee may give the candidate useful feedback about the strengths and weaknesses of their audition. However, too much diverse feedback can cause the player to become somewhat paralyzed. Ultimately, the player must be the most important judge of their performance.

Audition committees will vary but you will always be the constant. You cannot precisely conclude what a committee is looking for because often they don’t know themselves.


For two years, a major orchestra listened to hundreds of trombonist to fill a vacancy for the second chair. Although many highly qualified players performed in the preliminaries, the committee rejected all of them.

A member of the orchestra’s trombone section realized that the committee did not know how to properly evaluate the candidates. He decided to educate them by personally demonstrating what they should hear from a qualified tenor trombonist.

Shortly afterward, the committee was finally able to make a decision. Fortunately, they chose one of the finest players in the world who was previously rejected in the preliminary auditions.

It is important to have some prior knowledge of the musical style of the orchestra and its conductor. But the brass player must have the conviction to rely mostly on their own musical instincts.


“The audition committee does not have a universal opinion of what the music or your instrument should sound like. You must guide them with a convincing performance.”

“Listen to what the music is communicating to you. It will be your guide to success.”

Saturday, January 23, 2010



“The tongue serves no purpose in tone production other than to interfere. We must minimize its interference with precise diction.”

“Articulation must be thought of as way to manipulate sound, not body parts.”

“The first procedure to establish precise articulation on a wind instrument is to vocalize.”


“Tonguing is 5% consonant and 95% vowel.”

When I first began teaching Jake’s concepts of “Song and Wind” at Vandercook College in 1979, I added “Diction” as a corollary to “Wind”. I did so because the tongue, both front and rear, can be a major source of interference of tone production.

I once had a teacher say to me, “If I could cut the tongue out of your mouth, you would be a good tuba player.” I wasted many years of my life trying to determine what was wrong with my tongue and what I needed to do to fix it.

Eventually, I determined that my malfunctioning tongue was only a symptom of my state of mind. The more I focused on trying to correct my tongue, the less I focused on music. The inevitable result was an increasing paralysis of my tongue and all the other mechanics necessary to play. As I drifted further away from my awareness of music, the mechanics of playing weakened until I was completely paralyzed.


“Paralysis by Analysis.”

In everyday life, the tongue has three functions; to talk, to chew, and to taste. Accept for an occasional mishap when we bite our tongue, it functions beautifully in response to our everyday needs. The tongue is motivated by conscious need but it is controlled by the subconscious brain.

If we had to consciously think about the motion of tongue, vocal chords, and air in order to talk, we would be speechless. We normally pay no attention to the tongue except when there is something uncomfortable like a canker sore.


“We don’t consciously think about our tongue when producing the sound of words. We should not be thinking about it when articulating musical sounds.”

“No one wastes their time trying to control all the mechanics required to sustain life. If that was necessary, we wouldn’t be able to do anything else.”

A fourth use for the tongue is to articulate sound with a wind instrument. However, it is not necessary to learn a fourth skill because we simply transfer the skill that has already been established for language.

Just as they don’t think about fingering, no accomplished wind player consciously thinks about syllables when they play. Experienced string players don’t consciously think bowing direction when playing specific articulations.

If I ask a violinist about the specific bowing for a passage, they usually must move an imaginary bow to tell me how it would be done. The needs of the music dictate bowing not the other way around.

In the beginning, there must be conscious awareness of these motivating elements until the playing skills are established subconsciously and associated with sound. Ultimately, it’s the awareness of musical sound that motivates the mechanical skill.

However, if sound awareness is not stressed as a motivating factor, the player will attempt to substitute an awareness of mechanics and the sense of feel. This alternate approach has never worked for me or any of my students.


“Play by sound, not mechanics.”


“Feel and Fail are four letter words to a brass player.”

“Your instrument is already full of air, but it has no sound. Fill it with the sounds you want your audience to hear.”

What follows is only a brief dissertation of methods I have used to motivate proper articulation among students of all levels. However, the procedures use the precise pronunciation of syllables only as a starting point in the development of good articulation skills. The ultimate goal must be the player’s awareness of the sound of precise articulation, rather than syllables, as the primary motivating factor.


The syllables used for the basic marcato style of attack consist of a consonant and an open vowel (AH, OH, OU). Any of the open vowels are acceptable, but AH is the most commonly used because it’s the most open of three syllables. When we say the syllables OU, OH, AH, the tongue is forced further down in the mouth with each syllable.

Since the consonant represents the point of closure where no tone production is possible, it should receive little emphasis in the diction. Conversely, the vowel creates an open inner oral cavity which provides an opportunity for air flow to the embouchure. When I’m working with inexperienced students, I illustrate the syllable with a very small consonant (t) and a large vowel (tAH). Softer sounding (less marcato) consonants are (nAH) (dAH) (rAH) (lAH).

I never encourage the use of a closed vowel, such as EE. Some trumpet methods encourage the use of EE in the upper register. This illogical methodology purposes that a smaller air stream will vibrate a shorter embouchure. And a shorter embouchure (length) will make it easier to play high notes. I disagree! Encouraging resonant tone production will make it easier to play in the upper register!


“We should never sacrifice tone quality for any technical reason.”

H. E. NUTT (founder Vandercook College of Music)

“The first teaching point is to encourage tone production.”


I never discuss the motion of tongue and air with any wind player. However in the developmental stage, I do encourage the precise vocalization of syllables. Proper diction will motivate the correct motion air and tongue since this skill has already been established in language.

To encourage diction, I ask young brass players to carry on a one word conversation, using the word tAH. I explain that I want to hear tAH while they play as though they were speaking with their voice.

For the basic marcato attack, I use the first studies in Arban, Schlossberg, and Kopprasch with more advanced players who have developed good tone production and range. Diction should also be introduced early to an elementary level player in the beginning stages of developing mechanical skills.

To reinforce the syllable, I ask brass players to vocally sing their music using tAH. Next, they mentally sing the syllable while playing. I add further reinforcement by singing the syllable with them as they play.

When working with a mixed group of wind players, I always use an articulation syllable when singing to them. Diction must be reinforced repeatedly until the appropriate sound has been established. With less experienced brass players, it is necessary to reinforced diction over an extended period.


“Ultimately, it is the brass player’s powerful awareness of the sound that motivates diction, fingering, and every other mechanical element of playing.”

“The most powerful awareness of sound is achieved when mentally singing.”

“When you play the mouthpiece outside the instrument, you are mentally singing. If you play the mouthpiece in the same manner when it’s placed in the leadpipe, you will maintain the singing.”

“Play the mouthpiece, not the instrument.”

“The instrument is just a long mouthpiece with valves or a slide.”

“I gave up tuba playing long ago. Now, I play an eighteen foot mouthpiece with valves.”

“The mouthpiece has become my instrument so I play little attention to the extra tubing on the end of it.”

"Since the instrument has no intelligence or music of its own, it honestly reflects the intellect and music I send to it through the mouthpiece."


“There are two instruments. One is in your hands and one in your head. The instrument in your hands is a mirror reflecting the one in your head.”

Jake once remarked to me, “You have two different mouthpiece techniques. You must learn to play the mouthpiece the same way when it’s in the tuba.”

I was a very successful mouthpiece player when it was not in the instrument. There were absolutely no mechanical problems. However, when I placed it the leadpipe of the horn, immediately all sorts of mechanical problems paralyzed me. I could actually feel the paralysis begin as I moved the mouthpiece closer to the leadpipe. I could also feel the paralysis diminish as I moved the mouthpiece further away. Later, I understood that the instrument was powerfully influencing my state of mind in a negative way.


“If we don’t influence our instrument with a powerful awareness of music, the instrument will influence us in a manner that destroys our ability to function.”

“We waste too much time and energy trying to master playing our instrument. We must master the music before we can become masters of the instrument.”

“If you don’t master the music, you will become the slave of your instrument.”


“I never sit at the piano until I have first learned to play the music in my mind.”


The great violinist was once asked, “Maestro, you play so beautifully but why don’t I ever hear you practice?” His insightful response was, “Just because you don’t hear a violin does not mean I’m not practicing.”

Jake shared a story about a situation he experienced as a young man when he was hospitalized for an extended time. A tuba mouthpiece was brought to his hospital room. This gave him a lot of time to practice the mouthpiece alone. He remarked that his playing was much improved after the hospitalization.

The highly accomplished French trumpeter Maurice Andre, was an officer in the French army. There was a period of several months when he did not have access to a trumpet. However, he did have a mouthpiece that he could play. Later, he remarked, “I discovered that I was a much better trumpet player when I finally had an opportunity to play one.”


“Practice entire sessions on the mouthpiece alone to avoid having problems creep into your playing.”

“Sound is the criterion for how you do this and that.”


“If you can sing (buzz) it, you can play it.”


All forms of articulation must be vocalized before executing with the mouthpiece or instrument. To encourage tone production, Initial notes should be played in the mid-range and at a louder dynamic level, such as poco forte.

For the initial attack, the consonant is maintained but for subsequent notes only the vowel is retained (tAH-AH-AH-AH etc.). For easier execution, slow descending slurs using small intervals should be taught first.

Since the sound of slurred notes is sustained, I always use long tones to create an awareness of how slurred notes should also be a continuous sound. Then, we transfer the same sound to slurred notes.

Slow ascending slurs, using small intervals, should encouraged imitating the sound of the descending slur. I prefer to use the same notes, but in reverse, to minimize the distraction of playing unfamiliar notes. I never discuss air flow or changes of embouchure. Gradually the interval and velocity between slurred notes should be increased.

Brass players who do not follow a methodical development of slurs, become distracted by their low expectation of success. The result will be failure when playing ascending slurs over a wider interval.

I always remind my students that they do not have to be concerned the mechanics necessary to slur notes. However, they must be able to commit to mentally singing and buzzing the notes into the instrument.

If the brass player is unable to make a commitment to mentally singing, it is because their awareness is not powerful enough to transcend the distractions of the feel. The Sing, Buzz, Play (SBP) formula will always elevate their musical awareness to a point where they can maintain their concentration.


“Don’t be concerned about the mechanics necessary to play slurs or any other form of articulation. If you mentally sing the notes as you play them, I promise they will emerge from the bell exactly as you sang them.”

“Without creating a history of success, there can be no expectation of success.”

“Great physical strength is not required to play a brass instrument. However, we must have a powerful mind that can focus on the sound we want to send to the mouthpiece.”

I have been asked to explain the reason for Jake’s incredible success as a tuba player. He was able to compensate for his lifelong physical weakness with a powerful musical mind. He always said, “The only physical strength required to play the tuba is carrying it to the stage.” I brought the York to him on several occasions.


“(Physical) strength is your enemy. Weakness is your friend,”

“We should be somewhat unconscious of our physical maneuvers but highly conscious of our musical goals.”


Legato is an articulated form of pure slur. It’s used stylistically in jazz and other musical genres and to imitate the sound of pure slur on the trombone. A softer consonant, such as dAH, lAH, nAH, or rAH is used to substitute for the marked t sound. The open vowel (AH, OH, OU), following the consonant, must be maintained and emphasized in the sound.

Since legato is an imitated form of slur, the pure slur should be developed first. This can also be achieved be on the trombone by playing intervals within a single harmonic series. Some trombone players also use pure slur to play notes that move in the opposite direction of the slide. There will be no glissando, however there may be a “false” articulation. For this reason, many trombonist prefer to use legato whenever there is motion of the slide.

Legato should first be played on a stationary pitch, imitating the sound of sustained notes,without interruption of the tone. The first note usually begins with the basic marcato attack which is followed by the use of the softer consonant. (tAH-dAH-dAH-dAH etc.) Vocalization, with slide motion, must always take place before playing.

After the trombonist has achieved a good legato without motion of the slide, it can be introduced with slide motion. Too often, trombonists are first asked to play legato requiring large motions of the slide. The result is usually failure, because they are distracted by the slide. The slide motion should be one position (half step) and the direction should be descending. Gradually, the slide motion can be increased and ascending legato introduced.

The element of time is very important when coordinating the motion of slide and tongue. They must occur simultaneously. When I’m working with a group of players, I have them face each other in a circle so they are aware of each other’s slide motion just as string players are aware of each other’s bowing in an orchestra. I also have them subdivide quarter notes into duple and triple eighth notes for more precise rhythmic accuracy. I also like to simplify legato phrases by first playing them on a single note and to use alternate positions to minimize slide motion.


“Imitation of others is an important procedure to ascend the Ladder of Awareness.”

“SIMPLIFY AND TRANSFER is a learning process that allows a higher level of achievement. We progress from simple to complex musical challenges in an imitative manner.”

MULTIPLE ARTICULATION (double and triple tonguing)

The study of multiple articulation cannot begin before the brass player has achieved good tone production with the basic marcato attack. The player must have also achieved a fairly advanced level of technical facility.

I always challenge brass players first with triple, rather than double tonguing. The primary reason is the 2:1 ratio of the front of the tongue (tAH) to the back (kAH). For double tonguing, the ratio of front to back is 1:1 so the kAH syllable intrudes into the inner oral cavity more often. The (k) consonant is the new element in the syllabic pattern (tAH, tAH, kAH). It can be a major factor discouraging tone production.

Some brass and woodwind players prefer to apply the (k) consonant to the second syllable (tAH, kAH, tAH) rather than the third (tAH, tAH, kAH). There is nothing inappropriate about using this syllabic pattern. I prefer to place the (k) consonant on the third note for the following reasons.

1. The most widely used method for brass (Arban) places the (k) consonant on the third note.

2. The (tAH, tAH, kAH) syllabic pattern is distinctly different from the duple pattern (tAH, kAH, tAH, kAH). Applying the (k) consonant to the middle note means that we are essentially double tonguing the triplet. I found that when we perform multiple articulations in combination, duple and triple, it’s easier to distinguish the two syllabic patterns if they are different.

Any syllabic pattern, including a wide variety of consonants and open vowels, will work well if it can be vocalized first. I never recommend the closed vowel (ee) because it forces the tongue into the inner oral cavity, discouraging tone production. Since the tongue intrudes so much into the inner oral cavity, any

Since multiple articulation can be a major factor discouraging tone production, trumpet and woodwind players sometimes prefer to use softer consonants (dAH). Other open vowels (tOU, tOH) may also be used. For greater clarity, I always encourage the (t) consonant with the low brass.

It is very important that vocal singing be rhythmical and not too fast. The pitch should remain constant in order to transfer the articulation to the mouthpiece and instrument without valve or slide motion.

Here are some procedures I have used to develop rhythmic singing of multiple tonguing syllables.

1. First sing the figures using the same syllable for all three notes.

2. Next, imitate the same rhythm and diction but introduce the new third syllable.

3. Another procedure is to eliminate the third syllable entirely by singing only the first two in strict triplet rhythm.
tAH tAH rest tAH tAH rest

4. Then the kAH can be precisely placed in the eighth rest.

Once the syllables have been developed vocally, they should be transferred to mouthpiece playing at a fairly loud dynamic. Since the tongue is intruding so much into the inner oral air space, we must play loud to encourage and maintain tone production. I may also place a sustained note before the triplet to create good tone production that can be immediately transferred to the triplet.

Loud Half Note tAH tAH kAK tAH tAH kAH Loud Quarter Note

The final step in the procedure is to transfer the mouthpiece playing to the instrument without changing valves or slide motion (same notes).


The multiple tonguing exercises in Arban are not organized progressively. I pick and choose the studies in the following order.

1. The same pitch within the triplet for the entire measure.

2. The same pitch within the triplet but pitch levels change within the measure.

3. One pitch changes within the triple.

4. All three notes change within the triplet.

Each study should be single tongued first at a moderate tempo. It is important to maintain a resonant tone with precise rhythm and tempo. The use of a metronome is recommended.

Triple tonguing should imitate the single tongue precisely. There should be no difference in sound between the two. Gradually, the tempo should be increased beyond the player’s ability to single tongue comfortably.

I frequently challenge myself by double or triple tonguing technical etudes that are normally slurred such as the 13th Characteristic Study in Arban.

Once the player as achieved success in triple tonguing, I apply the same procedures to double tonguing. Finally, I challenge my students with combination double and triple tonguing studies and repertoire.

(triplet eighths, tAH tAH kAH four sixteenths, tAH kAH tAH kAH)


“Musical and technical development is the result of musical and technical challenge.”


Proper articulation is a necessary skill used to regulate good tone production. However, the tongue does not produce sound. Poor articulation can be a major factor inhibiting tone production. The player can never achieve good articulation skills if they have not also achieved good tone production. Articulation and tone production are not separate. They must be thought of as equal components of a healthy brass technique.

Since the tongue is not involved, the pure (lip) slur is a factor encouraging tone production. Because of the interference of the tongue in the inner oral air cavity, any other form of articulation must be considered to be a factor discouraging tone production.

Diction is only a tool used to motivate the proper motion of breath and tongue. Ultimately, the player’s awareness of sound must become the primary motivating factor.

Brass players should practice the same technical exercises with a wide variety of articulated patterns. The goal is always to maintain good tone quality and musical style regardless of the technical challenge.


“There is no reason for your success or failure other than your state of mind.”

“Sound motivates function.”