The Trombone and Me

Learning the Trombone

I first began to learn the trombone during the fifth grade. The local high school band director also taught elementary students the basics of band instruments in which they were interested, and at the end of every year brought them all together into a larger band for a concert. My interest in the trombone began much earlier, when my grandfather had given me a toy trombone for my seventh or eighth birthday. For the next two years, then, I continued to learn the very basics: how to read the bass clef, how to get a sound from the instrument, and how to find the right notes in the right positions. There were some small functions where I played with my parents’ church during these years also.

The Trombone and Me in Junior High School

Throughout junior high I continued with the band, and the other groups such as stage/jazz band and pep band. Private lessons continued, first with Mrs. M. and then with Mrs. K. Mrs. K. was a particularly effective clarinet teacher who also had some success in teaching brass players as well. She used the overblow technique to correct and strengthen the embouchure and to teach how to develop a full, rich sound on the trombone. Scales and lip slurs helped also to develop a basic technique. During these years I sat first chair most of the time.

The Trombone and Me in High School

During my sophomore year of high school Mrs. K. referred me to a University of Akron graduate student and bass trombonist in the Akron Symphony Orchestra for continuing lessons from someone whose specialty was the trombone. Linda, the graduate student, was also taking lessons from Allen Kofsky of the Cleveland Orchestra, and over the next three or so years passed on to me much professional level instruction. During the summers she also had me playing in the University of Akron Summer Band, and in a brass quartet of advanced high school students during my junior year. She helped me to pick out the Conn 88h trombone which continues to this day to be my primary horn. Through her instruction I learned the Remington warm-up, slide technique, legato style and expression, use of the metronome and the F valve. She also helped prepare me for my audition in the spring of 1975 at Miami University, Oxford, Ohio. From all that I have learned of the horn since then, these lessons were invaluable and I was trained and instructed well.

During my high school years I also played in the jazz band, pep band and marching band. Two special highlights were a chance to play before then President Richard Nixon with the marching band as he and his wife went on a motorcade through northeastern Ohio. The other was the chance to play with the marching band in the Acme-Zip game, which was a highlight of the University of Akron football season. During most of my junior year and all of my senior year I sat first chair in my high school band as lead in a section of twelve trombones.

The Trombone and Me as a Music Major

During the fall of 1975, I began Miami University as a music education major, and spent about six weeks with that as my declared major. It was about that time that I sensed a call to the pastorate, and changed my major course of study eventually to something that would prepare me for seminary and the pastorate. In retrospect, there are some things that I have realized that I could have done to have prepared myself better for that course of study. A better preparation would have been to have developed my voice, learned piano and music theory before starting in that major. The program actually was designed to make up for these for anyone who was lacking, but my 20-20 hindsight says that it would have been better to have a better foundation in those areas. I was a fine instrumentalist, but those would have meant my becoming a better all around musician. I do offer this insight from hindsight not as a regret but as something that I have realized over the years. During that fall I did play with the Miami University Marching Band and consider myself fortunate to have played with them in the 1975 Tangerine Bowl in Orlando, Florida. During that trip to Orlando we were also privileged to perform in a parade down Main Street USA in Disney World.

The Trombone After Leaving the Music Major

The trombone has played a significant role in my leisure time since I left music as an academic major. I have played in a community band, several church groups and many times simply for my own pleasure. In September, 2003, my Conn 88H was joined by a brand new King 3B jazz lead trombone. I have only played the 3B publicly once, but the personal pleasure that I have derived from playing contemporary jazz, gospel and popular music on it in my own time has been well worth the expenditure. In addition, I have taken the advice that I offer later to improve myself vocally and to learn the keyboard and guitar a little.

Trombone Lessons

  • Get the best instrument that you can afford.

  • Get the best teacher that you can afford.

  • Get the best accessories — mutes, stands, etc. — that you can afford.

  • Learn the instrument through and through, so that you can take full advantage of your investment.

  • Always warm up effectively before a practice session or performance. The time honored Remingtion warmup is still a great preparation.

  • Practice and perform with good posture. It will help your air and avoid repetitive muscle injuries.

  • Develop your voice in addition to your instrument.

  • Hear the music (the tones you wish to play) in your head before you play them on your instrument.

  • Sing hard passages and passages in which you want to explore different ways of expression and interpretation.

  • Learn the keyboard and music theory in addition to the instrument.

  • Train your ear; a good ear training course is a worthwhile investment.

  • Learn alto, tenor and treble clef in addition to bass clef. It will greatly expand the worthwhile literature available to you.

  • Practice exercises intelligently and musically. Listen to yourself carefully, and whether you are playing in tune, with rhythmic accuracy, and with the feeling that the music expresses.

  • Practice both with and without a metronome.

  • Avoid negative and domineering private teachers, conductors and band directors if possible. Personal denigration for any mistakes is intolerable. Insist on being treated with respect.

  • Listen to great players of all instruments, not just the trombone, to great vocalists and to great orchestras, bands and combos. They all have something valuable to share with you.

  • Guard your practice time. Pets and siblings will try to interrupt!

My Requests to Band and Orchestra Directors

Over the years I’ve played with a number of band directors and conductors. There are some that I never want to play with again, and some that contributed strongly to my development through their positive direction. Ultimately a band director or conductor is the musical leader of the group, and will be successful in terms of his or her leadership ability as well as knowledge and artistry. Here are my requests as a musician for you as you lead your band, orchestra or combo:

  • Keep the tempo clearly, especially in passages where it slows down or speeds up. That’s the least you can do.

  • Develop a positive direction for the group, and share your vision for what you want to have happen through the music. Let them know what you want the audience to feel as they perform.

  • Share your musical knowledge. It does the group no good if it only stays in your head.

  • Respect the musical knowledge and abilities of the musicians that you work with. If you believe that your own knowledge is the only knowledge which matters, the group will never be better than your own weaknesses. If you are open to the knowledge, experiences and opinions of others, then the group can truly reflect more of the strengths of its members. This is especially necessary when you are working with adults.

  • Develop a respectful, encouraging, coaching style. If someone is playing badly, take the time to deal compassionately with the person. There may be personal problems at the root that you could understand and perhaps help with.

  • Encourage and reward collaboration and teamwork among the musicians, instead of competition and rivalry.

  • Make yourself available as a leader, coach and director to all the players, not just to a circle of favorites. Do not be the audience to any self promoting stories or downgrading of other players.

  • Take responsibility for your own mistakes, and allow others to make human errors with dignity. No wrong note is worth destroying a loyal and perhaps even promising student.

  • Have a short memory for mistakes and a long memory for genuine growth and accomplishments. Categorizing a person by a past mistake is abusive. For a person to learn and grow as a musician and a person through a mutually rewarding association with you is a genuine compliment to your leadership.

  • Encourage your players to express themselves through the music, and not just play the notes. Let them understand the feelings behind the music and express them also.


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