Teaching Observations and Questions

1) Ten Answers To Ten Questions

2) Slide Technique


Questions  from Trae Warner, student of Jonathan Whitaker, Professor of Trombone at Henderson State in Arkadelphia, Arkansas

Answers from Dr. Wagner

1. Do you require students to audio record their practice sessions?

     No---I do encourage them to record themselves especially when preparing for Jurys and especially for a recital.

2. What do you think is the main reason students do not practice?

     There are several reasons why students do not practice:

1.  Not motivated and perhaps not even decided whether they want to be good or not.

2.  Not enough time as college students.

3.  Perhaps think they have already arrived.

4.  People can get lost in their own world's and do not conceive others playing.

3. Do you encourage students to keep practice logs/journals? Do you think it is beneficial? If one was to keep a practice journal, what information should that person record?       

     No--I have never gotten into this.  Perhaps it is beneficial to some, but I measure success by quality and not quantity.  As for what to put in a Journal would be hours practiced and maybe even what one thinks he/she has accomplished during a particular session.

4. Is there a practice technique that trumps all other practice techniques? Which technique(s) do you recommend?

     Well, I guess I would say that the practice technique that surpasses all is to do Daily Routines (or usually called "Warm-ups.") to make sure all the fundamentals of playing the instrument are in tack.

5. Should somebody ever expect speedy results from practicing?

     Absolutely not---this is impossible as quality playing is a life-long process.

6. Singing and playing is a popular concept among most instrumentalists. Is it absurd to sing and practice?

     I do not think it is absurd to sing.  I strongly encourage this. Just singing tunes, singing lesson material, singing phrases, etc are very  valuable.

7. What is a good amount of time to practice for one session? How many sessions should one practice in a day? Is there such a thing as too much practicing?

     I think an ideal practice policy is to practice 3 or 4 hours a day spread out over 6-10 hours of time.  Practice followed by some rest is critical to maintaining the lip muscles.  Regarding practicing too much is probably not a problem if one is going about it logically.

     The most important thing about practice is accomplishing musical results--practicing just for the sake of practicing produces nothing--one has to practice PLAYING WELL.

8. Do you encourage group practice sessions?

     Group practice sessions are fine.  This provides a forum for someone to listen to you and to comment on occasion in a positive manner, makes practicing fun, assists with sight reading if duets are incorporated, gives purpose to the session, and probably much more.  HOWEVER, individual practice is necessary also.

9. Is it true that someone could spend a sufficient amount of time practicing and not improve? If so, what would be the cause?

     Absolutely!!!!  I addressed this in number 7 a bit.  Practicing with knowledge of what high quality performance is and proper fundamentals is the most important.  I even encourage students (and myself) to practice things they are best at in order to establish their highest level before going on to practice new things.

10. What is the most important thing to keep in mind while practicing?

     Have a concept of what good playing is at the highest level of performance and then set about to make sure you can do that also.  Don't just think that Joe Alessi or Christian Lindberg or Michel Becquet or Bill Watrous or Jonathan Whitaker or Irv Wagner are in another world.  Strive to sound and play just like them!!!!!!

Slide Technique

  Questions from Claudia M. Schmitz, a Master's degree student of Dr. Steven Wolfinbarger, Professor of Trombone at Western Michigan University in Kalazamoo, Michigan

Answers by Dr. Wagner

1. What key concepts do you focus on when teaching slide technique?

     Basically I strive to have the students focus on a relaxed approach to slide technique.  This requires holding the slide in a comfortable and relaxed manner, moving the slide with as little arm movement as possible, and making the slide movement a visual part of the musical  performance.

2. How much of the motion comes from the elbow?  From the wrist?  From the fingertips?

     I have never given any exact unit of measure to the amount of fingertip,  wrist, or elbow motion; but it would seem to me that these three  units might be at least equal to each other.  Also, put into your mix the upper arm (shoulder to elbow).  There are four rather than three components of the arm where slide movement is involved--the upper arm (shoulder to elbow), the lower arm (elbow to wrist), the wrist, and finally the fingertips.  My experience has been in teaching that a large percentage of students use entirely to much upper and lower arm movement and basically little or no wrist and finger movement.   I would say that this produces a rigidity in the playing that limits the effectiveness of the music being performed.  I am an advocate for using mostly fingertips and wrist, a less amount of forearm, and an even less amount of upper arm.

3. How do you hold the slide?  How tightly do you hold it?

      I hold the slide loosely between the second and third finger with the hand (fingers) vertical.  This puts two fingers inside the slide at the bottom of the crossbar, and two below the slide.  It should be pointed out that the thumb is not involved in griping the slide.  In other words the thumb only touches the crossbar when utilized to speed up the movement of the slide away from first position.  If the thumb is used to grip the slide, the fingers and wrist play little role in the movement of the slide thus causing a more difficult movement of the slide and hence a less musical performance.

4. At faster tempos, do you think of stopping or pausing at each position?  Does this change in different styles (legato vs. staccato)?

      This is a very difficult question to answer.   If the slide is stopped at each position, the performance will not sound correct or good, in my opinion; however, one does not want to "smear" everything either.  Probably  a simplified, general rule for me is the faster the passage the less the slide is stopped at each position.  In other words a continuous slide movement is in order in proportion to the speed of the piece.  For example, in a slow, legato passage it would sound stupid to keep the slide moving continuously, and at the other extreme it would seem equally unpleasant to try to stop the slide at each position while playing such as the last variation of "The Blue Bells Of Scotland."  So to repeat, slide movement is in proportion to the speed of the musical passage whether legato or staccato.

5. What are some considerations when selecting alternate vs. "1st choice" slide positions?

      This takes a bit more of an explanation because the issue of the normal position for a note must be clarified before can determine the alternate.  As a rule of thumb,  the correct position for any note lies in the field of acoustics.  Two things are to be considered with this. The quality of the sound or tone of any note is best the lower it is in the overtone series and when the air is traveling through the least amount of tubing.  An example, a "D" about the bass clef staff can be played in first position or fourth position; consequently, which is best?   The answer is that the "D" in first position will allow for the best tone because it is lower in its'  overtone series and has a shorter amount of tubing through which the air goes compared to the "D" in fourth position.  The  "D" in first is the fifth partial of the Bb overtone series while the "D" in fourth is the sixth partial of the  G overtone series.  Then, of course, it is easy to see the difference in  the amount of tubing through which the air is passing because there is about 2 feet more tubing adding in fourth position.

      Now to answer the question of alternate positions.  There are always two  considerations when making a decision regarding the choice of positions for a given note.   First, I would always play the note in it's normal position first, then select an alternate position if faster slide movement is facilitated to accomplish a technical passage or to express a better musical line.  The other consideration that is useful often is that "half steps played in adjoining positions" often produces faster technique and smoother slide action.

6. In legato playing, how do you (if at all) allow the use of natural slurs to impact of a position?

      In legato playing, I do not use the natural slur, thus there is no impact on the choice of position.  The only time I use the natural slur in playing is for something unusual in the music like a grace note or other ornament.

7. In selecting alternate positions, do you have any rules or guidelines for keeping the slide moving in the same direction versus changing directions?

     I do not have any specific guidelines for keeping the slide moving in the same direction;  but if the musical passage warrants the slide moving in the same direction, I certainly incorporate that practice.

8. Are there any notes you tend to always play in "alternate" positions for pitch or tone quality issues?

     No!  There are no notes that I would always play with "alternate" positions.  I would only use alternates for technical or musical reasons.

9. Does your position selection differ between legato and staccato passages?

     No!   Whether the passage is legato or staccato makes no difference in my choice of positions.

10. Could you suggest any additional resources for the teaching of slide technique?




Alto Trombone questions from Mark Davey and Richard Shirley in Wellington, New Zealand, answered by Dr. Wagner

Three minute video history of the trombone with Irv Wagner on vimeo.com

Six minute video with members of the OU Trombone Choir performing "Ricer Car" on vimeo.com

University of Oklahoma Trombone Choir Myspace site. Listen to the various works they have performed! MySpace

More Links

- Viento Sur
- Rodger Fox
- Trombonanza
- OU School of Music
- International Trombone Association
- Online Trombone Journal
- OU Bands
- OU Symphony Orchestra

Web design by: AVPRO STUDIOS
 Copyright 2011 Irv Wagner.