12 Easy Pieces-Teaching

12 easy things you can do to increase your chances of winning a college teaching job*

*-subtitled- “If you don’t do these things, don’t wonder why you didn’t get hired.”

1. Learn to play your instrument well.

How can you expect to be hired to teach at an institution if you cannot demonstrate the playing at the highest level? You must be able to play better than your students.

2. Learn as much repertoire as you can.

You will have to teach a wide variety of repertoire. The best way to be able to teach it effectively is to perform it yourself. Create performance opportunities for yourself as a vehicle to learn repertoire.

3. Have a demo tape ready at all times.

You never know when a vacancy will occur. It is important to have a representative recording of your playing ready to go for any position that may become available. Have a library of recordings to draw from.

4. Learn proper grammar and spelling.

Nothing will turn off a committee more quickly than poor spelling. The use of proper spelling and grammar reflect an image of an educated person, i.e. a person who is qualified to teach at a college or university.

5. Spend years collecting articles and information about your subject.

One never knows when an article in this month’s Instrumentalist magazine will come in useful. There are many, many online resources but you need to remember where to find what. Print it out and file it when you see it…it may disappear tomorrow.

6. Be prompt, neat and polite with all correspondence.

Whether it be by email, snail mail or telephone, show your interest and respect by presenting impeccable correspondence. Every act of communication you engage in is part of your interview/audition for the job. If you are rude to the receptionist, the committee will hear about it. A letter of thanks after the interview is a good idea. After all, they took time out of their busy academic schedule to spend time with you.

7. Present yourself positively and honestly.

If you say anything just to get the job, you will most likely not be happy if you get it. Be honest when answering questions about your background. Keep your resume honest.

8. Create teaching opportunities for yourself.

Elements of successful teaching can be learned from teaching students of all ages. Accept every opportunity to learn how to teach. Teach at summer camps. Start a private lesson studio. Do whatever you can to develop your teaching art.

9. Stay active in the performing arena.

Give recitals (record them for possible demo use). Play in bands, orchestras or chamber groups. It is a great way to keep your skills up and demonstrate to a search committee that you are truly dedicated to the art of music.

10. Dress appropriately for your interview.

Look nice. Yes, wear a tie to all official events. Remember that you are on display from the minute you arrive to your prospective town. Look nice from the time you get off of the plane until you set foot back in your house.

11. Find out as much information as you can prior to the interview.

Why is there a vacancy? What is the demographic of the search committee? What is the philosophy of the institution? What is the background of your potential colleagues? What is the ballpark salary?

12. Develop a network of communication with people who are doing what you want to be doing.

Learn what worked for them. Learn what the job is really like. The more you know, the more likely you will be able to develop your skills to a level appropriate to the level you are seeking.

12 Easy Pieces-Playing

12 easy things you can do to increase your chances of winning an orchestral job*

*-subtitled- “If you don’t do these things, don’t complain that you are not advancing in auditions.”

1. Obtain actual parts and scores to audition repertoire.

While excerpt books are an important tool to begin studying the repertoire, it is vital to obtain copies of the actual parts. Additionally, try to familiarize yourself with all the possible editions of a particular work. “Yes, Virginia, there is more than one edition of La Gazza Ladra.” Likewise, examining a score will reveal details that cannot be known through practicing an individual part. Be prepared! Don’t do almost enough.

2. Listen to many different recordings of each work.

This will allow you to discover a “mainstream” interpretation, with regard to tempo, style, dynamics etc. Emulate the best trombone playing and put it into a middle of the road interpretation. If you haven’t listened to a dozen or two recordings of Bolero, you aren’t familiar enough with it. Treat recordings like reference books and refer to them often.

3. Learn the entire work, not just excerpt.

The more you know about the entire work, the better you will be able to communicate your knowledge through your presentation of an excerpt. If you learn the entire work, you will not be caught off guard if the audition committee asks for uncommon passages as “sight-reading.”

4. Play in a trombone quartet regularly to develop sense of section blend.

Playing in a trombone quartet is a very valuable activity when it comes to the section playing round of an audition. It also is a good way to build endurance. The members can also be an excellent resource for feedback regarding your product. Get rid of the ego.

5. Use a metronome, tuner and recording device every day.

Use the recording device to reveal what you really sound like. After discovering the need to work on intonation and rhythm, use the tuner and metronome.

6. Take lessons (either primary or supplemental) from a person who is currently in a major orchestra.

A person who is currently playing in a major orchestra is involved in your target occupation every day. They will give you very valuable feedback concerning your product. In addition, read interviews with orchestral musicians to find out what life is like in the “inside”.

7. Attend live orchestra concerts.

There is no substitute for hearing an orchestra live. Again, this is what you profess to want to do…take the responsibility to learn what it sounds like…LIVE.

8. Get a good warm up in, first thing in the morning.

If you are not warming up before class or work, then you are not dedicated enough. Rest assured that someone else IS. Winning an orchestra job involves dedication and commitment…not merely interest.

9. Play often for others.

Since one gets a job in an orchestra by auditioning (a.k.a. playing for others), the best thing you can do to prepare is to play for others. Get as much feedback as you can stand and remember that the ultimate decisions rest with you.

10. Learn how your body reacts to anxiety and learn how to cope.

Nerves can play an important role on audition day. Learn how you react in stressful playing situations so that audition day nerves are not a surprise.

11. Develop a solid concept of each excerpt and be able to demonstrate.

Every excerpt has an appropriate style. First, learn the correct style and then learn how to present the correct style to the audition committee.

12. Remember the attributes of a player that advances and improve upon each in your own playing.

Great sound, great intonation, great articulation, great style, great control at all dynamic levels, great accuracy, great endurance and great composure.


Equipment, equipment, equipment…

Here are my thoughts:

Equipment evolution:

Year Age Axe Mouthpiece
1972 10 King Bass Trombone Bach 3G
1976 14 King 3B Bach 6.5 AL
1979 17 Bach 36 Bach 6.5 AL/Bach 5G
1981 19 Bach 42B Schilke 51TB
1984 22 Bach 42B Bach 5G, 4G
1993 31 Edwards Bach 5G/various Doug Elliott pieces
1997 36 Shires Greg Black pieces
2003 41 Bach 42B Greg Black pieces

Instrument choice:

As of this writing, my main instrument is a Bach 42 with a Greenhoe valve section. I also have a 42T that actually has a good valve, so I keep it around as a collector’s item. When I decided to become a symphonically oriented trombone player I chose Bach, even though my teacher, Warren Baker, played a Conn 88H. It was on his recommendation that I bought a Bach. The Conns at that time, in his opinion, were not being made to the standard that they once were and he could not, in good conscience, recommend a Conn. In retrospect, I am so pleased that he was honest with me as the Bach sound is the one that I have always had and continue to have in my head. When I switched to Edwards, I ended up with an instrument that was as close as Edwards made to the Bach 42. I found the Edwards easier to play…and certainly easier to play LOUDER than the Bach I was playing. My section mates in the Seattle Symphony had switched to Edwards so I did as well. My biggest dissatisfaction with the Edwards instruments is the character of sound that they generally produce. In my opinion, the sound can be rather lacking in character…sterile if you wish. I have found that Edwards trombones play wonderfully consistently up and down through the registers. In the four years that I played Edwards, I probably went through 20 bells. In those days the bells were relatively inexpensive, at $300 each, so trying a bunch didn’t break the bank. As I mentioned above, I settled on a very “Bach-Like” instrument.

The Shires:

Sometime in 1996, a friend of mine in Seattle, Stan Jeffs, had purchased a new Shires trombone. I had heard “the buzz” about how great a craftsman and designer Steve Shires was, (he was instrumental in developing the Edwards trombone) so I invited Stan over to my house to try out the new Shires. My initial test drive was inconclusive. I liked the sound but it felt a bit uneven up and down. I was not convinced. A few months later, after I had chewed on the information a bit, I invited Stan and his instrument over again. This time, I was absolutely convinced. I focused only on the sound and not so much on the playing characteristics…that I found to be less objectionable than the first time had I tried it. The trombone had the character of sound I had been missing. I was convinced enough to sell all of my Edwards gear. The Edwards I had ended up with was quite a good instrument and I sold all of my Edwards gear for half of what I should have. Oh well, live and learn. The buyer got a great deal!

One of the first concerts I played with the Shires in the Seattle Symphony included Scheherazade…with the big second trombone fanfare. The music director, Gerard Schwarz, pulled me aside after one of the concerts and asked me what horn I was playing. He had noticed the difference and really liked it! I found that to be pretty incredible…not so much that Jerry noticed, because he has terrific ears, but that the Shires had such a definable character. I was even mentioned in the review in the newspaper. I became a Shires nut. I purchased another trombone to have as a back up. I tried all of the various valves and did all sorts of playing on each of them. The horns are made very, very well.

The switch back to Bach:

In the fall of 2003 one of my students at IU was ready for a new trombone. She had been playing a Bach intermediate model, which wasn’t adding to the ease of playing that she needed. After a couple of unsuccessful attempts at getting a good horn through a mail order store, I placed a phone call to Pro Winds, the excellent music store across the street from the IU School of Music. I asked them how many Bach 42Ts they had in stock. I was dumfounded to learn that they had 15! I said that we’d be right over. We were able to mix and match and come up with a very good trombone for her. I really enjoyed playing all of those instruments (at least the ones that didn’t rattle). It was the most I had played on Bach instruments since I switched…ten years earlier. For a couple of weeks following that afternoon, I stewed about how easy it was to return to the Bach brand, especially when I had access to so many. Their intonation felt very natural to me, probably because of my formative years on Bach. One afternoon I returned to Pro Winds and after an hour of testing I left with a great 42T. The Creston Fantasy that is on the multimedia page of my web site is my debut on the Bach. I had been playing it for about 2 weeks. I figured, “What better way is there to try out an instrument than playing the Creston Fantasy, in front of Joe Alessi?” Joe was on the IU campus preparing the premiere of Ewazen’s “Visions of Light” with the IU Wind Ensemble.

Eventually I went to see Gary Greenhoe to test his valve. I was very, very impressed and decided to have him put one on an instrument for me. I searched for many months before I found another instrument worthy of his valve. The resulting instrument is quite extraordinary. It has a more compact sound than the axial flow valve and the throw is very short. The timbre between open low B-flat and trigger C is identical-as opposed to the axial flow where the trigger C is actually a bit more open and diffuse than low B-flat. I predict that many people will eventually return to a rotary valve of some sort. The invention of the axial flow valve, in the late 1970s did motivate many people to address the valve design on the trombone. In my opinion, if Ed Thayer hadn’t done the work he did, our instruments would not be as good as they are today. He is to be honored and congratulated. Unfortunately, his past 15 years have been filled with nothing but struggle. That is a topic for another time.

Mouthpiece choice:

I have less to say about my mouthpiece choice as it is very simple for me.

I play Greg Black mouthpieces exclusively. I have played Bach, Schilke, Wick and Doug Elliott. In 1998, I switched to Greg Black and have not played anything else since. Greg has figured out how to balance the mouthpiece in a way that works for me. I can go from one Greg Black to another with ease—they all have similar playing characteristics. As of this writing, I use a custom mouthpiece made by Greg Black. He combined the things I liked about his 4G-5G and the Alessi 5.5 into a piece that works very well for me. The best I ever sounded, in my opinion, was when I was playing a Greg Black Alessi 1.5. It is big, perhaps too big for me now. I can never blame how I sound on the mouthpiece. I have total confidence in Greg. I can’t imagine I will ever play anything else.

NYP and CSO Update

I am a very lucky guy. As I have written elsewhere on this site, I have also worked very hard and continue to work on my product. Success is the right combination of talent, hard work, perseverance, social awareness and LUCK…no single ingredient will suffice. Integrity is also a crucial ingredient.

Last season I worked 8 weeks in the New York Philharmonic and 2 weeks in the Chicago Symphony. Many people have asked me what it was like to play in those great trombone sections. People have also asked me to compare the adjustments I had to make in order to fit in with each section. It is always a great honor to play with these orchestras.

It is difficult for me to compare the two orchestras. These are the best trombone players in the world! It is like comparing a Lotus and a Lamborghini. They have very obvious things in common such as great intonation, rhythmic precision and blend. My job, as a guest, is always to fit in as well as I can. In order to fit I listen very, very carefully. I listen to them warming up, I listen to them tune and once the music begins, I listen even more intently and tack my sound to theirs. There were several times, when substituting as Associate Principal in the Philharmonic that I would play principal on piano concertos. When playing principal I had to lead, be absolutely sure of myself yet still blend with those around me. My job was to become one of them.

Although the sections play quite differently, all I really wish to share is that I came away with even more respect for every one of those trombone players. There is a reason that they are where they are—it is because they are the best at what they do. They all had practiced thousands of hours before they won their jobs and now they continue to practice, perhaps even harder. It is inspirational.

Common Deficiencies

I am often been asked about the quality of students at IU. This is a potentially hazardous question but one that I will answer as honestly as I can. I really enjoy the students. Will they all end up being professional musicians? No, but I hope they will all be music lovers and supporters. I think my students are great people and THAT is the most important thing.

IU is a large music school, certainly one of the largest, if not the largest in the country. Being so large offers many benefits - 4 full size orchestras, 4 concert bands, 4 jazz bands, world-class music library, multiple world-class faculty on each instrument, etc. Because it is so large it also suffers from the law of averages. When I consider The Juilliard School or The Curtis Institute of Music in comparison to IU, many thoughts pass through my mind. First of all, those great music schools are located in cities that have terrific orchestras, so students are able to attend concerts weekly without hours of travel. There is absolutely no substitute for experiencing what a great orchestra sounds like…LIVE. Secondly, they are smaller schools than IU and therefore can be much more selective in whom they accept for study.

I had intended for this column to address common deficiencies I encounter with the incoming students to IU. My rationale for writing about this is based in hope that by pointing out these common deficiencies, prospective students, headed to any institution, can be better informed and be better prepared.

One aspect of playing in which every student should be more accomplished is familiarity with basic scales and arpeggios. It continues to boggle my mind how unprepared students are regarding their scales. My friend, Chris Olka, who is the great tuba player in the Seattle Symphony, had a terrific analogy. He believes that in order to do the simplest math problems, people needed to know their math facts…the rudimentary facts that we all learned in elementary school. It is impossible to successfully and efficiently solve basic math problems without the knowledge of basic math facts. Chris pointed out that scales are the musician’s equivalent of math facts. How can one prepare a “Sonata in E Minor” without being totally comfortable with the tonality of E Minor? I totally agree with him. The amazing thing to me is that students can learn all of their scales very well without a teacher yet they do not! Learning all the major and minor scales should be a piece of cake to anyone going to college to study music. I mean, c’mon, get serious! Consider this: “Yes, I want to play in an orchestra/band for a living - or teach others about music, but I don’t know all of my scales.” YIKES!!!!! It is such a simple task. Rarely do the students that I encounter know their scales before they set foot in my studio. I guarantee when they leave, they know them. The best way I know to learn the scales is by following my Scale Pyramid. In one semester all of the scales are learned.

Another problem area lies in the perception of quality. Many students are too easily satisfied with what comes out of their bell. They just have no idea of what great playing sounds like from behind the bell. It really is just a matter perception.

I have learned a great deal from what I have read over the years. One concept that Philip Farkas explained in one of his books addressed practice and repetition. Many students will practice a difficult passage over and over again until they get it right, then they will move on. In order to make the odds of getting it right the next time through the piece more favorable, the student (and we are all still students) needs to practice the passage CORRECTLY at least as many times as they had practiced it incorrectly. Even then the odds are fifty - fifty. I have seen this hundreds of times. A student goes over and over a passage, missing a note here and there. The first time they get it right, they move on. 9 times wrong, 1 time right. I wouldn’t be too comfortable in Las Vegas with those odds.

Poor intonation is also a common problem. One thing that drives me NUTS is when a student, while playing with piano accompaniment, will sit on a note that is excruciatingly out of tune with the piano. I think it is a matter of comfort. The student, typically, is not used to playing with a piano and therefore focuses too much concentration on their own playing and not enough on the musical product as a whole. The best way to fix this is to play more often with piano accompaniment - and to record and listen critically. Good intonation is nothing more than being aware of how what we are playing fits with what others are playing. I am a big advocate of Stephen Colley’s Tune Up System. It can be found here:


It is a great tool for learning intonational awareness. If people are serious about playing in tune, they will use this product. If they aren’t, they won’t. End of story.

Another thing that amazes me is that many students do not know how to make their instrument work well, mechanically. Basic attention to slide and valve condition would make their playing life so much easier. Many students also do not know how to disassemble their valve for a thorough cleaning. The procedures are very simple, yet one must exercise great care to not damage the soft metals used.