4 - 1 Disease

We all suffer from it. It exists by other names:

5-2 Dysfunction
6-3 Deficiency
4-7 Dementia

or simple, Inattention to Intonation.

What is it?

It is the tendency for us to split the difference when moving the slide between these positions with one note in the middle.

When executing a passage that goes from 4th position to 1st position with one note in between, say, D to F (with an E or E-flat in between) or G to B-flat (with an A or A-flat in between), we split the difference and play the middle note in half way between, resulting in poor intonation. Be careful to keep 2nd position higher or 3rd lower, depending on the middle note.

Hungarian March as an example…the runs that include D, E, F, we tend to play the E half way between the D and the F, or a really flat E.

The poor intonation contributes to a lack of clarity. The condition becomes very obvious when it is pointed out. Half-speed play back will reveal the condition. Once you become aware of it, it is easy to fix.

Analogies - Sayings

The one thing all of my students would most likely say about me is that I am full of…..analogies. Part of my success in teaching is my ability to explain concepts in many different ways, which includes many analogies and repeated statements, which have evolved into sayings. Here are a few to whet your appetite:

Play a brain/instrument duet with yourself in unison.

Air is to sound what water is to the surfboard.

It is never as good as you think and it is never as bad as you think.

Be a salesman, selling sound. Tell a story. Take a chance.

Listen to yourself with the ears of the audience.

When performing solos with piano…lead, don’t follow.

You must be able to demonstrate that you know the rules before you are allowed to break them.

All your playing must match your best playing.

The audience hears with its eyes. Stay in character. No faces. Bow and smile.

Hard work and thought beats talent. The best is to have all three.

The ruler of the kingdom is King Air. Don’t allow Slide Guy or Tongue Guy to influence King Air.

Don’t articulate with your air.

Keep energy in the air at all dynamics and ranges. Energy does not equal speed, but rather torque.

Keep air ample and appropriate.

Develop a “pre-shot ritual.” Don’t start playing before you are ready.


My favorite bumper sticker:

“Dear God, Please make me the person my dog thinks I am.”

Dogs have been a part of my entire life. Dogs breeze in and out…leaving lasting contributions then depart, leaving memories. In my opinion there are no bad dogs, just bad owners.

The dogs I remember:
At my parents’ house:

Simon- The Doberman who used to sit with his butt on the couch and front feet on the floor.

Abigail the Bassett Hound that walked so slowly that she nearly accumulated moss…of course, unless she was chasing the neighbor’s chickens.

Puff the stray who was found with one eye completely covered by matted hair. They were quite a threesome…Simon, Abigail and Puff.

Gus- The first Yorkie…died mysteriously…not sure why.

Bobby- The next Yorkie…not quite sure why my parents opted for this breed. Lots of work keeping the hair clean and brushed.

Cissy- Bitch for Bobby. They had a total of one puppy.

DD- Yup. Damn Dog. A Fox Terrier that had too much energy for us. We found her a new home. Great personality but demanded more than we had to give.

GG- Garbage Gut. A short, long mutt of some sort. Loved to eat.

Sean- The golden lab who was a gentle giant

Ernie- The Border Collie from up the road who adopted us. I really don’t understand people who get dogs and don’t take care of them.

At my house:

Samson- Ridgeback mix. One of the worst days of my life was putting him down. He had bone cancer and the pain got to be unmanageable for him. He was depending on me to make the call. It was devastating.

Daisy- Samson’s littermate, a Border Collie mix and my current co-dependent.

Emma- Daisy’s pal, a beautiful red mix of some sort…sad eyes…maybe a Rottweiler, Ridgeback mix of some sort.

I have lots of dog knowledge...as you might imagine. I strike up a kinship with nearly everyone I meet. When Daisy and Emma go, I am not sure if I’ll ever have another.


Flashy warm-up versus solid performance. They are not necessarily exclusive or inclusive.

Lightening fast lip flexibilities. High notes that bring dogs running. Blazing fast double tonguing. Rock splitting fortissimos.

Call me grumpy but I am not impressed.

A great rule of thumb for the mature musician:
“Only have enough chops for the gig.”

I once read a list of “dos and don’ts” for the studio musician. Gary Grant, one of the elite trumpet-playing musicians in the LA studios assembled the great list. Find it.

If you have ever been to an audition, you will know what I am talking about: A room full of dogs trying to pee highest on the tree. One thing is almost assured: the eventual winner is not in that group. The winner has already warmed up and is resting somewhere.
Think about it. Who do you want to impress, the other people auditioning or the committee?

On a related note, here is a personal story:

Many years ago I was engaged to play Trombone II on the Stravinsky Octet. Rehearsals had been fine and easy. I felt very comfortable on the part. The performance went well. The person playing Trombone I had a couple of minor scrapes…nothing serious or too noticeable to many. A few days after the performance I had occasion to see the person again, who was an older, more experienced musician than I. He offered to me that I needed to develop a flashier routine to impress people when I was warming up. My warm-up the night of the Stravinsky consisted of long tones to refine my sound and slow scales, slow slurs and some exercises to hone clear articulation. I was rather speechless and responded, “I figured the purpose of a warm-up was to prepare me for the performance, which was at a high level, with no errors.”
What I wanted to say was, “You mean flashy like you, and have troubles on the concert?”
Of course, I was young and hadn’t yet earned the right for such honesty.


It did get me thinking. Why do trombonists practice all of this extra stuff that is never required in the actual music? Yes, lip flexibility and sound technique is important, but at the expense of solidity of performance? No. I am lazy…why do all the extended stuff…especially when the basic sound is second-rate? My advice…work on the stuff that matters.

I can assure you that the very best players possess both sets of skills. During my experiences with the Chicago Symphony and the New York Philharmonic I hear all sorts of great playing…as you can imagine. Their warm-up routines are models of great brass playing. One beautiful note after the other with a sound that is full, rich and appropriate for the orchestra.  One great breath after the other. One in-tune note after the other. Are there virtuosic flexibility exercises going on? Occasionally, but the over riding attitude is one of:

“Prepare for the day’s work, not to be the next Arthur Pryor.”


“Only have enough chops for the gig.”


I have developed a process that is very easy for people to remember:


It is very simple, yet I see students violating it almost daily.


1.Establish, in your head, the pulse of the piece you are about to play.
2.Once the pulse is established, gauge your breath in relation to the pulse.
3.Breath over a greater span than you have been used to breathing.
4.Create sound immediately at the end of the breath with no hesitation

Once you get into this habit it becomes automatic and playing becomes much easier. The slow deep, quiet breath is our friend. Establishing the pulse keeps us from straying into hesitation. Aim and fire. Pull back the string a long ways before releasing the slow-motion arrow.

Something to remember:

Our exhalations tend to mirror our inhalations. A tight, fast, inhalation frequently produces a fast, tight exhalation. Keep it slow, deep and easy.