Suggestions on how and what to practice on trombone

An Electrik Project subscriber recently mentioned Harrison Reed’s excellent alto trombone method book published in 2010 called “Complete Method for Alto Trombone”. In it, Harrison suggests a practice routine that consists of six “segments”.

  1. Warm up
  2. Scale studies / studies without sheet music
  3. Arban’s method or other technical method
  4. Etudes
  5. Additional studies / Alto trombone
  6. Concertos / solos / Warm down

The subscriber asked my opinion on the practicing structure recommended by Harrison. these are my thoughts.

The first thing to realize is that Harrison is recommending this as primarily a tenor routine with the alto practicing inserted into step five. For 99% of the trombone world, this makes perfect sense since tenor/bass is their main instrument. Alto is something to be practiced for fun or to prepare for specific performance needs. To quote Harrison:

“For our purposes, it is most important to remember that the alto trombone be practiced after your practicing is done on the tenor. You never want to overdo your little alto, no matter how fun it is, and put a risk to your embouchure. This is why we reserve that 5th practicing slot for alto trombone time. You get twenty or thirty minutes to focus only on the alto, and you still get to warm down on your tenor during slot number six.”  – page 4

Obviously, I’m coming from a much different perspective since my “little” alto is my only horn and as such, warrants 100% of my practice time. As much as I’d like to see alto trombone evolve from a part-time novelty to a full-time performance instrument, Harrison is right as it relates to the general trombone population.

But the question from the subscriber relates to dedicating all six segments to alto practicing since I happen to know he is dedicating himself to mastering the alto trombone.

My answer is, yes, I think those six segments are in a good order. They start with basic scales and evolve to more structured etudes and concertos. Arban’s and written technical methods are good for building one’s air and centering the embouchure.

Personally, I couldn’t consistently follow this because 1. I don’t have that type of discipline, and 2. I manage each practice day according to that day’s needs. In other words, if I am recording, I’ll spend the first part of my practice session playing against backing tracks to establish my tone and intonation. I’ll alto use some rhythmic tracks over which I’ll do tonguing exercises. Soon I’ll combine the tonguing with intonation until I am centered properly to start recording. The recording could go hours, so the recording process itself may be the bulk of my “practicing”. And by the way, those backing tracks that I use for rhythm and intonation are important aspects of my book, Alto Trombone Savvy.

As I mention over and over in Alto Trombone Savvy, recording oneself is my favored recommendation for becoming a better player. You could spend years diligently practicing poorly and not know it. So, hours of recording, listening, critiquing, and recording again is something I strongly recommend. The fact that I am producing a steady stream of music integrates that type of discipline into my playing routine.

Applying a more flexible practice to you routine might start with an assessment of what you need to work on that day. As you develop your trombone skills, tonguing, Arban’s, etudes, excerpts, etc. should all be a part of your practice routine, but maybe not all in equal amounts of time. As Harrison states in his book, it’s difficult to find several hours each day to practice unless you are a music student. But for those of us with post-school responsibilities, deciding how to spend the only 45 minutes available today, requires thinking about your particular needs. For that amount of time, maybe 5 minutes of long tone warmup with a backing track to verify pitch, 15 minutes of Arban’s, 15 minutes of Rochut, 10 minutes of tounging/rhythm and a 5 minute warmdown.

If you are a jazz player, maybe that 45 minutes looks like 5 minutes of long tone warmup with a backing track to verify pitch, 5 minutes of tonguing exercises, 30 minutes of Aebersold work on a variety of tunes and 5 minutes of warmdown.

If you are getting prepared for a performance, maybe the bulk of your time is rehearsing the piece. If you realize that your intonation needs work, then the bulk of your time is spent recording yourself playing with the backing tracks in Alto Trombone Savvy. Indulge me for one more plug: Within Alto Trombone Savvy are three four-trombone Bach chorals among others. I’ve given the reader five variations of each: one with the full four trombones, and four others, each missing one part. Within the supplied audio files for the book are music minus one-type tracks, each missing one of the parts – the part you choose to play. These are great as warmups, intonation exercises or simply some fun stuff to play.

Regarding your practice routine, find a process and rhythm that works for your individual needs. Harrison’s six segments is an excellent starting point, but keep your ears wide open for discovering what you uniquely need to practice in order to be the terrific player you want to become!



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