Soprano Trombone: Pedagogical Applications of the Slide for Trumpeters
By Ryan Spencer, United States Air Force Academy Band, 2021.
Trumpet players seeking to refine their sound have used a wide variety of exercises and pedagogical approaches. Consistency is an important aspect of tone quality; inconsistencies in tone production can plague younger and advancing players alike. The soprano trombone is an obscure instrument: its use affords the inherent advantages of the slide mechanism to the piston trumpet player. Novel use of this experimental pedagogical tool (both diagnostic and prescriptive) can help the trumpeter to better feel the slot and center pitches more accurately, thereby producing a more consistent tone with better efficiency.
The “slot” for a note on a brass instrument is the most resonant center, where the frequencies vibrate most freely (Herbert 2019). Playing in this slot is a matter of buzzing the correct pitch and having your instrument’s length match. The better a player can do this for every note in their range, the more consistent their tone quality will be. Problems arise when the player consistently plays out of center, which can cause a host of issues, especially with range and endurance. Buzzing the mouthpiece alone is great for pitch matching and ear training, but some younger students may have trouble producing a buzz without the resistance of the trumpet. Leadpipe buzzing is a good intermediary that provides a few partials but lacks the pitch continuum of the mouthpiece. Pitch bends on the horn can help locate slots but move pitch and tone simultaneously. However, use of a slide allows the pitch and tone center to be decoupled. Exercises moving the buzz without moving the slot help the player to hear and feel tonal center. Exercises moving the buzz prior to moving the slot demonstrates the player’s tone “coming into focus”, it being easier to buzz below the slot than above (Fink 1977). As the aural perception of the slot is affirmed, the physical sensation becomes easier to recreate on the piston trumpet.
Further uses of the instrument include fully resonant glissandi, allowing the player to “track” the buzz and slot together within a single partial, which can help buzzing more efficiently through a break (i.e. high range and low range). The advanced trumpet player can also execute microtonal scales for contemporary literature or ensemble tuning. The addition of the soprano trombone is merely another pedagogical tool; ultimately, alternating between mouthpiece, slide, and piston trumpets proves to be most useful. The author has experienced this personally in their own playing, as well as successfully diagnosing and addressing tone production issues in several students.
Presentation of this research using examples and demonstrations will show how this instrument can be uniquely useful, through application of an infinite pitch continuum for trumpeters. Decoupling of buzzed pitch and slot via the slide mechanism provides heightened awareness of more consistently centered notes. The best trombonists have overcome technical disadvantages of the slide and can produce consistently pure tones; the soprano trombone can aid trumpeters in accomplishing this goal.
Fink, Reginald H. The Trombonist's Handbook: A Complete Guide to Playing and Teaching the Trombone. Athens, OH: Accura Music, 1977.
Herbert, Trevor, Arnold Myers, and John Wallace, eds. The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Brass Instruments. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019.