A Stylistic Analysis of Jazz Trombone Through Transcribed Solos

The trombone has been an important instrumental voice in jazz since jazz’s origins. Throughout its history many jazz trombonists have made contributions that have had an influence on other performers, including many non-trombonists. This article traces a timeline of stylistic influence from the early styles of jazz to the present day through the analyses of transcribed solos as played by some of jazz’s most influential trombonists.

Tracing these influences through transcribed solos can show a progression from one style to the next. It can be seen how the earlier players influence the later, after which those players develop their own new styles and in turn influence the musicians to follow. This timeline of influences can be a valuable resource for the jazz performer. A performer who knows how musicians from each style period performed and influenced later musicians will know how to perform within all style periods. Knowledge of the musical roots also allows the performer to build upon influences and create new ideas that break the traditional rules. Continue reading A Stylistic Analysis of Jazz Trombone Through Transcribed Solos

Acoustics of Vibration: Brass and Strings

A common analogy that even I often use is to compare the bow of a string instrument to the air on the brass. Just as the bow moves across the string to create vibration, the air must move past the lips on a brass instrument. Usually I hear this comparison to make a point about breathing, such as there is no sound without the air.

It’s interesting to view the vibrating bowed string and compare it with the vibrations of the lips. Here’s a video showing the vibrating string is slow motion. Continue reading Acoustics of Vibration: Brass and Strings

Embouchure Dysfunction: An examination of brass embouchure troubleshooting

In the above 2 part video I discuss five unique case studies.  Each of these five brass players has some issues in their embouchure which correlate with some noticeable embouchure features.  I try to show how making corrections in their embouchure form, using basic embouchure types as a guide, may lead to improvements in their abilities to play.

There are a few points I wanted to address with this video. Continue reading Embouchure Dysfunction: An examination of brass embouchure troubleshooting

Easy=True: How ‘cognitive fluency’ shapes what we believe

On the surface, ‘cognitive fluency’ seems obvious.  Simply put, people prefer things that are easy to think about than ones that are hard.  What I found surprising, however, is the extent to which cognitive fluency seems to shape our beliefs.  In his article for the Boston Globe, Drake Bennett writes:

Because it shapes our thinking in so many ways, fluency is implicated in decisions about everything from the products we buy to the people we find attractive to the candidates we vote for – in short, in any situation where we weigh information. It’s a key part of the puzzle of how feelings like attraction and belief and suspicion work, and what researchers are learning about fluency has ramifications for anyone interested in eliciting those emotions.”

Understanding how cognitive fluency shapes our beliefs and opinions has important implications for both music pedagogy. Continue reading Easy=True: How ‘cognitive fluency’ shapes what we believe

An Examination of “Paralysis By Analysis”

There is an old story about a frog who sees a centipede moving his 100 legs so elegantly.  Being mystified at how anyone could be able to move so many body parts at once with such grace, the frog asked the centipede how he did it.   The centipede wondered at this question and started to pay attention to how he walked, promptly tripping over his own feet.  Getting up, the centipede tried again to figure out how he moved his feet and immediately fell down one more time.  Eventually, the centipede grew frustrated and told the frog, “I don’t know how I do it and I don’t want to know!”  The centipede ran away (without thinking about his legs) and left the frog to his musings.

The moral of this story is that analysis is bad.  Simply thinking about how you perform a particular motor function (from walking to something as complex as athletic or musical endeavors) will cause a breakdown in your ability to perform that action.  But is this really true?  What is really going on?  Could this be a self-fulfilling prophecy? Continue reading An Examination of “Paralysis By Analysis”

The Three Basic Embouchure Types

When looking closely at a large number of brass player’s embouchures certain patterns emerge, irrespective of the player’s instrument or practice approach.  Using two universal features of all brass embouchures, the air stream direction as it pass the lips into the mouthpiece and the pushing and pulling of the lips and mouthpiece together up and down along the teeth, it’s possible to classify all brass embouchures into three basic types.

Since each of these three basic embouchure types function quite differently from each other it’s important for brass teachers to understand them, as different types respond to the same instruction in different ways.  Understanding what proper embouchure form is for each type will help teachers guide their students more efficiently and also understand when a player is playing on an embouchure that isn’t appropriate for his or her anatomy.  When confronted with a serious embouchure dysfunction it can help teachers discover the real cause of the troubles and how to best go about correcting them. Continue reading The Three Basic Embouchure Types

Confirmation Bias and the Internet

Julia Glef on the blog Rationally Speaking has written an interesting essay on confirmation bias and how a Google search can play right into our predispositions and preconceptions.  She asks a very interesting question: is google making us less rational?

“Google may be making us all more knowledgable, but could it also be making us less rational? I’ve got a suspicion that online search engines are making us especially susceptible to at least one particular blunder: confirmation bias, the phenomenon by which you’re more likely to seek out, notice, and remember evidence that supports what you already believe.”

She goes on to describe P.C. Wason’s paper describing confirmation bias and how a typical Google search can almost perfectly recreate conditions similar to Wason’s experiment.  We forget that Google’s goal is to help us find what we want, not exactly what we need.

When conducting research, scientists are aware of the normal tendencies for humans to make judgements based on personal biases without even realizing such bias exists.  In order to combat this, rather then attempting to prove a hypothesis, scientists instead subject their hypothesis to tests in an attempt to falsify them.  When looking for information online, it’s necessary to do a bit of this too.

I am personally very excited about the possibilities the internet provides for the exchange of information and development of ideas.  Search engines are extremely powerful tools for finding information, but we sometimes forget their limitations.  There’s an old saying that when the only tool you have is a hammer every problem begins to look like a nail.  Remember to look through your “tool box” and try some other ways to find the information you need.

How To Transcribe: Some Advice for the Beginning Jazz Improviser

Why Transcribe?
Before covering a process for transcribing jazz, it is important to understand the point to transcribing jazz solos. Today we have access to a lot of written material giving advice on how to improvise and practice improvisation. There are books of solos that other people have transcribed for you. You can even get computer software that will transcribe music for you. With all this information presented for you already, why take the time to figure it out for yourself?

Jazz, like all music, is an aural art form – it is meant to be heard, not read or seen. Attempting to learn to play jazz well just by reading books will take you to a certain point, but will leave quite a bit out that is important to playing jazz. Only a part of improvising involves what notes to play, and you can’t really learn how to swing, phrase, shape notes, or pace your solos by reading music or words. You have to pay your dues by listening to the music. Continue reading How To Transcribe: Some Advice for the Beginning Jazz Improviser

Brass Embouchures: A Guide For Teachers and Players

On November 8, 2009 I gave this presentation to the North Carolina Music Educators Convention, held in Winston-Salem, NC.  I was pleasantly surprised to have a generally full room of musicians and music educators who mostly seemed genuinely interested in learning more about a topic that is typically ignored in favor of a “let the body figure itself out” practice.

In order to make this information more accessible for both my NCMEA audience as well as to the general public, I created a video that includes my slide show notes, video footage, and the narration from my presentation.  I have uploaded this video to my YouTube channel in six parts. Continue reading Brass Embouchures: A Guide For Teachers and Players

Overcoming Composer’s Block

Virtually everyone who has composed music for long enough will experience mental blocks to getting projects started or completed. As this is a very familiar experience for authors, I thought it would be useful to compile some suggestions for overcoming writer’s block along with some of the things that I’ve personally found helpful for working my way out of composer’s blocks. Continue reading Overcoming Composer’s Block