Multiphonics and Mood Indigo For Unaccompanied Trombone

At a recent concert I played, trombonist Wycliffe Gordon was the guest artist.  One of the arrangements we performed with him was his chart on Duke Ellington’s Mood Indigo.  In this chart there was a 4 bar solo for unaccompanied trombone to play using multiphonics.  Wycliffe used a few different multiphonic effects during the concert and is really good at doing them.

Multiphonics are special effects that trombonists (and other brass players) do by playing one pitch and singing another.  Several jazz trombonists have been known for using multiphonics, such as Dick Griffin, Albert Mangelsdorff, Bill Watrous, and Phil Wilson.  When the intervals are in tune and balanced correctly certain overtones will ring out and you can get three or more pitches sounding at once.

It reminded me of something I had worked up years ago to play the Mood Indigo as an unaccompanied solo piece.  Here is a recording of me playing it.

If you’d like to try this out for yourself, I finally also got around to notating it.  Click on this link to download a PDF copy of it: Mood Indigo

All diamond shaped notes are the sung notes.  If you want, add a plunger mute for even more effects.  A pixie mute will also give extra color to it, if you’ve got one.  The tempo should be a relaxed swing feeling, but you can push and pull on the tempo a bit, if you want (and can do so musically!).

If you’ve never practiced multiphonics before, you can use this piece as a way to introduce yourself to the technique a bit, but you’ll want to take some time just getting familiar with individual chords.  It takes a little trial and error to get the pitches to line up just right and there’s a lot of adjustments that singing and playing at the same time require compared to either alone.  Try just singing into the horn.  It doesn’t matter what you sing, but if you encompass a wide enough range in what you sing you’ll notice that the natural overtones of the instrument will actually make your voice want to slot on certain notes.  It’s not nearly as pronounced an effect as buzzing the lips, but it is present and you have to vocally adjust for this while playing from one to another multiphonic.

Here are two good ones to start off with.  Play the note on the bottom and sing the diamond shaped note on top.

If you get those pitches lined up just right you should be able to hear a third tone sounding above them, notated here as the x note heads.

Once you are able to sing and play both pitches and get the interval in tune, work on balance.  I find that the overtones speak best when you don’t try to play or sing too loud.  It also works best for me also when I think of singing just a bit louder than I’m playing.

There’s much more that I could say about multiphonics, so keep your eye out here for a followup sometime in the future.  If you’ve got questions, let me know in the comments.  If you get around to performing or recording this trombone solo, let me know how it turned out and send me a link to hear it, if you’ve got one.

6 thoughts on “Multiphonics and Mood Indigo For Unaccompanied Trombone

  1. Hey, I really like the peice. But I have a question, what exactly do you do in order to get that 3rd note to really come out strong? thanks haha 🙂

  2. Hi, Jim.

    Thanks! Getting the third pitch to ring out requires that you balance both pitches and sing/play them perfectly in tune. My tendency is to sing too loud, so I have to remind myself to back off on my voice or play out on the trombone. I should also admit that I “EQed” the mix in my recording a bit to bring the 3rd pitch out a little stronger (along with some reverb).

    It’s really hard to do and be musical, so you should check out players like Wycliffe Gordon, Bill Watrous, Phil Wilson, and Albert Mangelsdorf to hear what it’s supposed to sound like.


  3. impressive of course, but I suppose you have to be a trombone player to appreciate it……I think multi phonics work better when used as texture in avant garde or experimental music. I’m experimenting with using it with electronics and computers – delay and granular synthesis. I think it’s really effective when used this way. An example of beautiful multi phonics can be found in Sandstoms ‘cantos de la mancha’ – here he uses them to eventually blend with the orchestra.

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