[Trombone-l] Acoustics of brass instruments

sabutin sabutin at mindspring.com
Sat Jun 3 20:42:05 CDT 2006

Hi all...

Model your sound with your ears.

Much better than a machine.


Learn to hear overtones in sounds.

Every sound is a chord.

Every note you play is a chord.

When you play long tones...LISTEN!!!

Find the overtones.

Try to isolate them a little.

When I play long tones with this in mind, here is what I do. 
(Depending on how your ears are set up, this generally works better 
in the registers below middle F. As you get higher, the overtones go 
out of your hearing range.)

Play each long tone three or four times. The first few times, look 
for the overtones and experiment with isolating them. HOW do you 
isolate them? Fuggedaboudit. Just do it and eventually you will SEE 
how you are doing it. Feel it. (Some combination of air 
cavity/tongue/lip manipulation, of course.) Then play the last long 
tone and try to make all of the ones you managed to isolate (or at 
least identify) sound.

Can't hear 'em? You've been too well trained by society. They're up there.

Two ways to predict them so that you CAN hear them, and one way to 
test for them.

#1-Just play them on a keyboard instrument. You KNOW what hey are, 
right? Same proportions as the overtone series above pedal Bb. 
Octave, P5th, P4th, Maj 3rd, min 3rd, funny min 3rd, funny Maj 2nd, 
maj 2nd, etc. on up.

The easiest ones to hear and isolate are usually the 5th, 6th and 7th 
partials. That is, the 2 octaves plus a Maj. 3rd, P 5th and min 7th 
above the note being played. Play them on a piano, get them in your 
ear, and then try to hear and isolate them above whatever note you 
are playing.

#2-Learn to isolate them with your voice. This is the best way, 
because it is physical and organic. You FEEL them.

(From a post I made recently on this subject at the Online Trombone 


Learn how to isolate the harmonics of your own voice. It is dead easy.

Choose a note that you can sing easily and strongly. Sing it with 
your mouth closed ..."Mmmmmmmmm"...and then very gradually and slowly 
open your mouth through the vowel sounds.


And listen. The harmonic series will come popping out above the root.

JUST like on the trombone. Octave (hard to hear, but it's there) , 
perfect 5th, double octave, maj. 3rd. perfect 5th, min. 7th (Flat, 
too. Just like on the horn) triple octave, maj. 2nd, maj. 3rd (Also a 
little flat), strange 4th, perfect 5th, etc.

Right on up to the 16th partial quadruple octave. And above.

This is just the "OM" ("Aum", "Aaaaaauuuummm") of the cartoon yogis 
in real life practice.

Once you can do that...practice it for a while.


Trombone playing just got simpler.

In a complex sort of way.



P.S. I studied with a man named David Hykes to learn vocal technique 
I sketched out above. Here is the website of his group.


Check him out.

Interesting stuff, to say the least.

The REAL "theory" of music.


#3-How to test for them?

On a good, well tuned piano (to which YOU are well tuned), simply 
depress the sustain pedal and play a note on the trombone at about mf 
or louder. All of the overtones will come popping out of the piano 
once you stop your note. This is also another way to learn how to 
hear them.

Y'all know about the concept of formants, do you not?

Every sound emphasizes and depresses certain overtones. Thus the 
sound of a french horn playing a middle C is different than that or a 
trombone, a trumpet, a violin etc. playing the same note. These 
formants also change as the dynamic level changes, and they are 
RADICALLY different at the moment of attack.

The same holds true from trombone to trombone, from m'pce to m'pce, 
from player to player, etc. Now you cannot be truly conscious of what 
is going on above your sound to any great degree while making 
music...hard enough to play, let alone survey the stratosphere above 
the notes that you are playing...but you CAN custom-design your own 
basic sound. That is what most equipment search is really all about, 
and that is what we do when we "try to get a better sound." That is 
also what we do when we "color" our sound.

So...design your own sound al least SEMI-consciously. 10, 15, 20 
minutes a day doing this can produce amazing results.

Try it.

You be bettah off.


Have fun.



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