Instrumental practice often consists of the classic combination of long tones, scales, and etudes. While this combination of exercises is “classic” for a reason, there is one glaring omission: sound. Sound is the most important of playing no matter if you are a beginning 6th grader or a seasoned professional in the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra.
If you are playing a scale at a very fast tempo, the number of notes passing is irrelevant in each note has poor sound quality. If you are hitting very high notes on your instrument and they don’t sound good, they don’t count for much. If you are playing in an ensemble and you are “in tune” but have a poor sound quality….you get the idea.
Your sound is the most important element of everything you play! Focus on making everything you play sound great. Then and only then, should you start increasing the tempo and exploring a greater dynamic range with it. Sound is always the most important quality of everything you play no matter what the circumstances are and you should make it your #1 priority in practice and rehearsal. It doesn’t matter if you are playing Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 or playing the C major scale or working on a double-tonguing exercise.
Here are a few tips for producing a great sound:
- Know what you want to sound like. The best method for this is to be familiar with the best performers on your instrument. For example, you can Google “best trombonists” or ask your director or private lessons teacher about great performers for you to model your sound on. Once you have an idea of what you want to sound like, you can set goals in accomplishing the sound you want.
- Be deliberate. “Bad” sounds usually occur when a performer is consciously going through the motions rather than choosing to play with a great sound. I get it, sometimes it is hard to focus or want to play with your best sound when you are tired, bored, etc. Nevertheless, the only way to play with a great sound is to focus and engage yourself whenever you pick up your instrument. Choose to play with a great sound.
- Ask for a second opinion. If you are unsure about your sound, ask the people around you! Your director and your private lessons teacher want you to play with a great sound. They can assess your sound quality, and can offer suggestions on what you can do to improve your sound.
- Focus on one note at a time. The best way to do this is start with your tuning note. Experiment with playing it as a single tone and approaching it in different ways. Pay close attention to the sound you get and change something slightly each time. For example, taking a short breath versus taking a long breath or using a light articulation versus a heavy articulation to start the note. Not only will this help you understand why a note sounds good or bad, but you will become very conscious of how you play and consistently play with a great sound.
If you focus on producing a great sound at all times, you will develop great playing technique with a great sound and you will also develop the habit of playing with a great sound no matter what is on the page in front of you!