A Chromatic/Intervalic Approach to Trombone Technique and Intonation
(Excerpted from the Online
Trombone Journal Forum)
This is exactly how I approach playing music on the trombone.
When everything is working right, I am translating the written material (or improvised idea) into a series of intervals, and the slide position being dead on (while important) is secondary to the actual note I am buzzing into the mouthpiece.
This is all rather abstract, but the simple way of putting it is that I strive for the horn to appear (in the part of my head that makes music) as a piano. The piano, in terms of the geometric visualization of the instrument is that while the piano has black keys and white keys, the geometry of it is rather linear.
If we are to approach the trombone without being locked into certain scales in certain keys, one can learn to interpret the instrument as chromatic; it's just that the adjustment for the geometry has to happen in the process.
It's best if that adjustment happens by rote, in my opinion. (Not that western tuning chromaticism is everything! There's a whole different world out there beyond approaching music chromatically, however this is a big part of the musical world many of us live in...).
So the number one scale I have to know by rote is chromatic. If I have this down, 99% of material is just a sequence of intervals. Just like a pianist sees it!
It makes switching keys much easier; in fact I have a problem that I'm not really sure of the standard key of tunes. In other words, if you called "If I Should Lose You" right now, I don't have the foggiest notion what the standard key for that tune is. But since I hear tunes in intervals, I guarantee I could play the head and solo in it no matter what key we did it in.
Furthermore: relating to the tones as members of a chord or a scale or a family; hearing the tone and imagining it being the thirteen, then the major seven, then the third then the tritone, etc etc. Or playing a "C" and imagining it as the first note of the Tip Toe soli, then as the first note of "Polka Dots & Moonbeams", then as the first note of "Lush Life", etc etc.
In fact, hearing a pitch this way is the very kernel of the chromatic approach to music. Trane was the one who took the art of overlaying entire harmonic structures over music with just one note. Just cursory analysis of his cadenzas is a primer on chromatic approach -- David Liebman, in his wonderful book "A Chromatic Approach to Jazz Harmony and Melody" takes this approach and runs with it.
Q: What's so great about learning to play a scale by interval? It seems so complicated compared to simply learning the position numbers or the names of the notes...
A: If you have to think of notes or position numbers when you
play scales, there are 12 different
major scales you have to learn, 12
different melodic minor scales you have to learn, 12
different harmonic minor scales you have to learn, 3
different diminished scales you have to learn, etc. etc. etc.
Once you become comfortable with this, mix up the patterns: whole step
up, half step up, whole step down, half step up, rinse, repeat. Then, mix
them up even more: minor third up, half step up, whole step down, half
step down, repeat.
Establishing a relationship this fundamental is a lot of work.
However, if you are committed to the trombone in the long term, this
approach will serve you much more than simply learning note names or scale
degrees or position numbers.
For those willing to commit themselves to internalizing the
fundamentals of interval relationships as they lay on the horn, there is a
tremendous pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
©2003, Joe Jackson. All rights reserved.