Monday, March 14, 2011

Johnny Briggs

It's a old law, or charter, or something, that if you're going to learn to play the trombone, you have to learn to play the Johnny Briggs theme tune (that being the very epitome of trombone composition over the ages, for people over a certain age) as soon as possible.

Here's my bash at it, took me a few goes to get it this far and it's probably wrong as I worked it out by ear, and I obviously didn't get around to working out the 2nd phrase before I started playing (there's my brick-headedness again).

The theme is actually taken from a piece called The Acrobat by J.A. Greenwood.

It's a fun piece to play, from the huge glissando right at the start (which is a challenge in itself - I'll sometimes drop a partial half way through the slide for added cringe-effect), the next few notes in the interleaved descending run can all be played at the same position which feels like it's good practice for getting a bit of control over my embouchure/partials, and the the middle up/down section is pretty fast and is a real stretch to tongue that quickly, ooo-er missus, and that second phrase where I don't know where I'm going has some notes that are [currently, for me at least] very high.

It's too easy to get drawn in to doing this stuff, both from the house renovation work that I should be focusing on, and from other chores like learning scales and doing my theory work etc.
Gonna need to find some discipline from somewhere (yeah, right). At least I did manage to start on my Trombone Essentials book at the weekend; grade 1 watch out - here I come...  one day.

Here's my transcription of the theme, all errors are my own (click to embiggen):


Aha - so this is what the different notes you can play without moving the slide are called !

On my trombone (a regular Bb bone) there's a harmonic series of notes I can (notionally !) play purely by changing my embouchure:

[1st partial]

Currently my range is from the Bb 2nd partial (I can get the pedal Bb not-very-reliably after I've been practising for a while and my lips are loosened up) up to about the 6th partial, sometimes 7th, again once my lips have warmed up a bit, but not very reliably.

Interestingly the intervals of the harmonic series (of partials) form a pretty curve when you write them up on a stave, here's the Bb series:

It turns out that the reason for this curve is rooted in physics (as you'd expect), but, curiously, also has to do with our perception of sound;  the fundamental pitch of my trombone is the pedal Bb (at 58.27Hz), it transpires that each partial up is a multiple of the fundamental frequency, so the next partial up from the fundamental is 2 * 58.27Hz.  More details below for the curious.

That's the physics bit, now the perception bit:  what we hear as an octave interval is really the doubling of a note's frequency.

So from 58.27Hz to 2*58.27Hz explains the octave interval from Fundamental Bb(58.27Hz) to 1st partial Bb(116Hz).

The next partial is 3*58.27Hz = 174.81Hz which is an F (there's a table of frequencies here), and so on:

4 * 58.27Hz = 232.08Hz : Bb
5 * 58.27Hz = 291.25Hz : D
6 * 58.27Hz = 349.65Hz : F
7 * 58.27Hz = 407.89Hz : A(this one's a bit flat, Ab is more like 415Hz - another weird perceptional thing?)
8 * 58.27Hz = 466.16Hz : Bb
9 * 58.27Hz = 524.43Hz : C

Now you know :)

More on the physics

Open cylindrical tubes resonate at the approximate frequencies:
  f  = nv / 2L
where n is a positive integer, L is the length of the tube, and v is the speed of sound in air (~343m/s).

A trombone with slide closed is about 2.8m, and has a bore of about 1.4cm so the fundamental resonant frequency is:
 f = (1 * 343) / (2 * 2.8)
   = 343 / 5.6
   = 61Hz   
Near enough, the formula is an approximation since the anti-node reflection point is a little past the end of the tube.

Solving for the other partials gives:
  f=2: 122
  f=3: 183
  f=4: 245
  f=5: 306

Friday, March 11, 2011


This has been [and continues to be] a source of mystery to me, not having ever played any brass instrument before.  There seem to be a great number of pitfalls to be avoided, whilst at the same time it appears that the 'best' placement of the mouthpiece and formation of the embouchure vary between players - "Do what's best for you, but get it right !"

Fortunately, wilktone's Brass Embouchures series has been very helpful in trying to work out what I should and shouldn't be doing with my lips:

In particular chapter 4 has a bunch of advice :

My Bone Journal

I bought a plastic trombone from the people at a couple of weeks ago for the grand price of 50 quid, they didn't have any blue ones in stock at the time I ordered so I plumped for a purple one instead.  Purple Bone, snigger ;)

My mate SaxomoPaul suggested that it might be a nice idea to keep a blog detailing my attempt to learn to play the trombone from scratch.  Being the sort of brick headed fool that I am I decided to learn it without any tuition as such, just what I can find on the interwebs and the occasional derisive remark I get from the trombone player in my band who can actually play (and who is actually pretty bloody good at playing in fact; the bar is set !)

I'm going to try to post here bits and bobs that I find out along the way, things I find hard, any tips that I pick up etc., mainly as a record for myself but maybe it'll turn out to be helpful for other people just starting to learn to play the trombone.

The first thing I've noticed is that it's looking like I'll have to learn to actually sight-read music for this.  I've been playing bass for a good 20 years and until now managed to get away without having really needing it, but I can see that being able to read the score is going to make my life easier when it comes to learning the trombone, so it's time to suck it up.  Fortunately I've been working on my music theory recently so hopefully it's not going to be such a massive chore :)