Welcome to the Ensemble Sound Blog Series. The blog posts in this series are meant to help you think through and hopefully help you come up with some ideas on how to achieve your ideal ensemble sound! As always, these posts are not meant to tell you what to do, but to hopefully make you think more about what you are doing!
“That is what learning is. You suddenly understand something that you’ve understood all your life, but in a new way.” – Doris Lessing
Part 5: Bridging the Gap between Fundamentals and Music
The next must do fundamental exercise is known by many names. In the Essential Musicianship Ensemble Concepts series it is known simply as 3-1. You may have heard it called the “F Remington”. As a trombone player growing up, my private lesson teacher had me work out of the Remington Warm-up Studies Book daily! Emory Remington was the trombone professor at the Eastman School of music until the year he passed in 1971. There he developed a series of legato warm-ups for trombone that are still being used today. The F-Remington starts on a concert F, changes to an E natural, then back to the concert F. This pattern continues chromatically all the way down to the concert Bb below it. This exercise is the essential exercise to combine the concepts of 1-1 (tone production) and 2-1 (articulations) while adding in the challenge of changing notes. 3-1 is the gateway exercise to taking our daily fundamental exercises to our concert music. (To hear an example of 3-1 please click here).
The goal of 3-1 is to try and make every note sound the same. To do this, the student must start to understand the steps necessary to accomplish this goal. Making every note sound the same may sound like an easy concept, but in my mind, it is what separates a professional musician from the rest of us. They can play every note clearly, with great tone and support, each and every time no matter the intervals. This is why practice is their job! Now, our students are pretty far away from being professionals, but the concept is the same. What is often hard for students to understand is that you cannot approach every note the exact same way. If I try to play a fourth line F on my trombone then try to play the low Bb below the exact same way as I tried to play the F, the Bb will not sound as clear or vibrant. The center of each note is just a little different. If I play the same F and this time I move to the Bb and I slightly adjust my air and embouchure, I can make the low Bb sound the same in both tone and quality. This exercise helps students to understand this concept.
We have been working on these concepts in class as I have been working on this blog and as we were discussing the importance of this exercise and that the true goal of 3-1 is making every note sound the same, I drew the following picture on our white board.
I told our students that 3-1 is not an exercise on playing these individual notes but as the picture shows, 3-1 works on what needs to happen in between the notes to make every note sound the same. I really felt like this had an instant effect on my students and their understanding of this exercise.
I believe that what makes this exercise challenging is that it is difficult for students to keep their air moving as they change notes. Even when notes are slurred, students will slow their air resulting in a drop of quality. Usually an increase of airflow must occur as notes are changed. This is why it is important that students have a strong grasp of the concepts of 1-1 and at the very least keeping their air steady and strong throughout the note. Note wise, this exercise is not hard to play. Making every note sound the same, with the same quality of sound, volume, and connectivity could take an entire school year!
Again, one of the great things about the Essential Musicianship Ensemble Concept books, besides the great warm-ups, is the goal list at the bottom of each exercise. As I have mentioned in my previous blogs, it is not just playing an exercise daily that brings the results, it is how the exercise is being worked on that truly brings the improvements. By using the goals listed in the bottom of 3-1, it really makes it easy to always have the students be focused on what they need to improve. My favorite goal listed in 3-1 is “The wider the interval, the more focused the air stream should be”. These goals lead to great conversations about what the students think the goals mean and opinions on how to achieve them. The more the students are involved in the conversations the more the students understand and take ownership of improving.
In the beginning of the school year, I will often only work on one phrase at a time. The first phrase would be considered the concert F to the concert E and back up to the concert F. This gives the students an opportunity to really understand what it takes to play each interval. That is the key to this exercise, it is not learning how to play a concert F to a concert E, back to a concert F; it is understanding how to play an interval of a half step, which could be any possible combination of notes. We will then move to the second phrase and will work on moving in whole steps. Before we move on to the third phrase, we combine the first two phrases and work to make the two phrases sound the same, making sure the students understand the necessary changes to move through each interval. We follow this pattern all the way through the exercise. This starts to get more challenging as the intervals start to expand and the students start to experience notes that are even a challenge to play with a great sound individually (low concert B natural on trumpet, trombone, baritone, and tuba).
So far we have only talked about “how” to make each note sound the same in tone and volume. We haven’t talked about how this exercise can improve intonation. I have found that when we really focus on making that middle note sound the same in volume and tone, the intonation seems to follow along. We actually end up having more of an issue on the third note in the phrase being in tune even though it is the same F that we started on. It is anther great example that it is important to understand how we are moving from note to note to play in tune, not necessarily just what note we are playing. In this case, it is the concert F, the note we have spent countless hours perfecting, but yet in this exercise, while moving back up to it from the note previous, we have intonation issues. This is important to remember while working on your concert music and trying to fix an intonation issue. Yes, stopping and tuning that note or chord is important, but that could only be part of the issue. Be sure to check the note before the problem note and work on slowly moving from the first note to the problem note so the students can understand what they need to do to move to that note in tune. I bet that in most cases, even after fixing the intonation of the problem note, when the two note sequence is repeated, the out of tune note still be an issue the first few times.
This is a great rehearsal technique for working on faster technical passages as well. When a student can understand what they have to do with their air to change from note to note, the passage will clean up and be played with a better quality of sound. I will often take a faster passage of music and slow it down and play it like a choral. This again gives students a chance to understand how they need to use their air and what it takes to move from note to note and sound great. I think that this is an important key as well. By going at a slower tempo, the students have an opportunity to succeed and sound good on that particular passage versus always struggling through it.
In addition to the above, 3-1 also helps develop ensemble timing. Obviously moving together as an ensemble is important. Varying the tempos of 3-1 is an easy way to help your ensemble move together at any tempo, fast or slow. Once students have a strong grasp of 3-1, you can move on to 3-2 which follows the same pattern as 3-1, it moves chromatically up from the concert F. This reinforces everything mentioned above including the expansion of range.
3-1 is an important tool in bridging the gap between your fundamental concepts and your music. While working on your concert music be sure to refer back to the work you have done on 3-1 so students can connect what they have to do between every note. I truly believe that the fundamental exercises that I have talked about so far will not only improve your ensemble but also help your student’s better individual players. My next blog is probably the one that I am most excited about and the fundamental exercise that has had the most impact on my student’s fundamental sound! Stay tuned!
Check out the other blogs in the Ensemble Sound Blog Series:
Part 1: Deciding on Your Sound
Part 2: The Power 5
Part 3: The Power of 1-1: Episode I: The Return of the Power 5
Part 3: The Power of 1-1: Episode II: The Quest for Purity
Part 3: The Power of 1-1: Episode III: The Journey Continues
Part 4: High-Definition Articulations
Part 6: Sustains: The Final Chapter