The Art of... Slide Trombone | Kids VT | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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The Art of... Slide Trombone 

Published July 1, 2011 at 4:00 a.m.

Q: How many trombone players does it take to change a lightbulb?

A: Only one. But he takes an hour deciding which position to use.

Get it? If not, chances are you are not a trombone player. The brass instrument, ubiquitous in summer parade marching bands, attracts a very specific type of musician: funny ones.

"Most trombone players that I've met have a good sense of humor," says trombone teacher Stuart Carter — corny lightbulb jokes notwithstanding, presumably.

Carter, 57, owns and operates Octavemode, a Burlington-based music school that offers a variety of horn lessons both in studio and online via Skype. He started playing at age 5 and began teaching trombone after graduating with a master's degree from the Eastman School of Music in 1982. He says the trombone's unusual design offers students a unique challenge compared to other wind instruments.

"It's a good instrument for a student because it has the slide," he says. "It's a tenor instrument. But it is also very melodic and expressive." He adds that trombone is a utility instrument, too. "It can be used to complement, or for special effects," he continues. "You have to have or develop a good ear to play the trombone."

It also requires precision. There are seven slide positions on a trombone, each of which can produce roughly eight notes — get the joke now? Finding the right position on the slide is of paramount importance. Miss the mark and you'll be off key.

How a player blows into the instrument is also crucial. Carter notes that the ability to do so correctly can reveal the musical talents of a young player.

He adds that the slide lends itself to a variety of articulations unique to the trombone — think swoops and falls in jazz and funk, or shakes and trills in orchestral music.

"The trombone is a great instrument to bring natural musicianship out in a person," he says. "And that makes it a lot of fun to play."

Stuff You'll Need

A trombone
Carter suggests finding a beginner trombone through Ellis Music or MusiCraft, two Vermont companies that rent instruments. Check to make sure the slide is not impeded, and that when you blow into the instrument, you can blow freely. "Sometimes you'll get an instrument that is kind of stuffy," he cautions. He also advises avoiding trombones with dents in the bell.

Lubricant
Carter recommends players use trombone-specific lubricants, rather than the oil that typically greases other instruments. "It makes a huge difference," he says. "I once had a kid try it out for the first time, and as I said, 'Be careful, the slide moves faster once you put that on,' the slide flew off and landed across the room."

Music
"Kids should get records and listen to good players," says Carter. His suggestions: albums by Trombone Shorty (recently featured in the HBO series "Treme"), jazz trombonist John Allred and classical soloist Christian Lindberg.

This article was originally published in Seven Days' monthly parenting magazine, Kids VT.

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About The Author

Dan Bolles

Dan Bolles

Bio:
Dan Bolles is Seven Days' assistant arts editor and also edits What's Good, the annual city guide to Burlington. He has received numerous state, regional and national awards for his coverage of the arts, music, sports and culture. He loves dogs, dark beer and the Boston Red Sox.

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