Why Do Trombonists Suck At Improvising?

hyperbolica
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Why Do Trombonists Suck At Improvising?

Post by hyperbolica » Mon Jan 18, 2021 2:20 pm

Before you take offense, I obviously don't mean ALL trombonists, but if you take 10 trombonists, 10 trumpet players, and 10 sax players, you'll have more guys that can wail on the sax or the trumpet than on the trombone. I've heard several trombonists play and then I say "I hope I don't sound like that". And often after a sax solo, its more like "whoa, I wish I sounded like that".

Is this a real thing or just a weird perception only in my head?

And one more thing. Is it really cool to end every other phrase with a descending tritone, or do you have to be Charlie Parker to pull that off?

And one more more thing. Are great improvisers really mental chord giants, or do they just memorize solos, or do they just piece together a bunch of cool licks in every key imaginable? I mean you can't just rip off a bunch of 1/16th note scales in non-enharmonic chords while following 8 or 12 bar phrases off the top of your head, on command, realistically, can you?
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Re: Why Do Trombonists Suck At Improvising?

Post by baileyman » Mon Jan 18, 2021 2:45 pm

Two possibilities:

The trombone technique necessary to play like a HS sax player is formidable.

Time. There must be something about the horn that makes one stumble over the time. Very few pros play with great time on trombone. Lots on other instruments.
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Re: Why Do Trombonists Suck At Improvising?

Post by BGuttman » Mon Jan 18, 2021 2:46 pm

Trombone players get fewer solos than trumpet players or (particularly tenor) sax players. So we don't get the practice they do.

Trumpet and sax players can do better stream of notes solos with impressive gyrations of hemi-demi-semiquavers. Try that on a trombone (except for a valve trombone). Stream of notes solos came in with BeBop and coincided with the [relative] demise of the trombone solo.

Many of the trumpet and sax solos I've been forced to listen to are generally assemblages of riffs or imitations of major soloists. It takes time and thought to create a good improvised solo. Doing it on the spot requires a lot of practice.
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Re: Why Do Trombonists Suck At Improvising?

Post by ithinknot » Mon Jan 18, 2021 2:53 pm

hyperbolica wrote:
Mon Jan 18, 2021 2:20 pm
if you take 10 trombonists, 10 trumpet players, and 10 sax players, you'll have more guys that can wail on the sax or the trumpet than on the trombone.
... Is this a real thing or just a weird perception only in my head?
Well, for a given calibre of professionally active 'commercial' musician, it'd be easier to get away with being a cruddy improviser as a trombonist, yes.

No mystery here - less demand for solos, less occasion and necessity to develop the skills.
Are great improvisers really mental chord giants
Some, yes. Some not so much - there are definitely people with nice style of monophonic improv that don't *really get* harmonic voice-leading, as revealed when they try to write arrangements. But there's a baseline of understanding required, certainly.
do they just memorize solos
Nah. You don't need to be *that* good for this not to be necessary. I was once auditioning for a cathedral organist job and one of the other candidates admitted to me afterwards that his 'improvisation' was in fact part of some obscure piece he'd memorised. "Isn't that far more effort than just being able to improvise?", thunk I.
do they just piece together a bunch of cool licks in every key imaginable?
Sometimes, and often that's just fine. Some of the greats are closer to this than others - certainly there are some Charlie Parker solos to which the Parker2000 algorithm could probably come fairly close. But he was 90% heroin at that point, and the solos sound great, so why not.
I mean you can't just rip off a bunch of 1/16th note scales in non-enharmonic chords while following 8 or 12 bar phrases off the top of your head, on command, realistically, can you?
... but yeah, you can :good:
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Re: Why Do Trombonists Suck At Improvising?

Post by WilliamLang » Mon Jan 18, 2021 3:08 pm

if you think velocity=improvising that might be a problem.
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Re: Why Do Trombonists Suck At Improvising?

Post by Burgerbob » Mon Jan 18, 2021 3:25 pm

Trombone has a similar skill ceiling to any other instrument, but a much higher bar for entry and a much steeper learning curve. Trombone is hard.

In other news, water is wet.
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Re: Why Do Trombonists Suck At Improvising?

Post by stewbones43 » Mon Jan 18, 2021 3:30 pm

Isn't it because trombonists are perfectionists and so they are afraid to play wrong notes, whereas trumpet players are used to it. :biggrin:

Saxophonists use 9 digits to play their instruments and so have 3 times more chances of playing a right note than a trumpet player and 9 times more chance than a trombonist. :idk:

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Re: Why Do Trombonists Suck At Improvising?

Post by Bach5G » Mon Jan 18, 2021 3:39 pm

The trombone section is where the solo goes to die.
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Re: Why Do Trombonists Suck At Improvising?

Post by AndrewMeronek » Mon Jan 18, 2021 3:56 pm

To throw a wrench in these here gears:

We all know that trombone is hard. But when it comes to improvising, a lot of trombonists simply don't spend the time figuring out "what works". Velocity isn't really that important to a good improvisation; creativity within whatever limitations one's instrument has is, and that really takes effort.
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Re: Why Do Trombonists Suck At Improvising?

Post by WilliamLang » Mon Jan 18, 2021 4:27 pm

for my ears Jacob Garchik's the Heavens is the best jazz trombone album i've ever heard. it's all about sound, feel, and storytelling, and i don't think there's a single double time chorus in the whole thing.
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Re: Why Do Trombonists Suck At Improvising?

Post by andym » Mon Jan 18, 2021 4:37 pm

Lots of interesting points above.

Maybe someone else remembers this news story because I can’t find it. What I remember is that a study of studio recordings showed that some great jazz artists played the same solo on multiple takes. The implication is that what we hear on some classic recordings aren’t true improvisations. So some of what we hear on recordings is unrealistic.

But mostly, I thought trombonists such at improvising because I’m dragging down the average.
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Re: Why Do Trombonists Suck At Improvising?

Post by harrisonreed » Mon Jan 18, 2021 5:02 pm

The saxophone is the kazoo of the woodwind family. I asked a really great sax player about this and that is how he described his instrument. He also said:

"Sure, some of it is licks, some of it is ideas in my head that are spontaneous. All of it is just button combinations, though. You press down the buttons and blow."

I asked about things like partials and hitting the right notes and the guy was like "no, buttons" and clicked his keys down a few times while holding his sax up to show me that indeed, the sax had buttons.

That is why trombonists are not as good, on average, at improvising. It's a very different approach, especially for kazoos like the saxophone. Their approach is similar to learning how to play Street Fighter II -- even a mediocre player looks cool when they can chain hodoukens and souryuukens together.
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Re: Why Do Trombonists Suck At Improvising?

Post by Doug Elliott » Mon Jan 18, 2021 5:36 pm

I have thought about this subject a lot over the years.

I think basically it comes down to the fact that the time and effort required to achieve a very high level of facility is much greater on trombone than other instruments. I consider trombone to be a very easy instrument to get "pretty good" at, but exponentially harder to get past that point. During the time we spend just to maintain mediocrity, a sax player is running up and down millions of scales, arpeggios, and patterns, and memorizing transcribed solos. If we practiced that way we'd be able to do that too, but we really can't (or at least don't) practice that way. It's partly simple endurance - your face can only take so much. I doubt that sax players have to "rest as much as you play" and plan that into their practice time.

It's far easier to become a really good classical player. The literature is relatively limited - a few dozen orchestral excerpts that require precision and repetition, but not the same kind of independent thought and facility as improvising.

And don't get me started on the various other baggage that holds us back. I can't find a valve cap that's the right weight... what if it was made of gold brass instead of nickel silver?
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Re: Why Do Trombonists Suck At Improvising?

Post by JerryY » Mon Jan 18, 2021 5:55 pm

I have had many discussions with band directors over the years about this. I play as a serious hobbyist and play with several local big bands and small groups. I have worked hard the past ten years to become a decent soloist and now regularly play improv solos in all the bands. My experience is this:

1) High school trombone sections rarely get the melody line to any degree, so when the director says play around the melody, its like where?
2) I concur that high level facility is not generally achieved at the high school level, I still want to see the melody line...
3) Because the trombone starts with these two disadvantages, the opportunities don't come often enough to inspire the student to delve into it, thus the death spiral begins.

I like to let the younger band directors know that if you give a trombonist a written melody line to play over, let them develop a simple line to start the solo everytime (that they work out) and let them have a place to return to if they get lost, they will develop the ear chops that help facilitate the playing/technique chops. It takes time and the teacher needs to let the player develop. Unfortunately, we live in a instant gratification society.
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Re: Why Do Trombonists Suck At Improvising?

Post by BurckhardtS » Mon Jan 18, 2021 7:12 pm

Doug pretty much nailed it, and I think that extends to musicianship too. In my experience, the average student classical player is usually behind the average improviser when it comes to things like time feel, harmonic comprehension (ear training), pitch, sight reading etc.

Learning a solo that has already been written is pretty easy to learn by rote and reproduce especially with the abundance of and access to recordings. Improvising requires you to comprehend the melodic and harmonic language, and to make a cohesive thought in that language.

This comes from someone who has a classical degree but spent most of undergraduate learning the most from the jazz program. (and also sucks at improvising)
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Re: Why Do Trombonists Suck At Improvising?

Post by Doug Elliott » Mon Jan 18, 2021 7:15 pm

Relevant post I saw on Facebook today:

"My theory: whereas making jazz music is about endless improvement, it is not about PLAYING more than you did yesterday. It's more about HEARING more than you did yesterday. Once you hear everything, you know what to do. Improvising is the business of responding."

When playing trombone it's difficult to HEAR other stuff going on. You have to learn to hear it in your head. Other instruments aren't really like that. Even trumpet isn't like that - you still have the bone conduction, but your own sound is farther away from your ears, so you can hear other things better.
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Re: Why Do Trombonists Suck At Improvising?

Post by Bach5G » Mon Jan 18, 2021 7:24 pm

Please let this thread not turn into legit vs jazz. That’s so 1940.
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Re: Why Do Trombonists Suck At Improvising?

Post by hyperbolica » Mon Jan 18, 2021 7:47 pm

WilliamLang wrote:
Mon Jan 18, 2021 4:27 pm
for my ears Jacob Garchik's the Heavens is the best jazz trombone album i've ever heard. it's all about sound, feel, and storytelling, and i don't think there's a single double time chorus in the whole thing.
Yeah, see, if I could blow improv like Jacob Garchik, I wouldn't worry about what y'all sound like. :cool:

The thing is that I play regularly with at least 3 other trombonists that don't suck, but technically they're not the greatest players, and they might not even be some of the brightest people in general. I think it's a gene you're born with, and it might be more in your ear than in your head proper. And then I know another guy who is always asking for solos, and I give him credit, he plays every chance he gets, but he's godawful, and my secret fear is that I sound like him. :shock:
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Re: Why Do Trombonists Suck At Improvising?

Post by Bach5G » Mon Jan 18, 2021 7:54 pm

I occasionally play with guy who can play really high and move his right arm back and forth really quickly. It’s a bit depressing how many people are seem to be impressed by that.
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Re: Why Do Trombonists Suck At Improvising?

Post by robcat2075 » Mon Jan 18, 2021 7:58 pm

I recall over on the cello forum a college kid came through complaining about an improvisation course he was in.

He posted his assignment and it was a bunch of brief jazz licks that they had to be able to play on I IV V etc. in any key and so forth

I noodled through them on my cell and trombone and thought, wow, this would be a cinch on a cello! All the patterns lie in one "position" and to play them on any root you just need to move your hand to a different place on the fingerboard and keep using the same fingering over and over. I wish it was that simple on a trombone.

You get none of that on a saxophone. You'd have to be a mechanical genius to equal that freedom on a saxophone.

It ought to be easier on a cello and yet the jazz world is not over-run with jazz cello players.

I agree the trombone is not designed for jazz but there may be more to it than that.
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Re: Why Do Trombonists Suck At Improvising?

Post by Bach5G » Mon Jan 18, 2021 8:32 pm

Maybe Mike Lake will weigh in.
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Re: Why Do Trombonists Suck At Improvising?

Post by MagnumH » Mon Jan 18, 2021 8:53 pm

I’m not sure I accept the premise of the question. Judging someone as “good” at improvising is a highly subjective thing to do. What is good? Is it fast? High? Technically difficult? Musical? It’s a very difficult thing to say.

But if we do accept the premise, I think others have covered it nicely. Trombone is HARD. It’s a weird instrument that’s awkward to play. It’s physically demanding, which affects how we can practice and how we allocate our time. It’s not normally a melody instrument in an ensemble setting (though I theorize that so many trombonists make great arrangers because are used to the background and how it operates). All of that.

I also wonder if it’s because there is, relatively speaking, a dearth of really famous trombone soloists. Of course there’s still plenty, from Teagarden to Kai and JJ to Fred Wesley and up to Wycliffe or Gilkes. But I don’t think there are many soloists with the impact of, say, Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, the Breckers, Miles, etc. Trombone solos just aren’t in the collective oeuvre in the same way.

One interesting point - go to somewhere like New Orleans, where trombone solos are EVERYWHERE, and you see a lot more great improvisers, at least within the style they play. They grow up with it, they hear out on the corner, it’s the first thing they want to play when they get a horn...I think that kind of culture counts for a LOT.
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Re: Why Do Trombonists Suck At Improvising?

Post by Doubler » Mon Jan 18, 2021 10:32 pm

FWIW - The thing I notice about really great Jazz trombone improvisers is their knowledge and use of partials, making them fit the changes they're playing over, as evidenced by a distinct economy of slide motion.
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Re: Why Do Trombonists Suck At Improvising?

Post by Bach5G » Wed Jan 20, 2021 7:58 pm

This gentleman has a number of lessons on improvisation for trombone players on YouTube and Facebook. Basic tools that could result in an immediate improvement in one’s soloing, was my impression.

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Re: Why Do Trombonists Suck At Improvising?

Post by ArbanRubank » Wed Jan 20, 2021 8:42 pm

To answer the OP's question with some things I think I think:

1) I believe we have unrealistic expectations of our playing - probably from listening to recordings of highly-talented & accomplished performers. We hear what someone most likely took years to develop and we try it in one take. We fail.

2) We can't hear the notes in our head and transfer them to the horn. Many of us can make up fantastic riffs in our heads, but can't transfer those notes on our horns.

3) We look at all the music theory stuff and it's simply overwhelming. I don't want to need a PhD in music theory to honk out a few jazz lines.

4) We try too hard, thinking we must make the melody line extremely busy (see No. 1). Actually, what separates jazz from classical music is improvisation. So if we change up one note in a melody line, we have "jazzed it up". That's all it takes; one note. Okay, maybe two. But we fail to realize that we can "jazz up" a melody line by modifying it's rhythm. So if we modify it's rhythm pattern a little and add a few "colorful notes" - as my instructor puts it - maybe we could pass. And if we could pass, then we could build on that success and learn to find other "colorful notes" on-the-fly. That's slowly learning to play by ear and is where I am at present. Give me a fake book and I'll give you a passable low-level, simple, but pleasing trombone solo. It might not be the best in the band, but then again, nobody expects anything from a trombone player anyway. So if we fill up our time slot by giving them something smooth, mellow and rhythmic, we win.
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Re: Why Do Trombonists Suck At Improvising?

Post by Bach5G » Wed Jan 20, 2021 10:01 pm

As long as it doesn’t sound like a cat being swung by the tail, my expectations have been exceeded.
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Re: Why Do Trombonists Suck At Improvising?

Post by Doug Elliott » Wed Jan 20, 2021 10:10 pm

Bach5G wrote:
Wed Jan 20, 2021 10:01 pm
As long as it doesn’t sound like a cat being swung by the tail, my expectations have been exceeded.
Unless, of course, that's the effect you're after.
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Re: Why Do Trombonists Suck At Improvising?

Post by Vegastokc » Thu Jan 21, 2021 7:00 am

Doug Elliott wrote:
Mon Jan 18, 2021 5:36 pm
And don't get me started on the various other baggage that holds us back. I can't find a valve cap that's the right weight... what if it was made of gold brass instead of nickel silver?
And of course which mouthpiece to use.... :idea:
Bach5G wrote:
Mon Jan 18, 2021 7:54 pm
I occasionally play with guy who can play really high and move his right arm back and forth really quickly. It’s a bit depressing how many people are seem to be impressed by that.
Oh man, that was my go-to move in high school. :lol:
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Re: Why Do Trombonists Suck At Improvising?

Post by baileyman » Thu Jan 21, 2021 7:07 am

Bach5G wrote:
Wed Jan 20, 2021 7:58 pm
This gentleman has a number of lessons on improvisation for trombone players on YouTube and Facebook. Basic tools that could result in an immediate improvement in one’s soloing, was my impression.

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Re: Why Do Trombonists Suck At Improvising?

Post by timothy42b » Thu Jan 21, 2021 9:24 am

I think there are two aspects to this.

One is that as others have pointed out the trombone is much harder to produce a stream of notes on than a sax. Certainly I can't come close, some of you have much more facility than I do.

But the other is that a sax blowing a stream of notes can sound pretty good, and to my ears a trombone less so. I know a lot of that is personal preference but I like the more melodic soloing of a less demanding trad jazz solo than the faster.
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Re: Why Do Trombonists Suck At Improvising?

Post by hyperbolica » Thu Jan 21, 2021 9:30 am

Bach5G wrote:
Wed Jan 20, 2021 7:58 pm
This gentleman has a number of lessons on improvisation for trombone players on YouTube and Facebook. Basic tools that could result in an immediate improvement in one’s soloing, was my impression.

Shawn Bell
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Actually, this seems very helpful. It simplifies the topic while giving enough information to give you something to work on without being overwhelming. Thanks.
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Re: Why Do Trombonists Suck At Improvising?

Post by ExZacLee » Thu Jan 21, 2021 5:21 pm

You need to study it to do it.

How many trombone players have you really listened to - like enough that you can play their ideas?

How much music that you listen to can you play on your horn?

Improvisation is more about knowing how to construct melodies and variations in real time. Having a lot of technique helps, but it isn't necessary. Knowing all your scales and chords helps, but isn't necessary.

What is necessary is a willingness to spend a long time working on the simple act of being creative with the tools you have at your disposal.

Every melody you've ever heard is a tool for you to use. Don't know it on your horn? Learn it. Is it too technical or unplayable? Modify it. Play it slower. Learn it in all 12 keys. That's how you build vocabulary. I started off picking out snatches of Trummy Young, Louis Armstrong, Ray Anderson, Slide Hampton, Joe Jackson (he was with Maynard then and one of my early heroes), David Gibson, anyone I heard and liked. I learned some Wynton, which got me into Wycliffe. An educator I admired suggested I listen to JJ so I started learning JJ - I can't stress enough how important JJ is to anyone wanting to play with a modern sound. I got into Curtis and learned darn near everything he played on Coltrane's Blue Trane, and the Art Blakey albums "Caravan" and "Mosaic." When I started working a lot, at about 19, I already had a decent vocabulary, which helped through some difficult situations where I clearly didn't know what was going on. I got heavily into Clark Terry, and into Sonny Rollins and Bird to a lesser extent, around this time as I tried to learn more bebop vocabulary. And then back to JJ... and Curtis... and Julian Priester... and Carl Fontana...

And then Coleman Hawkins and Ben Webster and back to Louis as I tried to learn the American Songbook better...

And then into Fred Wesley and Jimmy Pankow and Willie Colón and Jimmy Bosch and I found my checks coming more and more from Funk, Soul, Salsa and Timba.

And then and then and then... I'm just a child trying to get better at speaking this language, this language of music.

When someone speaks, they usually aren't reciting entire passages they've read or memorized, but they are using words and phrases they've repeated over the years as part of their syntax. Improvising a solo over a song works much the same way.

Playing the ideas in your head is simply a matter of putting the work in. Hear an idea in your head and you can't play it? Learn to play it in whatever key you hear it in. Work it through all 12. Can't do it? Work on it. In a week, if you're doing that every day, it'll be no time before you're doing that with any melody you know.

When I play a solo on a song, even if it's a novel chord progression I've never encountered, what I play is in that moment a culmination of everything I've been working on for the last 30 years. Yeah, there might be a JJ lick in there. Might be an entire 8 bar phrase of Louis Armstrong. Might be a few intervalic studies used in creative ways. Might just be one note, played like the bell pattern on timbales ala the trumpet intro to Fuego Cubano or the Chorus to Coltrane's Liberia. It's all put together in the moment according to what I'm hearing. It's 30 years of ear training practically applied. It's an on the spot transcription of what i thought would sound cool in the moment.

That's how it operates. Yeah, some people are just running a bunch of nonsense, but the good players are speaking a language. Some are more plain spoken, some more eloquent, some more overly loquacious.

There are certain technical limitations to the trombone, but there are plenty of examples of how to get around that. Here's a hint: we all edit ourselves to some extent.

Don't be concerned with the limitations, be concerned with the process. The rest will take care of itself.
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Re: Why Do Trombonists Suck At Improvising?

Post by Bach5G » Thu Jan 21, 2021 7:57 pm

But, assuming you don’t have 30 years ...
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Re: Why Do Trombonists Suck At Improvising?

Post by BGuttman » Thu Jan 21, 2021 8:06 pm

Bach5G wrote:
Thu Jan 21, 2021 7:57 pm
But, assuming you don’t have 30 years ...
You go with what you have. Zac was improvising at 19 -- way less than 30 years of practice (more like 10).

Zac, that was a great post.
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Re: Why Do Trombonists Suck At Improvising?

Post by ExZacLee » Fri Jan 22, 2021 8:48 am

Thankya Bruce.

I started on trombone at 12, was almost kicked out of band at 13 because I hadn't improved in a year, and started practicing after a visit to the repair store lead to the discovery of a massive obstruction in my leadpipe (a pencil) and the horn got easier. I got my first gig when I was 15. I wasn't any good, but i listened to a lot of music and tried to imitate those guys. Other kids played football, went to the mall to chat up girls, sniffed glue at the lake... I hung out in my garage and played along with my cassette tapes and NPR.

I was making my *living* playing music at 19. I wasn't any more talented than my peers, I just worked really hard at what I wanted to do. I had been practicing pretty intensely for 4 years. Hard work where i grew up was digging ditches, laying pipe, farm work for $3.00/hr... whatever it took to be a musician wasn't hard work.

I have a buddy who works in coding - he's done the lion's share of work on a few different apps, has done a lot of work in designing secure systems for online payment systems, did some "white hat" work for some fortune 500 companies. That's his "side gig", although it's primarily contractor stuff like his "day gig" - which until the pandemic was his work as a tenor saxophonist, recently (pre-pandemic) touring with some pretty famous people. We talk a lot about what the future is for our line of work (I'm sure a lot of people on here wonder the same thing.) I jokingly suggested I should "get into coding" - he asked how much I had done and told him my history with coding lies entirely in learning "Turtle" on a crappy desktop back in 1992. He laughed... and then offered to teach me for $50/hr.
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Re: Why Do Trombonists Suck At Improvising?

Post by ExZacLee » Fri Jan 22, 2021 8:50 am

Doug Elliott wrote:
Mon Jan 18, 2021 7:15 pm
Relevant post I saw on Facebook today:

"My theory: whereas making jazz music is about endless improvement, it is not about PLAYING more than you did yesterday. It's more about HEARING more than you did yesterday. Once you hear everything, you know what to do. Improvising is the business of responding."

When playing trombone it's difficult to HEAR other stuff going on. You have to learn to hear it in your head. Other instruments aren't really like that. Even trumpet isn't like that - you still have the bone conduction, but your own sound is farther away from your ears, so you can hear other things better.
This is so much gold and so many people seem to be buzzing right past it.
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Re: Why Do Trombonists Suck At Improvising?

Post by johntarr » Fri Jan 22, 2021 11:37 pm

I agree with the above posts on listening an certainly the awkwardness of the trombone.

One idea that I’ve been pondering is the use of fingers. Our fingers take up much more space in our motor and sensory cortexes than our arms. My thinking is that when we use our fingers to create, perhaps we have a greater connection with more of our grey matter. I haven’t seen any research on this but it seems as if it could be a factor.
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Re: Why Do Trombonists Suck At Improvising?

Post by imsevimse » Sat Jan 23, 2021 6:20 am

1. I agree with Doug that it has a lot to do with practice. Saxophone players mainly improvise all the time they pick up their sax, even in warmup they take off in improvisations. We play long tones and scales or flexibility studies. If we improvise we do that after all scales, flex, etudes or concert stuff. This is one reason; we need to practise improvisation more.

2. It has to do with the instrument. I think chromatic scales are essential to "get away with" mistakes. On a trumpet it is super fast to push the right button and "save" a wrong note (and they do that all the time). On trombone it depends alot where the note is. If you never use the first position you keep the possibility to save a wrong note by either raise a half step or lower a half step. The right note is never more than a half step away. I think this is important as you learn as it helps the flow to be able to change and continue without stopping the phrase unnatural.

3. The trombone is much harder compared to a sax, trumpet, guitar or piano. Just think of how fluent they play. When we play eight notes they play sixteenth notes. If we can play four bars before we take a breath they can play eight bars. The guitarist and pianist does not even have to breath. A slide with long pulls in the low register compared to buttons. We need the high register to play more fluent and that takes years to get into that register. Lots of things that make the trombone more difficult to play.

4. When we get a solo in a big band we often get more difficult solos. A blues solo is almost everytime in the tenor saxophone part or in the trumpet part. The solos in the trombone part are often more complex chord progressions when we get to play. After you get reputation as beeing a fair good soloist the director wants to give you solos even thought they are not in the part. Then you have to play without chords because chords is only written in the saxpart. This happens often as you get better. It is still not the same conditions as the saxophone or trumpet players. They can prepare more because they know what they are going to play. Many times during years the director has pointed at me or others in the section because he thinks it is time for a trombone solo. This has happened both at rehearsals and gigs. This gives you motivation to go home and study though, because you want to play a solo, but you do not want to suck at improvisation.

/Tom
Last edited by imsevimse on Fri Feb 05, 2021 3:49 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Why Do Trombonists Suck At Improvising?

Post by BGuttman » Sat Jan 23, 2021 7:50 am

That chord thing is a real problem. It's one reason we trombonists need to practice the tunes in the Fake Book so we know them backwards and forwards. Including chord progressions. Even if the band members give you a part to work from it's often in a transposed key (trumpet or tenor in Bb, Alto in Eb) so the chords are sorta useless. I usually try to work from a piano or guitar part -- at least the chords match.

Sometimes learning how to synthesize a Bass part from chords can help fitting a solo to a chord pattern.
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Re: Why Do Trombonists Suck At Improvising?

Post by timothy42b » Sat Jan 23, 2021 8:18 am

Chords.
I asked my brother (clarinet player in trad jazz settings) how to play along with a simple tune. He said you can fake it, play sol la ti do into the next chord. Then he thought. "Uh, you always know what chord you're on, right?"

Well, at the time, no, that had never occurred to me. Epiphany.
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Re: Why Do Trombonists Suck At Improvising?

Post by ldmitruk » Thu Jan 28, 2021 9:05 am

I think part of the problem is that 90% of the solos are for saxes and trumpets. I've also experienced in the band I play in even if the solo is in the trombone part some directors give it away to the saxes or trumpets anyway.

That being said, as a time crunched musician, it's hard to get in the all the practising for my parts and to work on building a jazz vocabulary,
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Re: Why Do Trombonists Suck At Improvising?

Post by quiethorn » Thu Jan 28, 2021 2:21 pm

I stopped reading halfway 'cause everyone has already said all the good and right stuff.

Trombone is one of the lesser instruments in jazz.
Trio? Piano, bass, drums
Quartet? Piano, bass, drums, sax
Quintet? Piano, bass drums, sax, trumpet
Sextet? Piano, bass, drums, alto sax, trumpet, tenor sax :idk:
Septet? Piano, bass, drums, alto sax, trumpet, tenor sax, percussion/guitar/vibes/some "non-traditional" jazz instrument :???:

Of course there are exceptions, but that's usually how it goes. Fewer calls for improvisational jazz means fewer people practicing it.

I also wonder how much of it has to do with the trombone generally having too dark a sound for most jazz in general. Even though trombones are technically louder, trumpet and sax have ranges or formants that fall in more sensitive parts of our hearing (Fletcher-Munson Curves), making them project better and seem louder. This is why smaller trombones are preferred in jazz, and even then you really have to blow to be heard against a small group at times or play in the upper range... unless you're mic'ed and know how to work the mic. But even then, mic placement in live settings is usually done wrong for trombone in most middle/high school/college stage bands.

So you have this instrument, which is harder to play well to begin with, and either you play too quiet and everyone will forget your solo, or you play really loud but don't have the technique to back it up yet, and people cringe. The sax and trumpet player can play mediocre solos that will at least be heard well above the band, more people afterwards will tell them "sounded great up there, junior!", so they'll practice improvising more.

It's no wonder jazz harp players get more calls for a jazz septet :biggrin:
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Re: Why Do Trombonists Suck At Improvising?

Post by mwpfoot » Thu Jan 28, 2021 3:31 pm

For a long time the weekly big band I am (was?) in moved linearly through a large book of Kenton-era arrangements and transcriptions, with some more recent charts but not really. This was a local pro band's huge book from a band leader who passed away in my time in the band.

There are many charts where the bone solo is scratched out - skip! Someone couldn't hack it, or more likely routinely passed on it, so it's scratched forever. Sometimes the solos are pencil-reassigned to yet another tenor, trumpet, or (the one that makes us feel the lowest) the guitar. Sad. There are charts where full solo choruses pass through the sections but they skip right over our heads - we have to ask if we want one, which sometimes we do, but without a leader these days it is hard to deviate from the ink. A couple charts have 10 or even 8 bar trombone blues solos: big shout takes up the first 2 or 4, then you can try to finish that thought with what's left. This is after 2 choruses each of several others. There were nights where that 2/3rds of one jazz chorus was all we got, and there's usually 3 or 4 of us sitting there who'll take a solo, any solo! 2.5 bars each? The current crew handles it with gallows humor.

Our big moments in this book come with the full-on trombone soloist ballad, of which there are many, and the bone section features, usually faster stuff with a pun name. These are charts that recognize the audience hasn't heard much from the trombone section, but an actually good section showed up, so here they are! When the band leader was still with us he'd damn near announce it like that.

It's interesting to consider: we were valued as melodic/tempo/feeling counterpoints in a song or set, and generally trusted as a section - just not quite as individuals. All of the true trombone features are charts that the band can skip if the right crew isn't there - smart, practical stuff. Back in the day there were many sax and trumpet soloists to feed, and I can imagine giving equal time for bone solos that varied in quality and enthusiasm was less important than sounding hot and keeping multiple giant egos engaged and attending. A bone section that swang well together was enough. A lead player who could soar through a ballad was a bonus! Just not exactly required to get through the night.

I used to be reluctant to play changes but at some point I realized that we have to assert ourselves to get better at this and add more opportunities because we're starting with a negative balance here. So I just tried to be tuneful and bluesy even if a stream of notes led right into me. I tried to get the focus back on the tune for my turn, because I could do it. And people liked it, even at first, when I didn't - I think the general public appreciates a break from "the usual" loud/fast thing. Standing up and doing what I could do (instead of sitting back hoping that someday I'd figure it ALL out) was a huge step forward in my playing and enjoyment.

Assert yourselves! Never scratch out a solo! If nothing else, stand there and eat it! For the team!

:idea:
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Re: Why Do Trombonists Suck At Improvising?

Post by imsevimse » Thu Jan 28, 2021 4:59 pm

quiethorn wrote:
Thu Jan 28, 2021 2:21 pm
I stopped reading halfway 'cause everyone has already said all the good and right stuff.

Trombone is one of the lesser instruments in jazz.
Trio? Piano, bass, drums
Quartet? Piano, bass, drums, sax
Quintet? Piano, bass drums, sax, trumpet
Sextet? Piano, bass, drums, alto sax, trumpet, tenor sax :idk:
Septet? Piano, bass, drums, alto sax, trumpet, tenor sax, percussion/guitar/vibes/some "non-traditional" jazz instrument :???:

Of course there are exceptions, but that's usually how it goes. Fewer calls for improvisational jazz means fewer people practicing it.

I also wonder how much of it has to do with the trombone generally having too dark a sound for most jazz in general. Even though trombones are technically louder, trumpet and sax have ranges or formants that fall in more sensitive parts of our hearing (Fletcher-Munson Curves), making them project better and seem louder. This is why smaller trombones are preferred in jazz, and even then you really have to blow to be heard against a small group at times or play in the upper range... unless you're mic'ed and know how to work the mic. But even then, mic placement in live settings is usually done wrong for trombone in most middle/high school/college stage bands.

So you have this instrument, which is harder to play well to begin with, and either you play too quiet and everyone will forget your solo, or you play really loud but don't have the technique to back it up yet, and people cringe. The sax and trumpet player can play mediocre solos that will at least be heard well above the band, more people afterwards will tell them "sounded great up there, junior!", so they'll practice improvising more.

It's no wonder jazz harp players get more calls for a jazz septet :biggrin:
Well put. :good:
I can relate to a lot of that.

Another thing is It's not unusual to play a trombone solo without a mic drowned by saxophones who have have one mic each. Nobody thought of a mic for the trombone solo. I have played a few gigs through years as a sub on second part where the solo turns up without a mic, drowned by saxes on mic's. Why do saxes insist on using individual mics when the rest of the band have no mics, except the second trumpet who is given a mic?

/Tom
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Re: Why Do Trombonists Suck At Improvising?

Post by Pre59 » Fri Jan 29, 2021 8:17 am

imsevimse wrote:
Thu Jan 28, 2021 4:59 pm
quiethorn wrote:
Thu Jan 28, 2021 2:21 pm
I stopped reading halfway 'cause everyone has already said all the good and right stuff.

Trombone is one of the lesser instruments in jazz.
Trio? Piano, bass, drums
Quartet? Piano, bass, drums, sax
Quintet? Piano, bass drums, sax, trumpet
Sextet? Piano, bass, drums, alto sax, trumpet, tenor sax :idk:
Septet? Piano, bass, drums, alto sax, trumpet, tenor sax, percussion/guitar/vibes/some "non-traditional" jazz instrument :???:

Of course there are exceptions, but that's usually how it goes. Fewer calls for improvisational jazz means fewer people practicing it.

I also wonder how much of it has to do with the trombone generally having too dark a sound for most jazz in general. Even though trombones are technically louder, trumpet and sax have ranges or formants that fall in more sensitive parts of our hearing (Fletcher-Munson Curves), making them project better and seem louder. This is why smaller trombones are preferred in jazz, and even then you really have to blow to be heard against a small group at times or play in the upper range... unless you're mic'ed and know how to work the mic. But even then, mic placement in live settings is usually done wrong for trombone in most middle/high school/college stage bands.

So you have this instrument, which is harder to play well to begin with, and either you play too quiet and everyone will forget your solo, or you play really loud but don't have the technique to back it up yet, and people cringe. The sax and trumpet player can play mediocre solos that will at least be heard well above the band, more people afterwards will tell them "sounded great up there, junior!", so they'll practice improvising more.

It's no wonder jazz harp players get more calls for a jazz septet :biggrin:
Well put. :good:
I can relate to a lot of that.

Another thing is It's not unusual to play a trombone solo without a mic drowned by saxophones who have have one mic each. Nobody thought of a mic for the trombone solo. I have played a few gigs through years as a sub on second part where the solo turns up without a mic, drowned by saxes on mic's. Why do saxes insist on using individual mics when the rest of the band have no mics, except the second trumpet who is given a mic?

/Tom
Some of the best gigs I've done is with a Tbn and tenor sax sax fronted quintet. This combination can make a big sound, and the presence of a trumpet sometimes reduces the perceived size, IMO. Get the right combination and you can have a strong sax player for the popular easy to hear sound, and a trombonist who thinks and supports like an arranger.

A mic, stand and leads is cheaper now than ever. I always take my preferred mic out on a gig, even when there's one provided. The sound guy takes you more seriously as well.
I use a Rode M2 which is a stage condenser mic with a flat response across the trombone register, and that can take the volume, and a Shure SM52 in case there's no phantom power for the Rode on the mixer.
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Re: Why Do Trombonists Suck At Improvising?

Post by Doug Elliott » Fri Jan 29, 2021 10:19 am

The only justification for micing the saxes is that their sound can feel loud up close but it doesn't project forward the way brass does.
I have a tendency to assume that even if there's a mic in the trombone section, it's not on. That's true more often than not.
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Re: Why Do Trombonists Suck At Improvising?

Post by Pre59 » Fri Jan 29, 2021 1:01 pm

There's not much exposed tbn section parts that draw the attention of the sound guys. When it comes to the horns it's brass or saxes, and that's something that only arrangers can fix?
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Re: Why Do Trombonists Suck At Improvising?

Post by JerryY » Fri Jan 29, 2021 2:18 pm

Several years ago I started to solo out desire and the need of the groups I played in. I was asked to play with a quintet at a very nice restaurant and do a little soloing, get my feet wet. The tenor sax player (who was in his eighties), had me solo all night. He said: " you'll figure it out, you've got an ear. just blow the horn kid, you'll be fine". By the end of the night i did some things well, others not so well, but I stopped being afraid to make the effort. That goes a long ways.
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Re: Why Do Trombonists Suck At Improvising?

Post by CharlieB » Fri Jan 29, 2021 5:56 pm

^^^^ All good points.
Trombone is a difficult instrument that presents big improvising challenges.
Even if a virtuoso trombonist overcomes all of these challenges, a trombone will never project the brilliance and excitement of a trumpet or a sax. It's something about the human response to the different timbres. I've seen it over and over. A trombonist can blow his brains out with an incredible improvisation and the audience is ho-hum.
But let a trumpet or sax player stand up and blow a few riffs and the audience comes alive.
It's something about the way humans respond to different sound frequencies. The low brass is the serene, mellow part of the group that is seldom chosen to showcase it.
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Re: Why Do Trombonists Suck At Improvising?

Post by Posaunus » Fri Jan 29, 2021 6:21 pm

CharlieB wrote:
Fri Jan 29, 2021 5:56 pm
It's something about the way humans respond to different sound frequencies.
The low brass is the serene, mellow part of the group that is seldom chosen to showcase it.
Perhaps the same reason the sopranos and tenors get most of the best opera arias? :idk:
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