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The Trombone ForumTeaching & LearningPractice Room(Moderator: blast) The aging trombonist (and how to do it gracefully)
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Torobone

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« on: Nov 11, 2017, 08:01AM »

This topic has been on my mind for a while. It came up today on the Trombone Pedagogy Group on Facebook, and it warrants further discussion.

Through my years in bands, I've had friends whose playing changed. One good older friend, after some questionable long tones in the middle register, announced: "I have old man's tone". He started practicing more and working on it. Whatever he did, he got back to his old self.

Some 20 years later, I found myself wondering on how to avoid playing problems as I age. Around this time, I found an exercise on Al Kay's website with this tech tip. http://alkay.ca/documents/clinic_sheets/alkay_playloud_e.pdf
I couldn't play the 3-note self evaluation to my satisfaction until I changed my embouchure, and this has allowed me to build embouchure strength as I practice daily.

With the number of colleagues who are struggling with playing issues as they age, I've been trying to find a way to discuss this and show my friends how to deal with it. I do play with a group of pro retirees who are playing at high levels into their 80s so it can be done. Other friends are in denial.

I raised this aging topic with an 80 year old trumpeter friend, and his answer was short: "Perhaps they never had it in the first place." Ouch, but likely accurate.

What are you doing that helps you?
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Martin Hubel
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« Reply #1 on: Nov 11, 2017, 11:15AM »

One exercise that stands out for me is this one from Jeff Reynolds.

Start at, say, F  , drop a fourth to C  , then up a fifth to G 

Half notes. Use different dynamics.

Move the pattern up and down. Eg. Chromatically down to E-B-F# or up Eb-Bb-F.

Good for strength, range, tone.
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robcat2075

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« Reply #2 on: Nov 11, 2017, 11:16AM »

I took up the cello.
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Robert Holmén

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« Reply #3 on: Nov 11, 2017, 02:55PM »

Big problem for me!

In 2016 I was playing lead trombone in three big Swing bands, plus two Traditional Jazz bands. In 2017 I had to pull out of all these bands because of a fast declining lip, caused by a host of old age problems.

I still practice every day but nothing seems to improve the situations of no reliable top range (or even reliable tonguing at all), a rotten tone, insufficient air for long notes, and no stamina.

I do not have suggestions for exercises that improve playing in old age, because I have not found any that work. However, I do have one warning. For a while I was practicing with a Yamaha Silent Brass, which allowed me to play somewhere near my old high range. But as soon as you take out the mute, the range is gone. Yeah, RIGHT. This suggested to me that resistance is a factor, and therefore I got out my old Christian Lindberg Resistance Balancer. Loaded up with the maximum weights, this did help a little bit when unmuted, but nowhere near enough to resume my old playing status.

Because the range needed is a lot lower and to try an retain my interest, I have decided to return to my old concert band and sit in on second. And just do my best.

I took up the cello.


I wish I could play the cello. Closest I get to that with a stringed instrument is a yuke. :D  But I am going to do a lot more arranging because I have some ideas to make our local community band/s a lot more entertaining.   

On the playing side, I am going to watch this topic with a great deal of interest. Good!   
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« Reply #4 on: Nov 11, 2017, 03:02PM »

If resistance helps the range, maybe a tighter throat and backbore will help.  I don't know where you would go from a Bach 11C (maybe a Jet-Tone A?) but for example a Wick 4AL you can go to a 4BL and get a smaller aperture.
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Bruce Guttman
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« Reply #5 on: Nov 11, 2017, 03:08PM »

What is the age that this kicks in?
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« Reply #6 on: Nov 11, 2017, 03:19PM »

What is the age that this kicks in?

It's different for each of us.  But it gets harder and harder to hit those really high notes.  You use the middle of your range more.  Suddenly the 1st trombone parts are uncomfortable.

Dunno where I am on the spectrum.  We have Max Croot playing shows at 89 and I know a few guys who are under 60 and can't play a high G.
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Bruce Guttman
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« Reply #7 on: Nov 11, 2017, 03:53PM »

I don't feel like it's a range problem (for me). 

It's a problem with the time it takes to get warmed up so that it sounds like the good old days, and some days it never happens.
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« Reply #8 on: Nov 11, 2017, 04:11PM »

This topic has been on my mind for a while. It came up today on the Trombone Pedagogy Group on Facebook, and it warrants further discussion.

Through my years in bands, I've had friends whose playing changed. One good older friend, after some questionable long tones in the middle register, announced: "I have old man's tone". He started practicing more and working on it. Whatever he did, he got back to his old self.

Some 20 years later, I found myself wondering on how to avoid playing problems as I age. Around this time, I found an exercise on Al Kay's website with this tech tip. http://alkay.ca/documents/clinic_sheets/alkay_playloud_e.pdf
I couldn't play the 3-note self evaluation to my satisfaction until I changed my embouchure, and this has allowed me to build embouchure strength as I practice daily.

With the number of colleagues who are struggling with playing issues as they age, I've been trying to find a way to discuss this and show my friends how to deal with it. I do play with a group of pro retirees who are playing at high levels into their 80s so it can be done. Other friends are in denial.

I raised this aging topic with an 80 year old trumpeter friend, and his answer was short: "Perhaps they never had it in the first place." Ouch, but likely accurate.

What are you doing that helps you?

For me, it's having regular private sessions with a masterful player who understands & teaches great playing mechanics and musicality. That as well as me promoting my own health & well-being.

While I am still growing in strength and technique, there may come a time when everything I do will merely be a delay tactic. So it could be - if we somehow find a way to graph it - that a very old player now declining and me still ascending might possibly come to share a point on that graph - from a technical standpoint but probably never a musicality standpoint.

...Geezer
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« Reply #9 on: Nov 11, 2017, 04:25PM »

Big problem for me!

Grah, I'm sorry to read this, but thanks for sharing. You are on my list of people on TTF who I'd like to visit, and I admire your knowledge. Admitting there is a problem is the first step to solving it.

My breakthrough 10 years ago was figuring out lip compression. This means that my note production comes more from pressing my lips together as opposed to pressing the mouthpiece into my face. Everything has improved since then, and my embouchure gains strength regularly. Starting at 53, I feel I started to really play, with sound production being simpler, more focused, etc. My performance range is up to   when soloing. With a stronger embouchure, I do parlor tricks in rehearsals like playing Ebs in 1st position and bend 2nd line Bbs down to Fs. My bass trombone range is pedal F.

I have good friends who are in various stages of aging problems. I have tried to help them, but it's hard until they see the need for help. I'm patient with them because I know I could soon have problems myself. Aging is a series of unfortunate events.


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Martin Hubel
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« Reply #10 on: Nov 11, 2017, 04:38PM »

I think age is not as much of an issue as whether you're playing correctly for your own physical makeup.  If you're not, you're going to be suffering from it at any age, just a little more able to get by when you're younger.

Longstanding incorrect habits are harder to change.  Especially if you deny their existence, which a lot of players are very stubborn about.
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« Reply #11 on: Nov 11, 2017, 05:30PM »

“My  breakthrough 10 years ago was figuring out lip compression. This means that my note production comes more from pressing my lips together as opposed to pressing the mouthpiece into my face. Everything has improved since then, and my embouchure gains strength regularly.”

This is interesting. When I was young, I could play high pretty much by being strong. Over the past couple years, I’ve begun to appreciate there’s technique involved. The MRI of the French horn player and Eli Epstein’s YouTube video helped. More recently, lessons with R Sauer and Doug E got me thinking more about air stream focus, aperture and tongue placement. Still a work in progress, though.

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Torobone

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« Reply #12 on: Nov 11, 2017, 06:25PM »

“My  breakthrough 10 years ago was figuring out lip compression. This means that my note production comes more from pressing my lips together as opposed to pressing the mouthpiece into my face. Everything has improved since then, and my embouchure gains strength regularly.”

This is interesting. When I was young, I could play high pretty much by being strong. Over the past couple years, I’ve begun to appreciate there’s technique involved. The MRI of the French horn player and Eli Epstein’s YouTube video helped. More recently, lessons with R Sauer and Doug E got me thinking more about air stream focus, aperture and tongue placement. Still a work in progress, though.

I look at strength in the following way. To hold my bass trombone, I have to be able to lift 6 pounds and hold it steady. To do this with facility, I need to lift a 30 lb. dumbbell.

The same thing seems to be true with my face. I look on range building exercises as a way of building strength, which helps me better hold long tones. As a young player, I used to find playing long tones as part of a chord boring. These days, I look on long notes in a musical piece as a way of checking my note production and I look for ways to improve my sound.

I rarely just practice long tones, simply because it's rather boring. Instead, it was suggested to me by Al Kay to take a popular ballad and play it at 1/4 tempo. The resulting long tones should be played to sound like music (as everything we play should).

Another small epiphany for me this year was understanding Al Kay's explanation of the use of apertures to build strength and range. A wide aperture takes a lot of air and strength, and it can peel paint from walls. In my last lesson, he had me use a larger aperture to play to high F . I'm unlikely to use this note anywhere in this fashion, but it showed my progress.
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Martin Hubel
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« Reply #13 on: Nov 11, 2017, 09:14PM »

This might not be helpful to us older players, but my help the younger ones; Stay in good physical shape. Eat a a balanced diet. Drink lots of water. There are old guys running, riding bikes, rowing and other activities that they have done consistently their whole life and they are in better physical condition than the average  person 10 years younger. I met Bill Watrous in the early eighties and he was was running back then. Best way to stay healthy is to stay healthy.
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« Reply #14 on: Nov 11, 2017, 09:39PM »

I'm only 52, but I play regularly with guys in their 70s and 80s. Physical condition is a huge factor, especially weight, but I think mental condition is equally important. One guy I know who's probably in his 60s/70s has lost his ability to make an embouchure. Hes a professor. He keeps working at, but I can see it grates on him.

I think as you age, you should look at it as if music is helping to support the rest of your life rather than the other way around. Music should make you feel better. Maybe you can't play first in the concert band any more, but you can still get together with a buddy to play duets. I really respect the older guys I play with, and want to help them keep going as long as it brings them joy.
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« Reply #15 on: Nov 12, 2017, 02:03AM »

Depending on who you play duets with, it can be more challenging than finding refuge in a community band. I play trios with 2 bassoonists and they can play all day moving their fingers while I work my ass off.

I too know some high level players that are struggling. Often it's aging coupled with playing issues that were not fixed. On the other side of this, a top pro, now in his 70s, played an Urbie solo at rehearsal last week and did quite a nice job. There is hope. Conditioning, lifestyle and fitness do play a big part.

My wife asked me when I expect to stop playing. I told her that every day is a gift.
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Martin Hubel
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« Reply #16 on: Nov 12, 2017, 04:44AM »

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« Reply #17 on: Nov 12, 2017, 05:00AM »

I think age is not as much of an issue as whether you're playing correctly for your own physical makeup.  If you're not, you're going to be suffering from it at any age, just a little more able to get by when you're younger.

Longstanding incorrect habits are harder to change.  Especially if you deny their existence, which a lot of players are very stubborn about.

Right on. My first serious atempt at owning the trumpet lead range ended with an abdominal hernia (my brother is not a musician nor he has to do any hard physical labour as an IT engineer, but got one as well). Still, that made me think about my not so correct posture and less than perfect body use...
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« Reply #18 on: Nov 12, 2017, 05:12AM »

A book I read yesterday (Barefoot Running - yeah, long story) made a curious assertion:

After age 60, we need to become full time athletes. 

The book itself isn't exactly high level, but that comment rings true.  After 60, and some of us are a good way past, it takes some effort to remain physically healthy. 

What effect that has on chops I dunno.

For a musician though health is not just muscle strength and flexibility, but protection of our hearing, and that better start long before it's lost.  You can get some muscle tone back later but as far as I know hearing is gone for good. 
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« Reply #19 on: Nov 12, 2017, 05:25AM »

A book I read yesterday (Barefoot Running - yeah, long story) made a curious assertion:

After age 60, we need to become full time athletes. 

The book itself isn't exactly high level, but that comment rings true.  After 60, and some of us are a good way past, it takes some effort to remain physically healthy. 

What effect that has on chops I dunno.

For a musician though health is not just muscle strength and flexibility, but protection of our hearing, and that better start long before it's lost.  You can get some muscle tone back later but as far as I know hearing is gone for good. 

That's a good thing to ponder. As an "elderly athlete", I can tell you that gaining strength in muscles that are already being exercised to the max is tough - unless I gain weight. When I gain weight, my strength soars. My chops tend to act the same way. As I have gained muscular weight, my range has increased. But as far as chops are concerned, there is another factor; technique. My range has gone up also b/c of better technique.

So, I figure if I wanted to - say, throw a discus further; increased strength would certainly be important. But with increased technique, I will wager there would be at least an equal gain. My conclusion is that while it may be extremely difficult for an already-in-shape "elderly athlete" to gain additional strength, it certainly is not impossible to make gains in playing when concentrating on making gains in technique. And as Pre59 pointed out, one can ALWAYS make gains in technique!

I am entering into my elderly years playing trombone and approaching it as a "technique freak". That is what I drill myself on daily for about 2 of the 4 hours I spend on my horn. The other two hours are spent playing music; whether it be band/ensemble music or ballads.

...Geezer 
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