Trombone Performance Maladies:

Tools for Diagnosis and Adjustment

Trombonists discover playing issues daily. Recognizing the problems and making efficient adjustments may be difficult. Teachers need to have the knowledge and resources available to support players at all levels. This presentation will focus on secondary and collegiate level students. 
Tools for adjusting and improving playing will be demonstrated along with basic exercises. The focus will be on tone production, articulation, and range. Diagnostic tools will be used during live demonstrations, detailing the various ways complications become evident in performance. 
The lecture format will include sample diagnosis, adjustment, video examples, and additional materials for further discovery. Time for questions and trials of diagnostic tools after the presentation will be included. 

Repeating issues for trombonists:
– Articulation difficulty, repeated articulation inaccuracy
– Flexibility: difficulty with smooth lip slurs, large leap inaccuracy
– Limited tone
– Small dynamic range
– Double buzzing, notes that don’t speak, notes that take extra energy to lock in
– Tuning issues, specifically routinely sharp

All of these issues relate to the embouchure in different ways. It is possible for a student to have single issues and not all issues on this list. There are other issues that could be of concern as well.

Solutions for these issues can vary from actual diagnosis of the embouchure, to changing other ways of performing on the instrument. The diagnosis is important from the teaching perspective, NOT the playing perspective. DISCLAIMER: I do not claim that this list is complete or that all of these solutions will help every student. Further, I do my best to NOT tell students what I think the issues are. I prefer to work on solutions with students and not have them dwell or become overly concerned by the issues. However, I do think it is important as teachers that we identify and understand the root cause of concern.


Blowing a Piece of Paper

Can the student move the paper?
Is the student able to sustain movement?

Shark breathing

            How loud can you inhale/exhale

buzzing a paper: watch the paper vs. articulation pattern

Portex Spirometer

            Use as a tool to aid the buzz
Consider using for more than

Inhalation exercises
The breathing tube can also be used as a buzzing tube
Take a breath, buzz on the mouthpiece in the Spirometer
Does the ball in the chamber move?

Consider using a pinwheel to check the wind
Buzzing on the Portex Spirometer: sample 1, full air support throughout. sample 2, pulsing the air column
  • Use breathing tubes
    • tubes open up the front teeth, drop the jaw
    • a larger, 3/4″ tube can be used for basic breathing exercises.
    • smaller tubes work for different range exercises, finding the tongue and teeth positions needed.

Breathing Tube Sizes:
– Basic breathing tube for practice free breathing: PVC 3/4″
– Vinyl Breathing Tubes for checking front teeth positions:

Breathing tube sizes

Lip Slurs to Increase Range and Build Tone

Tone Production

Mouthpiece Buzzing

  • Encouraging students to buzz on the mouthpiece efficiently
  • Buzzing music
  • Buzzing lip slurs
  • Buzzing and articulating

Cutaway Mouthpiece

Use a cutaway mouthpiece to observe the embouchure, aperture, and buzz.
  1. Observe how embouchure is affected by slide movement.
  2. Develop embouchure that is strong with or without the resistance of the trombone.
  3. Relax the embouchure, use a wind reinforced buzz.
  4. Create smooth natural slurs and glissandi.
  5. Watch out for additional embouchure manipulation without the trombone.

Ideas for Practice

  1. Use a mirror to compare embouchure and body reaction with cut-away and trombone.
  2. Play cut-away on trombone and look for movements throughout scales, arpeggios, etc. that affect the embouchure placement.
    1. Work to minimize unneeded movements. 
  3. Buzz and observe.
  4. Experiment with different puckers and your flexibility throughout ranges.
Combination Lip Slur and Long Tone Exercise with Cutaway Mouthpiece Buzzing

Mouthpiece Rim Buzzing

Use a mouthpiece rim to check the buzz from a student.

         Portex Spirometer, combined with buzzing
               Buzz into the tube, does the ball move to the top of the chamber 
Examples: buzzing low range/ middle range/ high range
Examples: siren buzzing, the ball descends at certain point in range

Breathing Tube

Different sizes (See range development section)
Buzzing or playing and keeping the teeth separated
Keep a relaxed and open inhalation and keeping the jaw relaxed during performance
* Note: Consider making breathing tubes with a neck lanyard so students can inhale through the tube, drop it, and make a sound on the trombone. 

Using a practice mute to work on tone also helps most students
– consider having students use a very dead mute to really show the consistency issues
– work on dynamic control with the mute
– the dynamic range will increate in given areas



Blow PaperBuzz PaperBlow/Buzz Paper on wall 
Does it move?Is the wind really windy? Does it move?Is the wind really windy? Can your airstream keep the paper on the wall?
Buzz Paper: A simple way to check if students are moving wind.
buzz paper

Consider having students use a pinwheel for many of these air/wind related activities

Cutaway Mouthpiece/ Mouthpiece Rim Visualizer



A pinwheel can also be used in place of the incentive spirometer. Asking students to  blow the pinwheel not only works for finding the embouchure aperture, but also for checking to be sure a consistent stream of air is blowing past the buzz. Hold a mouthpiece with the right hand and the pinwheel in the left hand at approximately 10-12 inches from the end of the mouthpiece. Start on the same middle f and encourage students to match pitch with you. Little or no movement of the pinwheel blades is indicative of wind impedance. Students can move wind past the mouthpiece, buzz or not. Then slowly add the buzz in as the wind speed increases. If the embouchure is relaxed (at the aperture especially) and is supplied with plenty of wind, a buzz will freely happen. 

Using the practice mute to check the air/wind quality also works. This is a sound driven exercise that forces students to support the air column.


Blow/Buzz Paper on wall

Check articulation here too
– Buzz with both soft and hard articulations. Is the wind consistent?

Check articulation with the cutaway mouthpiece
– the mouthpiece will expose dirty multiple or singe articulations
– students will not only hear the issues, but can feel the wind stream stop or get disrupted

Playing with a Practice Mute
– Students can check the wind pattern with the articulation on the practice mute

Portex Spirometer, combined with buzzing

            Can the ball in the chamber be a direct correlation to the articulation?

            Example: Articulate in various range with a repeated articulation.

                        Is the ball movement the same throughout?

Tongue moving slow, breaking up the articulation
articulation not supported by wind
students can visually check articulation support with a pinwheel