• Ilan Morgenstern, Bass Trombone

The Biggest Loser, or as Berio would say, Why??

Updated: Jan 4

When I decided to compile the TELP materials into a cohesive book for others to use, I had some choices to make, and it was my belief that those needed to be made from the point of view of the user’s experience. Given the amount of resources in our marketplace, and how I found myself using them, there was no inspiration shortage. The more I thought about what I encountered, the more the path forward started to emerge; I wanted to cover all aspects of playing, in all keys, with true to time and pitch backup tracks, that's interesting and fun to play, isn't repetitive, but is convenient to navigate. Easy.

The first building block in tackling this issue was my own experience, namely, my experience as being what I jokingly call Bass Trombone’s Biggest Loser.

When I started taking auditions seriously I found a fair bit of success early on, namely being in the finals for a rather embarrassing number of big jobs while still trying to figure out how to operate the trombone (little did I know that would never really go away!). While I often found myself ultimately losing to other, well-deserving musicians in the finals, I started to see a pattern emerge: if I kept my fundamentals solid, complete with solid time and pitch, it freed me up to be a better artist, and a lot of things fell into place.

The issue for me is that I am easily bored.

l love music, and I genuinely enjoy practicing, but the idea of doing the exact same thing every day, as was suggested to me by many teachers when approaching fundamentals, was not appealing to me. It does wonders for so many players, but I found that repetition to introduce mindlessness into my very precious practice time. As the bbq enthusiast would say, “there’s the rub”.

My solution was to practice the same “types” of exercises, but make sure and add variety: I might do that by changing rhythms, articulations, keys, clefs, ranges. I quickly discovered it didn’t take much changing around to keep me mentally engaged and my face challenged.

When I started putting keyboard to screen with TELP that was the first thing I wanted to do: add variety and quantity to exercises. The quantity was easy. I’ve had years of jotting down exactly that: ways to keep my fundamental practice fresh. As a result I now have in TELP a book that’s over 100 pages long with over 4 hours of backup tracks.

Variety was the challenge I really focused on. The thing is that simply putting drones and some clicks to a scale pattern or lip slur isn’t only pretty easy, it’s also pretty predictable. Jeremy Smith of Last Row Music noted in his review: “As some exercises are easy and necessary, others are just downright challenging on the first read and will require more time to develop”. Now, I imagine it’s possible that in the midst of a really flattering review (check it out here!), Jeremy meant this as a bit of a criticism, and if so it’s fair! I say that because I didn’t want these materials to induce unfocused or absent-minded practice: Introducing rhythmic, harmonic, and stylistic variety, in all keys and ranges was my goal. Some of what we do every day should be very comfortable, and some should stretch us, and to me that is both a physical directive, and an artistic one.

In accessing so much material it quickly became clear that organization would be key in the user’s experience. I organized the materials into the same categories I think most brass players use, and I am no different: Warm-Up, Lip Slurs, Articulation, and Facility. Within those categories my goal was to keep the difficulty level sequential. That way a person could just choose what skills they want to work on on a given day, and then practice those same skills using different exercises on another day. In other words, this book is organized such that instead of my prescribing a practice method or materials to people I have never heard play, with intuitive and clear organization, and with the advent of bookmarks for you PDF folk, I allow individuals and their teachers to choose what needs work, and how much of that work is needed.

Finally, a word about formats is important. I chose to publish in two mediums: hard copies, and PDF. I like them both, but with my travel schedule and lifestyle, I find myself gravitating towards using the PDF on my iPad. Having the PDF as a format has allowed me two very important advantages. First, I was able to embed the backup track with each exercise, so that there’s no need to have multiple devices present when practicing. Second, it allows and continues to allow me to update and broaden the scope of the book. Since the initial publication I’ve now added about 30 minutes of additional materials, and those are all available to anybody who’s purchased the book in either format at the click of a button. Luck has it that I was able to find a small print shop nearby that is able to print small batches for me at a high quality, affording me the ability to update the hard copies as well.

I don’t want to go on and on about all this too much. I am very excited about TELP, and I know that shows. A lot of thought went into this project, and everything from font to page turns to oxford commas, binding style and paper type, not to mention from apps, to ePubs, subscription websites, and PDFs, was on the table. Suffice to say that I hope to contribute to the vast array of what is available, from so many great performers and educators. My hope is that with TELP I have put forward a resource that couples solid pitch and time, with physical and artistic variety, and ease of use, in a package that is accessible to all who trombone.

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