Trombone versus guitar

I’ve been watching a bunch of videos on Brent Vaartstra’s Learn Jazz Standards site. Brent has done a great job creating this terrific jazz resource. If you don’t know about him, check out:

One of Brent’s videos is how to get huge results from a 30 minute jazz practice session. The video is good because it helps players become more organized and disciplined within their limited time. Doing something a little every day is monumentally better than a herculean effort taken once in a while. I talk to players who think they must practice a lot more or they just won’t get better, but I think that we can all make our practice time more efficient and this is one good way.

As I watched his video, it struck me how much our instrument affects our perception of things. Brent is a jazz guitarist who begins describing how the 30 minutes can be apportioned, and suggests a 5-minute warm-up called Technique as the first portion of the 30-minute practice, and proceeds to run a few jazz patterns as part of that technical warm-up.

I think to myself that as a trombone player, I need 30 minutes just to get to where I can play over a decent part of my horn’s range. I need 30 minutes just to locate my technique. I don’t know where it went. It’s buried in there somewhere! My mouthpiece buzzing could last longer than 5 minutes!

It’s just interesting how we frame the world influenced by our instrument.

Guitar player at campfire

I realized that I’m actually jealous because I can’t pick up my instrument and not suck for the next 30 minutes. I’m also jealous of guitar players because as brass players, we have to hunt down a secluded sound-dampened place to play. Guitar players are up wailing in their hotel room. No one next door will be disturbed. No hotel security explanations.

This is how I avoid security explanations in New York:

While I’m on a roll, I’m jealous that there’s pretty much no place that you can’t just whip out a guitar and sound cool, romantic, macho, or just fun. Trombone? Not so much. I may test the waters next week when I’m in New York. If I have time, I’ll create a video of me playing down in the subway somewhere. Safe to say it won’t have the panache of Brent playing a solo guitar rendition of Wave but I’ll at least get to play loud!!

Last, I want to plug the podcast Brent did recently with my friend Rodney Brim. Dr. Brim is a wellspring of insight into how our brains work and was in great form for the 30-minute conversation he had with Brent. Check it out here.

I’ve got to get back to practicing. I’ve finally warmed up almost enough to play a few arpeggios now.


  1. Rodney on March 27, 2019 at 8:02 am

    Mike, seems like piano and guitar win on the short warm up cycle, with brass taking the longest and woodwinds in the middle (from my experience). Maybe we need to rethink warm-ups when it comes to brass. Clint McLaughlin ( ) has a 30 minute practice regimen for brass players that only have 30 minutes to practice in a day – as opposed to 30 minutes to warm up. Another approach to consider. Maybe you don’t need full range of your horn (e.g. fully warmed up), to work on sound quality or ear training, or melody memorization, or tonguing. Perhaps all those aspects could be included in, not after, the warm up. Thoughts?

  2. Michael Lake on March 27, 2019 at 9:45 am

    All good points. I was exaggerating a little bit for humorous effect, but the truth is that if I want full command of my trombone playing, it’s not coming within the next 30 minutes of starting to play for the day. Can I mechanically (non-musically) play Rochut etudes or the head to All the Things as soon as I put the horn together? Yes, but the instrument won’t yet feel like part of my musical body for a while longer.

    And I do need full command in order to get the most out of working on any area of my playing because without it, I might rely too heavily on one aspect and therefore, cut short my stamina (e.g. without getting my breathing going I may press too hard to compensate). Same with tonguing. Without getting that warmed up in the right direction, my articulation may end up forcing my tongue between my teeth or other bad habits.

    As a big fan of multitasking (despite a world of naysayers) I might buzz my mouthpiece for a while doing things around the house. Then play just my slide for a few minutes, glisses and long tones for a while taking frequent breaks, play outside off and on, and eventually expand the range, dynamics and articulation into full-blown practice or performance. It takes a while to get the engine warmed up but it works for me. Never have felt it’s been a problem needing a solution.

    Did I mention the time it takes to warm up and sharpen my ear? Maybe for another time…

  3. John Tarr on April 24, 2019 at 10:30 pm

    Hello Michael and thanks for your post and interview on LJS.

    I’ve been pondering the balance between trombone specific warm ups and what I’m calling a more functional warm ups. By trombone specific, I mean doing the downward slurs and Remington etc. exercises that I’ve done my whole musical life, and don’t really have much relationship to jazz harmonies. I wonder where I might be now if I’d changed up things a bit (which I’m doing now) in terms of tonal fluency and had developed and incorporated more musical functionality in my warmup routines.

    I think that could be a cool and helpful topic, to develop warm up routines or concepts that both get the trombone side going and further develop vocabulary and what I’m calling “tonal fluency.”

    Thanks for all your great work,


    • Michael Lake on April 25, 2019 at 6:03 am

      Hi John, Your last point is something I’ve been thinking about. You might want to see my recent video called “A musical hack freeing your improvisational genius”. In the video, I play a Clarke etude over changes. I think you could use that etude or any other warm-up pattern or scale in the same way. Try playing something like this over the Eb major backing track I linked to. Then try that same thing over the changes to “I Thought About You” that I also provided.

      The other related thing I’m working on is further simplification to improvisation that could involve warm-up routines, so I think there is definitely a way to develop tonal fluency by combining warm-ups and improvisational studies. Stay tuned…

      • John Tarr on April 25, 2019 at 11:13 pm

        Great, looking forward to new material. Thanks also for the suggestion and I’ll try it out. I’ve also been playing with playing different intervals as part of my warmup rather than repeating the same ole’ Bb-F-Bb-Bb pedal. Another thing I’ve done is to play long tones playing the 3rds and 7ths over I-V-I backing tracks.

        All the best, John

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