Paul Nowell or simply “Paul the Trombonist,” as he’s known around Los Angeles, is a music producer, songwriter, DJ, performer, educator, and filmmaker famous for his eclectic performance catalog and his innovative YouTube videos. A graduate of Berklee College of Music, Nowell studied under the legendary Phil Wilson. In fact, it was his interview with Wilson that launched Nowell’s acclaimed series “Bone Masters.” The show has become an online sensation featuring collaborations, interviews, and master classes with a treasure trove of musical giants, like Bill Watrous, Bob McChesney, Ed Neumeister, Ron Wilkins, Arturo Sandoval, and Carol Jarvis, to name just a few.
Nowell’s debut album Journey to the World has received critical acclaim for its originality fusing acoustic trombone with the electronic world. He offers a free class on his website that helps musicians build their business and optimize their talents online. He has written four books, among them Trombone Exercises That Will Make You a Great Player: A Trombone Method Book.
Here, he offers a few tips. For more information about his videos, books, and music, visit Nowell’s website at www.paulthetrombonist.com.
Paul the Trombonist’s top tips to becoming a great trombone player:
- Long Tones (This develops your sound)
- Lip Slurs (Teaches you how to navigate your air)
- Articulation (Develops clarity in your playing)
- Slide Technique (Allows you to move around fluidly)
- Vibrato (The most personal aspect of your playing)
- Major Scales and Arpeggios (Develops your vocabulary)
Long Tones — The most important element of brass playing you can exercise. The more long tones you do, the better your sound becomes.
Start off with a metronome (always use one) and set it to 60 bpm. Hold out each note for 12 counts. Rest in between for four counts and go down and up chromatically or practice on your major scales.
Start with your air only and then you can add the tongue and experiment with different articulations such as dah, tah, etc.
While you are doing long tones, you must listen to professional trombone players that you admire before and after you practice. You will naturally start to incorporate what you are hearing from listening to those recordings. (Visualize their sound coming out of your trombone and over time you will start to develop your own voice.)
Here is a video I made to help you with your sound:
Lip slurs — As you do lip slurs, it is training your lungs on how to use your air and navigate it through the different registers on your trombone. When you practice these, start the first note with tongue and use only air on the other notes in the group.
Here is a video I made to help you with your lip slurs:
Articulation — This is super important as it gives clarity in your music. When we listen to the greatest speakers in the world, they all have one thing in common: It is the clarity of their articulation when they speak. We want to do the same thing when we play an instrument. We practice using a variety of syllables. There are an infinite number of syllables we can use on the trombone, but the main ones we use are tah, dah, too, taka, etc.
Here is a video I made to help you with your articulation:
Slide Technique — As trombonists, we need to work on our slide technique in the same way as a piano player would work on their fingerings. I would advise to practice everything as slow as possible, get it clean and then slowly work up the tempo to your desired speed. To play fast, we must start by playing it slow and very clean.
Here is a video I made to help you with your slide technique:
Slide Vibrato — This is what makes the trombone truly unique. Slide vibrato is an art, and if you can pull it off it is one of the most beautiful techniques in the world that only a trombonist can use. If you do it wrong, it will come across as corny and cheese central. To begin using this, start the pitch first and then oscillate the slide down then up and back and forth. The vibrato gets faster towards the end of note length.
Here is a video I made to help you with your slide vibrato:
Major scales and arpeggios — these are the lifeblood of everything you do in music. If you skimp on learning these, you are only hurting yourself. Spend more time on these than anything else. You should know them in a way that someone could ask you, “What is the ___ note of the ___ scale?” and you can say and play it instantly. Everything comes from these and you should practice them every day until the day you die.
Here is a video of me talking about them: