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Multiphonics

Here is a stepwise procedure for learning basic multiphonics. It’s important to master each step before proceeding to the next step. You should modify each step as needed in order to effectively improve the skill; for example, if you are having trouble with step 2, expand it to include other notes until you are comfortable enough to move on.

1. Practice singing through your instrument. Take care to form a seal between your lips and the rim of the mouthpiece so your voice goes through the trombone and does not escape between the rim and your lips. Don’t worry about moving the slide at this point.

Try singing a tune this way; you will probably notice that your voice breaks when it reaches certain notes. This is due to the acoustics of the tubing and won’t typically affect your multiphonics. As you sing, approximate an embouchure (though not enough to make a trombone sound) so you can start to understand how it feels when you sing and play simultaneously.

2. Now go back and forth between singing and playing, as in this exercise:

Strive for a smooth transition between playing and singing and don’t use your tongue. If you can’t sing these pitches, choose a more agreeable key.

Think about just “dis-engaging” your embouchure in order to sing. There should be very little difference in your chops between the played notes and the sung notes. It’s actually preferable if your trombone tone is a little airy and transparent because this will give you a better balance once you are singing and playing at the same time – that’s why the sung notes are marked forte and the played notes are mezzo-piano in the exercise.

3. Overlap your voice with your playing slightly as in this exercise:

Remember the concept of just “dis-engaging” your lips when transitioning from playing to singing and practice that feeling. Once again, allow the trombone sound to be soft and transparent and use a full, loud singing voice as much as possible.

Reverse the exercise so you start with the voice and add the trombone. This will help you cultivate independence between your voice and your trombone.

When you get the balance correct between the played and sung notes, your embouchure will have a distinctive feel that is different from actual playing. For me, it feels looser than regular playing, so a middle F sort of feels like a low B-flat.

4. Sing harmony as in this exercise:

In normal playing, most trombone players sing in their heads as they are playing (even if doing this subconsciously). This is a good way to reinforce what you want to sound like, but in the case of multiphonics, you will need to sing something different than you are playing! When you are first starting out, you will probably default to singing the same pitch you are playing because that is what you are used to doing. You must persevere during this step to cultivate independence between the two because it is a critical skill for effective multiphonics.

As with the other exercises, you should choose a key that is easy for you to sing. Just work with perfect fifths at first because they are the easiest interval to play and sing. Once you get the hang of it, move on to try fourths, sixths, and other intervals.

Now that you have mastered the skills needed, you can do cool stuff like this:

A few common pieces that require multiphonics are: Blue Wolf – Brad Edwards, Basta – Folke Rabe, and Travelieder – David Vining.

Most instances of multiphonics involve singing above the played note – this is the easiest way to do it and allows you to create clear harmonies. A notable exception to this is Sequenza V by Luciano Berio. This piece requires full command over singing both above and below the played note and is an excellent example of a musical, expressive use of multiphonics.

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