The ‘Buzz’ on Marching: An Interview with Trombonist Tim Dueppen

Interview conducted by Felix Ponce

 

What is your experience with marching band, how did you get involved, and with which groups do you primarily work?

Tim Dueppen: My experience with marching band goes back to my time marching in both high school band and in the Los Angeles Unified All District Honor Band. In the Honor Band we were fortunate enough to march the Rose Parade each year as well as in many special events around the state of California. When I was hired as a visiting assistant professor at Montana State University, I was the instructor of the entire brass section for the Spirit of the West Marching Band. In that capacity, I coached the individual and large group sections, and provided insight on tone, articulation, projection, and of course field presence and form. When hired as an Assistant Professor at Lamar University in 2014, I quickly became friends with the Marching Band director and the Director of Bands. I performed with the Showcase of Southeast Texas Band as guest soloist in the Fall of 2014, and helped out in various musical capacities. These duties will continue in the coming years.

 


What qualities should brass players look for in a mouthpiece?

TD: This is very specific to the player. In terms of my specialty, low brass, a player must first like the feel of the rim. It must be comfortable so as to cushion during marching. That is why almost all of my students play on the Denis Wick Heritage Series, due to the cushion of the gold rim and its shape. It does not cut into the lip at all, which is vital when you are playing for long hours and marching while trying to keep the horn on your face with minimal pressure. After the rim, of course it depends on what part they play in the band. If they are on a lower tenor trombone part they will need a bigger cup like a 4 or even 5, but if they are playing high jazz solos on a small horn, they definitely need a 10 or even 12. Usually, the size of the mouthpiece is dependent on what part they are playing. However, the Heritage mouthpieces are great because the rim is the same softy cushion on all sizes, so all they are changing is the inner dimensions.

 


How do you build and improve group sound?

TD: This is accomplished primarily in small group sectionals, or larger groups (such as full brass). In these sessions, you must first work on air flow with breathing fundamentals, then turn to free buzzing to begin the process of sound production, then turn to work on buzzing on the mouthpiece and then you get to the horn. It is important to work on long tones immediately after breathing and buzzing, then move to slow lip slurs, then fast lip slurs, and then a ton of scales. The lips need a chance to become flexible and supple, and the progression of slow to fast note movements is key, hence this progression of events.

In my experience, sound production is linked to technique, which is linked to skill and listening. Most students that play with poor sounds also have poor technique and fundamentals. Scales teach students to listen and become versatile on their instrument. Scales help students listen to form, intervals, and pitch centers and are extremely valuable to tone production. That is why in my tone and warm-up exercises they follow the fast lip slurs.

 


How do you tackle learning new drill and how much time is spent on marching basics a day?

TD: My experience is mainly in the area of musical production of sections, so I do not work in drill writing or formation. However, from my observation of true professionals in that area, the time commitment is extensive, and a single show can take months to write at times.

 


How do you connect your orchestral career to what you do with marching groups?

TD: In marching band I learned endurance, structure, and respect. In terms of endurance, marching band helped me learn how to play in a healthy manner for long periods of times. In turn, it has helped make my sudden and often sparse entrances in orchestral music easier to play, because my chops are always ready and supple. In addition, marching band truly taught me how to respect my peers and mentors, and how to react to situations quickly and respectfully. On the field, when something goes wrong, you cannot react negatively, you must go with it and move on. This same thing happens often during orchestral concerts when I perform with the Symphony of Southeast Texas as principal trombone. It is extremely rare, but if something in my section does go wrong, I am able to calmly handle it on my instrument and move on to making awesome music. Thus, a missed note or rhythm does not throw off anything, I can now just be calm and move on.

 


What is your favorite memory from your time in marching band?

TD: Honestly, a few years back, with the assistance of Denis Wick, I was able to make a visit to Los Angeles and speak with the Los Angeles All District Honor Band. They were preparing for their Rose Parade march at Dodger Stadium, and the director Tony White asked me to motivate the band and tell my story – It was great because Tony White was my director when I was in the band 15 years before.

I spoke to the band for a long time, and tried to relate my great experiences and lessons learned when I was in their exact shoes. I said that they could one day be a professional musician if they follow their directors, listen, and of course work very hard. It was one of my greatest moments, because they got to see someone like them, whose hard work and love for music led to a professional career in music. That was a great and truly hallmark moment for me.

 


I currently work with my alma maters competitive marching group and there is always the struggle with time. As musicians, I think we have all felt the struggle of not having enough time. I usually get about 1-2 hours a day with my students in sectionals. How much time would you spend on air flow, buzzing, etc. while still tackling music from the show?

TD: It depends on what type of group you are dealing with, but when dealing with a larger group I work on fundamentals of breathing from books like the Breathing Gym, move on to free buzzing, buzzing, and finally putting it to the horn. All of this will take up about 10-15 minutes if I have an hour, and about 30 minutes if I were to have two. For the most part, 45 minutes is all I get for sectionals and fundamentals will take up about 10-15 minutes.

Following the fundamentals I move on to scales. Many times I have come across groups that are not able to move around their horn fluently and with ease because they only warm up and practice 1-2 scales in their entire playing career, which is a detriment. Start young and slow with scales and increase the difficulty as you see fit never giving something that is well out of their reach.In this way, the students will become less button pushers, but rather become technicians on their instruments.

Next I move on to etudes that help work on specific techniques such as range and articulation. Such etudes, like the Melodious Etudes for Trombone, can be used in a low brass setting where the tubas read it down the octave and this way the whole group is reading the same thing. I have been asked many times by band directors about the usage of the etudes and here are some ways to make etudes interesting and challenging to help developing musicians.

- Practice as is

- Up the tempo and work on articulation

- Transpose on the spot like reading down the octave

 

I love the three things that you learned during your time in a marching band: endurance, structure, and respect. What are your thoughts about structure and respect?

TD: I believe it is important for students to learn respect. In my experience, the students who show the most respect are those with marching programs in their schools in comparison to those schools that do not have marching programs. Students need to understand what it means to listen; that you need to think about your actions because they not only affect you, but they affect everyone else around you.

 


What is an efficient way to help students build up their endurance? Does the Denis Wick Heritage Series aid in this endurance?  

TD: The Heritage Series is great for marching band. Just by looking at it, you can see that the rim is a thin layer of metal that is offset from the main portion of the mouthpiece. Less metal means that it is more comfortable and less resistant. The gold also helps in creating more comfort. You want a minimal amount of pressure while performing and the Heritage Series allows for that to be the case. The cushion and support that it provides is great on the face when marching. You can use a smaller amount of pressure and the mouthpiece will remain on the face and you will be able to retain your embouchure, which is very important. I have never had anything like this series and I recommend that you give it a try.

 

 

Practicing for long hours can be very stressful if a student is not careful. What tips do you have to keep marching members safe and healthy for a successful season?

TD: Especially with trombone players, there are problems that tend to arise with being safe. They don’t rest and they want to play as high as trumpet players and as low as tuba players. Playing too long without breaks, especially with poor embouchure or too much pressure can cause damage to a musician. I know when someone is using too much pressure when I ask them to free buzz a line they just played and they are unable to do so. This means that they have too much tension and are not able to maintain a high quality buzz due to the lack of support. If you can use proper air support, then you will have a good sound in your free buzz which means you will have a good sound in your buzz and ultimately have a good sound on the trombone. The trombone is only there to enhance the sound of the buzz, so if you have a good, open, warm, and beautiful buzz, you will have those same qualities in your trombone sound.

Make sure to maintain cardio fitness. As musicians we often forget how interconnected these things are. Blood flow to the lip is from the heart. It is important to retain physical fitness in order to have a healthy life as a musician.

 


How much should you free buzz? Just like buzzing, is it not safe to do too much?

TD: Yes, you shouldn’t do too much free buzzing. In fact, you don’t need very much time doing anything. You just need to be focused. I just came back from tour and before the tour I had a week to memorize four pieces. It only took me about two hours to memorize one of them. This was because I was focused.

I follow these steps when practicing a section of music:

  • Play the section
  • Play it on the piano
  • Free buzz (30-60 seconds)
  • Buzz on the mouthpiece
  • Legato slur on the horn
  • Work on rhythm
  • Play as is
  • Take a break


Make sure to maintain a beautiful buzz at all times. The buzz is one of the unique aspects of playing brass instruments in that after the air, this is the next important thing to making a good sound. If you have a very tight buzz, you will have a very tight sound when you put it back in the horn. I had the opportunity to study with Bill Booth and he asked me why my buzz sounded as bad as it did. I told him that it’s just a buzz. Now I have a different mindset about the buzz and I know that it must sound beautiful in order to have a beautiful sound.

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