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Reimagining What's Possible On Your Instrument

In January of 2021 Tim Storms' incredible bass voice was featured in an article on Twisted Sifter. Tim holds the world record for the lowest note sung, a mind-shattering 0.7973 Hz. Some quick facts to put this into perspective: the lowest note on a piano is an A at 27.5Hz, humans can generally hear down to about 20Hz, and the lowest note on a bass is 41Hz. The frequency is halved for every octave we go down, so Tim is singing roughly a G five octaves below the piano.

For a detailed article on how The Guinness Book of World Records verified this read this article from MIX Magazine.

I watched Tim Storm sing Lonesome Road, and after I picked my jaw up off five octaves below my floor I had a thought about how this related to trombone embouchures, and what goes wrong when we play low.

While I was at Indiana University, Scott Hartmann described a trombonist's embouchure as the drawstring on a laundry bag. It helps me visualize all the muscles of in my face working together to expand or contract in a natural way. As I play higher the drawstring is pulled and the muscles all tighten slightly, slide under each other and the work is passed around seamlessly. As I play lower the drawstring loosens, and each muscle in my face loosens at the same rate, allowing the balance between air and resistance to remain equal.

Here's where I saw the parallel between Tim Storms singing insanely low and thinking about what goes wrong when we reach a point in our range we can't get past. The first thought we usually have is "Wow, that's too high for me. I can't play that high." We are all the culmination of our habits, both good and bad and they are really hard to break. That habit is in our head as a calcified collection of synapses that remember every time we played a note with an unbalanced embouchure.

Listening to Tim sing so low snapped me out of believing I couldn't play low notes. I needed to redefine what was possible and have a new concept of my embouchure.

For those of you who might not be familiar with brass instruments, the mouthpiece can be played by itself and the instrument amplifies what is put into it - both the good and the bad. I've found that when I buzz down to pedal Bb something breaks down due to some small change I'm making. My drawstring isn't a circle and some muscle is taking on too much of the resistance. It's an old habit, and I've spent twenty years thinking that I can't do it.

But watching this video of Tim singing confirms in my mind that if we can maintain the integrity of our embouchure it is possible to follow the descending thread of vibration well past the lowest range of trombone. Not that we need to, of course! But there shouldn't be any reason we can't effortlessly buzz the basic ranges of any brass instrument.

I'm planning a second post on this subject about the physics of sound on trombone. I'll discuss the relationship between air volume and air speed as we continue up and down the range of the instrument, as well as the role of resistance and instrument weight.

This video might be just what we need to reconsider what we think is possible.


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