Right hand and arm - slide technique
|The right hand and arm are an important point that is often not thoroughly analyzed.
The mechanical task is, simply, one of shifting the slide from one position to another, this often in long series and rapid succession. At our disposal is the right hand, which in itself is flexible, the wrist, and the lower and upper arm.
Now, it seems logical that it is the smaller, more delicate movements of the hand and wrist that will allow a more relaxed, efficient and precise slide technique, as compared to the large, sometimes unwieldy and coarse movements stemming from the elbow and shoulder. As a maxim, I try to keep the necessary movement as far out toward the wrist and hand as possible, this depending on the difference between a 1 to 7 shift or a 3 to 4 shift, for example.
The key factor is the wrist: Hold your arm in front of you. With the palm of the hand facing the floor you have, in the lateral plane, a span of wrist movement covering approximately 45-50 degrees. Now turn your lower arm so that your palm is facing you. In the lateral plane (the direction the slide is to be moved) you have a hinge angle of almost 180 degrees! In order to make maximum use of this advantage it is necessary to open the hand, thus with the palm facing you. This might seem awkward at first but becomes natural with practice.
This hand position makes possible, but does not guarantee, the full use of hand and wrist. You have up to three positions "in your hand" alone this way. Tommy Dorsey, in his trombone method, instructs us to throw and catch the slide from one position to another (please don't forget the catch!). The same concept, a bit less athletically stated, is to open and close the hand/wrist. This necessitates a change for some, and practice and patience are needed before the expected facility and accuracy are acquired, but it is well worth it. Just think of playing 32nd note passages from the elbow!
For those who, for whatever reason, do not want to adopt this position: it is still necessary to free the wrist. The best way to achieve this is to experiment with slide vibrato. If you do this from your elbow (nobody ever talks about elbow vibrato) you will immediately see what is at issue here. I love to watch Mark Lawrence's slide action. While he has the palm-down position, his is one of the most fluid, graceful movements I can imagine. He attributes this to his early training from his mother, who was a violinist and therefore inspired by the bowing technique.
At any rate, the tension or relaxation of the right arm can have a great influence on the rest of the playing. The arm and shoulder are a classic tension line, leading right on up to the throat and lower face. I have heard improvement in players who adopted only this one point. The relaxation carries over into all spheres of playing. Shake your arm out once in a while. Keep the entire arm (and shoulder) relaxed.
This approach does not, however, allow any inaccuracy or carelessness in slide technique. Just don't let your accuracy lead to tenseness.