Bolero

Below are some basic points to consider when preparing the excerpt from Ravel's Bolero for auditions.

1. Quarter = 69-72 is a generally acceptable tempo.

2. One of the biggest issues with this excerpt is steadiness of rhythm. Before adding the difficulties of playing the trombone, try a few excercises away from the instrument to help work out this issue. First, sing through the excerpt with the metronome. It can be helpful to have the metronome subdivide 16th notes first. When that becomes comfortable, switch to 8ths and finally quarters. Next, sing the excerpt with the metronome while conducting a basic 3 pattern. Once you can do this, there is a better chance you can be successful with the instrument. 

3. The high range requirements of this excerpt can be troublesome for many. I recommend practicing this excerpt, especially the first half of it, down an octave at least three times for each time you play it in the written register. There are so many issues that can be worked out before straining yourself. For starters, playing down an octave can make sure that you have the correct pitches in your ear. Additionally, I would recommend singing and then buzzing the pitches of the excerpt down the octave at the keyboard to make sure you are spot on. Often times, mistakes are made in the upper register because we just aim high rather than having a clear concept of the exact pitches. Practice scales and slurs that take you into this register and beyond on a daily basis so that you are familiar with playing in this range. Aim for a clear sound, not a big sound. Remember that this piece wasn't written with a .547 trombone in mind. Don't try to get your best Mahler 3 sound on Bolero!

4. Choose a very clear and consistent articulation for the duration of the excerpt. Please do not fall into the trap of playing everything legato. In my opinion, to do this is incorrect. The marking clearly states "sostenuto" and there are slurs written in some places. Challenge yourself to play sustained and with a clear/firm articulation at the same time so that when the slurs do occur, the contrast is noticeable. Musically, this is more interesting. I notice that many people associate clear articulation with short notes and dull articulations with long notes. Do your best to not let note lengths affect the clarity of your articulations. I recommend practicing Kopprasch exercises #1 and #2 "tenuto ma ben marcato" to solidify this technique.

5. Provide musical shape to the repetitive high Db's. Personally, I like to drop the dynamic slightly after the first two high Dbs. This provides me with enough space dynamically to shape the phrase in a way that is exciting and land firmly on the accented G. Please pay close attention to the accent on the G and make sure that you don't forget to emphasize it.  When listening to recordings of this piece, note the way the other instrumentalists who play the same solo shape these phrases. For them, these "high Db's" are not so high, and as you may notice, their phrasing reflects that. Don't let a handful of high notes dictate the overall shaping of the music. Play what's on the page!

6. Please hold the E at the end of the first half of the excerpt the full length. Take an easy, relaxed breath and enter on the D with a sweeter, more reserved character than you began the excerpt. This provides some musical variety and also gives you enough space to make a nice build up to the end of the excerpt. From this point forward, commit to a constant yet well metered growth in intensity of sound, ryhtyhm, dynamic and articulation all the way to the end of the excerpts. Try to avoid having any moments where the momentum is broken. Also, don't do anything funny with the rhythm. If you play the duples, triples and sixteenths exactly in time, much of the musical excitment and variety is already built into the writing. No need to get extra creative here.

7. Please do be sure to give the firmest articulation possible on syncopated notes and those with accents. This adds to the Spanish flair of the piece. Once again, do not sacrifice note lengths in an effort to be clear. 

8. Perhaps this should have been said at the beginning (and should be the case for every excerpt).... take the time to play through this many times slowly with a metronome and a tuner. Record yourself doing this. Give your face a break, and listen to the recording taking note of what you need to improve. 

9. After you have all the basics above on auto-pilot, try to have a one word character cue that puts you in the mood to deliver this excerpt with the musical excitement that it deserves. For me, that word is SEXY. Maybe for you it will be sultry or seductive or something else. Record yourself playing the excerpt and hold yourself to the highest standard possible. Is it in time? Are the accents in the right place? Are you getting the right sound? Is it tune? Is it REALLY sostenuto? Is it REALLY sexy? Hmm....

10. Good luck!

2 comments

  • Joel Clevenger

    Joel Clevenger Jacksonville, Al

    As I'm preparing my recordings for the Alessi Seminar, these tips were very beneficial! Thank you for posting!

    As I'm preparing my recordings for the Alessi Seminar, these tips were very beneficial! Thank you for posting!

  • Samuel Fell

    Samuel Fell

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