Thoughts on Alternate Positions

A colleague recently asked a question about alternate positions:

It begs the question - At what point do you really start to delve into the alternate positions?

I start my kids as early as possible

Later, I urge them to try out every conceivable alternate, play it every different way you can, regardless of how much sense it makes in order to "burn it in" and reduce the "weird" feeling, then decide based on:

  • ease of motion
  • breakup of repeated arm movements (sawing logs)
  • Sonic & acoustical reasons (is this the most important note in the line? If so, how can we arrive at a primary position? If not, try to use more alternates leading up to it--since the closer to first, the more "pop" or "presence" the notes have. Do you want a warmer, lusher sound?--use further positions
  • How can you use valve slurs and natural slurs to enhance the legato?
  • But simply put, when working with a fourth grader within the first forty songs they learn, we also incorporate F in 6th position, and hopefully within the first 70-100, Bb in #5th. By just diving in, particularly early, hopefully they won't continue to have a stigma about alternate, and extended positions.

    That said, I'm really starting to love E (in the staff) in 7th, a note I wouldn't have gone near for the first 10-20 years of my career (unless forced) - I have found though, that the condition of the slide is also a big factor, and I have a hypothosis that "wide-slides" (Bach, Edwards, Shires, some Getzens) make extended positions more challenging.

    Since returning to Conn's and Yamaha's for my tenor work, the extended positions on a narrow slide are incomparable to a wide slide IMHO. When I play on my Bach's, I don't "feel" nearly the same sense of trust and ease (but can still do it). Hmmm. . . things to ponder.

    Nah, gonna go practice and tackle the world. Mr. Bergstrum was kind enough to introduce me to them early, but I wish he would have really encouraged/forced me to use them more often, I later got lazy, stopped using them regularly, then they regained their "stigma".

    I now go out of my way to use them on a daily basis, and also incorporate them into my daily routine. What are your thoughts and uses for alternate positions?

    Best, Dr. J