“Sing It First” by Wycliffe Gordon
“Sing It First” is based on the premise that if you can sing something then you can play it or train yourself to play it. The concept applies to all instrumentalists, brass, wind, percussion, strings, etc. When you are able to sing rhythmically, melodically, and harmonically through a given exercise, etude, excerpt, or chord progression, this means you have “internalized” the music you are attempting to make and this is the best place to start.
While it is something that came to me in the latter part of my musical development, it is not so “unique” a concept, and certainly not new. Many of the great master performers and teachers have applied and employed this concept throughout the history of musical pedagogy and performance. I have been told from the earlier years of my development “The instrument is an extension of your voice.” Of course, I understood what it meant, but until I began to practically apply it to everything I worked on I was unaware of its’ true and immediate benefits. As instrumentalists (trombonists) we spend lots of time trying to learn and “figure out” music while we are playing on our instruments, oftentimes thinking of chord changes, scales, key signatures, positions, tonguing, etc. This applies to every situation such as learning an etude or excerpt right up to transcribing a JJ Johnson solo. Try leaving the horn on the stand, or in the case for that matter, and “sing” through the etude or exercise first. Sing along with the recording of a solo that you are attempting to learn before attempting to do it on the instrument. “If you can sing it, you can play it!!!” is what I always say. It is important to sing accurately and in tune, and if difficult at first, with practice it will come with great ease. When you are able to execute this, it means you have “internalized” the music and it now resides where music should come from, within. You can always learn to play something on an instrument, but when you can sing it, you got it!!!! When you “Sing it First” you learn it more expeditiously, as you will always have your voice with you, whether you have your trombone or not.
Your only evidence that you know the words to your favorite song comes when you sing it. If you want the same verification that you know something that you’re working on musically, Sing it First!!!!!