Reginald Fink's Pedagogy
December 8, 2019
Reginald H. Fink was a trombonist and educator. He studied with Emory Remington at the Eastman School of Music and received his PHD from the University of Oklahoma. Professionally, Fink performed as the principal trombonist of the Oklahoma Symphony Orchestra and as a member of the Ithaca Brass Quintet. He also performed with the Pittsburgh Symphony, Buffalo Philharmonic, and Rochester Philharmonic. As an educator, Fink taught at Oklahoma City University, West Virginia University, Ithaca College, and the Ohio University. In his book, The Trombonist’s Handbook: A Complete Guide to Playing and Teaching Trombone, Fink provides valuable insights to the art of teaching and playing trombone.
Fink not only discusses the anatomy of breathing, but also common misconceptions and ways to practice correct breathing. He places such a large emphasis on breathing that he includes it in the prologue to the handbook. Fink distinctly mentions a few common misconceptions about breathing beginning with the practice of pushing from your diaphragm. He explains that “when air is exhaled, the tension of the diaphragm is released and it is not possible to push the air out with the diaphragm." He also justifies that expanding the upper chest is incorrect because the “diaphragm contracts when it pushes the air out of the chest.” While he does advocate the use of a spirometer and breathing exercises (many of which have become controversial and outdated), Fink is careful to say that "the most natural approach is the safest and most effective method." He goes into a detailed description of the anatomy of breathing, discusses breath support as only one component of breathing, describes breath control as a controlled relaxation and exhalation with pressure by the abdomen muscles, and discusses the potential problems of tension asserting that a relaxed abdomen is better than a firm abdomen being pushed.
Fink approaches his discussion of articulation from a pedagogical standpoint. An early exercise that he provides for students to practice and understand is to replace the common practice of saying “T” to articulate with words such as “talk, today, together.” He describes common bad habits and ways to fix them. First, he discusses how to break the common habit of stopping the air when releasing, and believes that "most bad attacks are caused by incorrect settings of the embouchure or throat or incorrect breath control." To fix too much air in the attack, Fink recommends analyzing the moisture level and/or distance apart of the lips, the jaw movement, and the speed of the tongue. Fink reveals that the most frequent cause of missed attacks is due to inaccurate slide placement while also exploring other attack issues including the following: weak attack, fuzzy attack, explosive, slap-tonguing, attacks too high, wobbly tone, ending flat/losing tone quality, pinched release. When it comes to legato tonguing, Fink focuses on three basic techniques: steady stream, rapid slide, and light tongue. His somewhat polarizing stance on implementing natural slurs is that the natural slur (or lip slur) should only be used as a warm up. In practice, a slight legato tongue should also be used for consistency. Like breathing, this is another subject with two main schools of thought. One, that natural slurs should be used as much as possible and the other that they are a practice aide but not fit for performance. Fink is clearly on the side of keeping natural slurs out of the performance hall. Something that is not polarizing, is his revelation that trombonists often move sooner and not faster between notes. This is a common cause of issues with not just legato, but all articulation.
Fink takes a unique approach to tone production saying that a good tone is all about learning how to listen and being sure to listen to great people perform. Fink believes that the key to tone is relaxation created by muscle efficiency. He stresses the importance of good posture saying that "many embouchure and tone-production problems can be traced to tension in the upper chest and neck which may be caused by stretching the neck or holding the head in an unusual position." Fink uses his discussions regarding tone production to facilitate a troubleshooting section in which he describes ways to fix common fallacies of tone production in trombone playing. The first is how to fix a closed jaw by aiming to separate the teeth more, enlarging the mouth cavity, thinking of keeping the mouth open and dropping the jaw slightly, and alleviating excessive mouthpiece pressure. The second issue is a stiff tongue. This is solved by thinking of lowering the back of the tongue. A third problem to solve is having too tight of a throat. For this, Fink recommends using the same vowels as to fix a stiff tongue (o, aw, oe), breathe as if trying to fog a window, and for men lowering the Adam’s apple. The final troubleshooting issue is a concern with younger students and the idea of more air. He believes that more breath support is recommended to help with tone in young students but as a general rule, not for advanced students because in the long term it creates more tension.