Review: “Play Trombone Today!” with John Timmins

I was browsing through the local library and came across a DVD titled “Play Trombone Today!” featuring John Timmins. I borrowed the DVD from the library out of professional curiosity and decided to write a review.

DVD Case:

To start off, the front cover of the case proclaims the DVD to be the “Ultimate Self-Teaching Method!” Be advised, that this is a rather lofty claim for a 22 minute presentation. The materials presented are more along the line of a first lesson on the trombone, with Mr. Timmins walking the student through the very important first steps to starting a happy relationship with the instrument.

Next, you might have noticed the paragraph on the back of the case that claims “[this DVD] will teach you music reading…before you learn to play your very first melodies, right along with a great backup band. With John showing you each important step, you’ll be playing like a pro in no time!” Well, take the claim with a grain of salt. As I said, this DVD is really a twenty minute first lesson and the use of the “backup band” is quite limited, as most of the time is devoted to learning what a music staff looks like, how to put the instrument together, and some fundamentals to brass playing.

Contained in the DVD case is an insert with the very basics of music reading and the exercises that are played through the video lesson. It is good for practicing without the video, but not absolutely necessary, as all the exercises are shown on screen at the appropriate points in the lesson.

The Video Lesson:

Now onto the lesson itself. After a brief intro to the Hal Leonard logo, a menu is presented that allows the student to skip to any of the 15 sections of the lesson proper, beginning with an introduction and brief history of the trombone and moving on to playing short melodies on the instrument. The first ten sections deal with such topics as maintenance, posture, breathing, forming an embouchure, and creating a buzz. The student is guided to play on the instrument in the 11th section of the lesson. Mr. Timmins introduces several notes and, as enough notes are learned, combines them into three very short and simple melodies: “Moving On Up” (fewest notes), “Rolling Along” (Merrily We Roll Along), and “Go Tell Aunt Rodie.” It is during these short melodies that the “backup band” joins the lesson in an attempt to spice up the simple melody played by the student.

The materials covered before the student plays the first notes on the instrument are important and handled decently by Mr. Timmins. However, he does present some false information that, while common in teaching instruments to beginners, are incorrect and pedagogically less effective. The primary faults lie in the breathing section of the lesson where he says the lungs fill up from the bottom and that the shoulders should not rise at all when taking a full breath. Both claims are physiologically incorrect, but have been passed on by many well-meaning teachers. There are more accurate ways to convey the ideas that these types of statements are meant to explain.

The Positives:

A definitely positive aspect of the video is the demonstration by Mr. Timmins of each step of the lesson, whether it is assembling the instrument or playing “Go Tell Aunt Rodie.” The camera zooms in as needed to show specific details as they are demonstrated. Additionally, any time music is being played, the bottom of the screen displays the music being demonstrated. Mr. Timmins starts off looking a bit uncomfortable, but quickly adjusts and presents himself and the lesson materials in a confident manner. He speaks clearly and effectively demonstrates the material during each step of the lesson.

The Negatives:

There are a few negatives to the presentation, both on a production side and on Mr. Timmins’s side. On the production side, the sound engineer did not do a very good job capturing the sound of the trombone. The sound is somewhat airy and tinny, especially towards the beginning. It should not have been very hard to correct either during production or post production.

On Mr. Timmins’s side, while his tone is passable (especially given the less-than-ideal sound engineering), his intonation is not very good outside of the first three positions. His low D and especially C are woefully sharp and made me wince as he played along with the “backup band.” There is no excuse except poor listening for this problem, and it is not fair to the beginner who is learning incorrect intonation on the first lesson.

The Verdict:

Overall, the DVD offers an insightful first lesson to the absolute beginning trombonist. There is, of course, no teacher feedback in this format, but the materials are important and well presented. This DVD will not take the absolute beginner for which it is designed and turn the student into a pro. The lesson does not actually even teach the student any practice methods. I would suggest hiring a private instructor for any student’s first lessons, but at a cost cheaper than many private instructors charge for a half-hour lesson (or free if checked out from the library), this DVD can be a workable option. Just make sure that you hire a professional for the subsequent lessons, as live feedback is the most important part of any lesson.

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