Learning to Adjust

How Playing The Trombone Taught Me The Importance of Harmony

Mauktik Dave
BAPS Better Living
Published in
6 min readAug 31, 2022


Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

The Best Instrument

I might be biased, but the best musical instrument is the trombone!

The trombone is quite a versatile instrument. It is a Western instrument that is a member of the brass family. I used to play the tenor trombone, which has no true valves and only a single slide to produce a variety of notes. The versatility of the slide allows me to play a variety of music genres — from classical music to jazz to modern and even devotional hymns.

However, with versatility comes difficulty. Any trombonist knows that that producing the correct sound can be quite tricky.

The trombone requires three specific factors in order for a note (the pitch and duration produced by the instrument) to be correct:

  1. The correct slide position
  2. The correct embouchure (the shaping of the mouth against the instrument’s mouthpiece)
  3. The amount of airflow passing through the instrument

If any of these three factors are even slightly off, the instrument would produce a different sound compared to sound intended.

A trombonist quickly needs to understand what factor is off and adjust accordingly to produce a soothing note.

Adjusting to Others

Having played the trombone for eight years, there were many times in which I had to adjust these factors not only to make me sound better, but to make the entire orchestra sound better.

I vividly remember a time in high school when the entire band was playing a four-page arrangement.

During one part of the piece, the trombone had a unique glissando (or moving the slide without interrupting the airflow). The four of us would play the glissandos with such pride. But no matter how loud the four trombones played, the other 70 musicians would overpower us!

The conductor would frequently stop to tell the other musicians to quiet down in order for our part to be heard.

In contrast, there was another music piece in which the four of us played some of the more difficult notes too loudly, overpowering the other instruments. I could see the looks on the clarinets, who sat in front of us, constantly squirming in their seats when they heard the notes.

Nevertheless, the conductor would continuously turn on us to quiet down in order to hear the flute’s vibrato or a trumpet solo.

She would explain,

“In order for a music piece to sound accurate and beautiful, a musician must know what to adjust, when to adjust and how to adjust.”

Musical Harmony

The conductor would always teach us the concept of musical harmony. In order for a music piece to sound how the composer intended it be, all of the players must know how loud to play their instrument at the right times.

A flute player plays a note, a trumpet player plays another note, a percussionist strikes another note, and I (the trombone player) play a different note. But when all the instruments play their individual contribution together with understanding the importance of the others’ contributions, musical harmony is created.

The same goes for harmony amongst people and in society. Harmony is simply an agreement of ideas, feelings, or actions. We use harmony everyday and in many aspects of life:

  • In sports, teams need to use their individual abilities to work together and score points.
  • At the workplace, coworkers use their individual knowledge and skills to come together to complete a project or create a product.
  • At school, students collaborate on group projects or presentations in order to receive a high score.
  • At home, family members use their individual strengths to help one another out to learn and grow.

Each individual has unique ideas, feelings and backgrounds and when those aspects are brought together with other individuals through discussion and collaboration, harmony can be achieved.

Key to Harmony

Harmony may seem like a distant principle, but what is the key to creating such harmony?

While reading the book Eternal Virtues, I came across an incident from the life of His Holiness Pramukh Swami Maharaj, whose birth centennial celebrations are being celebrated in 2022.

On May 6, 2004, Dr. David Boddy, a teacher in Sanskrit and the headmaster at St. James Independent School for Senior Boys in London, met Pramukh Swami Maharaj at the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Neasden.

He asked Pramukh Swami Maharaj an interesting question, “What is the answer to developing world peace? How can we teach the people of this world to live in harmony?”

Pramukh Swami Maharaj replied.

Learning to compromise is the key to world peace.

Compromising at the right moments is the key to harmony.

When playing the trombone alone, I would have to compromise on one of the three factors in order for a beautiful sound to be produced. If even the slide position is slightly off, the sound produced will sound incorrect.

When playing the trombone with the entire ensemble, I would have to compromise my volume in certain parts of the piece in order to bring out other instruments. In other instances, others may have to compromise their volume to bring the sound of the trombone out even more.

The awareness of what, where and how to compromise in the music piece allows a musician to assist the entire group in bringing out the best aspects of the piece. Through this constant compromise, the entire ensemble would sound in unison and would create a beautiful musical harmony.

The same can be seen for keeping harmony with others.

Just as a musician needs to constantly adjust and compromise in order for the entire ensemble to be heard, I also have learned the importance of adjusting to others.

There have been many projects which I have worked on when I would find no area to compromise. Whether it be my final project at university or planning a summer camp, I would think it would just be a burden to keep harmony with others as it would affect the final result of the project. In those moments, I think back to what I learned with my trombone. Just like in an orchestra, compromise comes in the form of:

  • What? — What is the factor that is hindering harmony in this situation? What can be resolved in the moment?
  • Where? — Where can I compromise in this situation to move forward?
  • How? — How can I compromise and keep harmony while adhering to my values?

Doing this exercise allowed me to take a step back from the situation and look at the entire project as a whole. Is it worth to argue over a small detail rather than just let it go? Could I lose a little bit of quality in order for others to develop a new skill? Taking a step back and compromising allowed me to keep harmony with myself and with others.

Value of Harmony

His Holiness Mahant Swami Maharaj (the current guru of the BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha) explains the value of harmony in our daily life,

“Throughout history, maintaining harmony has been the key to success. The slightest discord always leads to destruction.”

Harmony allows for individuals to come together to achieve a common goal by putting one’s self motive aside for the common good.

This is also why in the contemporary Hindu scripture, Satsang Diksha, His Holiness Mahant Swami Maharaj prayed in verse 306,

“May feelings of unity, fraternity, friendship, compassion, tolerance and love flourish mutually amongst all people.”

Harmony is not something that can be achieved in one day but is practiced over time. Just like an instrument.

Sometimes you have to adjust the instrument (or yourself) in order to make the entire ensemble sound beautiful.

Mauktik Dave, Chicago, Illinois
Student in Accounting