Friday, October 05, 2012

Attacking Uncrustables

As I teach, I experiment.

In a recent lesson, a student was asking about how to get more "ping" in his articulations and I tried something new: I had him sustain some higher notes while I recorded him.  Then, while playing back the recording, I turned the speakers on and off.

Specifically, I watched the level meter on my Zoom recorder and, after it jumped to show the note was being held, I quickly turned on the speakers.

The effect: a perfect attack with just the ping he had been looking for!

Time for a little gooey Zen:
 The best attack is no attack.  
In other words, one instant there is silence, the next instant there is tone.  No part of the note can be separately labeled as "the attack."
The tone. Just. Begins.
Or, to put it in more physical terms:
The lips. Just. Begin vibrating.

This reminds me of that old saying (one of my favorites):
The bread is made of the same ingredients no matter how thinly you slice it.

So true, HOWEVER, one could argue that, once baked, bread has a crust.  Dang, now my nice metaphor is under attack!

Hmmm, I'm reminded of those kids who can't stand crust on their bread.  Think of those poor parents slaving away to remove crust from the bread.
(kind of a first-world problem, but I digress)

Ahh, but leave to our friends in the corporate marketing world to scramble to our rescue!

I found a news article in 2002, announcing that the Sara Lee corp. would now offer crustless bread.

Nice, but the grand prize in the "Baked Goods Useful in Describing Brass Articulation" category must go out to our friends in the Smuckers Corporation for that brilliant dietary innovation, the uncrustable.

I have no plans to eat this glop any time soon but my ravenous hunger for stretched metaphors knows no limits!


Unknown said...

At the same time, if you play everything with no attack (just lips starting to vibrate) you lose a lot of character in the music. Every articulation starts to sound the same that way... and some might argue that to be a good attribute, but I would argue it to be an attribute of an incomplete musician.

More food for thought...

Will Timmons said...

That comment was by Will Timmons by the way... sorry for the unknown tag.

Brad Edwards said...

What part of the character of the sound is directly associated with something other than the lips beginning to vibrate?
I'm not advocating breath attacks, by the way. I'm just to trying to simplify the thought process..

john said...

"The best attack is no attack." Yeah, but only in some styles. This kind of attack will simply not make it in any of the styles derived from dance music. It has no rhythm. Or maybe not enough rhythm. It's like an organ note. It would be experienced as a dead weight.

Compare a plucked bass viol that has a sharp attack and then rapid decay. Quarter notes on this will strongly suggest a dance beat.

Now, I'm re-reading your comment, and it seems to me you may be specifying the very very beginning of the note and not, say, the sudden diminuendo that might describe an accented note.

But I notice what you're comparing against is a switching speaker. Depending on how fast your switch is you may get an audible pop to the beginning that would be a square wave front created by the switch. An organ by comparison would create a sine wave with a small ramp to it rather than a bang.

If this is the case, I think you may actually be introducing a consonant to the situation, an articulation. A square wave front would be a noise artifact of the cutoff sine wave with tremendous high frequency content.

And trombones can do that, with an articulation where the tongue lags the air just a bit at high volume.